Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter (Album Review, Stream)

by Steven Spoerl


Joanna Gruesome‘s a name that’s been appearing on this site consistently throughout its duration and Peanut Butter‘s ensured that trend’s been one that continued throughout 2015’s first stretch. Weird Sister was one of the best records of 2013 and it came out just before Heartbreaking Bravery started operating, which meant they likely factored into the decision to create (and sustain) this space. In 2014, their Astonishing Adventures split with Perfect Pussy nearly topped our best splits of 2014 list (where Peanut Butter standout “Psykcick Espionage” made its debut) and they’ve earned themselves several standalone features through their music videos as well as their recorded output. In short, the band had a lot to live up to with Peanut Butter and they answered those expectations with a deafening roar.

Embracing the dynamics that made them such a compelling act out of the gate, they’ve managed to refine their approach and incorporate a much heavier emphasis on dissonance. Peanut Butter is Joanna Gruesome’s heaviest, noisiest, and most accomplished work to date, extending a narrative arc of continuous improvement. For a band that already packed a punch, throwing in stabbing noise freakouts that punctuate a large number of Peanut Butter‘s tracks might seem unnecessarily excessive. What sets Joanna Gruesome apart from some of their like-minded kin when it comes to this department is their unwavering understanding of restraint. “I Wanna Relax” starts with sheer white noise- but it’s cut off at the head almost as soon as it appears, effectively rendering it a jarring warning of the content that lies ahead.

Joanna Gruesome didn’t set out to pull punches on Peanut Butter and much of the record comes off like an assault. Impressively, even with the strengthened bent on atonality, the band hasn’t sacrificed any of their melody- they’ve enhanced it. “Last Year”, the record’s opening track, is one of the best examples of this duality and sets the tone for the nine tracks that follow. Never dipping under mid-tempo, the band keeps things at a sprint throughout the record, never allowing the listener a reprieve. The closest they come is the band’s surprisingly gentle closer, “Hey! I Wanna Be Yr Best Friend”, which feels like the transcendental calm that descends after a violent storm.

Part of what makes Joanna Gruesome’s storm so electric is the way vocalist Alanna McCardle weaves her ideologies into her narratives, subtly drawing the line to gender expectations through tales of difficult relationships and personal angst. Throughout Peanut Butter McCardle grapples with what and what isn’t good, torturing herself by questioning her own motivations. At times, the self-examination is brutal but it’s softened by the band’s pop sensibilities, which are continuing to produce some of the most gorgeous moments of any band currently making music. Terrifying, exhilarating, and unfailingly brilliant, Peanut Butter isn’t just Joanna Gruesome’s current crown jewel, it’s also one of the brightest spots of a year that’s already overflowing with greatness. To further illustrate that last point, a list of titles worth hearing will be included at the very bottom of this page (which also acts as an addendum to the preceding post).

Before you scan through those titles, though, make sure to listen to Peanut Butter over at NPR’s First Listen (the Spotify embed will take the place of that link once the record goes live).

Pre-order Peanut Butter from the always-great Slumberland here.

Now, as promised, an accompanying list of some other previously unlisted 2015 titles that are more than worth your attention.

Johanna Warren – nūmūn
Pfarmers – Gunnera
Sick Sad World – Fear and Lies
Glockabelle – Wolf BBQ
Fraternal Twin – Skin Gets Hot
Coliseum – Anxiety’s Kiss
DTCV – Uptime!
Clean Girls – Despite You
Turnover – Peripheral Vision
Battle Ave – Year of Nod
Tres Padres – Father’s Day / A Lot to Maintain
Vomitface – Another Bad Year
Eskimeaux – O.K.
Crocodiles – Boys
Novella – Land
Blanck Mess – Dumb Flesh
Miss June – Matriarchy
Art Is Hard – Family Portrait Pt. II