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Obits - I Blame You

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Artist: Obits

Album: I Blame You

Label: Sub Pop

Review date: Mar. 9, 2009

How to describe Rick Froberg’s voice?: A perfectly enunciated cry of accusation? A shout that never veers off-key? A seemingly flat delivery somehow pregnant with emotion? Powerful and distinctive, these vocals rank among the most memorable in quote-unquote indie rock, whether keening “ALOHA” over the discordant drone of Drive Like Jehu or inducing concert halls to scream “Ben Gurion! Ben Sheikh!” along with Hot Snakes.

Froberg’s singing style is so singular, it ensures that few of his bands will depart significantly from his previous projects. Not that this particularly matters: Both Jehu and Hot Snakes preternaturally sound like a lot of music that preceded them in a way that makes it almost impossible to pinpoint precisely who or what they resemble. In the hype preceding Obits’ first album, I Blame You, Froberg declares, “we’re not into innovation as a band.” Indeed. This record breaks absolutely no new musical ground.

But perhaps, as Froberg goes on to say, “innovation is overrated.” Most of the album’s songs feature classic-sounding, galloping minor-key riffs that could’ve been ripped off of Nuggets, or from Killed By Death, or the Wipers, or a Hot Snakes record. The record has a hint more classic rock than ever surfaced in Hot Snakes. The title track, a brief instrumental, evokes “Run Through the Jungle,” and the album’s closer “Back and Forth” sounds like a lost early Rolling Stones single. In short, Froberg seems to possess a miraculous ability to encapsulate the history of stripped-down rock into a few deceptively simple songs. He and bandmates Sohrab Habibion, Greg Simpson and Scott Gursky also prove themselves masterful decision-makers: each basic chromatic guitar solo, each time the band drops out to let Froberg’s voice dominate, is well thought-out and deliberately situated. More bands should, logically, sound like this. It’s a wonder that no one wrote the song “Pine On” before now, as incredibly basic and memorable as it is.

That said, Obits fall short of Froberg’s Hot Snakes. That band’s greatness came, in part, from its intensity: they sounded dense, airless, desperate. Eli Janney and Geoff Sanoff’s production on I Blame You is more spacious, and the crunchier, more reverb’d guitar sound on this record doesn’t attack the listener the way John Reis and Froberg’s guitars did in the prior band. Most songs stretch to the four-minute mark, which seems in some cases (like the opening “Widow of My Dreams”) overlong.

Obits’ next record might resolve these minor quibbles. More likely, it will sound just like their last, and it will be excellent.

By Talya Cooper

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