Release Date: May 19, 2015
Record label: Slumberland
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
As explosive and as immediate as Joanna Gruesome’s music is, their imprint on public consciousness has been somewhat gradual. If 2013 debut Weird Sister finally marked the point where more people were talking about their songs than their name, it still didn’t quite seem to awaken the public at large to the power of their music. Slowly but surely, though, they’ve started to seep into wider cognizance, probably aided by the fire and eloquence with which the band and their singer Alanna McArdle have railed against the sexism and miscellaneous bullshit which pervades the music industry and world in general.
Alanna McArdle is such a powerful singer that it’ll take two people to replace her. McArdle has been Joanna Gruesome’s chief calling card for years, the most striking element of various singles and their two albums, including the brand new Peanut Butter. She can leap from indie-pop sweetness to punk growls and back with ease, and that contrast has defined the band on both of their albums.
There's a moment in the bridge of "Last Year," the lead track off Joanna Gruesome's new album, where you can hear the band's Jekyll and Hyde transformation. Breaking from their initial blitzkrieg, singer Alanna McArdle abruptly shifts from spitfire screams into a melodious indie-pop croon. But as she and guitarist Owen Williams harmonize, the guitars can't help but fall into discord, the two sides of the band's personality rubbing up against one another — think Pussy Riot mauling the Pains of Being Pure at Heart.This element was present on the band's 2013 under the radar debut Weird Sister, but on Peanut Butter, everything is heightened; the hardcore elements more aggressive and pointed, the indie-pop moments prettier and more tuneful.
It's relatively easy for a band to make its second album if nobody's watching; it's a lot harder when your first album made a huge splash and there's a bunch of pressure to repeat with something just as good, if not better. That's the reason so many brilliant debuts are followed by duds. A lot of people were watching Joanna Gruesome when it came time for their second record.
The two snippets of new material from Joanna Gruesome that bridged the gap from 2013’s ‘Weird Sister’ to now - ‘Jerome (Liar)’ and ‘Psykick Espionage’, tracks born on respective split releases with Trust Fund and Perfect Pussy - were examples of the band carrying out their marriage of harsh and sugar-sweet sounds with increasing conviction. The latter’s verse is the sharpest, hardcore-tinged section they’ve ever written, and its chorus the cutest, and the track slots seamlessly into ‘Peanut Butter’. It’s an album that takes Joanna Gruesome to every possible corner of their capabilities, when ‘Weird Sister’ sometimes failed to stray from the straight-forward.
You could hardly accuse noise-pop band Joanna Gruesome of taking themselves too seriously. From their pun-based name, riffing on that of cooing harpist Joanna Newsom, to the ridiculous press-release stories of how they met – in anger management classes, on a wine-tasting holiday – the Welsh five-piece keep their tongues lodged firmly in cheek when promoting their music. Luckily, the tunes speak for themselves.
Cracking open Joanna Gruesome’s second album with a squall and a scream, ‘Last Year’ has singer Alanna McArdle repeatedly yelling, “I will not” and threatening to crush some coward’s skull. But the relationship in question swiftly goes from skull-crushing to pussyfooting (“I say nothing and you sleep in the day”), and a willingness to tolerate a bad relationship rather than risk loneliness.‘Peanut Butter’’s first six songs are rife with such indecision: lyrics about direction and commitment (‘Crayon’), and the inability to feel comfortable in relationships (‘Honestly Do Yr Worst’), are either screamed, or cooed with the bored remove of someone desensitised to emotional violence. But this doubt isn’t weakness.
First impressions can be deceptive. From their Ramones-like full-band appropriation of the surname Gruesome, to their bizarre moniker (punning on Joanna Newsom’s name), Cardiff’s Joanna Gruesome might have looked set to come across as a short-lived joke act. Their 2013 debut Weird Sister, however, proved that couldn’t be further from the truth.
On their 2013 debut Weird Sister, Joanna Gruesome rubbed sugar up against sandpaper until both started to melt. Clean leads and light, melodic vocals trickled into oceans of fuzz under song titles like "Wussy Void" and "Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers". Two years later and they haven't evened out. Peanut Butter could have smoothed the Cardiff band's sound, finding the happy middle between their rough edges and sticky-sweet center.
Joanna Gruesome is the type of band that could only exist today. There’s nothing particularly modern about their fuzzy twee pop lightly tipped with grimy ‘90s punk, but the way in which they integrate such oppositional genres together speaks to the current generation’s obsession with stylistic deconstruction and reappropriation. Peanut Butter, Joanna Gruesome’s second album, incites aural culture shock between lo-fi punk and shoegaze-lite pop, less a genuine blend of these styles and more of a stark clash between them.
Joanna Gruesome’s debut 2013 full-length, Weird Sister, established the band as a spiritual descendent of both the early ’90s K Records/Kill Rock Stars rosters and the U.K. riot grrrl scene. The Cardiff, Wales, quintet expertly stitched together lo-fi indie-pop, haywire noise jags, and bruising punk attacks, with the common thread being the sweetly poisonous vocals of ex-Evans the Death member Alanna McArdle.
You know the feeling when your friend falls apart because she didn't get invited to the cool party tonight, while you explain there is no cool party tonight? Finally, a punk-rock song to address this trauma: "There Is No Function Stacy," just one of the gems on Joanna Gruesome's fantastic racket of a second album. These Welsh kids don't waste any time: 10 noise-pop songs in 22 minutes, all bubblegum hooks and guitar explosions, even kickier than 2013's ace debut, Weird Sister. The sublimely saucy Alanna McArdle blows barbed-wire kisses to the world.
Cardiff noise pop band Joanna Gruesome are stressed to the point of aggression, though they do set aside their misgivings when they’re at their most volatile. They approach their succinct songs with plenty of fire in their bellies: it usually begins with a sweet, yet fuzzed-out guitar lead, followed by bursts of atonal noodling until they circle back into fine form with sugary choruses that would make Talulah Gosh bow to them with respectful deference. Working with Hookworms member MJ for a second time, Peanut Butter largely encompasses a twenty-two minute venting session with almost-verbatim accounts that think back to past experiences.
Following their Welsh Music Prize-winning debut, 2013’s Weird Sister, Joanna Gruesome now bring us Peanut Butter, an album which they promise, in an entertainingly frivolous press release, “contains a record number of hooks, traces of nut and elements of jangle pop, British hardcore punk, atonal music, screaming and drone organs”. And that, in fact, is a pretty good summary. Literally both short – with a total running time of just 25 minutes (and that’s with 10 tracks) – and distinctly sweet thanks to Alanna McArdle’s vocals (of which more later), the band manage, once again, to blend the quirky allure of indiepop with elements of something more satisfyingly gritty and noisy.
When Joanna Gruesome popped up on the radar in 2013, they were impossible to ignore and even more impossible to stop listening to. Here were a bunch of teenagers fresh out of anger management, ready to brush that heat off their shoulders in a physically safe and sonically welcome way. They were still self-conscious, we were still in awe, and the world was still a jerk.
Fusing jangling C86 indie with Sonic Youth dissonance and riot grrrl-inspired vocals, Joanna Gruesome’s 2013 debut, Weird Sister, was a deserving winner of the Welsh Music prize. On the surface, the follow-up, once again produced by Hookworms’ MJ, doesn’t deviate radically from that template, and it certainly has its moments – Honestly Do Yr Worst in particular highlighting Alanna McArdle’s vocal versatility. But the winning hooks that made Weird Sister so special are few and far between this time around, making for a disappointingly unremarkable set.
Ok, even if this record sucked, which it doesn’t, just the mere fact that it’s named Peanut Butter I’d have to like it simply on principle. Luckily, the sophomore effort by this UK (Cardiff, Wales actually) quartet is brimming with in-the-red noisy pop tunes, just the kind I like. Their 2013 debut, Weird Sister, was excellent and here’s 10 more songs in a similar vein, honestly, not a ton has changed in between records (days).
“Peanut butter is what holds us together.” These immortal words spoken by my high school physical education teacher – in response to a student noting that he ate peanut butter and crackers every day at lunch – were the first thing that came to my mind upon hearing Joanna Gruesome’s new album title. The second, after reading the press release’s allusions to “radical politics” as one of Peanut Butter’s themes, was Dr. Seuss’ 1984 book, The Butter Battle Book.
Welsh noise-pop band Joanna Gruesome has taken everything it did before and streamlined it. Faster, simpler, more straightforward—the band isn’t turning over a new leaf so much as it’s taken the first leaf, buffed it, and shrunk it down into the most compact frond possible. The group’s debut record, Weird Sisters, was a feedback-laden blast of sunny pop, ebullient and wicked, like an over-caffeinated Velocity Girl covering old punk songs.
This might be your last chance to hear Alanna Mcardle sing for Joanna Gruesome. Just weeks after the release of Peanut Butter, it has been announced that she is leaving the band, citing mental health reasons. This is sad and I wish her the best of luck in her recovery. The news lends Peanut Butter a bittersweet tone.
Welsh five-piece Joanna Gruesome marry noise and pop better than most on second album Peanut Butter. Alanna McArdle's featherweight voice glides through exceptionally pretty melodies often sung in unison with guitarist Owen Williams. Taken on its own, it would be über-twee. Instead, they also bring in a mighty rhythm section (nicely produced by Hookworms' MJ), cloudbursts of surging background guitar whine and moments of ear-splitting hardcore scary in their incongruity.