It’s tempting to compare Cleveland’s Lamont “Bim” Thomas to any number of fuzz-soaked garage and punk acts that treat squealing distortion as an inevitability on par with death and taxes. You could stay within Ohio’s borders and still find dozens of lo-fi bands that have been doing this kind of thing for years, not the least of which (Puffy Areolas, Bassholes, This Moment In Black History) Thomas has played in himself.
But to call Thomas and his wildly prolific solo project Obnox “lo-fi” is to establish limitations where none ought to exist, like trying to paint a sunset with a single shade of red. Sure, Thomas constructs a wall of feedback thick enough to withstand any battering ram, but he also drills a thousand tiny viewing holes into that wall, each focused on an individual melody or texture. In fact, an Obnox song is less a wall than it is a muddy pool of water, one with an indeterminable depth and vague shapes slithering beneath the surface. The joy of listening to an Obnox album comes in trying to make sense of those shapes, and in reveling in the fact that so much life can thrive amid the filth.
This is certainly true for 2014’s breakthrough Louder Space, the first album Thomas recorded in a proper studio and thus the first time he truly mined the depths of his lo-fi fixation. It’s a contradictory listen in several ways, a mishmash of hip-hop, punk, R&B, and garage that’s both tinny and transcendent, with all the levels pushed up as if they’re trying to ascend to heaven. It’s an album that begs to be listened to at top volume, and the same can be said for the two full-lengths Obnox produced in the first half of 2015 alone: the electric, eclectic Boogalou Reed and a similarly genre-spanning concept album called Know America.
The latest Obnox album — the third this year — is another exercise in explosiveness, as you might ascertain from the handgun that graces its cover. Like that gun, nearly every track on Wiglet is imbued with the threat of violence. This is a 12-track album that plays out like a 12-round boxing match, and it doesn’t let up once it lands the first punch. Thomas once again deploys the fuzz in full force, and it brings a snarling, visceral quality to what’s probably his most straightforward set of songs yet. The experiments of albums past (“Molecule” and “Boogalou Reed” come to mind) make way for unapologetic rippers that skew closer to punk than to some of the other genres Thomas has been known for toying around with, sacrificing playfulness for greater consistency.
Maybe this is why Wiglet feels so exhausting. It’s the closest thing to Obnox’s live show that you’ll find on record, and an Obnox show is not the place to be if you’re just looking to kick back and passively take in some music. These are songs that demand attention, but they also reward those willing to peel back the curtain of fuzz and discover the layers of melodies beneath. As its title suggests, opening track “Look to the Sun” is a slow, scorching tune that recalls the desert-influenced psychedelia of Thee Oh Sees’ Mutilator Defeated At Last, another garage highlight of 2015. It’s also a showcase for Thomas’ impressive vocals, which oscillate between spoken word and distended chanting within the span of two minutes. This kind of variety — not to mention the sheer heaviness of everything — can make a one-man band sound like a hundred different people, and Thomas deserves credit for stretching his talents to the point where they might start to rip.
Speaking of talents, the songwriter’s penchant for hiding pop melodies beneath his blankets of distortion is often overlooked, but it’s almost impossible to ignore here. “See Me” is perhaps the poppiest song of his solo career, with a lethally catchy chorus that one imagines would clean up quite nicely. The hip-hop influence is more subtle, though it does show up in the percussive vocals on “If You Wanna Know the Truth” and on the deliciously sinister “Jailhouse Blues”, which almost sounds like a rap verse played back in slow motion. Thomas also flexes his flow on “Baby When I Roll Up”, a song that throws braggadocio rapping and sludgy punk into a blender because, well, fuck it.
But those songs are mostly the exception that proves the rule on Wiglet. They’re offset by the guitar-driven fury of tracks like “Symbol Crash”, “Probability (Oi Division)”, and “It’s So Hard to Break a Habit”, the last of which could almost pass for shoegaze. It’s impressive that so many reference points could add up to something the brain unmistakably registers as a rock album, but that’s the thing about Obnox. This is a one-man demolition derby that doesn’t have any qualms contradicting itself, and the end result is both discomfiting and weirdly satisfying, like the crunch of cars colliding at full speed.
Essential Tracks: “See Me”, “Jailhouse Blues”, and “Baby When I Roll Up”