Title: Yank Crime
Artist: Drive Like Jehu
Genre: Post Hardcore / Emo
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DRIVE LIKE JEHU
There’s a strange trend of bands, particularly during the 1990s, that dipped after making ground-breaking and critically acclaimed sophomore albums. In 1991, the album “Spiderland” was released by Slint, who subsequently disappeared off the face of the earth following lead singer Brian McMahan’s departure due to mental health reasons. Although it didn’t receive much attention at the time of its release, “Spiderland” went on to be recognised as one of the most influential albums of all time, and a pioneer of various musical genres, such as the emerging post-rock scene of the 1990s.
In 1998, the now infamous “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel was released, to a similar response as “Spiderland”. A little-known folk-rock album with strange and whimsical lyrics that received a fairly lukewarm reaction upon release, which is now hailed as one of the greatest albums ever made by many people due to the virality of the album in the internet age. Jeff Mangum then proceeded to disappear off the face of the earth, until returning briefly to play some old material during the early 2010s.
After the release of their debut album in 1991, the same year as “Spiderland”, the post-hardcore band Drive Like Jehu started work on their follow-up sophomore album, which would be released in 1994 as “Yank Crime”. And if you’re catching onto the pattern, you’ve probably guessed correctly that the group disbanded shortly after the release of the album. But while it has garnered a fairly substantial cult-following over the last few decades, “Yank Crime” is unfortunately often overlooked in conversations on the post-hardcore/emo scene of the 90’s, with bands such as Fugazi gaining much more recognition. Although far from resembling what emo would transform into during the peak of it’s popularity, with bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy in the 2000s, Drive Like Jehu was one of the first bands to really begin to explore some of the musical characteristics that would eventually result in the formation of the genre.
Drive Like Jehu
Drive Like Jehu, 2016
The reason I bring “Yank Crime” up in relation to “Spiderland” and “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” is because I believe it deserves just as much recognition as them in its influence and overall excellence. And like those two albums, it’s interesting to think what the band might have done in the following years and decades if they had found initial acclaim. Would Radiohead have made the absolutely revolutionary “Kid A” if “OK Computer” hadn’t become such an instant phenomenon? Was the world sadly deprived of another brilliant album from Neutral Milk Hotel, Slint, or Drive Like Jehu, amongst countless others? Obviously the reasons for the discontinuation of the groups varied, such as Brian McMahan’s battle with mental health problems, but it’s still an interesting thought.
Either way, the albums we’ve been left with from these bands are outstanding, and although we will most likely never again hear new material from them, the impact they have made is huge. And while Drive Like Jehu is considered somewhat of an underdog, especially listed aside the likes of Slint and Neutral Milk Hotel, “Yank Crime” should absolutely be held at the same level of esteem.
“Yank Crime” is visceral, sweaty, and absolutely exhilarating, to the point of being almost exhausting at times. The opening track ‘Here Come the Rome Plows’ immediately throws us into a maelstrom of noise, opening with an iconic bassline which is quickly overwhelmed by layer upon layer of roaring guitar lines. There are moments throughout the track where order is established through sections of cleaner, ascending riffs, however for the most part the track feels as if it is battling against itself. Guitars feel strangely opposing, despite the fact that they mostly play in sync with each other, and the vocals from lead singer Rick Froberg are piercing and shrill, as he screams out bizarre lyrics. It’s chaotic as all hell, and a powerful way to start the album off.
Here come the huns
Here come, here come
Rome plows! Rome plows!
Rome plows! Rome plows!"
- Here Come the Rome Plows
The song that follows, ‘Do You Compute’, is considerably more orderly from the get-go. It opens with a single, repeated guitar line, which feels almost like a palate cleanser after the onslaught of ‘Rome Plows’. And apart from some fairly discordant moments towards the middle of the track, it’s actually quite slow and restrained, with a steady beat and synchronised guitars that keep a constant, trudging tempo. However, there’s an intensity and sharpness from the instrumentals that keep the track constantly uneasy, contrasting against its metronomic rhythm. The track stretches on for about seven minutes, but it feels more like three; with an almost hypnotic quality that keeps it from ever feeling tired or diminished.
‘Golden Brown’ brings back the chaos of ‘Rome Plows’, with a similar structure and texture. The track starts off with a distorted guitar line panned to one side, which is immediately disorientating, and throws the listener slightly off before the rest of the track plunges in. It’s more immediate than the previous two tracks, sitting at only three minutes, but it’s a good length that prevents the album from falling too far into the same patterns for too long. ‘Luau’ changes things up from here, with a sprawling slow-burner that alternates between quiet moments of tension, and mesmerizing sections of repeated guitar riffs as Froberg mournfully sings about the irredeemable harm done to Hawaiian culture with the rise of colonialism and tourism. This alludes to the album’s title, which is a clear condemnation of the American attitude of pervading other cultures for self-benefit.
"Forget what you thought! Forget what you heard!
Wipe the last haole the fuck off our turf!
Aloha, aloha! Suit up!
Luau, luau! Luau, luau!"
‘Super Unison’ is another longer track, which leads to an absolutely breathtaking conclusion involving some gorgeous harmonization. It takes the formula of the rest of the album; heavily distorted and relentless instrumentation, and creates something unexpectedly beautiful out of it. The song goes through several phases, but it’s these final moments that are definitely its highlight, as well as one of the standout moments of the entire record.
‘New Intro’ is a clear outlier within the track-listing, but this is mostly due to it acting as a foreword to the following track rather than its own statement. It’s more stripped back, atmospheric and moody than any of the other tracks, however the second half does gear up slightly in order to lead into the far harsher ‘New Math’. And while it trails off before transitioning into this next song, it begins to establish the tone of ‘New Math’, with its exceedingly militaristic sound. The track is heavy, authoritative and imposing. And like much of the material on the album, it leaves you sweaty just from listening to it.
Back Cover (Original)
‘Human Interest’ is, for the most part, more of the same. However, when the quality of material here is so high, that’s hardly a criticism. While it may be the only moment where the album feels as if it’s starting to re-tread ground a bit, it’s a great song that shows off some of “Yank Crime’s” best features. Incredible guitar work, aggressive drumming, immaculate production, and powerful vocals all come together perfectly here, and they’re packaged neatly into a three-minute track that keeps the album’s momentum flowing right up until its final song, ‘Sinews’.
‘Sinews’ concludes “Yank Crime” by breaking away from its formula slightly; taking its time to really build itself up slowly rather than bursting straight into torrential noise. It’s about two and a half minutes before anything particularly harsh is heard, with the song instead starting with a more laid-back introduction section made up of warm guitar licks. It does eventually ramp up, but it’s overall a far more restrained track compared to the likes of ‘New Math’, or ‘Rome Plows’. The song finishes, like many others on the album, with the rather apt ringing out of feedback, and the record then ends.
“Yank Crime” is a masterpiece, and should absolutely be considered one of the great classics of the 1990s, as well as a seminal post-hardcore and math rock album. While it’s a shame nothing else ever came of Drive Like Jehu, members Rick Froberg and John Reis would later go on to form the band Hot Snakes, which bares many similarities to its spiritual predecessor. And while Drive Like Jehu is all but finished, it’s still an interesting thought of what the band could have created together if they had made another record. Despite a brief touring reunion from 2014-2016, they decided not to create any new material together to follow up “Yank Crime”. However, in a way, the short-lived nature of the band may have been what made the music so great. They came, made an extraordinary record, and then left before they even had the chance to follow up with anything even slightly underwhelming. Just like Slint did with “Spiderland”, and Jeff Magnum did with “Aeroplane”. Almost thirty years later, “Yank Crime” has managed to remain one of the greatest albums of the 1990s, and if you haven’t heard it yet, you’re in for a treat.
Written By Layton Bryce - 09/01/2021