From 2006 until earlier this year, Brooklyn-based quartet Obits had a raucous, surf-tinged punk sound. With Rick Froberg - formerly of post-hardcore bands Hot Snakes and Drive Like Jehu - as frontman, that should come as no surprise. So how does Moody, Standard And Poor stack up?
What I Liked:
Let me dispel one prejudice you may have about this album: it's definitely not a pegged-dial hardcore album. It's pretty hard-hitting, but it's not extreme. I'd say it's really no harder than early Ramones records, and it's generally more melodic, actually. Froberg and Sohrab Habibion are on rhythm and lead guitar, respectively; Greg Simpson hammers out the bass; and Scott Gursky rounds out on drums. It's a very simple sound; with garage rock and punk beats and riffs (more on that later). The most memorable song is 'Shift Operator', with a Pixies-like attack/retreat for a melody and one of two vocals by Habibion. A high-voltage bass, catchy surf-style riffage, a sweet backbeat, and a plaintive vocal make a nicely dark track that I keep getting stuck in my head - this is everything they do right. 'Naked To The World' is a brighter track that contends for second place. 'Spot The Pikey' is an instrumental that sounds randomly tossed off, but still manages to be a fun ride - and when the band shouts the title in the middle, it just makes me smile. I like 'New August' too, getting a little more sinister and with a real edge. It's also cool how it builds from the long instrumental intro to the verses. 'Standards', the other Habibion vocal, works well despite a cookie-cutter setup.
What I Didn't Like:
The sound is somewhat tinny! It's one of the few records I've heard that I can say was too underproduced, of all things. The force of the music is borne by Froberg's vocals and his and Habibion's guitars and that's not quite strong enough. There's no presence from the rhythm section; Gursky pounds out his part all right despite a pretty stock performance in general, but there's certainly not enough thud from Simpson. It ends up sounding somewhat lo-fi, but without the lighthearted charm that made Guided By Voices fun to listen to. This record sounds sloppy in some other ways; there's some overly loose changes in melody and riff, even in 'Shift Operator' (although it kinda works there). Riffage tends to sound underdeveloped or simplistic or unoriginal somewhat often. Of the songs not mentioned above, they tend to sound very similar, especially Froberg's vocals. He almost never lets up in belting it out. I do find myself getting weary of his voice after too long.
It's not too bad an album, but I think in places it tries too hard to be a hard-fi locore album (if that is such a thing). If you're not feeling brave or ready for a challenge, you could just cherry-pick the best songs.
Last year saw the release of The New Pornographers' sixth album, Brill Bruisers. I've heard key Pornographer A. C. Newman call it a 'celebration record' - that he wrote much of it without anything in his life dragging him down. And I have to say that it lives up to such a description! How so, exactly?
What I Liked:
The New Pornographers seem to have a talent for hooky and simply beautiful pop harmonies and melodies, and it shows in spades on Brill Bruisers. The production is bright and very smooth; it makes the record sound genuinely fun! Virtually the whole album is great; so I'm just going to pick out my personal favorite tracks. With a wonderfully bombastic title track as an opener, the album starts really well. The slower beat does nothing to indicate the high energy pop that's coming later on, but it's funky and fun. 'Champions Of Red Wine' is dreamy and delightful but energetic; 'Fantasy Fools' is great bright power pop. The track that has managed to become my favorite on the album is 'War On The East Coast'; it's energetic, bombastic, soaring superpower pop with a subtly sinister undertone. You wouldn't think that a harmonica would find a place in a song like this, but here it works nicely!And the first single and the track that keyed me into the band, 'Dancehall Domine', simply is fun frantic danceable pop; it's got a killer riff, a killer hook, a funky instrumental bridge and honestly, I just can't help but enjoy it!
What I Didn't Like:
Very little. Side B does slow down, relatively speaking, but that's tempered by the presence of 'Dancehall Domine' and the comparatively soaring power pop-octane content of Side A in general! I really don't know what to complain about - nothing about this album really bothers me in any way.
This is a fantastic album. It's the most fun I've heard committed to vinyl in a very long time! Does that sound good to you? Seriously, check it out!