Justin Hayward-Young is the lead singer and guitarist for the Vaccines, whose third LP English Graffiti drops May 25th. The band is on the road this summer on Mumford & Sons’ “Gentlemen of the Road” tour and will return in the fall for its own headline run of dates. You can follow the Vaccines on Twitter here.
I’m a big fan of Joanna Gruesome, and have been for a while. Like their debut, 2013’s Weird Sister, the Welsh band’s second album Peanut Butter was recorded by MJ from Hookworms. He may just be the busiest man in Pitchfork-approved British punk rock, and seemingly for good reason. The production on Peanut Butter feels focused, potent, energetic and, perhaps most importantly, crunchy. I guess it’s always hard to know what particular producers actually bring to a particular album, but it sounds great and befitting of the songs.
The record opens urgently with “Last Year,” which sounds a lot better than the year I just had. It’s part Norman Blake, part Poly Styrene, and brittle but sweet at the same time. Is that possible? It’s an awesome way to begin the album, though.
Next up is “Jamie (Luvver).” A good, old-fashioned love song that speeds by in under two minutes, it jangles with an angular intensity that’s underpinned by sharp feedback and a great, uplifting chorus hook. It is succeeded by “Honestly Do Yr Worst,” but every time I try to work out what to say about this one, I get immersed and the song ends up finishing again before I get a chance to write anything. I guess that’s a good thing. I can’t really think of anything to say about it other than that I really like it, and I think it might be about not feeling the need to justify oneself to someone else.
The third song, “There Is No Function Stacy,” isn’t my favourite so far, but by now it definitely feels like the record is cohesive, concentrated and cruising. It also reaffirms my love of the way the vocals blend when lead singer Alanna McArdle and guitarist Owen Williams sing together. It’s really pretty and satisfying, especially when they sing the words “space alien!”
On “Crayon,” Williams poses the question “If it’s really gone/then what the hell am I supposed to do?” and the music feels just as reflective. It makes me feel like I’m going all woozy and over the edge, in the best way. A great end to side one.
On to side two, then. “I Don’t Wanna Relax” has a power-violence intro that sounds more like a discordant Shop Assistants song than what I’m used to from Joanna Gruesome. Great guitar hook and breakdown. I hope they embrace all these guitar solos when they play live; they’re worthy of a left foot on the monitor and a look up to the sky.
(By the way, apologies for the comparisons along the way. I don’t like them. That’s lazy criticism. But I’m not a critic, and I am quite lazy. I also don’t know how else to do this for you without reeling off a long list of overly expressive adjectives in their place, and I’m trying not to drone on.)
“Jerome (Liar)” creeps and crawls along, which is appropriate for the song’s name, and is followed by the fantastic “Separate Bedrooms,” a cover of a song by the Bristol band Black Terror. This is a great pop song, but arghhh, hoping you can make someone want you (“I know trying to make you fall in love/is something I should not do”) is normally futile and always painful. Knowing what it’s about (or thinking I do) obviously makes it feel more melancholic and sober than its two more wobbly predecessors on the record. The closing refrain of “I know that life would be all right if I hadn’t met you” is euphoric and optimistic by contrast, though! It feels sincere, so I’m hoping this isn’t an example of Joanna Gruesome’s self-professed mockery of traditional themes.
“Psykick Espionage” comes in and pummels you after “Separate Bedrooms.” If there’s a time and a place for a kick drum in pop music, then it’s four and it’s on the floor. Nice! This is frenetic and hyperactive, and I love the chorus. The guitars are sometimes super-brutal and sometimes chiming, as they are for much of the record. Maybe they’re trying to cover it up, but I can’t hear what they’re singing about. I did ask for the lyrics, but I still don’t really understand what they’re saying here. That might be my fault, though, and not theirs.
So we come to an obligatory slow burner to finish the record, in the form of “Hey! I Wanna Be Yr Best Friend.” A pulsating, tense and vulnerable song seasoned with a closing crescendo of harmonized guitars that pay homage to the Thin Lizzy lyrical reference. (“Walk around and talk a lot of shit/sleep and read/shred Thin Lizzy on your dad’s guitar.”) And after not even 22 minutes have passed, it’s all over now.
It’s so hard to write about a record I’ve only had for a week, but I love Peanut Butter. I really do. I’ve listened to it 12 times, apparently. I’m not sure what else to say, so just go listen to it yourself. Quite the record. Quite the spread.