Hola Internets! It is I, Schnitzel Boogieman /aka Schnitzy B/ aka Schnitz and Stitch/ aka Schnitz B. Goode/ aka The Schnitz John B./ aka Johnny B. Boy/ aka You Are The Generation Who Ate More Pork And You Get What You Deserve, if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. I’m here to spit out another fact-based nugget of musical delight for entertaining your eyeballs and ear balls. It has been a long couple of weeks here under the Moist Graffiti overpass, with Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Chanukah to celebrate, and then an entire internet to surf when the public library whose wifi we squat on reopened after the break, not to mention the amount of time it took for us to destroy/delete/ bury and salt the earth above any and all Lostprophets music or merchandise we might have picked up over the years. With those tasks completed the MG crew is now focused on bring you more top quality insight into the worlds of popular music and popular culture for at least another few weeks, before we go into winter hibernation mode and start churning out end of year reviews and best of lists. Onward!
It has long been known that the spoils of WW2 were divided between the victors. The Americans gained all the scientists with knowledge of bomb making, rockets and atomic energy. The Russians obtained all the experts in state surveillance and mass extermination of political adversaries. However, it is not common knowledge what the Brits got out of the rubble of Nazi Germany. Was it advances in orthodontics? Functional mass transport systems? That famous Germanic sense of humor?
No, the Brits got all the composers.
Think about it – Beethoven, Bach, Dedekind etc etc. From 1600 through 1945 the Germans ruled the world of popular music. No other country had woven such a rich musical tapestry throughout their national culture. From the pounding mechanical beats of the industrial Ruhr Valley to the lofty echoing mountain peaks of the Alps, no other country had fused the natural and anthropogenic worlds so seamlessly, music pouring out of every orifice, a song in every heart, a tune on every tongue, a symphony in every voiceless velar fricative.
But now? Silence. The music has died, the fricatives howl with lament and there hasn’t been a decent German musician since 1945 (David Hasselhoff excepted…).
It all stems back to one night in October 1945, when the finest Axis musical minds were bundled into the bomb bays of a Washington B.1 and smuggled back to the UK in the dead of night. Sequestered in the middle of the Cotswolds, these boffins went to work constructing a theory of music that would turn the world on it’s head. Re-purposing the massive computers developed to crack Axis codes nearby at Bletchley Park and the using the advances in automated manufacturing developed during the war effort, the crew set about making a machine that created pop groups. It took 16 years of miscreants and malcontents before they finally created the Beatles, and the rest, as they say, is history.
For 40 years the sun never set on the British popular music empire. New models were released every few years as the Rolling Stones, Queen, the Smiths, Suede, Blur and the Supernaturals all made it to the pinnacle of the pop music pyramid. Yes, there were experiments that went awry – one dangerous explosion in a Scottish paint factory led to the Bay City Rollers. The mainframe became infected with a porn virus, leading to the great Spice Girls outbreak of 1995, and eventually the death of many of the original programmers led the algorithm to become self aware, moody and smug, resulting in the creation of Coldplay. After this debacle the program was shuttered by the British government and presumed dead forever. British pop music would no longer be created in a laboratory by scientists and instead have to be created organically the same way it is done in the rest of the world – by massive reality television audition shows.
However, in 2005 a small group descended from the original Teutonic refugees broke into the dusty lab where so much musical history had been created and began to rerun the old algorithms, stripped of the later larded-on stylings, determined to create only pure pop nuggets. The first of these experiments was too successful. The creation of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart surpassed any expectations, resulting in a band so magnificant, so overpoweringly British, that people would surely realize they were created by mad scientists and the jig would be up. TPOBPAH were therefore traded to America for the rights to Madonna and three nu-Emo bands to be named later. And a box of bats. Since their trade to the colonies of course as we all know, TPOBPAH exploded and have spent the last 5 years as the deserved rulers of the entire musical world.
The second attempt at alchemically making this perfect pop band resulted in the creation of Veronica Falls. These sugary-sweet Londoners contained just the right amount of jangle and twee to instantly melt the heart of pop fans everywhere, and yet enough fuzz and reverb to quicken the pulse of even the most jaded rocker. Needless to say they have dominated the global charts ever since.
How to top those two phenomenal bands? Well, by now I’m sure you’ve heard of Joanna Gruesome. The renegade boffins behind the curtain tweaked the algorithm to include a pinch of aggression, a heaping helping of dissonance and a modicum of yelling. The result? Pure sonic gold.
The opening track, “Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers” brilliantly sets the stage for the entire album. Sounding like Blur on Ritalin, it pops, it rocks, it echoes, it crunches, it stops and then it starts again for the best 2 minutes and 38 seconds I’ve had all year. Sorry, that should be “heard” all year.
The lead single, and stand out track of the entire album is next, “Sugarcrush”. Opening with some dissonant open chord blasts it quickly moves into some more familiar chords, a bit of jangle, some feedback, sweetly harmonizing male-female vocals and before letting loose with the staccato snares, ringing cymbals, more feedback and frankly unintelligible lyrics – this is the best pop song of the year. The real highlight of the song, and the album, occurs during the last 30 seconds, when the band seemingly gets bored of playing the songs and returns to the dissonant groove of the opening few bars. This breakdown sounds like playtime in the pre-school, with all 5 band members gleefully abusing their instruments for all they’ve got. It’s noisy, joyous and utterly fantastic, and if your reaction isn’t to grin along wildly, then maybe Moist Graffiti isn’t for you.
Wussy Void shows the band can just about maintain the same energy and menace through a slower-paced number, although it does feel like a bit of a let down, placed after the rollicking Sugarcrush.
Madison returns to more familiar upbeat territory with riffs somehow constructed out of atonal string-bashing and just enough sugar on the sludge to make it unforgettable.
Lemonade Grrrl again highlights the unpredictability of each song, as a sweet start soon gives way to double speed drumming and strumming overlaid with sweet vocals and harmonies that may or may not say “You and me, we’ll make her fucking cum – Lemonade Grrrl”.
Secret Surprise stands out as another perfect track with the screamed “I dream of pulling out your teeth” chorus emerging from the cymbal crashes, choppy guitars and barely controlled feedback. This is a band unafraid to push things right to the edge of their ability and then a little further, just to see what will happen. And what happens is generally awesome.
“Do You Really Wanna Know Why Yr Still In Love With Me” continues in the same vein and again ends with an instrumental breakdown of unrestrained instrument bashing. Now, normally, the Moist Graffiti review crew would look down upon such seeming repetition, chalking it up to laziness, a lack of ideas or an inability to finish a song properly. However, in this case, we will happily chalk it up to fucking awesomeness and leave it at that.
The final third of the album is not that strong, as the band seems to run out of steam somewhat. “Candy” shows that the band fades a little when the tempo drops and the instruments must be played rather than beaten into submission. But lead singer Alanna McArdle has the vocal chops to carry this song, showing she can sing sweetly as well as she can scream, a dynamic range that most vocalists fail to pull off. Just for good measure the band manage to sneak in a bit of instrument abuse toward the end of the song as well, just to ensure that no string is left unbroken.
“Graveyard” grooves along nicely, but never quite hits the highs that some of the other rockers reach, instead tripping over itself in the fast parts, and never quite catching up in the quieter parts.
Unfortunately the album closes with the weakest song, as “Satan” feels a little unfinished. This tends to leave a bit of a bad memory in your mind when trying to collect your thoughts on the whole album. After experiencing such a rollercoaster ride over the previous 30 minutes it is a shame that the album ends on a comparative low, and not one that sums up the visceral, body-slamming, face-melting, heart-warming ridiculousness of the entire album. My only guess is that all that energy expended in the rest of the album must have really taken it out of the band of merry infants, and perhaps it was nap time…
This is an album that demands to be played loudly and often, each listen revealing more nuance than the last, each decibel warming your heart just a little more. In a year where music has become incredibly overwrought and dull (looking at you Arcade Fire), any controversy has been painfully contrived and carefully planned (good golly Ms Miley) and any spontaneity wrung out by the drum machines (bonjour Imbécile Mal Foutu) and retreads (Mr M & M), Joanna Gruesome are vital, human, unfiltered and real – in short they celebrate being alive and physical in a digital age. Does this herald a movement away from our spying smartphones, autotuned and quantized drum loops, infantilized and fractured political debate, and self absorbed social media? Almost certainly not. But if this is what the raging against the dying of the light sounds like, then there’s hope for the proles yet.
At least until the Great British machine churns out the next buzz band.
Joanna Gruesome – Weird Sister
Jangle dipped in just the right amount of fuzz and reverb 97.475
More hooks than a slaughterhouse 96.254
Probability that some parts were actually recorded by kindergarteners 91.837
Putting welsh alternative music on the radar for a positive reason 99.999
Still need to work out how to keep the energy up when the tempo drops: -1
You’ve got to figure they’ll regret that name sooner or later: -4.07
MG Rating: 91.321
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