[Sub Pop, 2013]
Jeff Pearson, February 12, 2013
Listen: “Bathroom Laughter”
In a recent interview at the OFF Festival in Poland, a bruised Matt Korvette regaled the interviewer with some of his favorite moments in Pissed Jeans’ electric live career. In typical flippant fashion, he described a performance at Primavera where he tried to swing bandmate Brad Fry’s guitar around his body but the strap broke, sending the instrument flying across the stage, saying how good it felt to be a “guitar thrower” without the consequence of breaking it or hurting anyone. Obviously, judging by the battered nose during the interview that he had acquired the night before by trying to bench press a stage monitor, it’s not terribly out of the ordinary for someone to get hurt at a Pissed Jeans show–not least of all, the members themselves. The Pennsylvania band leaves it all in their music and concert performances; you would never guess upon seeing any of the members in everyday situations that they are harbingers of some of the loudest, most aggressive hardcore punk music and unpredictable live shows.
A lot of that separation between the band’s identities on and off the stage stems from the fact that Pissed Jeans have identities off the stage that are starkly contrasting with that of being a member of the band. Though a part of the Sub Pop family for about six years now, each of Pissed Jeans’ four members maintains their day jobs–Korvette works as a claims adjuster–unable to feasibly earn a living in the music industry and unwilling to adapt to the “starving artist” lifestyle. A lot of the elements that make Pissed Jeans such an interesting band is the balance they carry between those two identities in their music. All throughout their career they have brought together mundanity and explosively sludgy rock–“The Jogger” from 2007’s Sub Pop debut, Hope For Men, perhaps the greatest example, with Korvette seemingly reading off a list of the suburban elements caving in on him, “Whole Foods, matching outfits, Ford Explorer,”–and many of their best moments on their latest LP, Honeys, come in the confusing blur where those two worlds meet.
Pissed Jeans isn’t a band that is going to suddenly shift their sound in any drastic direction, so as soon as Randy Huth’s buzzsaw bass intro of “Bathroom Laughter,” the lead track and single from Honeys, begins, it becomes clear this is going to be a typically standard fare for them. What is standard fare for the Philadelphia quartet is actually some of the rawest punk rock being produced today, as it turns out. What makes Honeys a step forward for Pissed Jeans isn’t a dramatic sonic revolution; instead, it’s the subtle improvements in not only intensity but also in technicality. They’ve always been a band that prides themselves in big, aggressive riffs, and it immediately sounds like the emphasis on that aspect of their music has only grown to be more refined. Huth and drummer Sean McGuinness lay down a complexly brutal, yet actually surprisingly palatable foundation for Fry to riff on, while Korvette recounts a troubling scene, saying over and over, “You’re in the kitchen crying.” The mania in Korvette’s voice puts context to the title “Bathroom Laughter;” if the lines were delivered in any other fashion he would seem sympathetic to the kitchen crier, but instead he seems to be taking great pleasure, and yes, humor, from the situation.
Part of what makes Honeys such a compelling listen is the madman’s gaze into everyday life that Korvette warrants the listener with his
fanatical approach to each song. When interviewed by the Village Voice last year, he said, “I think we just really enjoy playing angry, noisy music, so that’s what we do. I enjoy listening to happy music but couldn’t imagine myself seriously making it,” not realizing that what Pissed Jeans actually do is coming from a place of happiness. They obviously have a lot of love for playing this type of music and in removing themselves from the reality of it with a little humor, it’s hard not to come away from Honeys a little bit happier for having heard it.
It’s evident for the duration of the record, from the drop-tuned trudge of “Male Gaze,” where Fry sounds like he is channeling Bleach-era Kurt Cobain uninhibited riffing, to the molasses-thick album closer, “Teenage Adult,” that Pissed Jeans still come away from making music together a little bit happier as well. Honeys is refreshing for that reason, and because the band seemingly truly operates as a reprieve from the everyday motions. It’s extremely relatable as a listener; coming at the record from practically the same angle the musicians themselves do gives Honeys a unique position in today’s world. We can all occupy the same space for about half an hour, suits and ties, blood and snot, and just have some fun.