Friday, March 14, 2008

Drive Like Jehu - Yank Crime (LP + 7")

"...the driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi - for he driveth furiously"

(2 Kings 9:20)

"Originally released in 1994 on Interscope, Yank Crime is without question the greatest post-hardcore album ever recorded, and also one of the great guitar albums. The 12 strings of Rick Froberg and John Reis' guitars flirt and taunt, melding into a chugging whirr of locomotion. Froberg's pained vocals ache and plead on epic standouts "Luau" and "Sinews," which culminate in tightly wound, extended jams that exhibit both astonishing guitar technique and strong senses of arrangement and melody. Many have copied Yank Crime, but none have matched it. "

(Yancey Strickler, The eMusic Dozen: Post-Hardcore)

Yank Crime was an album I first heard about the same time as I started getting into the Swing Kids, probably a little before. So I kind of heard it in a vacuum, and was totally amazed, while just recently I came back to it because of a new purchase. It's still amazing (and on coloured vinyl, even more - and pretentiously - so!)

Drive Like Jehu are the focus and the front for a lot of the San Diego-core bands, in that so much of their spazzy, frenetic, self-destructive sound comes from this band - and specifically, this album - and in that Drive Like Jehu aren't actually that obscure at all (compared to Swing Kids, or Mohinder, that is). You know when there's this band that you know from its connection to a narrow bunch of niche genre bands, and their CD turns up in the general rock/pop section at Tower? That's Drive Like Jehu.

Yank Crime is a loud, violent album that absolutely rocks, as well as combining enough mathy shit to get into your head at every listen. The first side of the LP, 'Here Come The Rome Plows', 'Do You Compute' and 'Luau', is possibly the single greatest piece of post-hardcore and/or punk music ever to be grouped together in the one place. 'Here Come the Rome Plows' as balls-out rockers, as energetic as almost anything on Gravity, and 'Do You Compute' as a perfect example of the invasive mathiness mentioned above.

The second side isn't quite as loud and violent, although it's still equally tense and aggressive at its high points. 'Super Unison' straddles a lot of Drive Like Jehu's sound, repetitive and ingrained heaviness in places, momentarily quiet and tender in others, and sometimes just both at once. In fact, towards the end it seems to launch off into another kind of song altogether, before being restrained back to its (ordinary) mathiness; while the follower, 'Golden Brown', is (just) another hypnotics shouter. 'Sinews', deservedly considered one of the album's standouts, builds up incrementally from humble beginnings without ever losing momentum or continuity, stepping deftly between heavy rhythm and noisy guitar effects.

The full CD version of Yank Crime can be a bit gruelling, which makes the vinyl so attractive, the LP closing on 'Sinews' and the last three songs collected on a separate 7" record (which plays at 33 rpm). 'Human Interest' picks up the energy and intensity right up again, riding the cusp between fierceness and dissolution in its pounding sound. 'New Intro' reintroduces the chiming guitars and mathy interplay of other songs, not least among them 'Sinews', before carrying the song off in a wash of feedback; while the flip side, 'New Math' lays down a closing slab of rhythmically destructive and unabashedly hardcore math-rock.

Simply put, Yank Crime is a loud and fast album which isn't afraid to go slow at times to make its point. Not just San Diego music scene c. 94-95, but a lot of music in the decade and further afterwards, is in debt to or echoes its sound. Anything loud, noisy and exciting, basically.

"...I heard both Jehu albums around the same time, must have been 1994 or 1995. And to my mind they had perfected rock music. Post-Jehu, whenever I heard a new band that was trying to play fast and/or loud, it felt limp. I just turned it off and put on Jehu. For about a decade—literally!—I never once felt the need to purchase albums by rock bands (particularly new ones). Perhaps it’s not coincidental that the most typical brand of indie rock during those ten years was the nascent genre of emo, which was ridiculously in debt to Jehu, among other bands (too, all those spazzcore bands, largely hailing from San Diego, who also owed much to Jehu). Lots of people credit Rites of Spring as being the original emo band, and I won’t argue against their influence; but Jehu had a significant impact as well, in the form of the octave chord.

Much like Slint inspiring a myriad sub-par post-rock acts to abandon upstrokes, Drive Like Jehu neutered the power chord. The crunch of the power chord felt almost amateur compared to the sharp-edged attack of the octave. The worst (and most prevalent) emo bands took as their template the inward-looking lyrics of Rites of Spring, the song structures of Orange County pop punk, and the octave chord of Drive Like Jehu.* You might see, then, why I felt this music paled in comparison to Yank Crime. These bands missed everything else."

(Pretty Goes with Pretty: Life Changing Albums: Drive Like Jehu's Yank Crime)

"...It'd be bullshit to claim that DLJ's dalliance in time signatures gave them any great intellectual edge over their relations; in fact, the aim with this record (and to a lesser extent, the duo's similarly awesome debut) was to see just how messy math could get. "Luau", a solid 9? minutes of shifting, epic muck in the middle of the album, is a strong contender for that (or any) crown. Somehow, though, it's still a sing-along, with Froberg and Thingy's Rob Crow exchanging weird, plaintive, and perfectly placed cries of "Aloha! Suit up!" Same goes for the sprawling "Do You Compute": Every shard of feedback, icy harmonic blast, and doomed-out power chord refers back to and revolves around Froberg's desperate repetition of the titular mantra.

So, could be it's the tunes. Opening an album with a song as bracingly great as "Here Come the Rome Plows" would be a shot in the foot for almost any other band, with its snakepit verses and a chorus that goes from balled-up fists to open arms and back again before you can take a breath. "Golden Brown" does the same in almost half the time. These more straightforward songs sting like snowballs packed with rock-hard chunks of melody, and in each case, Froberg's voice abrades the solid lines down to the bare minimum, and the band fills in the resulting space with pure venom. It's often easy to forget that DLJ were considered emo in their day; Froberg's howls of "Ready, ready to let you in!" on "Super Unison" seem like a sick parody of stylish vulnerability. Then the song mutates into a gorgeous, snare-drum rolling open sea, and everything you've ever liked (and still like) about this genre in its purest form comes flooding back."

(Brendan Reid, Pitchfork - February 14 2003)

YC: this isn't a vinyl rip, basically because I was too lazy to rip both an LP and 7", and also because I wasn't getting great quality on the recording - instead, it's the 9 tracks from the CD reissue rearranged and renumbered according to the vinyl format.

You can get the Swami reissue on eMusic here, and presumably fairly easily from Amazon, etc.: it's well worth getting, as it includes the Merge 7" ('Hand Over Fist'/'Bullet Train to Vegas') and an original version of 'Sinews'.

(click to see larger)


Backmasking said...

Greatest. Band. Ever.

blend77 said...

thats awesome looking. plain. and simple. and... awesome.

josephlovesit said...

Amazing writeup, Gabba. I remember the first time I fell in love with this heavy-and-slinky album was on the train ride between Connecticut and Boston. A kid who I was in a band with had gotten me obsessed with Hot Snakes (we actually pulled off a decent cover Hot Snakes' "Brain Trust" at the time), so I went to check out some of the related bands. When I first heard it, I had similar feelings to the Pretty Goes with Pretty quote. Yank Crime--especially when heard in context of the genre--makes everything else sound flaccid.

In addition to having ridiculously awesome songs, to me it's definitely got a great deal to do with Mark Trombino's production of the album, which is just perfect. He was actually one of my favorite producers/mixers in high school, a few years before DLJ even came on my radar. I could go on and on with the reminiscing... great album!

Also, I hadn't realized Rob Crow did guest vocals on "Luau" as stated in the Pitchfork review. That makes the Pinback fan in me go nuts.

Ricardo said...

Great post!!

Please reupload the Moss Icon/Silver Bearing split

Anonymous said...

great stuff!
do you have The Boom any day of the night. If so pls could you upload as Movin' out is excellent

gabbagabbahey said...

- backmasking; yes, they are a great band indeed. Maybe not ever, but certainly in their own league!

- blend, yeah it does look quite awesome. Imagine the joy when I unwrapped the plastic and saw all the pretty colours inside...

- joseph; thanks. How long a train ride is that? I've only taken a handful of long train journeys over my lifetime, but I know how much of an opportunity it can be to really absorb an album...

as for the Hot Snakes, I've never really warmed to them. Same with the first DLJ album, which is why I'm hesitant to mention it here. Outside of Yank Crime, and 'Hand Over Fist'/'Bullet Train to Vegas', nothing else by Froberg/Weis ever grabbed me. No specific criticisms, and I understand their attractions to other people, but the awesomeness kinda pools solely around YC for me.

(I was thinking something similar for me - and approapriate for the time - would be Nirvana; Nevermind is an absolutely awesome album, hardly if ever overrated, but nothing much else (some exceptions aside) really excites me about the band. But then again, I have a more peripheral interest in grunge than I do punk/post-hardcore.)


- ricardo; here's MI-SB; it wasn't actually my up in the first place, but here you go anyway.

- anon; don't have that, but if I find it or anything else by The Boom I'll post it soonish. The Abilene/Boom split sounds exciting, if anyone knows about it...

josephlovesit said...

It's about a 3 hour train ride, so nice and long. It's like a failsafe for making me really enjoy an album, haha.

I think my liking of Hot Snakes has something to do with my increased exposure to their music at the time.

Nirvana does sort of fall into the Hardcore for Nerds category, at least in a less direct sense! I really dig the three Nirvana studio albums, my favorite being In Utero.

Anonymous said...

If you like this....someone should post the PITCHFORK (pre drive like jehu/ rocket from the crypt) - EUCALYPTUS LP or SATURN OUTHOUSE 7". So good.

gabbagabbahey said...

^ it's on zen and the art of face punching, or at least it was. I might give it a listen, but it didn't excite me particularly, any more than the first DLJ album did.

Anonymous said...

i just always found it to be so subtle in its greatness. I think they definitely had a hand in shaping the whole San Diego scene that would come after them. Thanks for all of your postings. Your work is appreciated.

gabbagabbahey said...

you're welcome.

I found Pitchfork on Zen Face, so I shall give it a listen sometime soon.

jon g. peters said...

I got my copy today, except the 7" is black.

Craig said...

I just took YC out today for the first time in years. It's aging amazingly well. I've warmed up to the songs more now than I did in '94 which makes it quite a relevant piece of rock history in my book.

I don't know all that much about what the kids are doing today, but with this post, maybe a few more will find this amazing piece of work.

I've read everyone's comments and they were better than I could say so I'll just end my post here.

gabbagabbahey said...

hey craig, thanks for commenting.

I'm glad to be helping out rock history!

poopshovel said...

Love the Jehu. Aside from Hoover/Crownhate, nobody else got it right. I does bug me when any of these bands are referred to as "Mathy." Luau is in 3/4 ferchrissake.