A 12 inch vinyl record played at the standard rate of 33 revolutions per minute gives you around 45 minutes of playing time, it’s been a crucial factor in the defining what we have come to know as an album. Obviously with the advent of digital recordings and compact discs that length was increased and latterly with the invention of mp3’s there’s now no limit to the length of an album other than a bands own imagination. So what is it that causes some musicians to write albums that still clock in at less than half an hour?
Not that it’s a bad thing of course; some of the best albums of all time are on the short side. Take Nick Drake’s classic Pink Moon, it’s largely regarded as one of the greatest albums of introspective folk, so good in fact that a 2014 reissue of the album scored a perfect 10 out of 10 on Pitchfork, but it’s 11 tracks flew by in a mere 28 minutes.
It’s hard to talk short albums, short songs, short sets, or anything involving not hanging around without thinking of The Ramones, their seminal self-titled debut clocked in just four second over 29 minutes, but features 14 songs, and many of their most famous hits, including Judy Is A Punk in a dizzyingly short one and a half minutes. Whilst their longest effort, 1992’s Mondo Bizarro clocked up 37 minutes, the extra eight minutes didn’t add a lot, the album being, putting it kindly, not one of their best.
In recent years the likes of Chorus by Literature, Flying Ant Day by Tyrannosaurus Dead and The Golden West by NRVS LVRS have all come in at under half an hour in length, whist Los Bonsais latest 10-track effort was a whopping 17 minutes! It would seem for all the changes in format, and lack of limitations some bands will always want to rush in, hit you with some hooks and get out, and they’ll be none the worse for that!
Weird Sister, the debut album by Cardiff-Leeds-Brighton-Bristol-wherever based band, Joanna Gruesome was just under half an hour of music that swayed rapidly from tuneful-melodic and catchy Indie-Pop to brutal, screeching punk. It was nothing short of thrilling, even if the band have in recent months been pretty quick to talk down the record, as guitarist Owen put it on Twitter “worked this out and am pretty sure this nu record we’re doin is 20% better than our previous record. eat our dust “weirdsister” fckin loser.”
There’s a strange mix of tongue in cheek humour and quite series comments on the music throughout the bands press contact. They warn that new album, Peanut Butter, is “a marriage of radical politics with peanut butter spread”, and suggest the album is about “fancying people and espionage”, but listening to Joanna Gruesome’s music it’s clear that for all the attempts to make it seem like they don’t take it too seriously, this is a band who care deeply about the music they make. Peanut Butter is too stream-line, hook-filled and adventurously un-commercial to be anything but a well crafted piece made by both serious, and seriously talented musicians.
The albums opening assault, Last Year, is a rather neat summary of the bands musical ethos. It starts with a squall of feedback, a thrash of rapid guitar chords and an intense pounding of drums, the vocals enter, a rapid fire, angry yelp. The lyrics occasionally get lost, such is the speed of their delivery and the cloud of noise that engulfs them, only odd phrases fall from the mix; “crushing your tiny skull” “should I love what I do when I know” “I know you wouldn’t say my name.” Then comes the repeated rage filled screech “I WILL NOT, I WILL NOT, I WILL NOT.” It’s a brutal assault of sound, but it’s barely a minute in that it morphs, becomes something entirely different, suddenly it resolves, the rage subsides, it becomes tuneful, hooky and whilst still under a fuzz of distortion, it’s unquestionably catchy, accessible, maybe even pop? It jangles with the same easy melody perfected by Veronica Falls. It’s the same battle between indie-pop and angst ridden punk that characterised their debut album, only here it’s streamlined, there’s no wasted time, just a succinct blast of Joanna Gruesome, like a greatest hits compilation compressed into a single track less than three minutes in length.
It’s a trick they repeat throughout the album. Psykick Espionage starts with a ludicrous amount of what can only be described as noise, but soon bursts into a break-neck pop punk squall; it finds room for a beautifully out of time and tune guitar solo, that sounds a bit like the guitarist fell down a flight of stairs and kept on playing, before settling into a undeniably tight groove, another example that these are not musicians who are just having a laugh. They also repeat the noise-meets-pop theme in the twin tunes that are Jamie (Lover) and Jerome (Liar) the former has a piece of noise so loud and piercing it sounds so much like a fire alarm that you consider evacuating the building, while the latter is a catchy run through of the tale of Jerome, who, we learn talks about the moon and thinks about stars a lot, but also claims to be able to breathe underwater and has a questionable interest in matricide.
The times where they step outside of their comfort zone are equally thrilling. I Don’t Wanna Relax starts with an intense blast beat, but then becomes shockingly tuneful, not through tight guitar licks but via the an oddly jaunty droning organ; latterly it incorporates tightly layered vocal harmonies and a meandering guitar solo which brings to mind the work of the bands good friends Trust Fund. Separate Bedrooms, a cover of Bristol’s Black Terror, is the most catchy and accessible they’ve ever sounded, the repeated line “I know that life would be alright if I hadn’t met you, we could spend every single night in separate bedrooms”, is sung with an odd sense of joy, it brings to mind the pop-punk stylings of Be Your Own Pet.
The biggest departure is saved for the final track, Hey, I Wanna Be Yr Best Friend, is frankly odd, based around pulses of synth, a sound heard often on the albums producer MJ’s work with Hookworms, and a guitar that mimics the vocal melody, it’s a sweet track about how they want to “walk about and talk a lot of shit, and sleep and read.” It’s really rather lovely, it doesn’t have a hint of distortion of brutality, just tuneful, heartfelt optimism, then suddenly the guitar picks up the tempo, before out of nowhere breaking out into one of the most ludicrous guitar solos you’ll ever here, it’s as if someone took a Waxahatchee track and then got Slash to freestyle a solo over the top. It shouldn’t work, but the fact it does is a testament to their sense of melody, and the fact that you really want it to!
Discussing the album Joanna Gruesome stated, “We tried to make it shorter, more economical and attempted to pack as many hooks and screams in as quickly as possible in order to avoid short changing the consumer or wasting her/his/their time.” There’s no chance of having your time wasted in the mere 22 minutes it takes, and it flies by in a blink of an eye, in a way it’s gone far too soon, but you get the feeling that might be as they wanted it, it’s an absolutely thrilling blast of punk, pop and attitude, it’s a significant step up from Weird Sister, and shows a band honing their craft. They seem to have effortlessly transitioned the energy of their live show into their recorded work, and for all their efforts to pretend it’s a huge joke, this record might just drag them kicking and screaming into the upper echelons of the punk-pyramid.