A swirled concoction of equal parts grunge and irony, Pissed Jeans’s particular flavor of post-hardcore is one of the scene’s most potent. Compared to the earnest expansiveness of Fucked Up and the blistering fury of Cloak/Dagger, Pissed Jeans’s attack relies little on raw emotion even while doubling down on brutal guitar streaks and steel-toed stomps. Lead singer Matt Korvette has perfected what could be called a deadpan scream: Jokey couplets like “Spent like 10 bucks on my lunch/Walk around, like a bag looking for a punch” are howled with all the tortured machismo of your favorite Black Flag anthem. Pissed Jeans reflects the (huge!) segment of the punk underground that is suburban, apolitical, and bored; they may thrash like coked-up skinheads in a barfight, but the shtick is closer in reality to a bunch of spring break collegians destroying a hotel room.
King of Jeans is Pissed Jeans’s third full-length, and those who thought that the band’s toeing the line between arch mastery and SNL-style parody couldn’t be successfully maintained probably won’t be surprised that the album is weaker than its two predecessors. Yet Korvette and company are neither stretching awkwardly into unheard-of sounds nor are they rehashing old standbys here. After all, privileged white cynicism is pretty much an endlessly mineable topic (just ask Brett Easton Ellis), and Pissed Jeans’s aural assault is as punchy, rude, and bespattered as ever. Dig the plunging, heaving squawk of “Request for Masseuse,” in which Korvette purrs and arghs as if lying facedown on a mat being worked over by a spa specialist. And “R-Rated Movie” is a snaky, screechy bonanza skating over a Minutemen-indebted bassline and dripping with loathing for Entertainment Weekly cover stars: “Fell in love with all the celebrities, I wanted to hear what they had to say/I got nervous watching the sex scene, but they never quite made it all the way.” Here and elsewhere on King of Jeans are enjoyable moments of sarcasm and scourge, but there’s nothing approaching “I’ve Still Got You (Ice Cream),” the Hope for Men standout that managed to meet bitterness and mundanity in an ecstatic high-five.
Pissed Jeans’s jokes aren’t yet falling flat, and their balls-to-the-wall throttle has hardly been tamed, but King of Jeans sees the band for the first time failing to avoid passages of power-chord monotony and instances of off-target ridicule. If you’re not following (and laughing) along on to the lyric sheet, “Dominate Yourself” and “Dream Smother” almost seem interchangeable. “Human Upskirt” and “Lip Ring” invoke sexual fantasies that are closer to bizarre than comedy, as if Korvette’s mean-spirited mocking has gotten the best of him. Pissed Jeans have made their splash, that much is assured, and the fact that their style will only become more familiar is unavoidable. The only alternative to shuffling the deck is striving for perfection, and let’s hope they remain focused on the latter rather than the former.