I frown upon the idea of using a press release as a starting point for an album review – but since when am I going to let some jumped up two-bit music critic tell me what to do eh? In the first paragraph of Sub Pop’s blurb for ‘Why Love Now’ (the fifth album from the Pennsylvanian punk-rock four-piece Pissed Jeans), the band are described as a “male-fronted quartet”, immediately drawing my attention to the fact that the term ‘female-fronted’ is so often used to lamely summarize acts with women holding it down on the mic. So here’s a mind prod for you, I posit that Pissed Jeans are a feminist band. You just can’t argue with that (I mean you could try but if you’re gonna @me combat me!) Their whole shtick is about openly discussing the traps and pitfalls of being a man in the 21st century. Of course, this is expected from a punk-rock band as pertinent to our times as Pissed Jeans, but the main theme of this album in particular appears to be very specific to the subject of masculinity, more so than in their previous material. Advertently deconstructing their own masculine identities makes them contributors to feminist oral literature, the experience of being a man – carving out the grotesque parameters of manhood with razor sharp sardonic wit, laying waste to male pride, exposing boneheads for flaccid willies. Why Love Now ejaculates the zeitgeist right onto the table.
Even the riffs on this album have found their sound drenched in a bit of 80’s sleaze, as the band come the closest to sounding like AC/DC and Motorhead yet. But unlike their amp-wrecking forefathers, their matters are in order to reflect their wrongs rather than to glorify their privileges (compare ‘I’m A Man’ to Black Flag’s morally reprehensible ‘Slip It In’ and you get the picture). Though Pissed Jeans work isn’t to have an overbearing moralising purpose, it’s simply to say “This shit is ugly, why are we still doing this?”
Why Love Now is brought into the world literally kicking and screaming, as the grinding angst ridden growl-fest of ‘Waiting On My Horrible Warning’ wails of fear for what might be happening to your body on the inside, the creeping realisation of mortality as the world exhales you out into your thirties. This is far from the usual punk opener and there’s even acknowledgement of that, as the now (I’m imaging) red boiling face of Matt Korvette roars “everyday I used to play punk but now i’m just singing the blues”. In taking this entrance it cuts deeper than any d-beat could, even the choice of bleeping out a “fuck” adds to the bubbling pain. It feels too easy to call it a work of genius so early on, but if I can’t call a spade a trowel then I’m done with this here business.
‘The Bar Is Low’ is a swaggering pop anthem about the impenetrable haar of mediocrity, a society in which men who are rapists (Bill Cosby, Donald Trump), racists (Nigel Farage, Donald Trump), and essentially lacking in any intelligence whatsoever (Boris Johnson, Donald Trump) can still be at the top. It’s an idea that permeates through everything, to paraphrase Korvette in a recent interview with Sub Pop, “as a woman how far are you willing to go to choose a presidential candidate if it means giving up your rights as a woman?” Have we gone so far down this miserable road that this is all we can ask for? The phenomenal women’s protests around the world last month may mark a turning point, but I see this kind of sup-par attitude everywhere. From people’s aspirations for a socially equitable future, to expectations on dating sites. How many times have you read “I’m interested in anyone who isn’t an arse-hole”? The bar is indeed down the proverbial fucking toilet, and James Cameron sure as hell ain’t gonna pick it up.
J.G. Ballard meets Charlie Brooker as ‘Ignorecam’ presents the notion of deriving sexual pleasure from being ignored by a woman on the other end of a sex-cam, a grueling twist on 21st century loneliness and hyper-social perversion, while ‘Cold Whip Cream’ goes deep, and may be (if I’m not mistaken) the first punk song about pegging “…so speak up and have no shame, ‘cause you’ve got the pressures of being straight… you’re wondering what it’s like on the other end, but you’re worried she won’t bend”. Masculinity holds on by the thinnest of grey pubes in this brutally open tour of contemporary sexuality, rammed with more innuendos than you could fit in your en… *ahem*… Don’t worry though, Matthew says relax, as a “universe waits behind that door”.
‘Love Without Emotion’ is a stranger amongst the crowd. Dressed in uncanny 80’s nostalgia via Bradley Fry’s chorus effected guitars and the Billy Idolized hook, giving us what we wanted like Stranger Things and San Junipero did last year. But similarly to the latter, the question stands: is it real or just an empty box picked from the shelf? Aesthetic over something deeper? Love without emotion? A recurring theme of Pissed Jeans is the inability to engage emotionally and have the purity of an honest connection with other people, breaking through that glass door of cynicism and misanthropy. And it’s the belief that this is an essentialized trait of maleness which is the cause of both catastrophic suicide rates amongst men, as well as horrifying domestic violence and femicide statistics. Sorry, I got a bit serious for a second there, but it’s a reality I wouldn’t be able to confront without the art of Pissed Jeans, which brings me to the highlight of the album…
In a 2014 interview with The Fanzine, Lindsay Hunter – author of ‘Ugly Girls’, cited Pissed Jeans’ ‘False Jesii Part 2’ as a major influence for her critically acclaimed novel. Since then she has become good friends with the band and was asked to write some material for Why Love Now. The result is a stunning and vivid audio tirade of unapologetically lustful and cartoonish sexual declarations, cut with the trenchantly crude wit of Redd Fox and boot stamped with the boldness of a Rudy Ray Moore – had he been raised in a trailer park that is. “Me, I’m your boss/ make me a coffee and dip your undies in it, ‘cause I like me coffee with a nip of cream”. Hunter’s harassing character appears as a hyper-real entity, with an inflated sense of male sexual superiority and privilege, but I’m sure if you had a root around your office you’d find at least a dozen of these wankers. The primal rhythms stir up ferocious amounts of libidinal energy, a perfect accompaniment to the spoken word track, compressed within an inch of it’s life – putting it at risk of an immediate restraining order.
It’s worth mentioning the success of the production work from the legendary Lydia Lunch and Arthur Rizk, who manage to make Pissed Jeans distinguished brand of rock spike through the extremities of heavy hardcore and noise. Apparently Lunch threatened to “bend” the band “over the bathtub”, whatever that means? Seems to have worked wonders in producing such a gut-wrenchingly psychotic punk expulsion though.
Rizk’s influence is most clear in the metal moments of ‘It’s Your Knees’ with it’s exquisite downtuned power riff. A song about unnecessary male commentary on why one would want to fuck a girl (It’s all in the knees apparently). ‘Worldwide Marine Asset Financial Analyst’ sounds as absurd as it reads, tearing through with a tornado guitar solo and clocking in at just 1 minute 27 seconds, while ‘Have You Ever Been Furniture’ bemoans the pain of having low-self esteem.
Why Love Now oozes and throbs with sexual confusion and disappointment. It reeks of cum, sweat and aspirin but carries the intellect of a well read poet who views life’s shit stains to be as rich and as colourful as rainbows. When I can relate to a band as much as I do with Pissed Jeans, it’s like the world suddenly clicks into place and my understanding of my body can flow freely like the blood in my veins. It’s a harmonious state drawn from a chaotic mess. The feeling is often so direct that it tickles me and I find myself laughing, as if I have become intoxicated. Even when listening to the music alone it’s like I’ve found a best friend to share my existential pain with. It’s therapy is what it is.
Much like a successful sitcom about dysfunctionality – over the course of the past decade, Pissed Jeans’ whole output has been consistent and reliable while growing in strength. Somewhat like Bukowski and his attachment to so called “low culture”, Pissed Jeans deliver hardcore truths and scream about the shock of the mundane; all transcribed with the overhanging stench of beer burps popped through gritted teeth, looming like a morning fog loitering above the top lip. Their play is on the farcical nature of humanity, stripped nude on stage, coying and crapping itself with the dumbest of smiles. You wanted to know “how low can punk get?” well, Pissed Jeans said ‘Let me take you down there. Bring a pair of wellies’.