WKDU 91.7fm Presents
Since the late ’80s, Mudhoney – the Seattle-based foursome whose muck-crusted version of rock, shot through with caustic wit and battened down by a ferocious low end – has been a high-pH tonic against the ludicrous and the insipid.
Thirty years later, the world is experiencing a particularly high-water moment for both those ideals. But just in time, vocalist Mark Arm, guitarist Steve Turner, bassist Guy Maddison, and drummer Dan Peters are back with Digital Garbage, a barbed-wire-trimmed collection of sonic brickbats. Arm’s raw yawp and his bandmates’ long-honed chemistry make Digital Garbage an ideal release valve for the 2018 pressure cooker, its insistent rhythms forcing movement and Arm’s sardonic lyrics offering a funhouse-mirror companion to the ever-more-ridiculous news cycle. “My sense of humor is dark, and these are dark times,” says Arm. “I suppose it’s only getting darker.”
Digital Garbage opens with the swaggering “Nerve Attack,” which can be heard as a nod both to modern-life anxiety and the ever-increasing threat of warfare. The album’s title comes from the outro of “Kill Yourself Live,” which segues from a revved-up Arm organ solo into a bleak look at the way notoriety goes viral. “I’m not on social media, so my experience is somewhat limited,” says Arm. “But people really seem to find validation in the likes—and then there’s Facebook Live, where people have streamed torture and murder, or, in the case of Philando Castile, getting murdered by a cop.”
“In the course of writing that song,” he adds, “I thought about how, once you put something out there online, you can’t wipe it away. It’s always going to be there—even if no one digs it up, it’s still out there floating somewhere.”
Appropriately enough, bits of recent news events float through the record—”Please Mr. Gunman,” on which Arm bellows “We’d rather die in church!” over his bandmates’ careening charge, was inspired by a TV-news bubblehead’s response to a 2017 church shooting, while the ominous refrain that opens the submerged-blues of “Next Mass Extinction” calls back to last summer’s clashes in Charlottesville, although Arm’s brutal delivery helps twist it into an indictment. Arm also went back to the pre-Mudhoney era for the titular insult of the stinging “Hey Neanderfuck.” ”National Lampoon made several comedy records in the 70s, and in one skit someone gets called a ‘Neanderfuck,’” Arm laughs. “I’ve always loved that insult and wondered why it never became a part of the American lexicon—it’s so brutal. It was high time to use that.”
Mudhoney’s core sound—steadily pounding drums, swamp-thing bass, squalling guitar wobble, Arm’s hazardous-chemical voice—remains on Digital Garbage, which the band recorded with longtime collaborator (and Digital Garbage pianist) Johnny Sangster at the Seattle studio Litho. The anti-religiosity shimmy “21st Century Pharisees” builds its case with Maddison’s woozy synths. “It adds a really nice touch to the proceedings,” Arm says of Maddison’s synth parts. “And Guy has really learned his way around his machines playing in a synth trio the past few years.”
The shuffling “Messiah’s Lament” is the band’s first song in 6/8—and it’s told from the point of view of a world-weary Jesus. And Digital Garbage closes with “Oh Yeah,” a brief celebration of skateboarding, surfing, biking, and the joy provided by these escape valves. “I would’ve really just loved to write songs about just hanging out on the beach, and going on a nice vacation,” says Arm. “But, you know, that probably doesn’t make for great rock.”
Mudhoney, however, know what does make great rock—and the riffs and fury of Digital Garbage will stand the test of time, even if the particulars fade away. “I’ve tried to keep things somewhat universal, so that this album doesn’t just seem like of this time—hopefully some of this stuff will go away,” Arm laughs. “You don’t want to say in the future, ‘Hey, those lyrics are still relevant. Great!’”
Pissed Jeans have been making a racket for 13 years, and on their fifth album, Why Love Now, the male-fronted quartet is taking aim at the mundane discomforts of modern life—from fetish webcams to office-supply deliveries.
“Rock bands can retreat to the safety of what rock bands usually sing about. So 60 years from now, when no one has a telephone, bands will be writing songs like, ‘I’m waiting for her to call me on my telephone.’ Kids are going to be like, ‘Grandpa, tell me, what was that?’ I’d rather not shy away from talking about the internet or interactions in 2016,” says Pissed Jeans frontman Matt Korvette.
Pissed Jeans’ gutter-scraped amalgamation of sludge, punk, noise, and bracing wit make the band—Korvette, Brad Fry (guitar), Randy Huth (bass) and Sean McGuinness (drums)—a release valve for a world where absurdity seems in a constant battle trying to outdo itself. Why Love Now picks at the bursting seams that are barely holding 21st-century life together. Take the grinding rave-up “The Bar Is Low,” which, according to Korvette, is “about how every guy seems to be revealing themselves as a shithead.
“It seems like every guy is getting outed,” Korvette continues, “across every board of entertainment and politics and music. There’s no guy that isn’t a total creep. You’re like, ‘No, he’s just a dude that hits on drunk girls and has sex with them when they’re asleep.’ Cool, he’s just an average shithead.”
The lyrics on Why Love Now are particularly pointed about gender relations and the minefield they present in 2016. “‘It’s Your Knees’ is about the endless, unrequested, commenting on if you’d fuck a girl. You know what I mean? ‘My great aunt won a cooking contest.’ ‘Oh, that’s pretty hot. I’d hit that,’” says Korvette. “It’s bizarre how guys will willingly share this stuff as if it’s always in their brains, and now it gets to come out because you’re on the internet. There’s a boldness to it now that was not maybe there before. So the premise is like, ‘Yeah, she’s hot, but her knees are weird looking. Not for me, man.’”
On “Love Without Emotion” Korvette channels Nick Cave’s more guttural side while bemoaning his detachment over cavernous guitars. The crushing “Ignorecam” twists the idea of fetish cam shows—”where the woman just ignores you and watches TV or eats macaroni and cheese or talks on the phone”—into a showcase for Korvette’s rancid yelp and his bandmates’ pummeling rock. “I love that idea of guys paying to be ignored,” says Korvette. “It seems so weird.”
As they did on their last album, 2013’s Honeys, Pissed Jeans offer a couple of “fuck that shit type songs” about the working world, with the blistering “Worldwide Marine Asset Financial Analyst” turning unwieldy job titles into sneering punk choruses and “Have You Ever Been Furniture” waving a flag for those whose job descriptions might as well be summed up by “professionally underappreciated.” And the startling “I’m A Man,” which comes at the album’s midpoint, finds author Lindsay Hunter (Ugly Girls) taking center stage, delivering a self-penned monologue of W.B. Mason-inspired erotica—office small talk about pens and coffee given just enough of a twist to expose its filthy underside, with Hunter adopting a grimacing menace that makes its depiction of curdled masculinity even more harrowing.
“Lindsay Hunter is what I would aspire for Pissed Jeans to be—just a real, ugly realness that’s shocking,” says Korvette. “Not in a, ‘I had sex with a corpse on top of a pile…’ nonsense way—actually real, shocking stuff. And she has young kids, like Pissed Jeans do. I feel a bond with her in that regard. We’re in the same camp.”
No Wave legend Lydia Lunch shacked up in Philadelphia to produce “Why Love Now” alongside local metal legend Arthur Rizk (Eternal Champion, Goat Semen). “I knew she wasn’t a traditional producer,” Korvette says of Lunch. “We wanted to mix it up a little bit. I like how she’s so cool and really intimidating. I didn’t know how it was going to work out. She ended up being so fucking awesome and crazy. She was super into it, constantly threatening to bend us over the bathtub. I’m not really sure what that entails, but I know she probably wasn’t joking.
“Arthur Rizk was the technical guru. It was a perfect combination of a technical wizard and a psychic mentor who guided the ship.”
The combination of Lunch’s spiritual guidance and Rizk’s technical prowess supercharged Pissed Jeans, and the bracing Why Love Now documents them at their grimy, grinning best. While its references may be very early-21st-century, its willingness to state its case cements it as an album in line with punk’s tradition of turning norms on their heads and shaking them loose.
“A crucial thing, I think, for being a Pissed Jeans fan is just stemming from what I would take away from punk, which is, ‘Question things and think about things,’” says Korvette. “Don’t just go to the office and get the same coffee. Don’t just wear a leather jacket and get a 40 oz. Just question yourself a little bit if you can.”