Double LP Review: The OBN III’s / A Giant Dog

Our contributor Brian Audette has done an amazing job this year of opening our ears and the ears of our readers to some of the more interesting new sounds in punk music. And a lot of it is really good! But there’s just something about old-school, 70s-inspired punk music that resonates with me more than any other kind. Two albums in that vein came out this year from overlapping groups of musicians who are mining their influences for material.

The OBN III’s released their second full-length this year: The OBN III’s. It continues on the garage-punk path that the OBN III’s started down with all their releases last year. It features their fantastic single “No Way to Rock n’ Roll,” which we featured on last year’s Best Austin Songs list and which only continues to get better with repeated listens. It’s a blast of primal punk energy that cops the sounds of their 70s influences while also emerging as a fresh sound through little more than sheer will.

That combination of originality and energy, however, doesn’t always make it through the whole album. On the album’s first few songs, like “You Wanna Bitch,” they mine the same garage revivalism that the Hives did early in the millennium. Some of the other songs range from forgettable (“Self-Hate”) to actively bad (“Nicky the Knife”). But when the OBN IIIs deviate from the 70s garage rock template, they really shine. “Stick and Move” is a mid-tempo, vaguely psych-rock, number whose space allows the band to really explore its groove. “Off the Grid,” though I disagree with its dismissal of technology (I mean, I am a music blogger), is just a really fantastic song. And “Leave Me Alone” draws its power from its muted, barely present, rhythm section and whispered vocal delivery. It’s probably the most intense song on the album precisely because it eschews all the characteristics of the tracks elsewhere.

The OBN IIIs shows an energetic, talented band wrestling with its influences, and sometimes coming out on top.

Earlier this year, A Giant Dog released a similar-sounding album called Fight. That it sounds so similar to The OBN IIIs shouldn’t be surprising considering that three of the members of each group are the same. And yet Fight sounds so much more engaging and original.

Partially, this is due to the presence of vocalist Sabrina Ellis, whose band Bobby Jealousy we already raved about earlier this year. Ellis and Andrew Cashen combine on lead vocals, often shouting the melodies in unison (like the very X sounding “Saturday”), but sometimes using their abilities to throw in some subtle harmony lines (like on the fantastic album opener “Anyway”).

Overall, though, the songs are just flat-out good. Over half of the album’s 15 tracks clock in at under two minutes, but they never feel like song fragments. Songs like “Cowboy,” “Strange,” and “Too Metal” pack in more ideas into those short durations than most songs contain in twice as much time. Even when they stretch out on a song like “Chatterteeth” (a luxurious 2 minutes, 46 seconds), their energy and songwriting ability means they’re able to maintain a ridiculously awesome time throughout.

A Giant Dog is making garage punk that draws from the past, but is entirely their own, and even when the album drags a bit more in the back half it still sounds interesting enough to stick with it. You can buy both records at Tic Tac Totally Records’ website.

– Carter