Tongues planted firmly in cheek, the irreverently named Joanna Gruesome pounces and purrs through just over 26 minutes of endearingly ebullient noise pop on their debut, Weird Sister. Like many bands bearing the Slumberland imprint, the Welsh five-piece balances the pretty with the prickly, and as their name suggests, absolutely nobody plays the harp. Weird Sister is fuzzy, furious, and swaggers like a ballerina in combat boots.
Some of the songs, previously released on singles and an EP, have been re-recorded, and the production is sweet without being cloying, and lo-fi without being indistinct. The guitars are bright and brassy, while bassist Max Warren and drummer David Sanford’s low end provides an unadorned foundation for Alanna McArdle’s emotive voice, giving resonance to the band’s lyrical preoccupations with gender politics and sexual identity. One of the results of the occasionally gauzy, shoegaze-y production is that the band’s lyrics aren’t immediately distinguishable, which makes repeated listens revelatory. It also means the words become more important, adding to the songs’ energy and context. Intentional or not, it’s a neat example of the album’s commanding powers.
The band displays their stylistic maturity most convincingly on “Secret Surprise,” which sounds like Comet Gain channeling Bratmobile on an Adderall binge. “I dream of pulling out your teeth,” McArdle spits, sounding either like a jilted lover or a demented dentist. When Sanford’s punch-drunk percussion goes woozy and she coos, “I’ve been waiting to crush your fucking skull,” it’s so matter-of-fact as to sound completely inevitable, and almost a little becoming.
While the lyrics might seem abrasive, the music is joyous and affirmative. “Sugarcrush” is a perfect example of how poppy Joanna Gruesome can be, palpitating along with the persistent feedback blasts from guitarists Owen Williams and George Nicholls, hurtling to conclusion in barely controlled, fiery discord. “Madison” features a surprisingly nimble breakdown that temporarily calls time-out on the sonic assault to give the song texture. “Lemonade Grrrl” starts softly, sounding like a lost Slowdive track, and builds to a furious sound with tremendous melodic craft, with enough hooks to pull down the moon. The playful and passionate Weird Sister is the natural, exhilarating sound of influences—shoegaze, hardcore, riot grrrl—being assembled in new ways.