When Joanna Gruesome popped up on the radar in 2013, they were impossible to ignore and even more impossible to stop listening to. Here were a bunch of teenagers fresh out of anger management, ready to brush that heat off their shoulders in a physically safe and sonically welcome way. They were still self-conscious, we were still in awe, and the world was still a jerk. Weird Sister balanced bark with bite, introducing a beast of an album that listeners coveted as both a best friend and a watch guard. Apparently that bark was a little too loud. On Peanut Butter, the Welsh noise pop group leave loose ends dangling, distracting from the message they’re bursting to yell.
With “Last Year”, Peanut Butter opens with the same blistering fury of Weird Sister and frontwoman Alanna McArdle’s envy-inducing vocals. She casts herself as society’s all-too-common misnomer, the “crazy bitch,” wreaking havoc on her partner in a refusal to back down. “Stay if you like/ But I’ll make a scene/ Crushing your tiny skull,” she sings, supported by punching guitar. It’s a perfect representation of what Joanna Gruesome strives to represent: empowerment, clarity, and courage. That refusal to settle is important, even when finding a best friend to riff on Thin Lizzy with over slushies (“Hey! I Wanna Be Yr Best Friend”).
McArdle’s voice is a reversible tote, changing from Perfect Pussy-style yells to the rose-colored falsettos of polite pop. Blame it on the production or her lungs, but a good half of her lyrics are hard to make out — and on Peanut Butter, they’re crucial. She’s one of the strong voices calling out the omnipresent sexism in today’s music community, especially at live shows, but her power stance loses confidence here.
Without Weird Sister’s sugarcoated hooks, Peanut Butter’s songs suffer. Though the dissonance of “There Is No Function Stacy” and “Honestly Do Yr Worst” is welcome, it quickly melts, recoiling from that splitting punk and gut-busting snarl that gave Joanna Gruesome their fangs. Peanut Butter rests on pillars like “Jerome (Liar)” and the brief, playful collapse mid-song on “Psykick Espionage”. On the rest, their guitars still race ahead, shredding through verse-chorus-verse like usual, but they don’t have a destination. Joanna Gruesome were, and are, capable of more.
Peanut Butter is only 22 minutes front to back, but with blurry melodies and rushed hooks, it feels much longer. Joanna Gruesome rides on raw emotion, whether it stems from anger or victory, but they lose the edge of their retorts. “Crayon” and “I Don’t Wanna Relax” briefly make good use of melody. If the rest of these songs could focus long enough to do the same, Peanut Butter could be the follow-up it was expected to be: a dizzying, unrelenting pop punk takedown of sexism, gender stereotypes, and outdated rules no one needs to play by. Joanna Gruesome are pertinent to today’s music scene. They just need to focus on their goals a little longer before pouring their points onto wax.
Essential Tracks: “Jerome (Liar)”, “Psykick Espionage”