Pissed Jeans certainly have their MO down.
Punk, for all its long history of being the music of outcasts, can be an exceptionally insular and xenophobic genre. There’s a reason Dead Kennedys had to write “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” and, today, there are dozens upon dozens of stories of women at punk shows being harassed by the crowd or, occasionally, the musicians themselves. Most punks wouldn’t admit it, but straight white dudes are the ruling class in punk, even when bands like Death were formative to punk and modern groups like Downtown Boys are tearing down misogyny and racism in the genre.
And no band takes a horrific travel into the insecurity and self-loathing that creates those xenophobic barriers quite like Pissed Jeans. After listening to their newest, Why Love Now, it’d be hard not to think that no one hates Pissed Jeans quite like Pissed Jeans. These are squalid stories of fury, misplaced lust and frustration at the world, all delivered with a twisted sense of humor letting you know that Pissed Jeans despise those knuckleheads in the audience as much as you do.
Frontman Matt Korvette called their sound, “the musical equivalent to watching a toilet flush.”
And Pissed Jeans certainly have their MO down. That quote both perfectly explains the completely exhausting music they produce and their outlook on the world. They’re definitely funny, clever dudes. But there aren’t any punchlines in Pissed Jean’s work, unless of course you think this whole being alive thing is a joke itself. If Pissed Jeans do their work right, you’ll laugh before being horrified at laughing. You’re the joke here.
Perhaps its their longevity in the punk scene, but much of their commentary is on masculinity in music and America at large. And it’s not a pretty picture they paint. The sludgy “Love Without Emotion” is as torrid as the title suggests. “One day we’ll meet in New Orleans and we can sweat a lot,” howls Korvette over guitars that seem to be melting from the heat of his anger. It’s clear he’s not only confused and frustrated by the situation with his lover (and it might be a stretch to call her that). “You reminded me last night,” he admits before shouting the chorus in a Tom Waitsian fashion over and over again. If it’s not clear, there are no winners on Why Love Now. To quote fellow noise-rockers WHORES, “All the girls are professional by desire/ All the men are dogs.” Korvette’s characters lash out at their loved ones, but it’s obvious that the men at the center of each song are at fault, cowards trying to act tough and destroying everything they touch.
The opening few songs sound more like detuned and melted rock ’n’ roll, while it’s the second half that really sets the album on fire. Drummer Sean McGuinness really comes alive here, with the final five or so tracks completely propelled by his rage. “It’s Your Knees” sounds like Deftones if Chino Moreno was crossfaded and mad as hell. Meanwhile, “Worldwide Marine Asset Financial Analyst” is the shortest, fastest song here, probably the most “punk” track of the collection. It’s also the most outward looking, detailing the daily toiling of some low-ranking bureaucrat who goes to work as the world ends. “I’ve watched the icecaps melt away/ I’ve seen the last of its species die.” But the bottom line is more important and he dutifully goes back to work in the face of oblivion. Got to pay rent somehow, right?
The centerpiece of Why Love Now is the truly disturbing “I’m a Man.” It’s barely a song and instead more a vile spoken word piece with thundering drums pounding away as the tension increases. A strange voice goes on a lust and violence fueled rant, portraying a sexually lecherous boss, alternating between seducing and threatening his secretary. “Who’s in that picture frame?/ I like kids but I don’t like boyfriends and I don’t like husbands,” it snarls. The second half of the song almost entirely dedicates itself to the comparison between men and gorillas. And the way Pissed Jeans put it, it’s more offensive for the apes.
On a surface level, it’s a middle finger to Tame Impala’s half-hearted, non-apology of a song “’Cause I’m a Man,” but it goes much deeper than that. It’s all beady-eyed hate and small mindedness that Pissed Jeans return to again and again, a direct counterpoint to “boys will be boys.” Pissed Jean’s journey into toxic masculinity and the social constructs that encourage men to be violent, distant and sexually aggressive is horrifying, but perhaps needed. To defeat something, you need to recognize and understand it first. And Pissed Jeans have clearly taken long looks in the mirror and seem ready to call an exorcist.