OBGMs: The Ends (2021) | featured image

Punk Rabble-Rousers the OBGMs Kick Out the Jams on ‘The Ends’

The OBGMs generate a sound that’s altogether brutal, sensual, raucous, and hungry on The Ends. It’s been long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize.

The Ends
The OBGMs
Black Box Music
30 October 2020

Arriving on the scene in 2017 (though plying their trade for nearly a decade before then), the oOoh Baby Gimmie Mores (better known by their acronym, the OBGMs) released their self-titled LP. It snuck into shops with nary a stir and, despite the growing buzz about the band, remained banked on the shores of larger success.

An icy squall of punk-rock, speaker-shredding blues, and just the barest hint of electronica, the OBGMs delivered a work that presented the band as Canada’s newest and brightest hope. Had a wider audience clued into their brand of insurrectionary punk-funk, they’d be sky-high dignitaries of the rock ‘n’ roll elite by now. As it is with all hopeful upstarts who aim for heights greater than the ones they’ve so far been allowed, the OBGMs re-envisioned, regrouped, and then reiterated their precepts.

The Ends, released at the tail-end of 2020, has slowly been picking up in a way that their last album hasn’t. At the time of writing, the album has been long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, Canada’s music award equivalent of the UK’s Mercury Prize. Previous honorees include Leonard Cohen, Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire, Mary Margaret O’Hara, and Drake. This year, the OBGMs have stiff competition for their entry The Ends (their fellow long listers include Daniel Lanois and Cadence Weapon). But they sure as hell are giving their fellow nominees a run for their money.

Initially, a two-piece band in their humble beginnings, the OBGMs, over the years, grew to a quartet, earning slots at venues like Afropunk Festival while gigging tirelessly around Europe, the US, and their native Canada. They gained considerable critical favor as well as a fetching aesthetic by the hand of director Ryan Enn Hughes, who conceived for them a number of visually stunning music videos.

Though the critical lauding came by the bucketloads and the band was slated as “the next big thing” in rock music, the momentum came to a standstill. As their official website bio will tell you, the band nearly threw in the towel at the beginning of 2018; frontman and guitarist Denz McFarlane cites eroded confidence that nearly had the band staring their final days in the face. Pulling deep and facing these “ends” that would so aptly give name to their next effort, the band got down to work and began writing songs for their follow-up.

The band’s 2017 self-titled debut deals in cold extremes, laying heavy white noise against deep-blue shudders of rhythm; a simple but effective modus that allowed greater diplomacy between the then four-member band. The Ends finds the OBGMs stripped down to a leaner trio (former keyboardist Jemuel Roberts departed for solo ventures), the songs now a fiery storm of color that sources from the hotter curve of the chromatic wheel. If The OBGMs was a nerve-jangling flash of sound, The Ends is a ferocious blast that threatens to obliterate all in the path of its soundwaves. Written from a take-no-prisoners approach, these ten tracks ride a groundswell that runs a gamut of rhythm and texture.  

The band gets the label “punk-rock”, the requisite tag of any band that purges noise and emotion with violent imposition. But they prove much more than that, thanks to the intelligent harnessing of their combined talents and furors. Between the Jackson Pollock explosions of singer Denz’s guitar, Joe Brosnan’s thrumming-from-Hades bass, and the detonative deployments of Colanthony Humphrey’s drumming, the OBGMs generate a sound that is altogether brutal, sensual, raucous, and hungry.

Jemuel Robert’s absence on the OBGMs’ latest means that the subtle electronic touches of the band’s earlier work are no more. But the band gains a more muscular language in rhythm by pulling the threads in tighter to close the gap. Their debut stands as a charismatic sway between smooth and fractured textures, a rush of ideas and adrenaline that carves bends around many influences, including thrash-punk, blues, and soul. The Ends does away with those stylistic equivocations and instead forces all influences into a contained space before blowing them up with wild vehemence. Hear the slash-and-burn engine-shredder of “Outsah”; on the album-opener, Colanthony beats a cruel, cross-wired rhythm of drums and bongos into the quicksilver turns on Joe and Denz’s instruments. It sounds like a body being viciously thrown down the stairs; all crashing snares and kick-drum blasts going off beneath the rotating thrums of the bass and concussive stabs at the guitar.

The blistering airs of the number “Triggered” swell with pressure in the bomb-like construct of its tightly-wound arrangements. When Denz ignites the track with the fiery riffs of his Axe it explodes with deafening force. Some numbers are played for clever sport, as on the plugged-in-and-turned-up psycho-jump-blues of “WTFRU”, a booming strut that corners the band’s rhythmic chops with a fashion clean and ruthless. Roiling passionately beneath the pummels of Colanthony’s drums are the oceanic surges of Denz’s guitars, threatening a dangerous sort of proliferation that feels at once violent and disturbingly sexual.

In fact, many numbers proffer a similar intersect of emotion; the combined aggression and power in the songs are often tempered with a sly and concupiscent knowing, where the urge to kill and the urge to fuck are sourced from the same reserve. It’s a sound neither here nor there, prowling always between the states of desiring and being desired. The passions here run magma-deep so that the songs smolder always without the promise of cooling relief.

The three work a tandem that summons agreeable friction; rather than riffing off tensions that have them pulling in all directions at once, (a practice that typified their previous works), the band tucks in unguardedly, flexing nervously a compact congruence that suddenly explodes without warning. The barks, growls, and accelerated sighs of Denz’s vocals pull high a deadly scream before settling back down into a luxuriously spent croon. His guitar remains the mercurial instrument it always was in his hands, working the chords into textures that suggest fingers informed by the practice of sculpting clay.

Behind the kit, Colanthony is a deus ex machina, a drummer who has managed to best the best of them with his monstrous contraption of sound. Pulling deep from a gorge of stone-cold blues, he produces a noise of volcanic fury. Meanwhile, the elastic pulls of Joe’s bass hook the bleeding guitar riffs onto the glides of his sinuous low-end. Not exactly working Bill Laswell territory, his bass at times aims for dubbier reaches, employing the kind of permutations that echo the early material of ‘70s punk provocateurs the Ruts.

Their collective musicianship achieves a zenith on the single “All My Friends”, a rumbling rocker that glistens with hooks buried in the groove like shards of glass. An even more robust study in rhythm is observed on “Fight Song”, where a low vibrating bass becomes the lethal whirlpool sucking all riffs, hooks, and harmonies deep into a buzzing netherworld. Oscillating between blood-hot susurrations and primordial screams, Denz’s voice here becomes a precarious vessel of dangerous goods.

Emotional thrillers “To Death” and “Move On” are the blue touch paper that ignite the album in its earthquaking send-off. Saturated with sharply-drawn melodies, and perhaps the band’s cheekiest nods to radio, these final numbers demonstrate what the OBGMs have always held as their tried and true calling card: impeccable arrangements.

Securing the talents of engineer/producer Dave Schiffman (Rage Against the Machine, Liz Phair) for the album, the band is afforded breathing room to allow all influences to gestate to a judicious balance. Lazy comparisons by the media have had the band pegged as the next Bad Brains (an assessment that the band has gone on record to declare as erroneous). But there are far more apt suggestions that place the OBGMs’ approach in a more thoughtful light.

Numbers by PJ Harvey, like the stomping “Meet Ze Monsta” and the racing, cold-crushed rock of “50 Ft Queenie”, seem like possible reference points. The now-defunct Dream City Film Club, whose nervy, thrash blues-punk won them plenty of underground appeal, is also a conceivable touchstone. There are some more unlikely, though no less considerable, influences of similar stratagems, like the long-obscure juju-funk of Afro-psych rockers Demon Fuzz and Maria McKee’s artful glam-punk offering, Life is Sweet (1996).

Ultimately, though, the OBGMs are in a pulsating world of their own creation, kicking out the jams with pernicious glee. Indeed, they still have more ground to cover, their wish to corner the capricious animal that is the American music market as yet unfulfilled. If their latest work, however, is clear proof of anything, it’s that with The Ends the OBGMs have only just begun.

RATING 9 / 10
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