Exclusive: Hear Obits’ “Shift Operator,” A Killer New Jam About A Math Problem


Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent.

The shaggy garage-punks in Obits have returned for a second round of three-minute yowlers and blues-rawk howlers. Already beloved as a grown-ass version of frontman Rick Froberg’s manic indie-punk legacy (including San Diego wildman fit-spitters like Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, and Hot Snakes), Obits are taking an even more mature turn, turning down the blood-gargling yelps (Froberg hurt his throat) and turning up the ecstasy and bubble-twang. If 2009’s I Blame You was a stripped-down, bratty MC5 tantrum, then follow-up Moody, Standard And Poor (out March 29 via Sub Pop) is a more focused Wipers implosion. With surf licks and lo-fi bristle poking through their hooks, it’s a gritty blast with a sunny center. First taste “Shift Operator” is the second slowest of its 12 tracks, a mid-tempo boogie that gets its ominous creep from fuzz-drone, its energy from a blank-eyed Brit-punk churn, and its pointed repartee from John Locke’s ethical theory (seriously).

The Obits on “Shift Operator”:

What is “Shift Operator” about?

Sohrab Habibion, guitarist: Trying to negotiate with somebody when neither party sees eye to eye. A shift operator is a mathematical term regarding a function between two vector spaces. It’s used in identity maps, homomorphism, etc. No doubt a proper mathematician can explain it more clearly, but I was drawn to the idea of always returning to the same value, expressed by the equation f(x) = x. Not to suggest that negotiations can’t result in satisfactory outcomes, but more that, even when there are generous compromises, you can’t really change somebody else’s point of view. That said, I think it’d be best if this song was referred to as “Obits’ killer new jam about a math problem.”

What inspired it lyrically?

Habibion: A political disagreement with a friend of a friend at a time when I happened to be reading about Locke’s quasi-geometrical theory of ethics. The saloon argument I was having was completely hypothetical, and yet we both felt strongly about things neither of us had personally experienced. It was absurd, but undeniable. It may have also been the whiskey.

What inspired it musically?

Habibion: It had a few different lives. At first it was more of a straight punk song, written in the spirit of “Into the Future” by the Vibrators. But that wasn’t working, so I thought approaching it more like “Listen to the Sirens” by Tubeway Army might help. Not the New Wave-y drama of the delivery, but the simple, linear, Krautrock drive of each building verse interspersed with a riffier chorus.

Tell us about the title Moody, Standard and Poor

Rick Froberg, frontman: These are credit-rating agencies. The Obits are still unrated.

What’s the best thing that New York has over San Diego?

Froberg: Definitely the weather.

What’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?

Greg Simpson: Al di La.

Most Popular