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.
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.