Pissed Jeans - Honeys

Before I dug deep into Honeys, the new album from the feral Allentown scrape-rockers Pissed Jeans, I had this whole opening-paragraph riff planned about Sub Pop Records: How the label has gone through so many different permutations since its Sub Pop 100 days, how even the Postal Service/Shins era has nothing to do with its current roster, how nice it is that a few bands of fuzzed-out noisemakers remain. And it’s true that Pissed Jeans do sound like they could’ve been one of the more fearsome bands in the label’s early days, though truthfully they probably would’ve fit better on the considerably more sociopathic Amphetamine Reptile. But Pissed Jeans aren’t part of some ’90s noise-rock revival; that type of pigeonholing does them no justice whatsoever, and it’s not this album’s story. The story of Honeys is this: Band frontman Matt Korvette has made a hate-fuckingly brutal, painfully funny, sneakily artful monument to broke-white-guy stresses. It’s squirmy and violent and seriously hard to shake. And he’s chosen sludged-out post-hardcore as his venue to express this stuff, the same way Bernie Mac used stand-up comedy to work out some serious shit, or the way Todd Solondz uses the indie black-comedy format to explore some visceral human feeling. It’s a stark and powerful piece of work, one that confronts you with parts of yourself that you might not like.

Here, for instance, is Korvette on lead single “Bathroom Laughter,” finishing up after describing the out-of-nowhere feelings-chaos of (I think) a sudden club-night couples’ argument: “I’m sorry, but you’re not special / There’s a pattern, and it shows.” In a couple of quick sentences there, he’s exposing and preying upon what might be an entire generation’s greatest secret fear. On “Romanticize Me,” he’s a shitty romantic partner, telling a significant other that things just aren’t going to get better: “If you’re trying to feel better, there’s one thing you can do / Take all of your dreams, and pretend they came true.” On “Male Gaze,” he admits to staring at women, realizing full well that he knows the psychological implications of what he’s doing, never quite apologizing but pleading that he’s trying to get better about it. “Cathouse” is a full-on existential temper tantrum about pet allergies. And on “Cafeteria Food,” maybe the most relatable song on the album and also the most withering, he fantasizes about the moment he learns of a co-worker’s death: “People walking ’round looking sorry. Someone’ll even cry. I’ll be feeling rosy ’cause you’re dead. You died.” It’s like: fuck, man.

Korvette also possesses an absolutely revolting lurching-demon belch-moan. He doesn’t sing; he mutters hateful asides at jet-engine volume. And in that voice, even garden-variety sentiment becomes a cruel mockery of your entire state of being. “You’re Different (In Person),” for instance, is a song about looking for real human connection online and then completely not finding it. This is not exactly virgin territory; it’s practically an entire romantic-comedy subgenre. But the way Korvette treats the entire thing, vocally, goes beyond sarcasm and into some magical hate-zone. “I figure it’s worth it / Self-photo: A sure fit / Poke or wink – that’s flirting / Check me out – go surfing,” he sneerily grunts, sounding like a mutant bear with severe indigestion. Seriously, just his pronunciation of the word “flirting” is enough to draw blood. Fluuuuhhhhrrr-teeein. Again: fuck.

Musically, the band is just as relentless, so grime-caked and clangorous that a simple blues-progression starts to feel like sweet relief. More than once while I’ve been listening to it, my wife, who loves Bikini Kill and X-Ray Spex and is no lightweight, has come into the room, pointed at my speakers, made a face, and left. It’s a perfectly reasonable reaction. Pissed Jeans barely even rock; they trudge and seeth and pummel and fall apart. The riffs barely resonate as riffs, and the time-signatures rarely stay steady. If this is a genre, it’s headache-rock, or sludge laced with corrosive acid — not, then, a particularly easy thing to listen to. The recording could probably use some more of that old Albini dryness, but it’s sharp and loud enough to convince me that these guys have a serious rhythm section, albeit one not much interested it keeping one steady rhythm for a whole song. If the band reminds me of any other, it might be late-period Black Flag, when they got really weird — appropriate enough, considering that Korvette’s words make me feel like I’m staring at a Raymond Pettibon drawing.

Here’s something we should probably talk about more: Rock musicians, by and large, want you to think they’re cool. They want you to want to be them. They’re usually not as obvious about it as, say, rappers, but even in the darkest depths of the underground, band members are putting themselves forth as worthy figureheads, people to be admored. Korvette doesn’t seem much interested in any of that. He’s interested in desperation and impotence and petty grudges and angry silences. In recent years, music hasn’t much bothered with that range of feelings; it’s more the domain of small-press underground comics. And the nicest thing I can say about Honeys is that it’s worth the unpleasant feelings that it will probably cause you.

Honeys is out now on Sub Pop. Stream it here.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Foals’ grand and arena-ready Holy Fire.
• Veronica Falls’ charmingly jangled-up Waiting For Something To Happen.
• Lisa Germano’s stark and gorgeous no elephants.
• The Tim Hardin tribute compilation Reasons To Believe.

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Comments (21)
  1. Michael_  |   Posted on Feb 12th, 2013 +3

    I didn’t read this (I already agree with the choice anyway…) but since it’ll be read widely throughout the week, I want to take this moment to publicly apologize to you, Tom and your writing and the put downs, the public outbursts and the attacks on Stereogum and just being the most ridiculous asshole I’ve ever been in my life. My sorries are too often here lately, and I hate that.

    I don’t know what’s wrong with me these past few weeks, and that’s not something to keep using as an excuse and to unfairly keep coming on here and throwing in everyone else’s faces on a music site that’s meant to be fun and in the comments. Something doesn’t feel right inside these past few weeks, and I don’t even know what it is anymore. Maybe I need to give this a rest alongside my fake writing career, and get some rest.

    It’s maybe too fitting I’m writing this the comments for this album, because I feel like the guy in the cover these days and a lot of these lyrics are like my life.

    • Michael_  |   Posted on Feb 12th, 2013 0

      (I probably won’t stop writing, though. Self-implosions over not being Superman and trying to do too much in 24 hours must stop, however.)

      • I only recently started venturing into the comment section on Stereogum, but for some strange reason, it makes me feel good to know there is drama like this going on around here. Makes the place feel homey or something.

  2. “Grand and arena ready”?! That might be true but it’s equally the most basic observation about Holy Fire. I don’t know why but I feel personally invested in making Foals’ happen in America. They’re so good. In concert. On Twitter. Their progression on their albums has fascinating to think about. They just announced a tour with Surfer Blood. There’s just more going on with that band than your brief write up. As a Foals fan, I beg Stereogum readers to not forget about Holy Fire. It’s very good.

    • I’ve never connected with Foals in the past and have sorta written them off at this point, but I’m gonna listen to Holy Fire now, Robert, after reading your impassioned plea. If Foals happens on Stereogum — at least if I’m the dude doing the writing — the band will have you to thank.

    • I remembered listening to “Total Life Forever” about a year late in preparation for them opening for a Cut Copy show. Not only did I find that album to contain NUMEROUS great songs, their live performance ALMOST topped Cut Copy (they played “Sun God” soooooo, you know).

      No need to beg, but we do thank you for the genuine reminder.

    • I don’t what direction you want Foals to happen in America, but their youtube ads give me the feeling that are on the verge of becoming pretty popular, which you know will make them less popular amongst “indie” fans, but I think they’ll be on rock stations and stuff pretty soon if they’re not already. I heard about that tour, do you know if they’re headlining that tour because if so they’re already doing pretty well. Looks like they might be playing Bonnaroo this year sounds like a fun show to see live, I’ll try to catch them if they’re not overlapping it’ll be cool to see them on during the thursday slot White Denim had last year, which by the way was a great show if you get the chance to see them.

      • true story, i drove over an hour to see white denim once – when we got there, my wife realized she left her ID at home, and the bouncers refused to let us in despite us being 28. still haven’t seen ‘em. bummer times.

  3. I hear ya on the late period Black Flag, also a bunch of Jesus Lizard.

  4. Welp, “Health Plan.”

  5. First off, I’d like to say that I love Foals.

    Their first album was hipstery and a little one-dimensional, but it had some seriously cool riffs and ideas. The artistic leap that they made from Antidotes to Total Life Forever was staggering, and reminded me of Radiohead’s progression from Pablo Honey to The Bends. It was bursting with fire and ambition, boasted some incredible production, and most importantly, introduced a more emotive and relatable tone.

    I was really excited to see where Foals would go next. With album number 3, would they make their OK Computer? The answer is no. I’m pretty disappointed with it. It sounds gorgeous, shiny, and expensive, but it’s all window dressing for a bunch of generic tunes that sound like Coldplay meets Temper Trap’s Sweet Disposition. It isn’t a bad album; it just isn’t particularly inspired.

    Good choice for album of the week, btw.

    • I agree a lot with your assessment of where Holy Fire stands in relation to their other releases but am willing to give Foals the benefit of the doubt for a few reasons. Foals become too critically acclaimed and/or popular in the UK for this release to be anything other than an Event. Most bands in that situation make the kind of record that’s bigger in sound while trying to be Important. Foals did too, to varying degrees of success. I love Coldplay’s music and while their ambitions for X&Y were noble, it played outside of their strengths and didn’t really work. Keane’s another easy example of a popular British band’s 3rd LP that went absolutely flat. They’ve still never recovered their appeal from their genuinely well-regarded Under the Iron Sea. Maybe these bands are shooting for their personal OK Computer and just failing. But even putting that kind of expectation on any band is going to cause bands to make “gorgeous, shiny” music that sacrifices some of their humor and charm in the process.

      Here’s why I think Holy Fire easily works better than the other two examples I used. I think they captured the bigness of their live show on record for the first time, which is important. I respect when band’s don’t shy away from the expectations or coronation of becoming the Next Great Band. Everyone could create their own version of MGMT’s Congratulations, which was a big middle finger to their new fans and pop sensibilities. (I’m not debating the album’s quality, just saying it’s a bit cowardly to make a great album and not try to follow it up for the reasons that made said LP great.) So I respect Foals for not fearing that label. Plus, some songs ought be considered some of their best. My Number is great. Inhaler is great. Everytime and Out of the Woods are interesting enough for me to put them on repeat. This album fits comfortably in their discography, drawing comparisons, influences and ideas from both in a way that feels like a balancing of two, rather different, forces. So I like it.

      Having the album for only a day, there are enough solid songs after my initial listens to ensure I’m going to dedicate more time to this album and get excited to see them again on tour.

  6. I hope this bathroom laughter video get nominated for video of the year later on. AWESOME

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