Since the release of their 2018 debut album ‘Sistahs’, and through gigs supporting Sleater-Kinney, Parquet Courts, IDLES, Bikini Kill and more, Big Joanie have been held up as one of British punk’s great new hopes. With a fiercely DIY ethos, intelligent lyricism, gorgeous three-part harmonies and crunching riffs, they fit the bill to become all-out punk rock stars. True to their disruptive manifesto though, second album ‘Back Home’ sees this opportunity and then swerves towards something that doesn’t really sound like a punk album at all.
While guitars, bass and drums were the near-constant backbone on ‘Sistahs’, ‘Back Home’ widens Big Joanie’s palette significantly, with opener ‘Cactus Tree’ seeing Stephanie Phillips lead the trio through what feels, at its core, like a traditional folk chant. Over it, drums, guitars and electronic noise swirl around the vocals on a truly thrilling, bone-shaking introduction. Elsewhere, the likes of ‘Taut’ and ‘In My Arms’ are closer to the band’s roots, but still wrestle their way away from purely being three-chord punk towards something more expansive and widescreen.
‘Sistahs’ would have sounded very at home next to the ‘00s-era releases of the influential, Pacific Northwest-based Kill Rock Stars label, who put out records by Bikini Kill, Elliott Smith, Sleater-Kinney and more. Once again though, it’s almost fitting that – after actually signing to Kill Rock Stars in the States for ‘Back Home’ – the trio made a record that sidesteps this easy categorisation.
Lyrically, ‘Back Home’ is also an expansion, with the trio ruminating on the idea of home, be that a concrete place or just an idea. It can manifest itself through political commentary, on songs about the housing crisis (‘I Will’) or capitalism (‘In My Arms’), or in more introspective, personal songs (‘Happier Still’, about beating depression), but this exploration – musically and lyrically – remains the beating heart of the album.
Big Joanie say that it was when recording their 2020 cover of Solange’s ‘Cranes In The Sky’ for Jack White’s Third Man Records that they realised that the studio could be a vessel for its own creativity, rather than replicating a live performance. Watching this new belief manifest itself all over ‘Back Home’ is a pure delight. ‘Confident Man’ is carried along by a sharp electronic backbeat which gives way to Phillips’ vocals and an emotional, chiming guitar line, while closer ‘Sainted’ is a deliciously dark, spikey synth-pop song that could belong in the hands of Dave Gahan.
For ‘Big Joanie’ to musically expand this thoroughly yet retain the core of their appeal and singular brilliance on ‘Back Home’ feels remarkable, and you get a sense that it’s far from a final form for the band.
- Release date: November 4, 2022
- Record label: Daydream Library Series/Kill Rock Stars