Pissed Jeans don’t care if you like them. Either that, or they care more than any other band going today. It’s hard to tell which, but whether it’s the former or the latter is irrelevant; you will like them. Hope for Men, the band’s second album and first for Sub Pop, is a tricky record to get a grasp on—and not because it is full of squalls of noise and plaintiff screams, but because it is full of contradictions.
One listen of Hope for Men could yield an ironic impression, one where Pissed Jeans are mocking the punk rock tradition with every scream. Another listen could find the band sounding totally earnest. The best part is that both could be right. Pissed Jeans somehow manage to send-up punk rock and hardcore while simultaneously remaining true to them, and that juxtaposition makes for an album as maddeningly intense as it is hilarious.
Opener “People Person” has singer Matt Korvette bitching about this guy he knows and how everyone likes him and he wears digital watches and is admittedly handsome. But as the thudding drums and squealing guitars trudge on, unchanged in their grimy trajectory, the song moves from animosity to frustration, as Korvette seems to wish people liked him the way this other guy is liked. Buy it or not, its a perfect opener for the album, because for all its noise and stomp the movement, or lack there of, is subtle. “Secret Admirer” is a creepy stalker tale, but not a typical creepy stalker tale, where Pissed Jeans slow it down and the Black Flag comparison they’ve been getting makes sense. The song opens with Korvette yelling “I’ve got something to tell you” and while it seems like intentional understatement as he relates to a girl that someone (perhaps him) is following her a little too closely. He gives her example after example until, near the end of the song, he screams again, all the louder “I’ve got something to tell you!” and it becomes clear that whoever he’s trying to warn isn’t paying attention and, as a listener, its both a moment to grin and worry at least a little.
Perhaps the biggest success of the album is that, while the band might want you to hear some of this stuff ironically (if only to throw you off), it is surprisingly sincere about the simple pleasures in life. In Korvette’s “Fantasy World” (where he channels Roger Daltrey as much as Henry Rollins) he is “sitting near piles of clothes and drinking a soda with a slice of pizza.” That is as good as it gets for him, it seems, and not only is it believable, but you might find yourself dying for the very same thing. “I Still Got You (Ice Cream)” is as simple as it sounds, where Korvette just needs a pint of Ben and Jerry’s once in a while when life gets to be too much. That the band can deliver this Lifetime Network cliche with such earnest frenzy makes them seem so much more challenging than bands that figure the best way to make their audience work is to learn towards the esoteric. Pissed Jeans have figured out that sometimes it is the most simple things than can be the most challenging, and while you’ll get used to Hope for Men‘s nihilistic guitars and pound-through-the-floor drums, the rest of this may be a little more tricky to digest, since it might make you wonder if you complicate things more than you should.
And while credit is due to the band for doing just what they want, they can be just as self-indulgent as the rest of us. The spoken-word “Scrapbooking” is about just what it claims, and for five minutes Korvette speaks over barely-there piano and clambering noise. It can be funny, but in the end listening to it is more of a chore than a challenge. Same goes for the attack on the Whole Foods crowd, “The Jogger” where the argument against self-righteous health nuts is right on, but the spoken-word doesn’t work as well as the crashing noise of the other songs. Closer “My Bed”, however, marries these quieter moments with the grit of the other songs, and it makes for a seven-minute tour de force that not only puts every talent the band has on display, but solidifies the entire album’s success by not only summing up the quotidian frustrations and small escapes of the first nine track but also forming it own arc where Korvette starts the song laying in his bed, quite alone and seemingly depressed, and by the end he’s yelling triumphantly, “I just know that something good is gonna happen.” It makes the song, and it makes the album, because rather than this line being something Hope for Men has settled at, it casts a different light back to the rest of the album, making moments that seemed full of clear-cut anger now just a little more cloudy. Pissed Jeans know what they’re doing, probably more than they let on, and Hope for Men is as out of control and head-banging as it is compelling and downright human.