After close to 30 years in the business, Rick Froberg has the raw feel of ’60s and ’70s garage punk committed to muscle memory. It’s a sound he and longtime friend and collaborator John Reis largely honed to perfection with the Hot Snakes, so maybe it only made sense that his next sonic strike would move in a slightly different direction. Obits didn’t bolt for different musical terrain straight out of the gate, but with three full-length releases now tucked under its belt, Froberg’s latest exercise in primal guitar rock has taken some small but noticeable strides beyond the frontman’s musical safe places.
Bed & Bugs, Obits’ latest for Sub Pop Records, follows the palatable sonic path that Froberg’s old bands would have quickly ditched for mud-caked punk-rock back roads. But the record doesn’t sacrifice quality for the sake of widening its musical playground. Instead, the band wedges the door open just wide enough to let other kindred influences creep in. Obits slowly but surely began moving into the areas of surf, blues, and kitschy psychedelia with 2011’s Moody, Standard And Poor, and the band’s third release puts a little more weight on those sounds that used to just fill in the gaps. “This Must Be Done” sounds like a more pop-friendly version of the 13th Floor Elevators, “Pet Trust” and “Receptor” quell the noise with some soulful melody, and “Machines” is a meditative cut of trippy psychedelia. Lest purists start gripping their chests, there’s also an ample amount of Obits’ time-tested chord shredding to be found. Cuts like “Taste The Diff,” “I’m Sick,” and “I’m Closing In” are straight-up rippers that can’t be ignored, and the record is marked with a sort of throwback cool that still retains Froberg’s underground intuitions.
Those deviations aside, Bed & Bugs largely kills off punk-rock rigor in favor of melodic flexibility. As such, Obits takes some critical steps toward asserting its own identity apart from Froberg’s other musical excursions. Gone are the algorithmic arrangements of Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes’ pared-down, nuts-and-bolts garage punk. With one foot in the garage and one halfway out the door, the record instead finds the band hitting upon a happy medium. Where it goes from here remains to be seen, but if Bed & Bugs is any indication, it’s safe to assume it’ll get where it needs to go without straying too far from home.