Obits, I Blame You
Surf rock-informed guitar and furious-paced roadhouse rhythms
In the early '90s, while many of their California underground alternative-rock peers were making albums that harkened back to decades-old surf-rock and rockabilly, complete with vintage comic book-styled covers (see Phantom Surfers, The Mermen, Groovie Ghoulies, etc.), gravel-throated singer/guitarist Rick Froberg was moving forward with the precise, corrosive and epic math rock of Drive Like Jehu. Sonic and visual throwbacks may have been endemic to the scene then, Froberg eschewed thrift-store nostalgia, and his own album art suited the music within: stark black inks that evoked the psychotic frames of Raymond Pettibon and the hardcore heyday of SST. After putting down the guitar to focus on a career in the visual arts, Froberg reunited with former Jehu guitarist John Reis in Hot Snakes for a brief, thrilling run in the early '00s. Now, Froberg fronts Obits, a new quartet scooped up by Sub Pop after one single.
Funny how times change: The cover of I Blame You evokes the very outer-space retro art that Froberg formerly shunned. And while Hot Snakes traveled far back in rock's evolution to the primal garage rock days, Obits go deeper: The furious twang of surf rock informs the guitar work of both Froberg and Sohrab Habibion (formerly of Edsel); on "Fake Kinkade," it's as if the two are gearing up for a drag race. Roadhouse rhythms come at a furious pace by drummer Scott Gursky, and the band whips through Kokomo Arnold's classic "Milk Cow Blues" at a velocity that outstrips most rockabilly revivers. Throwback or no, Froberg's melodic sense and singularly strangulated voice remains intact. Some things, it seems, never go out of style.