I can’t pretend to know why Hot Snakes split up a year or so back, but listening to Night Marchers and, now, Obits, it doesn’t seem likely to have been much in the way of musical differences. Obits, for those of you not quite up to speed with the complexities of US punk rock’n’roll, are the new band formed by Hot Snakes/Drive Like Jehu frontman Rick Froberg after his old bandmates, lead by John Reis, headed off to become The Night Marchers.
Froberg and Reis have been making some of the most ferocious and on-point rock’n’roll in the States for nigh on two decades now, and happily this first Obits album, “I Blame You”, is no drop in quality. Like his old friend Reis (presumably there’s been no fall-out, since Obits and the Night Marchers have already toured together), Froberg has moved a little away from his hardcore roots of late, focusing instead on a sort of supercharged and menacing garage rock, with the occasional touch of rockabilly.
That continues on “I Blame You”, with the added bonus of a sort of spindly, dramatic proto-psych that’s most pronounced on the strum und clang of the brilliant opener, “Widow Of My Dreams”, driven by a riff that’s a blood relative of The Pink Floyd’s “Lucifer Sam”. There’s also a greater expansiveness to the way songs like “Pine On” unravel, from familiar fraught chunters to fierce guitar battles between Froberg and Sohrab Habibion (from Edsel, who I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember much about). “Lilies In The Street” has this pulsating, urgent bassline, but also a great sense of space that gradually opens up into a melodramatic desert rock finale, as if Froberg or Habibion are channelling the twang of Dick Dale.
“Two-Headed Coin” seems to start mid-solo, but the rhythm section are playing with a real slippery lightness, too, so the whole thing (“SUD”, too) has a vivid, soulful bounce and dynamism that’s far removed from the rudiments of basic garage punk. “I Blame You” is a great-sounding record, recorded in Brooklyn by a bunch of people including Eli Janney, and coming out on Sub Pop, which makes total sense.
Habibion sings the relatively dreamy “Run”, which sounds vaguely – yet hugely appealingly, to me at least –a bit like how the early REM might’ve sounded had they fetched up on SST (maybe it’s those Mike Mills-ish backing vox?). By the end, they’ve even had a crack at the venerable “Milk Cow Blues”, and wrapped up with a throbbing, ‘60s-ish, semi-shouted semi-ballad called “Back And Forth” which, keeping it in the family, reminds me a bit of Rocket From The Crypt. No need to be grouchy about the demise of Hot Snakes now, I guess, when we have two such fine bands for the price of one.