Welcome to Jukebox Breakdown, a column where we write about songs we love. Less about overarching themes or through-lines, Jukebox Breakdown is simply a space for our thoughts on perfect tracks.
Jukebox Breakdown: Drive Like Jehu – “Do You Compute”
by Chad Jewett
Drive Like Jehu are one of emo’s great outliers. Ironic and satiric where most contemporaries (give or take the Kinsella brothers) were often painfully in earnest, abstract and cagey as opposed to emotionally expressive, the San Diego quartet’s two albums, 1991’s self-titled LP and 1994’s monumental Yank Crime are just about singular in the history of post-hardcore. In fact, the music made by Drive Like Jehu is so extraordinary that you can only really trace their influence to a handfull of bands – groups like These Arms Are Snakes, Blood Brothers, and Orchid, who absorbed and doubled down on Drive Like Jehu’s wry humor and sharp edges. Following Yank Crime, the band itself seemed to break Drive Like Jehu’s carefully apportioned ingredients down into wholes – the surf/garage rock angles filtered into John Reis’s bombastic Rocket From The Crypt, the acerb post-hardcore fangs eventually made their way into Hot Snakes, the spacious post-punk would show up again with Rick Froberg’s Obits. Drive Like Jehu truly became once in a lifetime.
“Do You Compute”, the second song from Yank Crime, actually starts out finding the band closest to the second-wave emo that was beginning to ferment in the Midwest. The song’s opening two-note guitar figure (delivered in a rare major key) seems to presage any number of opening statements from Sunny Day Real Estate, Christie Front Drive, or Braid. But after nearly two minutes spent looping that scrappy, quasi-pop riff, the song interrupts itself, guitars now chiming in sharp lines alongside Rick Froberg’s inimitable, biting tenor, which frequently becomes a scream as the singer shouts, inscrutably, “Do you compute? / Do you compute? / Do you or don’t you? / I’m saying you do.” Like much of the material on Yank Crime, the band seems to be insisting on something we have to find between the lines, with “Do You Compute” gesturing toward questions about authority and the stricture of social norms, but leaving it all as some form of subtext.
Plenty of Drive Like Jehu’s contemporaries would embrace the kind of stretched-out runtimes that define Yank Crime, but where Mineral, for instance, might use the six minutes of “Unfinished” to carefully expand the song’s restive romanticism, Froberg and company spend the seven minutes devoted to “Do You Compute” for the sole purpose of ratcheting up the song’s wiry tension, first with that 105 second intro, then with the increasing acid with which the song’s central, mysterious question – Do you compute?!? – is spit out. It’s all a monument to the underrated subtlety with which Drive Like Jehu more or less invented their very own genre – equal parts Fugazi’s barbed grooves, garage rock’s up-front riffs, and their own boundless imagination.