(Sub Pop; 2013)
By Jordan Cronk | 25 February 2013
Matt Korvette may be skeptical of a majority of humanity, but rest assured he questions and second-guesses himself just that much more. In a recent interview with Pitchfork, the frontman for the Allentown, Pennsylvania noise-rock provocateurs Pissed Jeans outlined his contradictory persona rather humorously: “It’s easy to be this raging guy from up high, shooting thunderbolts down at everyone…But I’m right there thumbing through the organic bananas, too, wondering how I got here.” Then again: “If I jump in the audience and start spitting everywhere, I will be the 10,000th frontman to do that…But if I really call someone out and wish cancer upon them…that might make people’s ears perk up a little bit more.” So yeah, Pissed Jeans are a quintessential punk band: volatile, self-conscious, ethically conflicted. But what’s helped these guys standout over the last half-decade-plus is the way they’ve pitted these impulses against one another, allowing them to careen and combust alongside their even gnarlier post-hardcore afterbirth.
Honeys, the fourth and most streamlined record from Pissed Jeans to date, not only brings these concerns to the forefront, but all but forces one to consider the implications of each successive indictment. Again, Korvette takes aim at everyone and everything, including himself, but it’s important to note the self-deprecating humor which streaks the best of this material. In the past, these narratives have covered a narrow if universal spectrum of issues: ice cream, hair loss, massages, scrap-booking, sexual contrition. On Honeys, the subjects are more substantial, while Korvette reigns in some of his more unhinged vocal idiosyncrasies, deploying a series of vivid, tangible screeds with an emphasis on both personal and situational storytelling. “I swear it’s not you, it’s me,” Korvette explains on “Vain in Costume,” utilizing one of the most clichéd cop-outs; but in this case you want to believe him as he writhes in discomfort amidst the band’s headlong pummel. Elsewhere, on “Male Gaze,” he confesses, “I’m not innocent / I’m guilty,” another fairly hackneyed phrase. And yet considering the topic (the masculine tendency to objectify women), not to mention the context (the band’s place within such a testosterone fueled scene), it’s a noble admission and evidence of Korvette’s growing maturity as a songwriter.
Honeys also represents a tightening of Pissed Jeans’ instrumental attack. While this is still far from accessible alt-rock, these songs are noticeably focused and single-minded in approach. Hope for Men (2007), the band’s first widely heard album and first for Sub Pop, alternated between lacerating feedback scrawls and slow-drip audio collages, the latter what many might consider the aural equivalent of water torture. But I’d argue that Pissed Jeans were always at least partially about confrontation and provocation (see that band name, for one), and save for The Seer (2012), there may not have been a more visceral rock record released in the last five years. The follow-up, King of Jeans (2009), which now sounds transitional if still appropriately punishing, abandoned the experiments but lost steam after an incredible opening gambit of songs. So Honeys “fixes” these two problems, relegating Hope for Men’s sonic affronts to a brief segue (“Something About Mrs. Johnson”) while curbing some of the back-end sprawl of King of Jeans. Instead, Honeys maintains a pretty even keel throughout, which for these guys is a still rather furious assault. Which is to say Honeys will probably make your head bang at a steady clip rather than induce whiplash.
But what they’ve sacrificed in unpredictability and a certain dynamism they’ve more than compensated for in anecdotal imagination. This is the first Pissed Jeans record where Korvette really feels like the creative impetus behind the band’s personality. Which isn’t to say that the band isn’t there at any given moment to push Korvette kicking and screaming into conflict with his angst. “You’re Different (In Person),” a scathing and darkly comic portrait of emotional (mis)communication in the era of social media, pivots on a sharply escalating Duane Denison-like riff before revving toward the finish line on the back of serrated power-chords and Korvette’s exasperated enunciation. “Cafeteria Food” takes the opposite approach as the band falls into a churning, methodical tempo while Korvette details the aforementioned desire for a co-worker’s cancer diagnosis. And then there’s “Loubs,” Korvette and the band’s one concession to their more wanton instincts, protracting vowels (“I’m happ-aay as a claa-yum”) and vamping on a blues scale like Mark Arm fronting early-‘90s Royal Trux.
With that being said, the best tracks here tend to be the chiseled, sawed-offed punk barrages—appropriate, as this is Pissed Jeans’s most beefed-up production to date. Opener “Bathroom Laughter” continues the band’s streak of incredible, palate-cleansing introductions, as Sean McGuiness flails wild-armed all over his kit while Korvette seethes, spits, and screams, exorcising any last vestiges of youthful comeuppance he failed to dispense on King of Jeans. “Vain in Costume” gallops fleet footed on a heaving riff, mirroring Korvette’s vocal cadence in a weird sort of anti-melody, even as discernible words are few and far between. By contrast, Korvette’s thoughts are efficiently deduced and delivered on “Health Plan,” the record’s crazed climax and most lyrically and musically primitive moment. There’s apparently no fine print to consult in Korvette’s personalized HMO plan (“You want to know my secret / I stay away from doctors,” goes the fantastically blunt chorus), and if the band is likewise leaving anything to imagination, they sure as hell aren’t letting on. Before you know it, these guys are in, out, and have sodomized your dog, and you’re left with nothing more than a bewildered look of nervous pleasure plastered across your face. After all, for Pissed Jeans nothing is more political than the personal, and Honeys, more so than any of their albums thus far, provides similar moments of dumbfound enlightenment in the least pretentious, most considerate way possible for a band of everydudes with more on their minds bucking the system.