his isn’t an argument against “selling out,” nor is it a warning against succumbing to the pitfalls of prolonged adolescence, but Pissed Jeans should have engaged in some serious discourse regarding both subjects before allowing their strategically bruised statement, Hope for Men, to gnaw on the masses. Making the jump to Sub Pop certainly has instant rewards. Label recognition might lodge a song like “Caught Licking Leather” into elitist playlists alongside the Shins or give them cache among discerning Nirvana-philes looking to re-stoke the smoldering embers of Bleach (yup, grunge is back). For the most part though, Pissed Jeans have the unfortunate distinction of becoming another boutique band (like Wolf Eyes with arms and legs, verses and choruses), the harbingers of a new strain of antisocial, ugly sludge punk. And by giving a fresh face to a genre that should be quintessentially heard and never seen, they’ve demystified whatever element of surprise they had up their sleeves. That, coupled with a particularly banal perception of the world and an embarrassingly arid sense of humor, has some disastrous results on Hope for Men.
Then again, I’m a sucker for disaster, for peering over my shoulder to view wreckage on the interstate, for violent, decadent carnage (even if it’s staged), and Pissed Jeans were masters at conveying that shirtless and sweaty chaos on their debut, Shallow. Problem is, when listening, fantasy overwhelmed. Scant background info revealed they hailed from Allentown (ya know, where they’re closing all the factories down), evolved in dank basements, and were raised on monochromatic hardcore, so my imagination conjured up scab-spitting troglodytes, cretins never graduated from Class of Nuke ’Em High, or at least burly, drug-addled, heliophobes with a crush on Flipper.
The first thing you’ll notice when cracking open Hope for Men is that Pissed Jeans are pretty ordinary looking guys. By being photographed in artistic light, sitting in their bedrooms with lap dogs and half-eaten doughnuts, it sort of sucks out the danger that once coursed through the veins of their music. Instead of “Ashamed of My Cum,” it’s “I Still Got You (Ice Cream).”
Were Hope for Men packaged in a brown paper bag, things would be different. Even as elaborate farce (in visual presentation anyways), many of the album’s pieces are still extremely brutal, nihilistic, and confrontational, with riffs tossed around like a shot put aiming to break bones. “Secret Admirer” wobbles through steely scraps of Jesus Lizard’s best menace at half-speed. And singer Matt Korvette definitely has the gift of the Lizard’s David Yow in his voice, rarely sounding sane, always self-strangulating out deafening howls. But more or less he plays sidekick to guitarist Bradley Fry, whom on the aforementioned “I Still Got You (Ice Cream)” does a much better job vocalizing the tale of desperate rejection with distortion and feedback, a few blatant drop-tuned chords and flayed knuckle skin. At its finest, Hope for Men sounds like the Cherubs chiseled into the Melvins’ likenesses, parsing punk rhetoric with aggravating psychedelia and obstinacy.
But at their worst (which brings us back to the debate on who we’re really dealing with here) Pissed Jeans struggle with their latest residency en vogue. Clunkers, including the anti-yuppie white-noise diatribe “The Jogger” and the puzzlingly inane bore that is “Scrapbooking,” reach for a level of art for art’s sake they are much too green to deal with right now. Stick with the blood, guts, and pussy, guys, and you’ll do just fine.