In the song "Marcy Mays," Lamont "Bim" Thomas yells, "Rock and roll is my birthright, man. Get it right!" to squealing horns and distorted guitars. The title of the punk-rock, acid-jazz track is a reference to the frontwoman of 1980s band Scrawl, and it feels like both a tribute to her and a subversion of the punk genre. What makes it a subversion is the audacious way Thomas employs soul and hip-hop without losing the punk spirit. But it's also that the punk scene is so white-male oriented and here's Thomas, an African-American musician singing about a riot grrrl.
Obnox came from the early Ohio alternative scene and is best known as the drummer for The Bassholes. His influences include Tim Kerr and Minor Threat, and his recent EP offers distorted, magnetic covers of The Urinals and Gaunt. Last year, he spoke candidly with Pitchfork about race in rock. "Rock and roll could stand some more brothers right now, some more swagger," he told Pitchfork. Even as a lover of three-chord punk, I agree that punk feels safer than ever. Listening to songs like "How to Rob (The Punk Years)," where Obnox pairs biting hip-hop with angular guitar riffs is like hearing punk rock in a parallel universe. Elements of it are as recognizable and enjoyable as any Dead Kennedys or Dwarves song, but he adds an edge that reignites the revolutionary core of the style. This isn't just mixing genres, it's the kind of true punk invention that makes you say, "Ah, so that's what we were missing."
Obnox plays Total Fest Thu., Aug. 14, at the ZACC with Shannon and the Clams, MASS FM, Boys and more. Show starts at 5 PM. $15/$55 for full Total Fest pass. Visit totalfest.org for ticket info.