First things first. Joanna Gruesome is not a comedy tribute act to everyone’s favourite harp-playing Californian. If you’re seeking out novelty cover versions of Only Skin or The Milk Eyed Mender, then Weird Sister really isn’t the place to look for them.
So who are Joanna Gruesome, and is there any substance behind that pun-tastic name? Well, they’re a five-piece from Cardiff who seem to have been touring and releasing EPs for absolutely ages now, and thankfully, there’s a lot more to them that moniker may suggest.
Weird Sister is 28 minutes and 10 tracks of loud, fuzzy guitar indie pop which nestles in very well next to the likes of Veronica Falls and The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart – and although they describe themselves as twee, they certainly don’t sound very fragile and reserved: the majority of the tracks on the album feature 100mph guitars, feedback and punky choruses, and pleasingly, have an average length of about two and a half minutes.
It’s not all ‘thrash n rush’ though – there’s a pop sensibility hidden under the distortion which makes the likes of Do You Really Wanna Know Why Yr Still In Love With Me and Lemonade Grrrl stand up to repeated listen, and the winsome boy/girl vocals add a dose of sweetness which contrasts nicely with the musical abrasiveness. And when Joanna Gruesome slow things down a bit and add some subtlety, they show off a new dimension – Candy and the closing track Satan are dreamy, sprawling not-quite ballads that hint at interesting new directions to come in the future.
In fact, it’s only after a few listens that you truly appreciate the album’s complexity. At first, it sounds like rough-hewn The Wedding Present tributes with added touches of hazy My Bloody Valentine guitars. And while Joanna Gruesome certainly wear their influences on their sleeves, there’s a lot more to them than mere C86 copyists. Secret Surprise bounces effortlessly between a shouty chorus of “You want me so much you can’t breath, I dream of pulling out your teeth!” and wistfully downbeat verses.
It’s not a perfect record – the relentless pace may grind down the casual listener, and there’s a tendency for many of the songs to blend together. Although it’s a short album, the feeling persists that Joanna Gruesome may be best experienced in short, sharp shocks (or, even better, in a live setting) rather than over the course of a full album. Yet there’s still plenty to enjoy, especially for fans of thrashy indie-punk. There may not be enough to lift them above the rather crowded market of similar sounding contemporaries on Weird Sister, but it does hint at a solid enough future.