Music » Music Features

Not Dead Yet

With Obits, indie-rock lifer Rich Froberg crafts another great guitar band.



As far as track records go, indie-rocker Rich Froberg's is pretty close to golden. Not only has he never fronted a bad band, he's never fronted a mediocre or simply good band either. And his latest project, Obits, more than lives up to those expectations.

Chronologically, Froberg has founded or co-founded four bands — Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes, and now Obits. (The first three bands on that list included co-founder John Weiss, better known as the voice and vision behind Rocket from the Crypt.) During times without a band of his own, he has played in Rob Crow's Thingy and the excellent yet totally overlooked Last of the Juanitas. Froberg is also a gifted visual artist who has provided cover art for all of the Hot Snakes albums, the second and last Drive Like Jehu record (1994's Yank Crime), the eponymous Rocket from the Crypt LP from 1998, and all of Obits' output to date.

Drive Like Jehu, named after a biblical character known for pushing his chariot to reckless speeds, were mostly overlooked during their five-year (1990 to1995), two-album-and-one-single lifespan. But in the 16 years since the band quietly ceased activity, their posthumous sonic footprint gradually spread across several genres. Drive Like Jehu was eventually recognized for the timeless, singularly intense, and groundbreaking contributions it made to all that is loud, heavy, noisy, fast, complex, and cathartic. It's the kind of thing that just comes out of some musicians without premeditation or calculation, and it doesn't come out of them forever. Both of the band's albums are stone classics, with the sophomore Yank Crime perhaps a hair stronger than the eponymous 1991 debut.

Despite its excellence and influence, Drive Like Jehu is a magnet for misunderstanding. The band is sometimes thought of as simply post-hardcore and often considered a blueprint for the latter-emerging emo genre. But Drive Like Jehu was a highly advanced form of hardcore, progressing in a singular fashion and skipping several steps in the process. They were far beyond the bands who were often understood as contemporaries (Fugazi, Quicksand), and calling them emo, or an early blueprint thereof, is like saying David Mamet writes and directs mumblecore films.

Then there was Hot Snakes, whose longevity (1999 to 2005) combined with steady touring and output (three studio albums, one live album, an EP, and a single) made for a somewhat higher profile for Froberg. (Existing in the Internet age helped, too.) After a formative debut (1999's Automatic Midnight), the band released two of the decade's best rock albums with 2001's Suicide Invoice and 2004's Audit in Progress. Though often associated with the garage-rock and garage-punk scenes, this was music too cryptic, cerebral, tight, and dark for most in those scenes.

From there, Obits has been a logical and linear next step rather than a departure.

Because Obits is one of the better "guitar bands" currently operating, the other co-founder and guitarist, Sohrab Habibion, certainly deserves more than a passing mention. Habibion co-founded Edsel in 1989. Edsel released four full-length albums during their near-decade-long run. The band's final album for Sony imprint Relativity, Techniques in Speed Hypnosis (1995), was a highlight of mid-'90s noise-pop/indie rock, establishing Edsel as one of the special few (along with Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips, Built To Spill) to utilize major-label resources (via the post-Nirvana feeding frenzy) to its advantage as opposed to throwing together a watered-down version of preceding records. Sadly (but predictably), the album subsequently sank into obscurity when Sony shut down the Relativity subsidiary and dropped most of its non-R&B/hip-hop artists.

Obits practiced for a couple of years before performing their first show in 2008, and the guitar interplay between Froberg and Habibion is the perfectly-running engine powering Obits' sonic presentation, often feeling like a sped-up version of the instrumental dialogue between Tom Verlaine and Robert Quinne, of post-punk godfathers Television. Most of the songs on Obits' Sub Pop debut, I Blame You, are anchored by these compact movements of miniature half-riffs and minimalist guitar lines that actually add extra hooks to the tracks, on top of Froberg's distinct vocal delivery. Obits' second album for Sub Pop, Moody, Standard and Poor, is an improved-upon extension of the debut. Oh, and I should note that Obits also happen to be a really great live band, not that it should come as any surprise.

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