A great irony has been present for much of Sub Pop’s history: From Bleach to Bloom, the Seattle-based label has had pretty good luck both anticipating trends and taking advantage of new ones. This starts, of course, with bands like Nirvana and Mudhoney, neither of which had their most successful days on the imprint, but both of which can claim an incalculable amount of influence on rock music to germinate after their early-‘90s peaks. Today, more than two decades after the surfacing of the “Seattle sound,” signees like Fleet Foxes and Beach House are elongating and elaborating Sub Pop’s tradition of representing acts that, while not necessarily making a run at any kind of chart-domination, will make a dent in Billboard standings and pop up on late-night TV the weeks after dropping a new album.
Go back further than any of that, though, and you’ll find that SP’s OGs are eternally overdriven bands like Green River and Scratch Acid that mostly did the opposite of what a desperate major-label exec might request. These are the guys that presumably jibed with Bruce Pavitt’s original mission statement for his company, and theirs is the tradition Pissed Jeans align with. The Pennsylvania-based quartet are spiritual descendants of feral flocks like Flipper, The Jesus Lizard, and McLusky. And on Honeys, their fourth album total and third for Sub Pop, Pissed Jeans offer up 12 tracks that rival those bands at their very finest.
Four years separate Honeys from Pissed Jeans’ last album, King of Jeans, but there’s not much here to suggest it needed to gestate that long. Instead, the LP is actually a tightening of and an improvement on the band’s greatest strengths. Where each of the band’s first three LPs had a song of at least seven minutes, nothing on Honeys tops five; “You’re Different (In Person)” and “Cat House”, rather, count among Pissed Jeans’ most economical songs yet. And while those first three albums were often carried by sheer force, this one has a more contoured sequencing conducive to a supremely balanced listen – the Sleep-y lumber of “Chain Worker”, the turbulent “Male Gaze”, and the neck-snapping charge of “Health Plan” all show up in the exact right spots. Lots of bands are as pummeling as Pissed Jeans, but few have proven themselves so capable of making a true album’s album.
Right, and also: Matt Korvette. A band this heavy is nothing without an absolute behemoth of a frontman, and dude has always measured up – anybody who’s heard the way he comes in on 2005’s “Ugly Twin (I’ve Got)” can attest to that. Here, as per always, Korvette brings his vein-popping, larynx-lacerating, not-so-much-“cathartic”-as-violently-soul-purging delivery to a collection of songs that just wouldn’t be the same without it. Of course, as a lyricist, Korvette has always been a special figure in his field, too, satirizing the quotidian with songs like 2007’s notorious “I’ve Still Got You (Ice Cream)”. That idiosyncratic charisma pops up plenty here – “Health Plan” is one of the funniest things he’s done – and when it does, it contrasts with the heave of the music without being a distraction.
Unlike a band such as Fucked Up – who, in case you’ve forgotten, did that song with Cults’ Madeline Follin – Pissed Jeans might not be a gateway to hardcore/pigfuck/whatever this exceedingly noisy music they make is. In other words, there are hooks here, not to mention a near-hummable melody or two on “Loubs”, but nothing like a “TV Party”. Instead, Honeys is 36 minutes of an excellent band doing what it does best, approachability be damned. It’s an anachronism, yes, but records as essential as this one only show up a few times a year in any era.
Essential Tracks: “Bathroom Laughter”, “Cathouse”, and “Health Plan”