I Blame You
As the new millennium loomed, the Dictators posed the musical question "Who will save rock & roll?" and it seems like plenty of folks are still searching for an answer to that particular puzzle. In the early months of 2008, a handful of fans placed their hopes in the Obits, a new band featuring some guys who'd launched worthy campaigns on rock's behalf in the past -- Rick Froberg (ex-Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes), Sohrab Habibion (formerly with Edsel) and Scott Gursky (who also plays with Shortstack). After playing a single gig in New York City, a bootlegged live tape of the Obits made its way onto the internet (as does everything these days) and before long seemingly every hipster blogger who still thrilled to the sound of electric guitars was talking up the new band, with Sub Pop getting excited enough to sign the Obits before they could even get around to self-releasing a single. Given the track record and the buzz that preceded the Obits' first album, one would have every right to be wary about 2009's "Next Great Thing," but if I Blame You isn't going redefine the way we look at rock & roll, it confirms that the word on these guys wasn't wrong -- the Obits are a very good band. Froberg and Habibion make an impressive tag-team combo on guitars, and their interwoven six-string patterns crackle with energy as they bounce thick, bluesy chording off lean, angular lines like a steak meeting a sharp knife. Bassist Greg Simpson and drummer Gursky are just the right rhythm section for this band, locking the songs into place with taut efficiency while leaving room to thoughtfully fill up the spaces when need be. Put 'em together and they run like a top, laying out music with the clean lines of the Ventures and the pure mania of Radio Birdman. I Blame You gets the Obits cool but muscular sound onto plastic with just the right hands-off production approach, and the high points like "Pine On," "Talking to the Dog" and "Lilies in the Street" are enough to get anyone who digs rock that's smart and physical at the same time excited. The trouble is that while the Obits have the makings of being a great band, they haven't quite written a batch of great songs yet (it doesn't help that two of their better efforts were used up on the great single they put out a few months before I Blame You was released), and a few tracks here seem like little more than well-executed filler (most notably the title track, which isn't a song so much as a repeated riff that peters out after a bit more than a minute). So the Obits might just have the stuff to save rock & roll, or at least keep it off life support for a while, but as good as I Blame You may be, they're going to have to get their songwriting chops in order before they can really finish the job.