. issue I : vi .
Yank Crime is a blunt object. It is lurid and arid and wretched in the way that inhospitable terrain is ‘exposed.’ And as their namesake — that biblical charioteer (guard-cum-annihilator, servant-cum-executor, and arrant-anointed revolutionary) — Drive Like Jehu lays waste as they go, … “for he driveth furiously.” (2 Kings 9:20) Who is Jehu? What sort of ‘driving’ does he do? … Jehu is the 10th King of Israel, and the — the not-quite-perpetrator — let us say ‘the cashier’ for King Jehoram of Israel and King Ahaziah of Judah … he “who slew his master.” (2 Kings 9:13) A charioteer-commander, Jehu drives himself and others to (and from) slaughter, and his most memorable drive is over Jezebel’s prone form (… and after which he takes a ‘snack break’). … yah. And although Jehu means “Yahweh is He,” Jehu’s Yahwist agenda is a hypocritical bird-from-the-hand slaughter. Appointed by charismatic Yahwist prophecy to deal against the blasphemous House of Ahab, Jehu had served as Ahab’s bodyguard and was virtually a piece of furniture (as present and as ineffectual) during various Yahwist events (e.g. the spurning of Elijah). Jehu is a saboteur and transgressor on the level with Ahab, but because he is a mechanism, the violence is sanctioned. Disbelievingly zealous, with a sort of raunchy, mindless sternness and a bloodied vanilla carte-blanche, Jehu gives ‘due’ tribute to the Assyrians (… and since they will later destroy the Kingdom of Israel, it’s not unfair to say that Jehu does the taking and the tasking and others have paid before and do pay later — and not him). Jehu is an executor, and more stark than that; 2 Chronicles recounts: “and he sought Ahaziah: and they caught him.” (22:9) ‘And they caught him.’ Jehu is also a licensed redactor, slaughtering scores of humans on Ahab’s bloodline: “And he said, Take them alive. And they took them alive, and slew them at the pit of the shearing house.” (2 Kings 10:14)
And this — desecratory, unheeding, ordained — is Yank Crime. It is an unmitigated, fearless headache of an album that commandeers apheresis on its listener. Blandishing detuned, emetic whinnies from guitars, Drive Like Jehu conquer the post-hardcore roster (re: Nation of Ulysses, Husker Du, Rites of Spring, even The Jesus Lizard) with this effectively unaffected performance. Yank Crime represents a math that makes time and then marks it in the least pretentious, scrappiest, disaffected disingenuous, scrabblingly honest way. This is not processed precision math; rather, an intentionally but unheedingly sharp rhetoric; it slops about with a violent carelessness. And yet how attentive it is! Careful to document the imperfect keening of their production (wavering fermatas, drum seizures, soft feedback healds), the band acts from a barefaced downtroddenness that characterizes the best of the punk tradition and that never feels unwarranted when so disgustedly earnest. It is even accusatory — someone is shamefaced at Yank Crime, … and it’s not the band. Similarly, when Jehu incites citizens of Samaria to murder seventy men, woman and children related to Ahab, he publicizes their complicity: “He said Lay ye [the heads] in two heaps at the entering in of the gate. … [and] he went out, and stood, and said to all the people, Ye be righteous: behold, I conspired against my master, and slew him: but who slew all these?” (2 Kings 10:8-9) Like Jehu, accountability does not produce suffering, as when Froberg declaims “This is my cause and my excuse / I’ll take the loss but I’ll get what I got due,” … we know he won’t feel the loss that’s taken. This inviolably insensate thick-skin is invoked terrifyingly throughout the album, as in “Here Come The Rome Plows” (“Dear heart, dear friend / I never been on the receiving end / Not a scratch, not a dent / I never been on the receiving end”) and “Sinews” (“Find yourself an asshole / Knew you could afford / Keep your hands out, cup cake / Find yourself the door”). The sour lyricism is frighteningly obdurate, characterized by a demeaning redundancy (i.e. like educating the dunce) and a laid-bare hypnotism.
“Froberg’s larynx is rent as he masticates the identically hammered choruses, but the method is not raw, rather, the opposite: it is a singular antiphony, an aside yawned out with precisely overcooked, tireless monomania. Yank Crime is self-flagellation that forces the slaughter-house to watch, but unclassy in a poetic way, like the sparse, brute symmetry of Old English half-lines set half-and-half around a caesura, as when, with ostentatiously retributive voyeurism, Froberg threatens a beating: ‘Gonna say it with a smile / Gonna say it with a lisp.'”
Complex album opener “Here Come the Rome Plows” is a bounding, bombastic track of careening feedback and wagging sawtooth bravado. Drive Like Jehu jostle cries from their guitars with the indelicate forcibleness of rape or torture, and extrapyramidal omissions from the guitar are wrenched out and frankly fraught upon the listener; an unpleasant barrage confident in each uniquely despised sound steps up each indecorous roll or amplifier squawk, force-feeding the listener for the bad-tasting mouth of medicine-taking or vomit. The listener feels vicariously threatened. From an intensely mathy guitar tapestry — again: not precision-mathy, but violently wasteful indecorous lawn-mower mathy — a squall of sickling yells elevates the key, plateauing the tension as his crowning yawp creaks above: “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!” Indeed, the Pax Romana legacy is infamous: achieved after lengths of devastation, submission and (anachronistic) bulldozing into homogeneity; peace perpetrated in a sort of vicious blender of Romanization for flattened pulpy slip-‘n-slides so sensual and brutish. (Compare this with the tamer, syncretically cerebral homogeneity of Hellenization.) But Pax Romana was a process of action, a mindset, and it laid waste. “Rome Plows” makes the apt connection between agendas of victimization and subsequent spectatorship and vicious collegiate partying: Froberg sings, “Be my date tonight,” and we understand it to be a gladiator match, a Circus Maximus, an activity with a subtextual premise to control or lay fallow. With its unhinged austerity and acerbic concision, “Rome Plows” is a clamping squall of abuse ratcheted up-and-up: from “step up / here come!” (‘here come’ is unclassy and bare, like an omission of the possessive) falls the onslaught of “Rome Plows! Rome Plows! Rome Plows! Rome Plows!” like a verb-form invasion notice — for this is a process, not a noun as the title so cunningly suggests. A held note at 4:30 emulates a lone train whistle or an insistent, terminal horn, and the final barrage coagulates over a minute, mirroring the “Rome Plows!” oi punch of the chorus. Drive Like Jehu expertly saves the worst for last, as “I never been on the receiving end / I never been” outpaces itself into the wreckage.
The fourth track, “Luau,” is the standout, the crudest, most successfully raw song on Yank Crime, a bacchanalian road-racer of inexorably circular hula-hooped impact, with returning bends that strain, orbit, and a bubble up a blue-blooded fatalism. It is also one of Yank Crime’s longest performances at a brooding 9:27 of velocitous pressure (“aloha — suit up!”) and mid-90’s desaturated swaggering lust. There’s this to-the-grindstone executive clarity: no questions: the listener is a victim and can barely even breathe against the siren return and return of guitar. “Luau” begins with a sere, desiccated strum and then the drums (acute but deadened — like an impact, you feel the blow) roping pull strings for buck-and-roll seasickness into a querulous, careening bend. Froberg bursts out “Failures!” These are magnificently vitriolic screams, frothing and disjointed, breaking in the middle and returning to sane melody, ratcheting up and down but indulging a dwelt-on rest beforehand. No less jarring are the soured, crass, unmitigated lyrics: “Let’s get! somethin’ straight / ‘Snot for mine, mine, mine, mine!” (with the repetition of ‘mine’ paralleled by guitar pull-strings), “Wait for the rub out, wait for the purge / Wipe the last ally the fuck off our turf,” even “It’s in the water!” In this hard-bitten landscape, this not-yet-ghosting-town, the scariest thing is that “Luau” is set (here) before the blow falls (here), as described by the raucous, knowing bridge: “It’s in the set up / Yeah, it’s built in / Whatever the get up / Yeah, it’s built in.” Nowhere else do Drive Like Jehu so invoke what’s corrupt about their namesake. Could “Luau” have stopped here, at not even the 3-minute mark? Yes … but no: Jehu is not done being not started yet. From the lawnmower torque of a bridge, the threat-level increases with a languid, acute vigilantism (“Aloha! Aloha! Suit up! / Luau, luau, luau, luau!”) and yet this bridge is set off by a crooning, seductive background chorus a la Naked Raygun. It’s hypnotic, endearing and threatening. This moment of anempathy takes Yank Crime from an ‘A-’ to an ‘A’ — this is the artistic decision that makes the song and the album. After the swaggering terror of the bridge, a balderdash drum break foments a regrouping, fuzzy solo crowned with a reprise cry of “Suit up!” … and now we’re back to the intra-group threatening, “Forget what you thought, forget what you heard / Wipe the last ally the f— off our turf!” and the given-proof bridge, “It’s in the set up / Yeah, it’s built in / Whatever the get up / Yeah, it’s built in.” And then, midway, the vitriolic ‘up-the-ante’ last gasp, as Jehu is so apt to give it: “Kill off the tourist and we’ll all sleep sound / Cash in their fillings and blow it in town / We’ll blow it on rifles, we’ll blow it on drinks / Head in the corner, head for the sink.” The lawnmower reprise opens into a spacious, sparse drum solo, with listless guitar under-the-bridge, and a fresh, almost a capella coda: “Aloha! Aloha! Suit up! / Luau, luau, luau, luau.” And that’s still not it! For four more minutes, Jehu provides a harsh, raunchy, knotty instrumental, yet with a clean uplifting harmonic wash underneath midway reminiscent of the background chorus: these are minutes of majestic and painful complexity. Although a veritable slosh of decaying guitar motors is unleashed into a dissociated, frenetic reel, the solos remain sharp enough to cut. The listener’s brain is truly being processed.
“The exceptional ‘Luau’ is both the most tableaux performance (as the homing guitar shuttle wends you in, constricting into a motionless mesmerism), and the most burstingly, unfeignedly organic performance (coldly but almost affectionately boisterous in the way that truly broken things can be) on Yank Crime. ‘Luau’ is murderous but not angry, and, thus, terrifying. It’s the staggering swaggering bravado of dead-end bullying: ordained, fated, prospective … there’s no other way.”
Yank Crime’s sole instrumental offering is the midpoint of “New Intro,” a diptych that creases a fold into the album, the slope up proceeding softly, softly, and the other abruptly down into a coal-furnace of feedback shoveled on and tamped to asphyxiative volatility. It’s the first 2 ½ minutes that are remarkable: invoking both a roiling sinister bass a la The Jesus Lizard and a subdued (or perhaps ‘undercooked’) good will a la Pinback, it’s an unexpectedly warm and chiming composition, though artful and wary. Drive Like Jehu drive not always furiously, not always with indiscretion and attitude — instead, “New Intro” deftly wends out the competitive, businesslike mind of some overwrought math rock arachnid. It is, in paradoxical fact, discretionary and striking. The ‘intro’ to “New Intro” (as it were) has so much restraint … such dangerous and asymmetric beauty!
“New Math” is a concise (4 minutes) but sustaining piece that bolsters Yank Crime approaching its close, even heightening the stakes through candid shortness-of-breath. “New Math” consorts with a lackadaisical, loose fatalism, a sort of underwritten ‘yes-means-no-means-yes: gimme’ ballad: Froberg consents “Yeah I’d stoop to that / Sure I would” and repeats it twice as if for both parties. It’s a gruesome vow. From a straining binary guitar riff-raff bounding front-to-back in a straitjacket, the guitar again seems to have a pull cord, and it’s deployed with near-erotic insistence. An ambient whine from the backing guitar is like the circumference of helicopter propeller touch-down, and returns throughout “New Math” with a fickle engine to burst into protracted wailing squalls. Militaristic drums pile onto this cabalistic current jarring and jamming between electrodes in starts, the drums terribly regular under the erstwhile barrage. Then, the vocals, and the whole song is bowled over and down, reeling with a sudden key change, a visceral, staggered impact. Froberg takes a flat tone over his flock of soured guitars, and the whole song wilts nauseatingly, cadaverous and crepuscular, like a droopy paunched eyelid on an old man. From the ‘stooped’ descent, Froberg props his next screams, angling them with a plane protractor upshot: “Yeah, you been had! / Yeah, you been had!” No kidding. Amidst bacchanalian pull-cord mowing guitars, Froberg attends well to his rite, levelly repeating, “That’s how I fixed it / That’s how I fixed it” then aiming the back-to-knuckle with a sharp linear upwardness, “That’s how I fixed it / That’s what I did / That’s how I fixed it / That’s what I did!” The braggadocio continues with little Iggy yips and small wild modulations in screams. From a monotonous, crass, terse revelation, the benefit and cost are explained substantially: “And now my knees are spotless and my legs are crossed / And I needn’t spread them / Cause I can afford / Piety, chastity, charity, your company.” It’s a sickening song in that this is the most and all he has to say, and, as Drive Like Jehu often expertly does, “New Math” holds out until the last verse.
“Do You Compute” kerns on a lonelily human morse code of guitar antiphony, yawning projectile-like into the canyon of the song; terrifically paced drums wind up the guitar in its heald and launch the dejected yawp “Do you compute!?” with the drums bent back upon themselves in repulsion. Amidst this avalanche of coordination and reckless dispersion, small sharp objects loom out of the woodwork (e.g. the guitar nuances at 2:55 and 3:00). This is a compositional masterpiece from the bottom up, and only the lyrics fall short (in lacking Jehu’s obstreperousness grit). It’s the right mix of metronomic water torture and sustained, blurbly, sharp bends of feedback for electronic detachment; the dilapidated and inescapably lo-fi cyclotronic atmosphere of vintage At the Drive-In (re: “198d”).
“‘Do You Compute’ is desperately intimate and not all between the lines, as Froberg cries like a baby, ‘You weren’t and it isn’t and nobody’s listening.'”
Otherwise, “Golden Brown” fends for itself with a dementedly grungy acquisitiveness (“I’m just keepin’ off the flies”), “Bullet Train to Vegas” is an irreverent mimetic emetic (“Pull up a tit and suck away / Gonna milk that sacred cow, now!”), and “Hand Over Fist” is a ostentatiously vicious oath of retribution and persecution (“Give em an inch, they’ll take a mile”). “Human Interest” creates a schizophrenic rending of attention scatter-brained with music leaning forward and vocals leaning back. In this decadent, unexpectedly melodic piece, a starker difference between screaming and singing shows: it’s an elegantly dark tone, almost nu-wave, with some bully bravado: “It’s fair enough, al’right.” Right. When the punk frontman sings, why are we so deeply unsettled? [A:] We don’t trust it. It’s like a pre-abusive lull: we’re waiting for the next blow and the ball is inevitably in his court … especially when what’s sung is “I’d never make you suffer / I know that wouldn’t do / And that ain’t practical / And I ain’t through.” What a ballad! And “Super Unison” wavers through fermata feedback, spare, leaping drums that fall in waves of tender flailing, and yet against threatening subtext (“It ain’t no accident we’re better off”) a nadir of angular strumming and a Major-key-shoegaze-surprise ringing rise, triumphal and as unassuming, unburdened and freewheeling as Swervedriver.
The bonus track re-release of Yank Crime succeeds in its inclusion of the B-side “Sinews (Original Version)” from a 1992 Headhunter Records compilation (Head Start to Purgatory). Since “Sinews” for Yank Crime closed the 1994 release, 2003’s Yank Crime (Bonus Tracks) features “Sinews” (1994) at track 9 and “Sinews (Original Version)” (1992) at track 12. A comparison does not properly yield insight into the band’s process because their songcrafting is so versatile and both versions choose how to be exceptional. Both are a math rock spaghetti spectacle, a sparkingly dark brooding traipse, whispering and patient, intimate and well-documented (e.g. detailed stops on the guitar, detailed timbre of the percussion), with beautiful harmonics, and volatile guitar windups bearing an angular and diminished key. The most effective moments in the 1994 cut are two parallel instances of lyrical acting in the first verse, as Froberg steps back from screamed lines with a smallspoken iamb, a revealing, fragile, monologous aside: “Ain’t gonna fix your leaks / For you / Ain’t gonna watch the store / No more.” As he groans out “no more,” the listener experiences sympathy … sympathy so heartfelt that it cannot even be astonished by the circumstances! Otherwise, the listener is a toy for Jehu, subjected to decadent noise solos and (nearly) ear and nosebleeds. The “Sinews (Original Version)” misses lyrics elaborated in 1994, but remains a successful alternative by wielding guitar lines like thrown stars and lacerating percussion. We see the skeleton of “Sinews,” and what a bared, stark, nakedly wrathful bone it is.
Drive Like Jehu was Rick Froberg (vox, e-g), John Reis (e-g, vox), Mike Kennedy (b-g), and Mark Trombino (d), and Yank Crime was their second full-length and last release. It’s an awfully visionary album, even better than their self-titled debut (how often does that happen?), awfully disreputable squalor for a major-label debut (how often does that happen?), and possesses itself with unwashed and near-unmatched integrity and — har — drive. Drive Like Jehu’s Yank Crime is a foul slab of spitless sashimi to the teensily cute-sushi-garnish of even David Yow, Steve Albini and Ian McKaye. Remember that, though Jehu drives around both Israel and Judah committing regicide, he can only lead one, … and he is oiled-up and installed in the nation that’s doomed. Similarly, there is no big-wigging on this terrain; this sort of putridly epileptic craftsmanship was never set to receive grandeur, and Drive Like Jehu know it. They claim with zeal their rule so deservingly dissolute. Yank Crime is unfeignedly the best at its very, very worst, or, as Jehu sneers at his battlefield betrayals (when asked, in 2 Kings 9:18, “Is it peace?”), “What hast thou to do with peace? Turn thee behind me.”