Of all the luxuries a person or a group of people can have, the luxury of an uncheckered past is perhaps one of the most damning, if not the most damning. Whereas most of us are gnawed at by some sort of shame, misfortune or failure from which we can only climb up so as to persevere, some people are simply cursed with a life of consistent achievement, a life of raising bars, setting standards, and standing erect atop the golden pedestal of human greatness. Regardless of the relative ease or difficulty that came with reaching such a paramount position, our inability to stave off impermanence makes one’s tumbling down not a matter of if but rather of when and how fast. Case in point: The Obits.
Coming off of their 2009 debut I Blame You, The Obits carry with them an extensive history of intense, wiry punk rock. Headed by Rick Froberg of Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu, there’s no shortage of angular garage riffs and Froberg’s alternately screeched, sung and chanted vocals. The skill, to be sure, remains as consistent as ever with Froberg and co. delivering tight, primal and economic songs, none of them exceeding the 3:40 mark. What seems to be lost, however, is the power. In place of the fire-breathing rage of Hot Snakes is a half-awakened sluggishness that does little justice to the makeup of the songs themselves. Though this may have been the vibe they had in mind it is nonetheless a grave mismatch. Though each song seems intent on zeroing in on a particular grievance or spur-of-the-moment reactionary emotion, the pace at which these songs are played are better suited for meandering numbers. It’s as if Sofia Coppola had directed Falling Down.
This is not to say that the mismatch is without occasional flairs of chemistry. “Shift Operator” and “New August” are two of the longer tracks and take center stage of the entire 35 minutes. The former being made up of spare guitars and apathetic vocals that burn slowly and painfully over the throb of a fuzzed-out bass line. The latter is certainly agitated by a buzz saw lead guitar, but mostly it’s ruminative and weary, with Froberg wailing “I’m so tired of my dreams, they keep me up all night.”
Weariness, I think, should be an operative word with this album, otherwise it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Obits, and perhaps most crucially Mr. Froberg, to me at least, are using their music to rail against that which brings them the most grief and the most indignation, the same things that have been eating away at them for years but remain ever prevalent. But that prevalence gets to them in time since prevalence means that no change has occurred whatsoever, so instead of lashing out like wounded revolutionaries, they brood like imprisoned revolutionaries.
Stream: Obits “You Gotta Lose”