For those that have feared that seminal Seattle, Washington, indie label Sub Pop has strayed too far from its sweaty grunge rock roots in favor of gentle folk acts and well-scrubbed indie popsters, the presence of New York’s rough-and-ready garage rock revivalist Obits offer plenty of reassurance to the contrary. Never ones to go easy on the volume knob or shun the joys of distorted electric guitar, Obits turned out an impressive debut in 2009 with I Blame You, a combustible powder keg of an album. Following that triumphant start, Sub Pop has now issued Moody, Standard and Poor (recorded in the group’s home base of Brooklyn), which reveals itself to be another winner overstuffed with sweat-soaked gems that never relent.
As a package, Moody, Standard and Poor is just a notch below the previous album—12 songs of tight, able-bodied garage rawk driven by the uninhibited nature of punk yet bereft of its sloppiness. Quite noticeably, Obits overwhelmingly steer clear of slow moments, except for the dazed-and-confused downer-psychedelia of “I Blame Myself” at the end (and even that one builds up momentum before it’s done). Instead, the group strives to generate a measured-yet-moderately-fast headlong rush as it speed-walks through each performance with gusto and conviction. Obits’ self-assurance is well-earned: aside from the gets-old-awfully-quickly juvenile cursing of “No Fly List”, there’s no moment on the LP where the four-piece fumbles about or offers anything less than its full concentrated effort.
What makes Obits’ output so awesome is that the band members—who already paid their dues in Drive Like Jehru, Pitchfork, Edsel, and Hot Snakes years before joining up for this project—have a firm grasp on how to make rock that actually rocks. Any beer-fueled run-of-the-mill basement dwellers can turn up some skuzzy amplifiers and bash out a couple of barre chords for cheap thrills. Not content with settling for sheer volume or aggressive attitude as an adequate stand-in for capable execution, there is a skillfulness to Obits’ pounding beats and striking chord crashes. Tighter than and lacking the amateurishness of the ‘60s garage rock groups they invoke the collective spirit of, Obits instead act as the mythic embodiment of the exciting flair and raucous cool that those artists could never actually consistently muster.
For an example of Obit’s prowess, look no further than this offering’s introductory cut, “You Gotta Lose”. The proceedings are immediately inaugurated by an insistent pummeling beat and a pendulum-swinging guitar lick that lesser groups would be content to ride out for an entire song. Obits, however, opts to dramatically switch to a tough, oomph-filled groove that’s interspersed with a recurring power chord fill to emphasize the end of each line. Although much chatter about Moody, Standard and Poor has focused on singer/guitarist Rick Froberg’s shift from hoarse shouting to ragged melodicism, what truly merits attention is the interplay between Froberg and his fellow six-stringer, Sohrab Habibion. The pair’s roles aren’t often split into a clear rhythm/lead guitar divide, instead taking an orchestrated approach that has each musician playing complementary sections that formulate complete riffs in the final mix, as on “Killer”. Underneath, bassist Greg Simpson and drummer Scott Gursky rumble and romp together to form crowd-stirring rhythms that are never rigid or underwhelming. This well-oiled, unstoppable rock ‘n roll machine’s coolest moment might be the minute-and-a-half instrumental “Spot the Pikey”, with its groovy spy movie riffs, tremolo flourishes and climactic drum roll-driven hook.
It’s unclear how much the departure of Gursky after the completion of Moody, Standard and Poor will affect Obits’ formidable chemistry in the long-term. In the meantime, accept no under-talented racket-makers or paint-by-numbers genre loyalists as substitutes: Obits are the sort of band modern-age garage rock (and, indeed, much of the self-satisfied independent rock scene) should be lauding as its standard. Whether you’re at home alphabetizing your record collection or marking time in your car while stuck in a traffic gridlock, throw this album on if you haven’t been rocked enough lately.
// Notes from the Road
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