Obits - "You Gotta Lose" (Moody, Standard and Poor)
The title of this second Obits LP reads like a self-deprecating dad-joke and, indeed, the band vibes on being old. The Sam McPheeters-penned bio on the Sub Pop site professes that its members prefer “oldies to newies.” They play driving, fast-clip rock music not terribly dissimilar from Rick Froberg’s prior efforts Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu, kind of punk with shades of surf and garage. I don’t know if kids nowadays like this music; Obits almost certainly don’t care, and plenty of dudes from the ‘90s with sleeve tattoos and bad hats probably show up when they play.
We get it, they’ve been doing it for a while, but thing is, that means they’re really good at playing this kind of music. The most striking feature of Obits’ first record, I Blame You , realized even more successfully here, is Froberg and Sohrab Habibon’s gift for arranging complementary guitar parts. The riffs, which are strikingly plainspoken, in a how-did-no-one-write-this-before kind of way, work miraculously. Froberg and Habibon’s two jumpy lines brace against each other and the resulting tension never really abates. One chord change in the formidable opener “You Gotta Lose” is so on-point that this writer actually picked up a guitar to work out how they’d thought of it. Drummer Scott Gursky is similarly a master of the deceptively simple: there’s one tom hit in a quiet moment of “The Killer” that’s stuck in my head.
As on I Blame You, the denser tracks penned by Habibon slow Moody, Standard and Poor‘s momentum, though to be fair, the first four songs on this album have a singular, ferocious energy that would be impossible to maintain. Froberg delivers his world-weary lyrics with a seething that belies their occasional sarcasm. There are a few clunkers — “Your mama’s in the kitchen cooking red-hot shit” might be a dad-joke of a rockin’ lyric, but it’s still kind of mortifying to hear it spat out. But then there are moments like the beginning of “New August.” After a two-minute build, Froberg finally starts singing, and all he says is “Morning is coming/Why can’t you come straight to me?”; it’s so basic, but so heartfelt, and more to the point, what else would he say at that moment?
Every review I have read of this band, including my own write-up of I Blame You, says the same thing: well, these guys aren’t breaking new ground, but they’re sure competent. It’s unclear if Obits aspire to anything beyond that. If not, it’s perhaps a sign of the wisdom that comes with age; they seem more interested in perfecting what they’ve already shown they can do better than anyone else.