Matt Korvette sings like a neutered tom fucks, which is to say, not very well. If you’ve ever seen a gib mount another domesticated housecat, you know the sound: a low, guttural howl, pained confusion the only thing left to release. Pissed Jeans, now on their third record for Sub Pop, have long since mastered this kind of funny/not funny fuckery; Honeys, the newest album by the Allentown, PA post-hardcore act, sounds not at all unlike Hope For Men and King of Jeans, their previous two albums. If you’re familiar, then you know what to expect, and if you’re not, just ask yourself: do you want to listen to a band with a name like Pissed Jeans? That’s really all you need to consider.
Pissed Jeans are nothing if not honest and direct. They, who were at one time called Unrequited Hard-On, are a lot of other things too — abrasive, self-absorbed, misanthropic, repetitive, predictable — but they’re never backhanded about what they do, and there’s something charming about that lack of guile. “I’m not innocent, but I’m trying” Korvette yammers over mutant blues riffs on “Male Gaze,” summing up the band’s ideology tidily. It’s never clear whether the band is being entirely ironic when they bash about subjects such as post-feminist masculine identity crises, avoidance of doctors’ offices, inability to achieve orgasm, shoe shopping, and cafeteria food (on the plainly titled “Cafeteria Food”). There’s something undeniably amusing about the material, but to write Pissed Jeans off as some kind of one-joke act would be a mistake. There’s a depth of feeling to the proceedings, enough to believe in the band as an outlet for impotent, white collar rage. After all, why shouldn’t a band as literally dissonant as Pissed Jeans be able to be simultaneously kidding and sincere about their post-industrial ennui?
That duality is foregrounded from the get-go. The hook, if you can call it such a thing, on the opening track goes “You’re in the kitchen crying, you’re in the kitchen crying.” Two and a half minutes without a single second of levity, “Bathroom Laughter” features neither. The association within the unsubtle contrast is yours to make. It’s one of the more engaging songs on Honeys — driving, manic, and muscular, surprisingly similar to Nick Oliveri’s QOTSA material — but hardly the only one that gets the blood boiling.
For all of their consistency, Pissed Jeans are growing less sludgy over time. There’s some of that still, but “Chain Worker” is the only song that truly groans. In the past, Pissed Jeans used uptempo material sparingly, as if letting off steam. Honeys, on the other hand, is pretty much all steam. Unless you were married to their older, stiffer, and more lurching incarnation, this small bit of growth is welcome. If perhaps more conventional than they once were, Pissed Jeans are still fiercely uncommercial, ugly, and grim. That they cover a wider and more easily recognizable stylistic range on Honeys, especially when compared to Hope For Men, means that the band is no longer as challenging as they used to be, but they’re smarter, tighter, and yes, better than ever. The production is sly, cleaner than it first seems. The fade to footsteps at the end of “Loubs” and the chiming, Pavlovian punctuation on “Cafeteria Food” are brief reminders that producer Alex Newport, working with the band for the second time, is a good fit for Pissed Jeans.
Whether it’s the surly, sarcastic Klimsterism of “Romanticize Me,” the buzzed-up stoner strut of “Loubs,” or the scummy thrashing of “Vain in Costume,” these songs aren’t nearly as lethargic or deflated as they play at being. Honeys is a fleet 35 minutes, relatively speaking. The non-stop purging of masculinist bile can be exhausting, but that can and should be considered a measure of success, a sign that, despite whatever growth has been exhibited, success hasn’t changed Pissed Jeans.