Joanna Gruesome // Peanut Butter
Recommended Track: Last Year
The title of Joanna Gruesome’s second album exhibits a vaguely twee/cute facade that hints at very little. This shouldn’t be frustrating or come as a surprise to listeners with previous exposure to the band. Joanna Gruesome likes taking romanticized sentiments about pop and stomping them down with a heavy-soled boot. With Peanut Butter, Joanna Gruesome members Alanna McArdle, Owen Wilson, George Nicholls, Max Warren, and David Sanford have created an impressively relentless and lean record that doesn’t necessarily reinvent the wheel but exhibits a mastery and deep understanding of influencing genres/sounds they connect with, minus imitation.
Judging from the album’s singles, which the band slowly began to tease out at the beginning of 2015, it was clear that their intention was to pick up where they left off, but with more refinement in their agitation and disdain for bullshit ideologies/boundaries/injustices. Peanut Butter takes off in a sprint with opening track and previously released single “Last Year”, a great introduction back into the band’s whimsical, defiant world, the lyrics tinged with dizzying heartache: “Should I love when I do what I do not know?” Their playful syntax is just as flip-floppy as the tonal changes in their music. You can barely predict the morbid turn that the song takes by the last half: “Move your body closer to me/Close enough to tell you, babe/I said that you secretly died.”
“Crayon”, the longest track on the album, gives us a bit of a breather by exhibiting uncharacteristically muted intensity levels yet still maintaining a strong melodic sensibility. Additionally, it’s an example of the strength of divisive track placement. To me, there is something ominous in the whimsy of McArdle and Wilson’s writing. “Crayon’s” sweetness disarms you for a little bit before leading up to an actual explosion of feedback in the beginning of the next track, which returns the record to exuberant punk pop noise. “I Don’t Wanna Relax” and “Jerome (Liar)” are technical and still extremely catchy, reminding me of twangy Brit pop-punk from the late 70-80s. “Psykick Espionage”, first featured in a 2014 split with Joanna Gruesome’s Stateside BFF band Perfect Pussy, is featured again here as Peanut Butter’s penultimate track. It’s an exemplary concoction of Nicholls’ adrenaline-inducing drumwork and McArdle’s ability to switch so effortlessly from fierce snarls to sweet, almost sigh-like vocals. This too feels like a throwback in its different emphasis on the 4/4 measure.
Joanna Gruesome’s fluidity and ability to meld themselves into whatever they please is what makes the band addictive and fun to experience. I have to give them a lower Pie-rating though, because I did expect newer iterations of the elements that make them so great. Still, they have channeled the carelessness, the dissonance, and the volatile fun of our generation’s experience with every song they have released. Peanut Butter exudes a warmth and growing wisdom. I’ll probably listen to it another 4-5 times and my thoughts will probably evolve with it anyways.