When it comes to crafting succinct blasts of scrappy, blues-driven rock ‘n’ roll, there are few bands right now doing it with more spry spunkiness than Brooklyn’s Obits. With the musical economy of Spoon but the wiry performance practice of, say, The Strokes or The Walkmen, Obits fuses unrelenting grooves and urgent tempos with careening stabs of guitar squall alongside frontman Rick Froberg’s fiery, howl-at-the-moon vocals. Some may say it’s merely a 21st century update on a sound that the Stooges and MC5 patented more than 40 years ago, but at a time when more tends to be more in indie rock, Obits’ taut and muscular post-punk seems shockingly fresh in its terse volatility.
The hype over the group’s gritty aesthetic began a couple years back when Froberg, guitarist Sohrab Habibion, bassist Greg Simpson, and drummer Scott Gursky released their debut album, I Blame You. Just as the arcane dubstep genre began to emerge from its European shadows and Fleet Foxes tenderly harmonized their way into the American mainstream consciousness, Obits chose a more direct approach, announcing their arrival with 3-minute screeds of guitar-based rock music that felt nearly unhinged and deliciously cathartic, compared to other acts making headlines at the time.
On the band’s sophomore LP, Obits picks up largely where I Blame You left off. Moody, Standard, and Poor may be slightly less caustic in tone than its predecessor, but the album still prizes the sort of swaggering energy that can only come from four pals armed with electric guitars, attitude, and some old fashioned sass. Songs like “No Fly List” and “I Want Results” are quintessential examples of this; the former is a raucous assemblage of frenetic third-wave ska guitar and Froberg’s acerbic yawp (“You’re daddy’s in hell / you’re mother’s in jail”), while the latter pairs brisk atmospherics and a jittery bass line from Simpson with barbed bits of guitar shrapnel and the gusty chug of a minor-keyed blues riff. There’s umbrage to spare when Froberg barks, “I want results / why, baby / aren’t they comin’?!”
Taken as a complete work, Moody is a quick listen – 12 tracks in just 35 minutes. While other groups continue to employ the kitchen sink philosophy to their songwriting process, you’ve got to hand it to these guys for continuing to make music devoid of excess; no track is played at a tempo under 120 beats per minute, and with the exception of the Sonic Youth-indebted “Standards” – in which the fluttering tones of an electric piano seep into the mix alongside earsplitting feedback– every song is executed with the traditional guitar/bass/drums setup. The concept almost seems novel when you consider how many other groups are sporting atypical instruments like hurdy-gurdies and glockenspiels in their arsenals. Nonetheless, Obits’ vivacious approach to business does grow tiresome toward the end; tunes like “Naked to the World” and “Beggin’ Dogs” come off as perfunctory statements of indignation, eventually getting lost amongst the din of other songs.
Even though it’s more or less bedlam from start to finish, Moody… has a few gems that shine through all of the grit. Opening cut “You Gotta Lose” features wonderfully dissonant and angular guitar interplay from Habibion and Froberg, while the chorus of “Killer” locks into an infectious 3/4 groove that is absorbed as a visceral gesture, though at first unanticipated. “Spot the Pikey” is a cheeky instrumental in which only a titular declaration – delivered in a faux-British tongue, no less – interrupts the uninhibited jam session.
Obits revels in the sort of music that’s at the other end of the spectrum from brooding introspection and critical listening; these songs don’t ask for a response so much as they demand a reaction.