A leading light in American post-punk garage rock for over 20 years, Rick Froberg is now back with a new band, the Obits. Having fronted three influential bands with guitarist John Reis – Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes – the two have now gone their separate ways. On the evidence of the Obits’ debut album I Blame You, the change has worked well for Froberg.
Based in Brooklyn, New York, Froberg has assembled a tight outfit with lead guitarist Sohrab Habibion, bassist Greg Simpson and drummer Scott Gursky to create a mean and moody, stripped-down sound full of raw power and focused energy. The Obits are less hardcore than Froberg’s previous incarnations – not as relentlessly fast or noisy, the songs breathe more and you can actually hear the lyrics, though their meaning often remains obscure.
I Blame You is closer to classic rock than experimental, with even hints of the blues and early sixties surf rock mixing in with the likes of the Sonics, Ramones, Pixies and The Strokes, but the album still has an alternative feel to it.
The opening song Widow of My Dreams, beginning with an extended pulsating instrumental passage, is a raunchy, rocking number, brisling with anger and menace: “Leave us alone, man/Leave us in peace” – or else. Pine On is a slice of punky pugnaciousness, with visceral vocals and dissonant chords, while Fake Kinkade is a more off-beat, vaguely unsettling track.
Two-Headed Coin leads off with a driving drum and bass line, followed by staccato guitar riffs, building to a rousing climax, but while Run starts off promisingly, with Froberg essaying a more melodic vocal style, it fails to go anywhere. The title track is a minute-long instrumental jam.
Talking to the Dog is probably the most raucous track on the album, an open invitation to pogo, though with a surprisingly gentle coda, but the somewhat shapeless Light Sweet Crude makes little impact and Lillies in the Street drifts by until the interestingly innovative ending.
SUD features a memorably echoey guitar riff and a seriously cheesed-off singer berating his lover, “I’m damned for what I do/And damned for what I don’t.” Continuing the disaffected mood, Milk Cow Blues is a cover of the blues song by Kokomo Arnold (Elvis Presley and Aerosmith have also done versions!), with a distinctly threatening tone. Final song Back and Forth though is much more mellow, the poppiest on the album, sounding a bit like a roughed-up Rolling Stones.
Altogether, this is an impressive debut. As a singer, Froberg has lost none of his passionate intensity, and the rest of the band contribute strongly to a lean, gritty sound which is immediate and direct. Most of the songs are well constructed and do not outstay their welcome, though a few do not make the grade. The Obits will probably not break out of their garage ghetto. But they seem happy there. Why would they want to?