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Joanna Gruesome: Peanut Butter

If a good band can make an ageing music fan feel momentarily young again, what does that make Joanna Gruesome, the Cardiff-born quintet who, with their second long-player Peanut Butter, have lately been inspiring in this thirtysomething sadsack extended periods of intense jealousy towards anyone fortunate enough to be a carefree teenager in 2015? A great band, perhaps? I think it just might. JG are the kind of group that make you wish you were fourteen again so that you could re-live all those moments that seemed at the time like the biggest thing in your world or anybody else’s: your first crush and first heartbreak, your first secret smoke and first alcohol-related mishap, your first gig, your first favourite band. Despite having an absolutely terrible pun for a name, Joanna Gruesome seem like seriously cool kids, albeit the kind you can imagine hearing practicing through the walls in the house next door or seeing huddled conspiratorially in the student union; frontwoman Alanna McArdle, especially, is the kind of goddess in mortal form I would no doubt have spent five years worshiping from afar had we gone to the same school at the same time, a Debbie Harry for the selfie generation who can coo like an angel’s pet dove and bark like Rollins with a thorn in his paw. On Peanut Butter, McArdle’s voice, and that of songwriting lead guitarist and vocal counterpoint Owen Williams, are buried deep in the mix so that only the odd word or phrase really jumps out, but the more I try to persuade my old, battered ears to discern what they are singing – and yelping – about, the louder the pleasure receptors in my brain shout back telling me it doesn’t matter: no disrespect to the lyricists, but JG’s music feels like an all-over sensory sandblasting, one whose gloopy girl/ boy vocals, nursery rhyme melodies, feedback-as-featured-soloist noise rock outbursts and moments of unhinged aggression all melt together to recall C86 and My Bloody Valentine and early US hardcore, pressing as many of my buttons as possible at once like a naughty kid in an elevator. Like the love-it-or-hate-it sandwich filler that provides the record with its title, Peanut Butter is sweet in a salty, kinda gross way; more honed and even more hummable than its brilliant, blown-out predecessor (2013’s debut Weird Sister), its ten tracks explode like glitter-cannon dirty bombs, releasing highly infectious pop earworms to munch their way through squalls of punk-rock fury into your brain. It’s the kind of racket my wife doesn’t mind me playing to our two year old, mainly because it’s fast and fuzzy and fun rather than scary or bummed-out or full of F-bombs like much of the other stuff on my iPod, but also because McArdle – like Meredith Graves and Lauren Mayberry and countless other fierce female band-leaders setting the world ablaze right now – is just as worthy of the title “role model” as Beyonce or T-Swift, and if the world my daughter grows up in still insists on pretending it’s ruled by men, she’ll need as many of those as she can get to tell her she can be whoever and do whatever she wants. If that sounds idealistic or naive, it’s only because it’s hard not to get swept up in these songs’ exuberant youthful optimism: Joanna Gruesome’s brute force and enthusiasm not only make me remember a time when I honestly believed anything was possible, they also go a long way towards convincing this grizzled old cynic that maybe, just maybe, it could still prove to be true.
Peanut Butter is out May 11 via Fortuna POP! (UK/ Japan)/ Slumberland (US); check out “Last Year” below.

About foamhands

My name is Michael Dix; I'm a decade or so past being down with the kids, but to me new music never gets old. Apparently I like music that sounds like faulty kitchen appliances and ritual slaughter; really I just like what I like, whether that happens to be indie, pop, punk, hip hop, metal, electronica, Afrobeat or jazz. Follow me on Twitter @FoamHandsBlog to receive notifications of new posts and the occasional random brain-fart, and please share links wherever you can. Enjoy!

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