In many ways, Obits’ new album, Moody, Standard And Poor, is the complete opposite of their debut, 2009’s I Blame You. The production values have been stripped down, with many tracks lacking the previous album’s surf-punk sheen. Where vocalist/guitarist (and former Hot Snakes/Drive Like Jehu member) Rick Froberg would once unleash his paint-peeling yell, he instead continues refining his voice as an actual singer (how much of this choice can be attributed to last year’s throat injury is up in the air). On a whole, it’s a much darker album, one that doesn’t possess any of the immediately punchy singles of their debut. Yet somehow, despite seeming like a one-way sprint in the other direction, Moody, Standard And Poor makes a perfect companion to I Blame You. While it’s not the better album of the two, and initially seems like a little bit of a letdown following I Blame You and a brilliant pair of 7″ singles, it still stands as one of the best garage-punk albums of 2011 thus far.
No matter what band he’s playing with, Froberg has always had a great ear for guitar tones, and here, he and second guitarist/vocalist Sohrab Habibion whittle down their instruments into scythes, dialing down their more surfy tendencies in favor of guitars that lurk during the verses and slice only at the most opportune moments for maximum impact. The furious escalation of “I Want Results” culminates in some wah-pedal freakery, something Obits have always managed to pull off without sounding hacky or contrived, and both guitarists manage to shoot off some string-breaking riffs on “Everything Looks Better In The Sun.” However, it’s on “Shift Operator” that the pair work the best. Habibion, while far less dominating a vocalist than Froberg, possesses a vulnerability that acts as a great foil to Froberg’s snarling badass persona, which in turn allows the post-chorus guitar stabs to drip evil all over Greg Simpson’s fuzzed-out bass that much more. It’s a track that points in exciting new directions for the band.
Which then brings us to the point that some new directions might be in order for Obits, a frustrating point when one considers the steadfastly traditionalist stance Froberg seems to take in regards to his songwriting. The middle section of the album consists of the almost minimal “No Fly List,” the forgettable boogie of “Naked To The World,” and “Spot The Pikey,” which sets itself up for greatness only to be revealed as a brief instrumental. The fact that it’s followed by “New August,” a track that re-demonstrates the ratcheting up of tension that Hot Snakes did so well on the song “Suicide Invoice” only drives the point home further. Froberg is capable of sheer rock brilliance, as “New August” and every track mentioned in the previous paragraph demonstrates. I just wish he was more willing to show it off.