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Joanna Gruesome's 'Peanut Butter' Rises Above The Band's Gimmicky Name


This is FRESH AIR. Joanna Gruesome is a five-piece band from Cardiff, Wales, that has just released its second album called "Peanut Butter." The band's 2013 debut album, "Weird Sister," was released to positive reviews and won last year's Welsh Music Prize. Rock critic Ken Tucker says "Peanut Butter" is an even tighter, more exciting album.


JOANNA GRUESOME: (Singing) We've already gone for miles say it again. Do you want to count your (unintelligible). Oh, Jerome.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: The lead singer of Joanna Gruesome, Alanna McArdle, most frequently uses a soaring, yearning tone to stand as a contrast to the crashing guitars and drums of the rest of the band. It's a good voice to express the pleasures and frustrations of the different kinds of relationships discussed in this band's lyrics. On a song such as "Jerome," McArdle addresses a guy who's lied to her, who's talked a good game, but left her feeling cheated and abandoned.


JOANNA GRUESOME: (Singing) You talk about the moon. You think about stars a lot. You write about trees, impressions in sand. (Unintelligible) in everything. You talk about me. You talk about (unintelligible). You talk about runes (ph)...

TUCKER: But there's also another kind of Joanna Gruesome song - the kind that's more abstract. On a song called "Crayon," the lyrics are fractured phrases that don't make much narrative sense. For example, and I quote, "crayon aquatic, the manager's eyes, a foggy notion, a weird drag." It's poetic language, tossing up images and letting them hang in the air.


JOANNA GRUESOME: (Singing) A sorry question, a line is short, crayon aquatic, the manager's eyes. A foggy notion, a weird drag. Still shining under. (Unintelligible) Sometimes you're so ashamed that you don't want to seem at fault (ph)...

TUCKER: Sometimes Joanna Gruesome combines both kinds of song - the abstract and the concrete - and mixes them up with furiously-strummed punk-rock guitar chords. You can hear this on "Psykick Espionage," which kicks off with a lot of attractive guitar noise and yelling before settling into couplets such as Stacy's coming down. I want to spin the avocado around.


JOANNA GRUESOME: (Singing) (Unintelligible) You want to know, whatever, you would know, you would know. Here we go. I loved you. (Unintelligible) all at once - all at once don't hurt so, hurt so, hurts. Stacy's coming down, I want to spin the avocado around. I want to...

TUCKER: The band named Joanna Gruesome is a punning joke on Joanna Newsom, the lyrical harpist, singer and songwriter. And it has been written in a few places that the members of Joanna Gruesome met in an anger management class, which sounds too good to be true - all of which suggests a playfulness that verges on the gimmicky. But this album "Peanut Butter" suggests a much more clever, thoughtful, daring band than that. Over the course of this album, Joanna Gruesome conducts a high-wire act by making the sound of someone cutting the net below.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for YahooTV. He reviewed the album "Peanut Butter" from the band Joanna Gruesome. Coming up, our TV critic David Bianculli reviews some new DVD box sets of TV shows. This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.
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