Release Date: Sep 10, 2013
Record label: Slumberland
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Noise Pop
Sometimes a band has a name so staggeringly bad that it takes real effort to get past it in order to give them a try. Case in point: Joanna Gruesome. It would be totally understandable if people gave them a pass based on the name alone, but it would also be a bummer because the Welsh noise poppers are actually very good. Taking in influences from classic punk, shoegaze, indie pop, riot girl, and noise pop, then throwing it all into a madly whirring blender, the group's debut album, Weird Sister, is a sonic treat made by a band in full control of their approach.
One minute, Joanna Gruesome's Alanna McArdle is ditching school and floating from Cardiff to New Orleans on a scooter. The next, she's planning to pull out your teeth, gouge out your eyes with a razorblade, and bash in your fucking skull. Clearly, McArdle isn't fucking around; neither, it seems, are Joanna Gruesome. (I'm told they met in anger management, a story almost too good to be true.) The regrettably named Welsh fivesome's debut LP, Weird Sister, crams an awful lot into a little under half an hour: hardcore blastbeats, fuzzed-out twee, violent urges, zombies and pentagrams.
Joanna Gruesome’s debut record is one in which this Cardiff five-piece manage the rare feat of spanning genres and sub-genres without losing focus. Bridging the gap between aloof effortlessness and concentrated fury, the record segues between riot grrrl, dreampop, grunge, twee, punk, shoegazing et al continually: a Nineties indie 101 from a band whose influences and reference points may be clear, but there own songcraft cannot be doubted. While all these indie and punk subgenres are certainly all interlinked and related, it isn’t too often that a band attempts to combine practically every single one of them in their sound without being asked to either sit down or take some Ritalin.
As you might expect from an act whose members met in an anger management course, then twisted the name of pretty-voiced girl-with-a-harp Joanna Newsom into something that sounds like a cruel high school nickname, Welsh band Joanna Gruesome play loud, noisy, bratty punk rock, with the playful defiance of '90s riot grrrl and song titles such as "Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers" and "Lemonade Grrrl. " Frontwoman Alanna McCardle is equal parts dream-voiced Frances McKee and shouty Kathleen Hanna (one choice cut from the band's lyrics: "I've been waiting to crush your fucking skull"), while her bandmates rustle up a grungy, jangly racket that combines Yo La Tengo's ear for melody with the ferocity of Nirvana's noisier moments. Imagine listening to Yuck's debut album through a slightly broken car radio and you've pretty much got it.
As Samuel Johnson put it, Despite Johnson’s opinion that puns are the lowest form of humor, there’s a surprising absence of irritation caused by Joanna Gruesome’s moniker. Or perhaps it’d be better to say that they delight in the scuzzy and the lo(w) fi. A hint of Lush and a ton of rush — Weird Sister is addictive, as evidenced in the hookiness of aptly-named “Sugarcrush” or the surf-rock-referencing “Wussy Void.
Tongues planted firmly in cheek, the irreverently named Joanna Gruesome pounces and purrs through just over 26 minutes of endearingly ebullient noise pop on their debut, Weird Sister. Like many bands bearing the Slumberland imprint, the Welsh five-piece balances the pretty with the prickly, and as their name suggests, absolutely nobody plays the harp. Weird Sister is fuzzy, furious, and swaggers like a ballerina in combat boots.
A hot new guitar band from the British Isles? There's something you don't hear every day, or every year. It's been a chilly minute since the U.K. has given up anything like these indie Welsh kids from Cardiff, barely out of their teens. Yet they plug in and play their hearts out on their debut album, with twin-guitar fuzz-pop gems like "Secret Surprise" and "Wussy Void." Joanna Gruesome honor the cardigans-and-beer tradition – onstage they turn Galaxie 500's "Tugboat" into a psychedelic slow jam.
First things first. Joanna Gruesome is not a comedy tribute act to everyone’s favourite harp-playing Californian. If you’re seeking out novelty cover versions of Only Skin or The Milk Eyed Mender, then Weird Sister really isn’t the place to look for them. So who are Joanna Gruesome, and is there any substance behind that pun-tastic name? Well, they’re a five-piece from Cardiff who seem to have been touring and releasing EPs for absolutely ages now, and thankfully, there’s a lot more to them that moniker may suggest.
For years (since 1989 to be exact), Slumberland Records has been on, then off, then pretty spectacularly (if sub-radarly) on again the last couple years. They are nothing if not one of the most sonically consistent indie labels ever, with an undying ear for just-ragged enough angelic vocals over sugar hooks through slightly reverbed fuzzy gits and garage production, if that garage is a clean one, not that cluttered bastard you stare at every Saturday morning before pulling down the door again. And wait—doesn’t that formula sound pretty familiar? Seems they might be one of the most influential labels too.But again, under the radar, like this fine new Joanna Gruesome record that slipped out a couple weeks ago.
The 'Weird Sisters' of Macbeth function as the perverse moral conscience of the play: sensing and toying with the innate hubris and arrogance of the eponymous protagonist, they allow his endemic faults to become the machine of his own unravelling. Those archetypal witches are both wickedly malevolent, and rigidly principled, mercilessly wringing delight from the sodden rag of a bad man's ugly soul, and, what's more, doing so with a surfeit of poetry and dark eloquence. Joanna Gruesome, who now seem set to be casting a few potent spells of their own, achieve a lot with the nomenclature of this their debut album: it is a brilliant title, mostly because it cleaves right to the core of what this record will do.
Somewhere a death-metal harp-based covers band are cursing. The perfect name forever gone, annexed by a Cardiff-based five-piece about to release their debut album, with nary a thought for the consequences.‘Weird Sister’ is an album that seemingly reflects the age of its creators. The song names. The fact it is frequently snotty, frequently loud and frequently abrasive.
Nary a pun-monikered band scrapes through the first year intact – especially ones that utilise much-loved indie-folk institutions. However, Joanna Gruesome have managed to wade through balkers and carve themselves a precipice from which to cling; now, one grazed knuckle at a time, they’re clambering onto safer, more solid ground. As each month passes, their nom de guerre becomes less a cheap laff, and more just a band name.