Music has been integral to human nature ever since its inception, so much so that it provides a window to the soul of its creators. One might ask what this window provides for the typical onlooker, well the act of revealing the soul gives intimate insights on an individual artist or collective of artists. These insights include the good and the bad experiences life has to offer, a unique perspective of the world due to those life experiences, and why the individual artist or the collective of artists are the way they are.
Drive like Jehu was a summation of all these notions as much as they were genre benders, and this especially is no more true than on their influential 1994 album Yank Crime re-released in 2003 by the former lead guitarist John Reis on his label Swami Records. The re-release will be the main focus of this review, because it is a more complete product as compared to the original release due to the inclusion of the 1992 Handover Fist/Bullet Train To Vegas Single and the original albeit a much rawer version of the track Sinews.
To start off a little introductory of the formation of the band and its members is in order. Drive like Jehu was an experimental rock band formed in 1990 and lasted until 1994. Its members consisted of Rick Froberg on vocals and rhythm guitar; John Reis as lead guitarist, who are both seminal indie rockers and producers in their own right due to the fact of the multitude of music projects they have been in since Drive like Jehu’s break up and their ownership of Swami Records; Mike Kennedy on bass, who later went on to be a chemist; and lastly legendary music producer Mark Trombino, who has worked with musical acts such as Jimmy Eat World on drums.
Drive like Jehu was best known for long complicated compositions that shifted from one time signature to the next meaning that no song was ever the same. These musicians epitomized perfect unison in terms of their music as a band. Froberg and Reis were like yin and yang. Their dual, serrated, scattered shot lead and rhythm would interlock seamlessly with each other even against the wall of sound supplemented by Kennedy’s murky, fuzzed out bass and Trombino’s in your face, primalistic style of drumming all of which was accented by Froberg’s croons and blood curdling screams on the topics of societal decay, drugs, and love; however, Froberg’s vocals were more like an instrument adding to the atmosphere of the overall sound which by no means was a bad thing; it was just a different way of doing things. Considering the violent, brooding nature of the music, it also had this somber yet beautiful melody to it.
Right off the bat, the first track, Here Come the Rome Plows, goes straight for the jugular. Guitar lines weave into each other and break apart, the bass plods alongside the blitzkrieg drumming while Froberg spits lines of bile “Sad to say it’s over now/Here come the huns/Pick a side or pick a spot/Here come, here come the rome plows,” overall creating a sense of dread within the listener. However, as for the next track, Do You Compute, it is a more diametrically opposed affair. The music is still violent, but there is more melody in the guitars and the bass as they morph alongside the drums from one time signature to the next with Froberg crooning in an angst manner.
Track 3, Golden Brown, takes it up a notch, pulverizing the listener with its wall of noise in the same way that Here Come the Rome Plows did except in half the time. Onto my personal favorite of the entire album, Luau, this track is a beast and a testament to this band’s dexterity. Luau clocks in at a little over 9 minutes, and within the allotted time they do not pull any punches; guitars mutate and collide with the bass and drums like bricks being thrown into windows.
Super Unison comes in next deceiving the listener that it’s time for a break because the intro is entirely feedback. But after over a minute or so, they break into a rage and let go the pummeling. The best part about this song is toward the middle. The instruments are building and building then all of sudden this ferocious break down is unleashed creating an epic sound. Perhaps if ancient battles had a sound then Super Unison would be playing in the background. As for the next two tracks, New Intro and New Math should be considered as one whole song but split up into two parts because New Intro’s haunting instrumentation bleeds into New Math then the band gets back into the aural assault of things. Human Interest is another face ripper like Golden Brown shredding in so little time but accomplishing so much. The track Sinews, like Do You Compute, has melody to it and builds and morphs over time except that it presents itself much more jagged in implementation.
As for the re-released bonus material, it comes in the form of the 1992 Handover Fist/Bullet Train to Vegas single and the original, rawer version of Sinews. Hand Over Fist sounds like something straight out of a Nirvana playbook. It almost seems like Rick Froberg is doing a Kurt Cobain impression with his acerbic delivery, and the song structure itself is very much like the grooving material found on any Nirvana album except that it’s sped up a bit and not as down tuned. Then Bullet Train to Vegas comes in at a mere 2 minutes and 40 seconds, but that’s not a bad thing because this one hearkens back to the glory days of ’80s hardcore punk. It’s fast, punchy, takes no prisoners and, most importantly, a good time. The original version of Sinews is superior in every way to the studio version. Even though the entirety of Yank Crime could be considered raw the rawness of this version Sinews just has that live appeal to it so much so the listener might as well be in the same room with the band.
Yank Crime is one of those life changing albums like when acts such as Black Sabbath or Nirvana came onto the scene. It’s a musical genre-bending monster. At any given time a song could go into a Black Flag raging shred, twist and contort like punk masters Fugazi, or provide atmospheric vibes like post rockers, Slint and indie rockers, Sonic Youth.
Drive like Jehu was responsible for an entire movement in punk in the early 2000s. Bands such as At The Drive In, The Blood Brothers, The Fall Of Troy, and Glassjaw all owe their sound to them in some way shape or form, especially At The Drive In on the album Relationship of Command. So anyone into music owes it to themselves to check this out especially if you have a taste for the experimental, and if you do, be prepared for an epic odyssey of haunting beauty and aural destruction.