Ask somebody why they like the music they like, and you can get more or less the same answer. We have certain expectations from music, and we judge its quality by how well it meets those expectations. But then along comes a band like Pissed Jeans, throwing a proverbial wrench into the formula of musical enjoyment. Not seeming to care about making fans out of anyone, Pissed Jeans are wholly out of place with Sub Pop labelmates like The Postal Service or Iron and Wine. From their disgusting name to their even more disgusting sound, this band excels at being terrible.
Hope for Men opens with "People Person," in which the drummer beats solely on his floor tom, the bassist plays one riff over and over, the guitarist feeds back and plays an occasional riff, and the singer yells about being a people person. It already shows a marked difference from their previous effort, Shallow, which was noisy but not as abstract.
"Scrapbooking" takes the abstract notch and spins it until it breaks off. The song only has a slow creeping bassline, tense piano, and Matt Korvette giving one of the most horrifying vocal performances I've ever heard. Not a single person in the world could walk away from hearing this song without feeling violated, and there's no doubt that Pissed Jeans intended this.
The level of enjoyment one can get out of Hope for Men depends on two things: patience and noise tolerance. The latter is needed for the amounts of squalid feedback slopped all over the songs. The former is needed to appreciate the way Pissed Jeans works, in repetitious plodding and unconventional song structures. That's what makes it so hard to accurately review an album like this. One person could hear it and dismiss it as total garbage, another person could hear it and proclaim it to be the best album of 2007. And both of those opinions would be totally valid. All that can really end up being evaluated is how well Pissed Jeans executes what they're attempting, and like Bret "The Hitman" Hart, they're the excellence of execution.
The music of Pissed Jeans is what The Wonder Years might have been like if Kevin had been born with Thalidomide birth defects, facing the trials of growing up with flippers instead of hands. Their music is a feedback dissertation for bed-wetters, reprobates, and anyone who's ever felt left out, shit on, or ignored. Boring Girls was a shit-kicking one-chord clusterfuck that made me want to put my face through a brick wall, overflowing with sexual frustration and oozing degeneracy. It's like somebody took my life story and gave it a backbeat. Don't even get me started on Ashamed of My Cum.
Shallow, the album these odes to outsiderdom appeared on, was a towering chunk of sloppy, drooling old-fashioned punk rock, slathered in ugly feedback and weirdo vibes. It alternated between gut-churning raw power (as in the aforementioned two songs) and hopeless, atonal phantasmagoria - the feedback spirals on closer Wachovia sounded like an alien autopsy. And I'm convinced the 'Jeans stole the bassline on the third song from the Jurassic Park game for Sega Genesis (the return of the repressed?).
Hope for Men, the band's second full-length, opens with the brain-anesthetizing boom-bap of People Person, a tireless one-two drum stomp swathed in eerie feedback and vocalist Matt Korvette's best deranged David Yow stutter. Secret Admirer is more conventional but no less queasy, with the band demonstrating their mastery of strangely memorable, atonal guitar vomit. The band stretches their legs on Scrapbooking, a spare, haunting song that features only piano and Korvette's bruised vocals, like Androgynous turned inside out and dipped in toxic waste. The Jogger follows a similar formula to even more disturbing effect, a bare litany of free associations attached to the eponymous figure: The jogger / Whole Foods / Matching outfit / Ford Explorer.
The album's cover features what seem to be two members of the band locked in a black-and-white embrace, with the band's name in all caps against a blank background. Inside the liner notes you get lyrics and color shots of the band members in various domestic scenes; the whole thing reminds me of Pulp's two seminal albums, Different Class and This is Hardcore, which used similar conceits in their liner notes. And the shots, depicting each member sitting on a bed alone, mirror the over-arching themes of the album: solitude and alienation.
Pissed Jeans have few peers in their unflinching examination of the world of outsiders. Songs like People Person and The Jogger fire lyrical bullets at extroverts and well-adjusted social butterflies, while songs like Scrapbooking, I've Still Got You (Ice Cream), and Fantasy World portray loneliness and disillusion in terms fresher and more realistic than hardcore's usual me against the world party line. The divide between the self and society reaches a fever pitch with closer In My Bed, where the narrator can't find any reasons to convince him to leave his bed, let alone his house.
All in all, Hope for Men is a different affair than Shallow: the band is simultaneously more musical and less stable, with some of the last album's humor matched with a kind of sickly straight-faced desperation. Shallow highlighted social dysfunction but with a nervy sense of humor; Hope for Men is a much more stark, harrowing spurt of alienation (although not without its own slyly comic edge). It's a potent statement from a band with a genuinely unique and distinctly warped identity. And I, for one, can relate.
8.1 / 10
Reviewed by 2 writers.
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Posted June 18, 2014, 5:29 p.m.
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