In the press release accompanying the debut album from Welsh five-piece Joanna Gruesome, it states that the band’s members met while attending an anger management course. If this is true (and it does sound like an entertaining but convenient invention), it would go a long way to explaining the schizophrenic nature of Weird Sister, an album that combines the kind of melodic indie-pop perfected by Slumberland Records label mates Veronica Falls with the odd explosion of something much more fierce and more suited to the hardcore punk genre. It is a winning formula the band members are happy to repeat throughout their debut.
Both sides of Joanna Gruesome’s nature are on show in the first thirty seconds of Weird Sister’s opening track. “Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers” begins with a descending four-note intro before diving headlong into lead vocalist Alanna McArdle’s sweet vocals. By the time we reach the chorus, we are already in riot grrl territory. “Sugarcrush” is even better, a gold dust indie-pop tune with a huge hook of a chorus and a do-do-do sing-along section that is nevertheless bookended by a furiously discordant riff before the track closes with crashing double-time drums like those you’re usually more likely to hear from the likes of Trash Talk than from an indie act.
There is no sense here that Joanna Gruesome is in any way gimmicky or a one-trick pony. “Wussy Void” is proof that they can slow down the pace completely and survive simply on their knack for an instantly addictive chorus. Closer “Satan” begins as an acoustic number that arrives unexpectedly at the end of this adrenaline-fueled album before fuzzy guitars drop in and a single, creepy out-of-tune riff reminds me of that barely contained rage that comes just before the chorus of Radiohead’s “Creep.” “Lemonade Grrrl” might be the best thing on here, a wonderfully strange hybrid of the big hook and the ferocious pace that shows a real willingness to explore their particular sound to its limits.
In the chaos it’s pretty difficult to make out what’s actually being said vocally. Weird Sister is mixed to such a degree that you find yourself humming along to it pretty quickly, but singing along might be a problem. Maybe the overall sound is simply so persuasive that I’m just not paying enough attention to the lyrical content. Either way, this feels like an album that could only have been made by people in their early twenties, infused as it is with the excitement of possibility and plenty of don’t-give-a-shit attitude.
Don’t let that fool you into thinking Joanna Gruesome is half-hearted, though. For all of its energy and novelty value, Weird Sister is also evidence of a band that has the songwriting chops to evolve in whatever direction they feel like. Whatever they end up doing next, they’ll certainly struggle to recapture the sheer verve of their debut, which has to be counted amongst the year’s most refreshing and exhilarating introductions to a new band.
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