Joanna Gruesome: Weird Sister – album review

Joanna Gruesome Weird Sister album artworkJoanna Gruesome – Weird Sister (Fortuna Pop!)
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9/10

Beautifully feral punk pop debut from Cardiff-based five-piece Joanna Gruesome.

Weird Sister, the debut album from punk poppers Joanna Gruesome, crashes onto your stereo with brash self-assuredness and a tumbling riff that gently but firmly demands attention.

Anti-Parent Cowboy Killers starts with Alanna McArdle’s soft, dreamy but upbeat vocal. Her voice in the verse, and elsewhere on the album, juxtaposes nicely when words break through the ethereal haze and undeniably dark, occasionally dumb, but always viscerally real themes settle around your shoulders.

But this is a sugar-coated punk pill and the chorus on this first track is a delicious gob of intent, fulfilled over the subsequent songs. Throughout the album’s 30 minute run we get plenty of these Jekyll and Hyde skirmishes as pop vocals tussle with hardcore riffs and beats. This is not a fight for superiority though, not a battle where only one can be held victorious. Rather, this is the twisting and turning of a prismatic sound, different facets reflecting influence and style as they come to the fore but all part of the same glorious gem.

Second track Sugarcrush speeds through – rhythm and guitar whirring at breakneck pace. If you’ve yet to catch this band live, this track, more than any other on the album, comes closest to delivering that experience. Fast, furious and frankly fantastic.

It’s also the first point at which the mix of the album falls a little short with backbeat lower than it deserves. But it’s a minor quibble, and one that won’t register with many who’ll be too lost in the sound to care that the lo-fi aesthetic has been carried through in that way.

Wussy Void, Madison and Lemonade Grrrl all power through, variations on the definite style being set by the band.

All through the record are plenty of strong musical touch points from REM to MBV, Huggy Bear to Bis, Far to The Smiths. One of the most unexpected, but perfectly sensible, is Splendora, best remembered (by those of us older enough to) for the theme tune to MTV’s Daria animation. And it’s not just the shared sound but a little of the ethos too. Joanna Gruesome, like the cartoon’s protagonist, as an outsider, a realist, the cynic unable to deny their own heart.

Secret Surprise has the rounded, warm riffs of your best Britpop, the raw, echoing, half-shout half-sung desperate refrain and more of that speed hardcore to back it all. It’s a touch of what made emotional hardcore brilliant back in the early ’00s before it became a characature of itself, a pinch of what made grunge so vital to the disenfranchised. It’s an evolution of many great scenes and sounds that have passed before our ears over the last few decades.

The pound and chime of Candy is a pirouetting elephant of a melody. It dances fancifully but forcefully behind the girl/boy vocals and stands aside for a military drumbeat to break through. The song quickly climaxes in a woozy melt of sound before giving way to the punchy punk pop of Graveyard.

Closer Satan signs off the debut with a gently-strummed lullaby that breaks out into an undulating, glowing chorus before simmering down and quietly switching off the album’s light. It’s exactly how this half hour of punk pop power needs to end; an intake of breath before hitting play for another listen.

This is a fairytale of an album – shimmering surface sounds but a smart and sinister undertone. An intelligent, emotional and assured debut from a band that without arrogance or disdain don’t care for your approval but are methodically, creatively getting on with their work.

A blistering first record from a band set to take their rightful place in indie history.

Joanna Gruesome have postponed their scheduled live dates while Alanna McArdle continues to recover from a recent surgery.

All words by Sarah Lay. You can read more from Sarah on LTW or follow her on Twitter.

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