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Friday, June 3, 2011

Drive Like Jehu, "Yank Crime"

Drive Like Jehu
"Yank Crime"
Interscope (1994)

1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die

Rarely in punk is bigger considered to be better. But then again, Drive Like Jehu wasn’t exactly aiming for normalcy. The band was a part of the San Diego hardcore scene of the early ‘90s which would later be classified widely as “post-hardcore.” The attitude of ‘80s Los Angeles hardcore bands was evident in the post hardcore scene, but musicians were much more likely to experiment and less inclined to stick with sub-three-minute songs.

Drive Like Jehu has been linked with two non-punk genres, progressive and emo, and I’ll discuss the former more because the similarities are more striking We’ll come back to emo.

Drive certainly did not embrace the “keep ‘em short” approach to songwriting, with four of the nine tracks on “Yank Crime” surpassing seven minutes. They also didn’t feel the need to base songs around riffs or even simple time signatures. Songs like “Do You Compute” feature multiple, meandering bridges and off-kilter timing during the “verses.” “Sinews,” the second longest track at 9:13, features frequent and dramatic changes in pace, rarely with a transition easing into them. Erratic time signature? Wandering instrumentals? Songs approaching ten-minutes in length? Sounds pretty prog to me. The band folded after “Yank Crime,” its second album, because as vocalist John Reis put it, playing such complex music was too difficult to be fun. At times the band could tone it down and produce shorter, punchier numbers like “Golden Brown,” however.

The emo connection is not entirely misplaced. Actual early emo music often featured odd time signatures, not just emotionally wrenched vocals. But, emotionally wrenched vocals are a key part of the genre, and vocalist John Reis has a vocal style similar to Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath: far from whiny, but expressing equal parts frustration and desperation.

Because of the group’s similarity to the two aforementioned genres, it would be easy to suggest that it wasn’t really punk at all. But bands like Drive Like Jehu serve as a reminder that often, being “punk” is more indicative of attitude than musical style. Jehu and its more popular Swedish counterpart Refused make complex music that is every bit as punk as Rancid. Purists might argue with that last statement, but I think intention is everything.

INTERESTING FACT: The band’s title is from the Book of Kings in the Old Testament, specifically this line: “the driving is like the driving of Jehu, the son of Nimshi; for he driveth furiously.”


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