Not to be confused with Th’Inbred (an ’80s quartet from West Virginia), Kingston, Ontario’s poppy Inbreds forswear rock’s essential implement and sound no worse for it. Although Mike O’Neill (bass/vocals) and Dave Ullrich (drums) can thus claim membership in two trendy ’90s movements — the two-piece (Spinanes, Local H, Mecca Normal, Kicking Giant, etc.) and the no-guitars (Morphine, GodheadSilo, etc.) — the duo makes nothing of its gimmick and instead concentrates on strong songwriting. O’Neill allows guitar into two songs on Kombinator (the band’s first American issue following a series of tapes and records self-released in Canada), but otherwise he gets the melodic job done by sticking to thin strings, trebly amplification and distortion pedals, all of which serve to render his bass playing close enough to sound like guitar in a full band. Thanks to his comfortable, adolescent voice and casual harmonies, the group’s simple three-minute kernels — brisk and tuneful observations of interpersonal relationships that aren’t going so well — have a vulnerable sweetness that makes them stick. The thoughtful lyrics make them worth chewing over. In the course of two brief verses, “Link” switches from “If you were a dog, I’d put you down/Tired of your moping around/Aren’t you so glad to be alive” to “Pushing the swing for my sister’s child/Told me she loved me but she wouldn’t say why/What could she know she’s only five.”
Illustrating the Inbreds’ precocious nascence, Hilario is a 21-track compilation taken from the first three PF-label releases and a subsequent split single. Although it’s clear the two had the architecture of their simple sound down from the very beginning, it took their songwriting a few months to shed a weakness for conceptual gimmickry (“Granpa’s Heater,” “T.S. Eliot”) and find a reliable perch from which to fly. As an amusing footnote, the generous, uneven disc contains “Farmboy” (1989), the pair’s first recording together, as well as some experimental efforts that break the band’s mold.