Music Reviews
Peanut Butter

Joanna Gruesome Peanut Butter

(Slumberland / Fortuna Pop!) Buy it from Insound Rating - 6/10

Cardiff noise pop band Joanna Gruesome are stressed to the point of aggression, though they do set aside their misgivings when they’re at their most volatile. They approach their succinct songs with plenty of fire in their bellies: it usually begins with a sweet, yet fuzzed-out guitar lead, followed by bursts of atonal noodling until they circle back into fine form with sugary choruses that would make Talulah Gosh bow to them with respectful deference.

Working with Hookworms member MJ for a second time, Peanut Butter largely encompasses a twenty-two minute venting session with almost-verbatim accounts that think back to past experiences. MJ is so careful about keeping the essence of their debut Weird Sister that it reduces that album’s excesses into a coherent, though brutal swing. The levelheaded pauses found in Weird Sister are still there, only that those highly charged transitions are even more immediate, ready to disrupt at any given moment.

Singer Alanna McArdle performs with a shifty swagger, constantly juggling moments of callous release with fey vocals as she muses on the small details. She does bring some focus into Gruesome’s rhythmic disarray like that of an impassioned conductor, ready to go into a controlled rage when the song’s pace seems just a bit too orderly. Despite McArdle’s evident presence, the entirety of Peanut Butter is performed in such a rush that it almost doesn’t leave room to even absorb what she is trying to emote.

As for the kinds of themes hidden within Peanut Butter’s scuzzy delirium? Well, they’re just as intangible, oftentimes quizzically surreal and blatantly mundane at once. Fiery malcontent oozes when it’s about the bad boy (the humiliating shout-out to an ex in Jerome (Liar)), wide-eyed illusion springs up when it’s about a cool boy (Jamie (Luvver)), and troubled vulnerability bounds when it’s about the lame boy (Separate Bedrooms, the story of a longstanding friendship that never sparks into romantic fruition). There’s scattered references to crayons, sorcery and, well, peanut butter, supposedly tied to espionage and radical politics, but I don’t follow.

Grasping the contradictions enclosed in Peanut Butter makes for an intriguing, occasionally arresting listen, but also an infuriatingly muddled one. The tart arrangements are lean and immediate,  though somehow prove to be exhausting when listened to in its entirety. It’s certainly one of the edgier twee recordings in recent years, almost an oxymoron in itself, one that falls short on its promise to channel its internal chaos with sprightly reminiscence.