Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Pissed Jeans Half Divorced

Sub Pop
Sub Pop

Three songs into Half Divorced, the sixth album from long-running Philadelphia noise-punk band Pissed Jeans, we’re really hitting a groove. Drums hit like nutpunches. Guitars squall and splatter. If you heard the bass tone while driving, it would cause you to pull over and call a mechanic immediately. Singer Matt Korvette sounds like a kodiak bear who’s been laid off from his job wherever kodiak bears work and who just found out that his severance check didn’t come through. It’s some real prime ’90s sludge ugliness, the type of thing that you might pull from the second side a half-forgotten Amphetamine Reptile compilation, until you notice the words that Korvette is belching out: “Guess you’re a helicopter parent! Figure it out, man! You’re just a helicopter parent! And that’s one thing I cannot stand!”

If I remember right, the Jesus Lizard never got mad about helicopter parents. Neither did Unsane or Cows or Drive Like Jehu or Surgery or any of the other bands who were making pulverizing, misanthropic post-hardcore during my younger years. I’m pretty sure that the term “helicopter parent” didn’t exist in the ’90s — or, if it did, it certainly wasn’t a buzzword. Parenting philosophies were different then. Parents were finding entirely different ways to fuck their kids up. We don’t have the same noise-rock infrastructure today that we had in the ’90s, but noise-rock bands still exist. These days, they can get mad about entirely new subjects — things like helicopter parents.

Last year, I spent some time with Chat Pile, the newest misanthropic noise-rock kids on the block, for a Stereogum feature. A few times, those guys mentioned that noise-rock was having a “moment.” I don’t really see some big noise-rock hype-train rolling, but when a band as visceral as Chat Pile starts finding unexpected attention, there’s something happening. At least a few current bands — Nerver, KEN mode, some of Chat Pile’s labelmates at the Flenser — are digging into scuzz and reaching audiences. Some of them, Chat Pile included, are using that sonic language to describe the new forms of societal cruelty erupting around them. Pissed Jeans aren’t part of that. Pissed Jeans are something else.

It’s been about 20 years since Pissed Jeans emerged from the Pennsylvania hinterlands, giving their songs names like “Ashamed Of My Cum.” At a moment when indie rock in general was tilting toward literary ornamentation, Pissed Jeans were guttural and sarcastic and instinctive. They were armed with bad vibes, or maybe they interpreted the vibes with more precision than their contemporaries. Ever since then, the four members of Pissed Jeans have grown into functional human adults who treat their band as a hobby but who sound like they’re torching the atmosphere all around them whenever they return. They’ve never blown up, and they’ve only incrementally adjusted their attack. But Pissed Jeans have never faltered, and the world has never stopped supplying them with reasons to get angry.

On Half Divorced, Pissed Jeans do a few things to crank their sound up. Matt Korvette — what a great name for a noise-rock frontman — remains plugged in with what’s happening in underground rock, and he continues to crank out reviews of barely-heard records on Yellow Green Red, the blog that he runs like a zine. Maybe some of the alterations on Half Divorced are responses to an ever-shifting punk universe, or maybe the band is simply following its own muse, but a generous handful of the tracks on Half Divorced are fast, two-minute hardcore-punk sprint-rants. Some of them are catchy-ish. The album’s shortest track is cover of “Monsters,” a cover of a song that the snotty and melodic Florida punks Pink Lincolns released in 1993. One of its longest is “Moving On,” the revved-up and weirdly triumphant rocker that Pissed Jeans dropped as the LP’s first single. It might be the most straightforwardly rockin’ song that Pissed Jeans have ever released.

But if you heard “Moving On” and thought Pissed Jeans were going for it on this album, then you were wrong. That’s not how Pissed Jeans work. They’re a vector for rage and frustration, and also for jokes about rage and frustration. Much of Half Divorced is as surly and mean as everything else in the band’s catalog. Opener “Killing The Wrong People,” for instance, sounds like a malfunctioning lawnmower, and it’s based on a very Pissed Jeans lyrical idea: Violence isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s happening to the wrong people. Matt Korvette proposes an alternate solution — “If violence is now their form of play, let’s aim ’em towards those who made ’em that way” — and then ends the track by imagining himself doing the Carlton over the corpses of our oppressors. If that doesn’t sound like a good time to you, then you will probably not enjoy Half Divorced very much. But if you are into gut-scrape guitars and withering gallows humor, welcome to the party, pal.

Pissed Jeans find plenty of time for petty annoyances on Half Divorced. That’s the point of “Helicopter Parent”: “Oh you started getting bored, so you went and had a kid/ Thought it’d give you something to do/ Make ’em talk, make ’em smile, make ’em act like they’re your child/ Dress ’em like a little version of you.” It’s the reason Korvette skewers another buzzword on “Anti-Sapio”: “Your big brain means nothing to me cuz I’m anti-sapiosexual/ I’m only interested in what my eyes can see cuz I’m anti-sapiosexual.” On “(Stolen) Catalytic Converter,” Korvette rhymes the title with “I’d rather spend that thousand bucks on your contracted murder.” Best of all is “Everywhere Is Bad,” an endless Dead Milkmen goof about how every city on earth is uninhabitable: “New York! The rent’s too high! Los Angeles! Polluted sky! Boston! You’ll get in a fight! Ohio! Haha, yeah right!”

But the targets on Half Divorced aren’t all so discrete and identifiable. Instead, the album tells a larger story about an increasingly hostile world. From what I can tell, the members of Pissed Jeans are all a lot like me: White guys, mid-forties, would be solidly middle class if such a thing existed anymore. Among guys like us, there’s an increasing sense of uncertainty. We’re doing fine, but we see shit going sideways everywhere, and we don’t think that the current order is going to last. It’s only a matter of time before the darkness comes for us, if it hasn’t already engulfed us so gradually that barely noticed it happening.

Sixty-Two Thousand Dollars In Debt” is about the constant certainty that you owe money to someone, that the amount of money that you owe will never appreciably decrease. On “Seatbelt Alarm Silencer,” Matt Korvette finds absurd ways to consider the absurd scams that constantly compete for our attention: “Ads can target me, but they’ll miss/ My search history’s too chaotic/ I want things that can’t exist/ Freedom in the form of an aerosol mist.” “Cling To A Poisoned Dream,” maybe the lyrical highlight of an extremely lyrically on-point album, gets deep into the everything-is-fucked zone: “I’ve seen some of the greatest minds stuck begging for money online/ Must’ve been bad luck that somehow hit ’em/ Not me, though, I feel fine/ Wouldn’t there be any other signs if this wasn’t a perfectly adequate system?”

That kind of ambient mordant uncertainty is why a band like Pissed Jeans needs to exist. If systemic rot is too deep to fix, if the world is irreparably fucked, then we might as well have some fun with it. And if that fun sounds ugly, then so be it. Previous generations have taught us how to make the ugliest noises known to humanity. It’s up to us to figure out what to do with them. Pissed Jeans have taken those tools and, once again, built something great.

Half Divorced is out 3/1 on Sub Pop.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Faye Webster’s Underdressed At The Symphony
• Mannequin Pussy’s I Got Heaven
• Yard Act’s Where’s My Utopia?
• ScHoolboy Q’s Blue Lips
• Stay Inside’s Ferried Away
• Sheer Mag’s Playing Favorites
• Jahari Massamba Unit’s YHWH Is LOVE
• Liam Gallagher & John Squire’s self-titled LP
• Uranium Club’s Infants Under The Bulb
• Gulfer’s Third Wind
• Late Bloomer’s Another One Again
• Savak’s Flavors Of Paradise
• STRFKR’s Parallel Realms
• Bruce Hornsby & yMusic’s Deep Sea Vents
• Ministry’s Hopiumforthemasses
• Bruce Dickinson’s The Mandrake Project
• Squarepusher’s Dostrotime
• Tyla’s self-titled LP
• Jacob Collier’s Djesse Vol. 4
• Sheherazaad’s Qasr
• Everything Everything’s Mountainhead
• Kaiser Chiefs’ Easy Eighth Album
• The Bevis Frond’s Focus On Nature
• Beans’ Boots N Cats
• Ben Frost’s Scope Neglect
• TSOL’s A-Side Graffiti
• Paula Cole’s Lo
• Coco’s 2
• Teens In Trouble’s What’s Mine
• Footballhead’s Overthinking Everything
• Mildlife’s Chorus
• Amaro Freitas’ Y’Y
• Arms And Sleepers’ What Tomorrow Brings
• Kitchen Dwellers’ Seven Devils
• Another Sky’s Beach Day
• The Tyde’s Season 5
• Brittany Davis’ Image Issues
• Replicant’s Infinite Mortality
• Big Big Train’s The Likes Of Us
• Donny Benét’s Infinite Desires
• David Reece’s Baptized By Fire
• New Years Day’s Half Black Heart
• Rhodes’ Un-finished
• San Cisco’s Under The Light
• Sultan & Shepard’s Endless, Dawn
• Jimmy Montague’s Tomorrow’s Coffee
• Daniel Romano’s Outfit’s Too Hot To Sleep
• Michael A. Muller’s Mirror Music
• Punchlove’s Channels
• Julian Lage’s Speak To Me
• Ruth Goller’s SKYLLUMINA
• RIP Dunes’ self-titled album
• Games We Play’s Life’s Going Great
• Nils Frahm’s Day
• Call Me Malcolm’s Echoes And Ghosts
• Hands Of Goro’s self-titled LP
• Chalk’s Conditions II
• Never Content’s Pools, A Collection
• The Narcotix’ Dying
• lake j’s Dizzy
• Tidstyv’s Det Blir Bra Til Slutt
• The New Wave Donut compilation
• Abdallah Oumbadougou’s Amghar: The Godfather Of Tuareg Music – Vol. 1
• Thundercat’s Apocalypse (10th Anniversary Deluxe)
• Joel Roston’s We’re Able (Forty Dialogic Valences)
• Worst Doubt’s Immortal Pain EP
• Julian Chang’s Home For The Moment EP
• Mini Trees’ Burn Out EP
• Valentino Khan – Powerline EP
• South Hill Experiment’s South Hill & Friends EP
• Tish Melton’s When We’re Older EP
• Icarus Phoenix’s Son EP

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