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Since the late ’80s, Mudhoney – the Seattle-based foursome whose muck-crusted version of rock, shot through with caustic wit and battened down by a ferocious low end – has been a high-pH tonic against the ludicrous and the insipid.
Thirty years later, the world is experiencing a particularly high-water moment for both those ideals. But just in time, vocalist Mark Arm, guitarist Steve Turner, bassist Guy Maddison, and drummer Dan Peters are back with Digital Garbage, a barbed-wire-trimmed collection of sonic brickbats. Arm’s raw yawp and his bandmates’ long-honed chemistry make Digital Garbage an ideal release valve for the 2018 pressure cooker, its insistent rhythms forcing movement and Arm’s sardonic lyrics offering a funhouse-mirror companion to the ever-more-ridiculous news cycle. “My sense of humor is dark, and these are dark times,” says Arm. “I suppose it’s only getting darker.”
The Straight World is a shallow, boring, soul-sucking vortex. This is where most folks spend their quiet, desperate lives. Working to consume, consuming to achieve status. Distractions like celebrity watching and religion are supposed to provide entertainment and meaning. Here, life on the edge means driving a Ford. It's nearly impossible for those of us who despise the Straight World to avoid it. Many of us spend 8 hours a day there just to survive. The Straight World doesn't take kindly to aberrance. That's why some of us would rather not reveal ourselves. We move like shadows through the Straight World, keeping our secrets. We don't need smoke to make ourselves disappear.
Matt Korvette has a secret. He's a mild-mannered claims adjuster by day, up to his white collar in the Straight World. But as soon as he clocks out, he rips off his shirt revealing the sweaty, loose-limbed punk fronting the Pissed Jeans. No one at the insurance company has a clue. At 25 he's been playing in bands for over half his life, mostly with guitarist Bradley Fry. Bradley's got a secret too. The folks in Account Management have no idea that he's the solid-statesman of Pissed Jeans renown, the one behind those brutal, beautiful feedback-drenched riffs. Matt and Brad grew up with bassist Dave Rosenstraus in the all-ages scene which coalesced around the Allentown, PA free-for-all fun-space, Jeff the Pigeon (RIP). Before recording their first single for Sub Pop, the stunning "Don't Need Smoke to Make Myself Disappear" (which sold through two pressings!) the trio hooked up with ex-Navies drummer Sean McGuinness who relocated to PA from DC.
Pissed Jeans offer Hope for Men, their new album on Sub Pop. It kicks off with "People Person," a frenetic, pounding rhythm over which Brad spews reverb and feedback like an aural Pollock while Matt mocks a shallow, handsome, glad-handing co-worker. It's one of two fast songs on the record. In the other, "I'm Turning Now," Dead Joe gets tubed before abruptly cutting back and morphing into Sabbath playing "Miserlou" just as the song's protagonist, one of the Straight World's "good people" gets fed-up with life's many little indignities and runs a long red light to make a well-deserved left turn.
Pissed Jeans take several turns on Hope for Men, weaving brutality, humor and pathos throughout. There's the heavy swing of "A Bad Wind" and "Fantasy World," the vintage Lubricated Goat-like rhythm of "Caught Licking Leather," and the riff-less excursion of "The Jogger." "Scrapbooking" provides the "We Will Fall" moment of the record. A sparse four note descending bass line anchors this atmospheric exposé of the dark underbelly of the world of crafts while Matt rolls around under the piano, alternately channeling Alan Vega and Sylvester the Cat. "I've Still Got You (Ice Cream)" and "Secret Admirer" would be hits if we could cast off the crushing yoke of the Straight World, a shallow place where lightweight, semi-clever, indie pop is considered cutting edge. Fuck that. Hope for Men closes with "My Bed," an honest-to-God punk rock epic. Clocking in at 8 minutes, the first half wouldn't sound out of place on side 2 of My War; the second half sounds like a rolling, no-holds-barred battle royal. By the time the last squall of feedback dies away, it's clear that the last band standing in this bout is Pissed Jeans.
Pissed Jeans went deep cover in the Straight World before sequestering themselves with Dan McKinney (of the Original Sins!) in his geodesic studio (appropriately enough, called Dan's House) and emerged with Hope for Men. This, their second album, their first full-length on Sub Pop, is one of the best punk albums in decades. Pissed Jeans play heavy and loose post-hardcore sludge that follows the holy tradition of the four noble Fs: feedtime, Flipper, 'Flag, and fuck it. Hope for Men delivers a piledriver to the Straight World and a folding chair to the face of the Indie Effete.
Addendum: Since the recording of Hope for Men, Dave Rosenstraus, who'd been converting cars to run on vegetable oil as a sideline, left the band to pursue diesel mechanic school and open his own shop. Replacing Dave is old pal Randy Huth, former Pearls & Brass guitarist. Coincidentally, everyone, except drummer Sean, has known each other since middle school and played in the Gate Crashers, the band that, after an instrument swap, became Pissed Jeans.
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