Joanna Gruesome are a Cardiff-based 5-piece who play noisy, distorted pop music. They are not, as some may assume, a Joanna Newsome punk rock tribute act. Their first LP, 'Weird Sister', is their welcoming message to the world, and the message is a short, sharp cry of youthful exuberance, angrily packed into 30 minutes of sheer brilliance.
Consisting largely of older, remastered singles with the help of MJ, frontman of the quite exceptional Leeds-based Hookworms, their welcoming message might be familiar to the group's faithful fan base, but to those who are listening to 'Weird Sister' as their first bit of exposure to the group, it may just be the kick in the ears that your musical needs require. Their sound is a hardcore, pop sensation that moves at break-neck speed, but never skimps on the melody or a catchy hook. With front-woman Alanna McArdle at the heart of things, her screams, shouts, and sometimes beautifully melodic singing voice guide the Gruesome ship through jagged waters, orchestrating the stomps and thrashes of the rest of the group. Her shifts between ferocity and harmoniousness are matched each time by the group, with the album alternating seamlessly between visceral punk; kick started by a burst of noise, and perfectly structured pop helmed together by McArdle and (sometimes) guitarist/vocalist Owen Williams' singing. There's so much packed into one place, the album genuinely carries a sense of unpredictability with it that stays with you even after you've played it well over the double-figures mark.
If it wasn't for the wonders of the iTunes song descriptions, it would be hard to know when one song starts and another begins, as the songs blur past in the blink if an eye, each one as fiercely infectious as the last. This isn't to say that the songs lack any kind of individuality, there's a lustrous fluidity to the album that helps the tracks merge together so well. The stuttering, fuzzy album opener 'Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers' in which McArdle floats likes a butterfly before the whole track stings you with it's infectiously aggressive drum crashes and false guitar solos, flows into heavy as a jackhammer 'Sugarcrush;' a song that sounds like the illegitimate lovechild of Dinosaur Jr. and The Vaselines. Things get much quieter by 'Wussy Void,' with its metronomic guitar trickling into your ears before he next explosive burst of the chorus, which leads us on to the simply explosive 'Madison.' What makes 'Madison' stand out as one of the album's best tracks though is McArdle and Williams' inspired unity on the mic together. That, and the insane build to the warped solo.
The whole album moves at break-neck speed, but at no point more than on 'Lemonade Grrrl,' a vociferous piece of bubblegum that's held together with the thunderous drum work of Dave Sandford. "I'll make you talk if you don't wanna/have I shown enough to you" McArdle opens stand-out track 'Secret Surprise,' an ode to teenage love that sounds like Los Campesinos! on PCP. Again, it's McArdle and Williams' beautiful work together that makes a great song nearly perfect. It's as though JG managed to condense 'David Comes To Life' into 2 minutes 45 seconds. The whole album is one big nod to the ever-confusing realm of young love, which provides a wondrous juxtaposition to the ferocious energy of the music being played, but it is on 'Secret Surprise' where the band gets this balance of angst and amore just right.
'Do You Really Wanna Know Why Yr Still In Love With Me' at first sounds like you've taken a wrong turn with it's lullaby introduction, but things are soon right back on track and Alanna and Owen ask the one question we must have all wanted to know the answer to from someone in our lives, all to the tune of the progressively menacing backing. The album does get increasingly calmer from track six onwards, and things really slow down on 'Candy,' but the screeching guitar in the background just gives it that little something extra that make you feel as though you're listening to a whole new musical phenomenon. Things pick up again for the hyperactive 'Graveyard' before we reach the almost heat wrenching farewell that is last track 'Satan,' which erupts into a stadium-sized pop ballad, one that still hides behind the wall of fuzzed-out twee that surrounds each song. "You're red/you're mean/and you're in my f****** dreams" - this is the farewell message that is supposed to stick with you, just like those damn infectious hooks are, and you better believe that this is exactly what happens.
This has got to be by far one of the most invigorating and exciting albums to be released so far this year and with a cult following already developing thanks the their renowned live shows, JG have already achieved more than most bands will in their whole career. With such ferocity aimed right straight at the heartstrings, 'Weird Sister' is the gift that keeps on giving. It could soundtrack a blossoming relationship and keep you company through a tragic split - and what more could you ask for from a bunch of young Welsh upstarts?
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