Working at a mixing board one night, a catchphrase popped into Greg Obis’ head: “freak frequency.” He was ringing out feedback during his job as a sound engineer, and started to picture the parallels between acoustic physics and political trends. “If you think about a waveform, as the frequency rises, the space between the sine waves gets less and less,” Obis explains. “With that downward trend comes constant heightening, stress and tension.” He came to see freak frequency as an apt metaphor for the decline of Western empire, an inverse relationship between the (positive) deterioration of American hegemony and the (negative) worsening of daily life under that fall. It was a fitting title for the new material Obis was planning for Stuck, the frenetic and twisted post-punk outfit he formed in 2018. Inspired by the doomy social economics of Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, the bleak worldbuilding of horror games Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne, and the bombastic yet arty satire of Devo, Obis channeled his audio analogy into Freak Frequency, an album ringing out with explosive sounds and ideas. Though its songs tackle the violence of wealth, the nightmares of technocracy, and the rise of the conspiratorial layman, Freak Frequency is Stuck’s quirkiest record to date—compositionally challenging and equipped with menace, yet dotted with vibrant fun. “Being in a brooding post-punk band isn’t that appealing to me,” jokes Obis. “When things are bad, all you can really do is laugh.” Stuck formed after Obis’ previous projects, Yeesh and Clearance, called it quits in short proximity. Obis is on guitar and vocals, which span from booming theatrics to ecstatic yelps. The project’s rhythm section is completed by shoegaze guitarist-turned-chugging bassist David Algrim and tightly wound drummer Tim Green—also a graphic designer, and the artist responsible for Stuck’s distinctively unified visual aesthetic. Original co-guitarist Donny Walsh contributed freely inventive lines for the first few years of the project, including on Freak Frequency; Ezra Saulnier of Red Tunic, the newest member of the band, now brings calculated contrapuntal riffs to match Obis’ parts. The building blocks of Stuck include the egg punk eccentricities of Uranium Club and The Coneheads filtered through noise rock power, à la Jesus Lizard or Slint; that melange is glittered with the precision microtones of Unwound and Women. “I want the feeling of immersion and chaos and tension, with a big guitar amp playing a big chord,” says Obis of his inspirations, citing friends and peers Cloud Nothings and Preoccupations. “But I want it delivered by having a lot of smaller points of light poking through.” At first, the new project had meager goals—it would be an excuse to open for friends’ bands when they toured through Chicago. 2020 debut Change Is Bad was released by Born Yesterday, the beloved Chicago indie co-run by Obis and Deeper’s Kevin Fairbairn. It was recorded at Jamdek Studio, and though it earned Stuck national press and tours with kindred post-rockers Pile and Blessed, Obis claims his band’s ambitions were low. “It’s a real meat-and-potatoes post-punk record,” he says. Content That Makes You Feel Good, a followup EP that saw Obis move into the role of recording engineer, introduced new textures, including ornamental synths; it was released in 2021 on Brooklyn’s Exploding in Sound. “We tried to be more ambitious with production on the EP, and Freak Frequency is a continuation of that,” Obis notes. In fact, writing for Freak Frequency began while Content’s recording was still underway—beginning with “Scared,” which features acoustic layers under feedback squalls. “Time Out,” with motoric guitars in the sputtering lineage of Wire, was also composed in late 2019. Obis wrote it about the cycles of compulsion and shame woven into social media use, and the way negativity drives algorithmic engagement. It became an exciting exercise for the group in ramping up speed; “I thought I knew how far I could push Tim’s tempos,” Obis recalls. “But Tim kept insisting we do it 20 bpm faster than what I had. He is an absolute monster for playing that.” Album opener “The Punisher,” a spiral staircase of disembodied guitars and rhythmic slams over a 2/4 beat, came in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection. It felt immediately emblematic to Freak Frequency, and Obis describes it as his favorite Stuck track: one he wishes he could write again and again. “It hits all the boxes that Stuck can do: it’s goofy, but there’s a lot of intricate guitar interplay, and at the end, there’s a big payoff,” he explains. The last song written was “Do Not Reply,” a pre-album single that came to Obis after engineering for Melkbelly and channeling their earworm melodies. Algrim wouldn’t let it on the record unless Melkbelly’s front person Miranda Winters dueted on vocals; she was happy to oblige, and the gritty epic closes Freak Frequency. With Obis resuming engineering duties, recording took place over eleven days at Chicago’s Palisade Studios. Additional flourishes included saxophone, with skronky riffs provided by Sarah Clausen (Algrim’s bandmate in Gentle Heat), and synthesizers, which Obis studied during the pandemic. Eventually, the songs were handed off to mixer Graham Walsh, hired for his sure hand on Metz’s recordings. “We wanted somebody who could take the tracks I recorded and fuck them up and bring the life out of them,” explains Obis, who added final touches to Freak Frequency at Chicago Mastering Service, where he dayjobs. Stuck has also returned to Born Yesterday to release Freak Frequency. “I’m stoked to be in good company with Landowner, Caution, Cafe Racer, and all our bands,” says Obis of his roster. With slippery snark, percussive heft, and funhouse mirrors of sludge, Freak Frequency delivers its needed screeds with gratifying nuance. If Stuck’s interpretation of this messed-up world goes down like a bitter pill, it’s only because its sugar coating is too delicious to keep from eating.
KILBY VENUE RULES
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