Monday, October 7, 2013

Album Review: Joanna Gruesome - Weird Sister

Album Rating: A-
Joanna Gruesome’s Facebook page describe’s the band’s sound as “C86 noise punk blah blah blah.” Gee! What an undersell. There are a million and one bands putting music out into the hopefully-infinite capacity of the internet that I might call C86 noise punk blah blah blah bands. A quick listen through the band’s first LP, Weird Sister, kicks ‘em right off the list. Scratch. A quick listen through the band’s first LP’s first track should do the trick. Lord knows I love a good cannonball of an opener (no pun intended - this girl-fronted punk band doesn’t even really sound like the Breeders. Imagine!), and “Anti Parent Cowboy Killers” might even eclipse the one-two explosion of “Master of My Craft/Borrowed Time” from Parquet Courts’ recent Light Up Gold. 

I’m getting ahead of myself, because I’m getting excited. Weird Sister is really, really a great record. If you’re wondering about the phonic similarities between the band and one recently wed harp player, I don’t have any answers for you. I’ve got, you know, theories, but they’re probably all so over-thought I won’t even put them down. Joanna Gruesome are not Joanna Newsom, which is as good a reason as any for them to be called Joanna Gruesome. The music really is, on a level, gory. This is noise-pop without the all-to-common wish-wash of recent additions to the genre. The guitars sound like they’re in pain. Amps were bursted, strings unstrung, and your ears can feel it. So, check-plus on authenticity 

One of the most arresting things, stylistically, about the album is the ultra-clear delineation the band make between noise-pop’s two primary ingredients: noise and yeah. Alanna Gruesome’s vocals skip seamlessly between a harmonic murmur and a squealy shout so full of the life a lot of the band’s peers are trying hard to contrive into their material. Likewise, while fuzz is ubiquitous throughout, the songs only dissolve out of fairly basic pop forms and into complete and total discord at strategic points. This way, they can play girl-group chord progressions and make glassy harmonies without actually sounding like a girl-group, or, well, a C86 band. Compare to another recent band, Veronica Falls, who put out a new album earlier this year. It was good, but it was basically an 80’s alt-rock album. They pulled it off because they understand what a good hook is. Stripped down to its base chemistry, Weird Sister isn’t that different from the stuff Veronica Falls does, but it’s so much more exciting - probably because you have to hear the songs at least once before you can figure out how to sing along. 

Sometimes, particularly on the slower numbers like “Candy,” the prettier sections can get a little too vague, and it’s hard to tell if anything’s really happening in terms of movement of the song. It doesn’t take too much away from the overall effect of the album. It’s hardly even a complaint. “Graveyard” puts the listener in flight with almost U2-like heavenly chiming, then quickly throws them into a nose-dive toward craggy peaks below with some thundering and yelling like I haven’t heard from any record since at least the mid-1990's. At their best, the band are emotional alchemists, using perfectly balanced dynamics at every level of songwriting to make mundane afternoons into fuzzy thrill-rides.

You should definitely listen to Weird Sister. This is some of the best of the new school of blistery guitars, a trend I just can’t get enough of. I mean, thank god, it’s finally here! As a piece of contemporary indie rock, it’s like a friendship quilt or something - a place where fans of Sonic Youth, Best Coast, and Phil Spector can all get together and say “yeah, this is cool.” Isn’t that a special thing? Isn’t that what rock n’ roll is all about?

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