The brand of anger and frustration Pissed Jeans pours forth with in its thorny scuzz-rock tunes is deceptive in its focus. While 2007’s Hope for Men, the band’s breakout Sub Pop debut, vacillated between punk snarl and noise-making, underworld theatrics, 2009’s King of Jeans was a surgical onslaught of adult disillusionment—or, rather, disillusionment with adulthood—slicing through every hook, crashing with every purposed slam of a drum stick, gritted through singer Matt Korvette’s grinding teeth. It was an album that didn’t get as much attention as its predecessor—lost in the shuffle, perhaps, with our eyes now set on other volatile noisemakers like Fucked Up—but it was by all accounts a great leap forward for a band nopt content to stomp out its frustration in one place.
And now comes Honeys, an album that further refines the Pissed Jeans sound and its attacks on the conceits and trammels of adulthood. It is, as a whole, scattershot in its attacks, and yet each attack is surgical, darkly comic without ever succumbing to fearful irony, indignant without being self-righteous. Honeys is 35 minutes of decidedly not-sweet rock tunes, with all the hardcore fury you expect and a few deviations into other genres that fit the band’s grind perfectly.
With “Bathroom Laughter” we start, fittingly, on the outside of something, of the lives of others. We hear people “in the hallway screaming”, or “in the kitchen crying” and there’s always some boundary between us and them. There’s these cracks in the veneer of other people, hints at their hurt, but all opened up seemingly by the people around them. It’s simultaneously an accidental observation of a private moment and a condemnation of the ways in which socials circles expose individuals. So Korvette and crew are on the outside looking in, but really this could be any scene, even theirs, and they attack it with the gurgling charge of heavy bass, the propulsion of drums, and buzzsaw guitars.
It’s both a thoughtful and blistering start to a record that sways all over the tonal map. “Chain Worker” is a growling noise experiment, with Korvette speak-shouting lines over groans of distortion and feedback. But while it cuts from the hard charge of “Bathroom Laughter”, it also perfectly sets up the lean hooks of “Romanticize Me”. Sonically, Honeys achieves this sleight of hand all over the record. Heard on their own, songs seem incongruous to one another, but the album somehow coheres beautifully. We can go from the bluesy shuffle rundown of “You’re Different in Person” to the Cave-esque underworld crooning of “Cafeteria Food” and the change feels fine, almost inevitable. As does the shift between noise piece “Something About Mrs. Johnson” and the towering clatter of “Male Gaze”.
Pissed Jeans used to deal in dramatic shifts in sound—see Hope for Men—but here they pull off something far more difficult: they make disparate sounds meld together. In this way, the album presents a madcap, disorganized kind of frustration that—in the end—has a powerful organization of thought behind it. Korvette is once again a perfectly flawed master of ceremonies for this freak show of (often) masculine voices. He both embodies the angry white man and sends him up constantly. We get the lazy guy on the couch waiting to be seen differently by his girlfriend in “Romanticize Me” (“Take all my faults and twist them in your head / Until I look like a sweet and thoughtful man”) while “Loubs” leers at a woman in high heels over a fitting greasy shuffle. “Male Gaze” looks at when admiration breaks into objectification, but defines it in opaque terms, painting this perspective as pervasive, even insidious.
In all instances, we have privilege without agency. The angles of masculinity we look at here bleed out into other aspects of everyday life, because it is so tied to authority and consensus. The send-up of the stick-figure family on a car in “Cafeteria Food”—Korvette’s most sardonic turn here, in which he responds to someone’s death with “I feel like I won the Super Bowl”—or the doctor fear (and lack of body control) on “Health Plan” are just extensions of this predominately male perspective. We can “think that’s a healthy choice” when we take down cafeteria food because men don’t really have to change. Honeys smartly picks at male privilege without forgetting that—at least in part—it’s what allows this album to be what it is. It’s a complicated look at assumptions that lie under adulthood, assumptions we’d rather not deal with. But before all that, it’s an album with all the energy and zeal of youth, or rather a reminder that this kind of punk rock isn’t just a young man’s game. Even if it is, you know, still a man’s game. Scathing and brilliant, this is a new level for Pissed Jeans, a band whose name begs us not to take them seriously, while their sound demands exactly the opposite.