“I Blame You”
Salutations, Buddyhead readers! I’m the new guy. You can call me “Tall Pat.” You can think of me as the head of Buddyhead Midwest. Mostly cuz no one else lives in Chicago. Anyhow, fucking Chip Norman stole my review for Chicago’s favored sons’, The Smith Westerns, new record, which by the way is a fucking amazing record, made only better by their mind-blowing live show. I’ll fight with Chip over this later. Anyhow, let’s talk about Obits.
One of the world’s great tragedies was the breakup of both Drive Like Jehu and then Hot Snakes — two of the finest bands to ever walk the Earth, as far as I’m concerned. The one-two punch of Rick Froberg and John Reis is perhaps the most powerful in music. Starting with Pitchfork, the duo’s high school band, they have consistently played angular, no-frills post-punk. Even their pre-Eucalyptus demo tape, which features a prepubescent John Reis on vocals, blows the pants off your standard Fugazi-ripoff band. The demo tape is oddly telling of the pair’s career. It’s rough and formative, but you can hear everything that is to come. “It’s A Nice Day” foretells early Rocket From the Crypt’s anthem. “Caretaker” sounds like a rough demo of something off the first Drive Like Jehu album. “Cut and Dry” sounds like it could have been a Hot Snakes song. Important for this review, the opening track, “Sucked In Spit Out,” and Mr. Froberg’s guitar foretell of Obits. I must warn anyone seeking out the demo tape: it’s good only as a pure academic exercise.
Obits, like Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, and Hot Snakes before them, rock. With the demise of Hot Snakes due to Mr. Reis and Mr. Rubalcaba leaving to start families, followed by the break up of the Sultans and of the world’s greatest band, Rocket From the Crypt, and Beehive and the Barracudas going on a long hiatus, I’ve been in need of some real, pure San Diego punk rock. This past year, the rock’n’roll gods have given us Mr. Reis’s (and the rest of the Hot Snakes’ first line up), Night Marchers, a band whose sound draws dramatically from 1950s and early 60s rock’n’roll. The gods have also given us Mr. Froberg’s Obits, a band that continues in line with the duo’s early projects.
They, Obits, are a pure, solid blues-punk rock band. Think Jon Spencer Blues Explosion plus, well, Rick Froberg. The band’s defining characteristic is as you would expect — the vocals of Mr. Froberg. I have long felt that his voice is, without exception, the best in rock’n’roll. Its tonality is perfect for the music. His yelps match up to guitars better than anyone else’s. Not even Greg Sage can hold a candle to the voice of Mr. Froberg, and Obits is built around those vocals. The guitars scream with a treble on par with D. Boon. It’s a ringing endorsement of what works in the genre, and done in a way like no one else. Just listen to “Fake Kinkade.”
Obits are part of a border movement of people to reclaim the good name of rock’n’roll. They, as so many bands here in Chicago, have taken an old, used up style, and with the greatest of joy, breathed new life into it. No one is fucking around here, this ain’t some ironic hipster bullshit, this is real punk rock music.
Every track from “Widow of my Dreams,” to “Talking to the Dog,” to “Lilies in the Street” brings forth a level of quality that’s almost unseen on other records. This is no solo record; Sohrab Habibion, Greg Simpson, and Scott Gursky, although minor players in the grand world of Swami Pat, clearly bring a lot to the table. You can hear it from the first note of the “Live at the Cake Shop” bootleg made by Swami Ivan on “New Western Anthem” (which became “I Cant Loose”) that Obits are a tight unit. Every gear is working perfectly, turning the band into a steamroller of sound. It’s not as hard as the Hot Snakes, nor as complex as Drive Like Jehu, but it’s right where Mr. Froberg should be.
As Ian MacKaye once said, “You don’t grow out of Punk Rock, you grow up with Punk Rock.” With many of the 1990s luminaries pushing past 40 (or long past it), it’s a credit to MacKaye’s line that Mr. Froberg and crew have put out a record just as effective and powerful as anything they produced in their younger days. Only now they have an agenda that goes beyond just rocking. This record, and their live shows, feature a band that is out to remind the world that just because Grizzly Bear, Vampire Weekend, and tons of shitty bands come from New York, it does not mean that the city forgot how to rock; Obits are out to remind everyone that New York City is gonna be OK.
And that’s just the record. The band’s B-sides are something else. Why anything was left off the record is beyond me. “I Cant Loose” is a revelation and perhaps their finest work. “Put It In Writing,” “One Cross Apiece,” and “Military Madness” are just as strong. The B-sides are of a quality one would expect from a band like this.
Obits’ “I Blame You” is the record you expect it to be. From “Widow Of My Dreams” to “Back and Forth,” it’s a solid record that does what so few bands can — create a brilliant front-to-back punk rock album.
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