Joanna Gruesome – ‘Peanut Butter’

The Cardiff group bend macho rock tropes with silly solos and sensitive lyrics on their powerful second album

Cracking open Joanna Gruesome’s second album with a squall and a scream, ‘Last Year’ has singer Alanna McArdle repeatedly yelling, “I will not” and threatening to crush some coward’s skull. But the relationship in question swiftly goes from skull-crushing to pussyfooting (“I say nothing and you sleep in the day”), and a willingness to tolerate a bad relationship rather than risk loneliness.

‘Peanut Butter’’s first six songs are rife with such indecision: lyrics about direction and commitment (‘Crayon’), and the inability to feel comfortable in relationships (‘Honestly Do Yr Worst’), are either screamed, or cooed with the bored remove of someone desensitised to emotional violence. But this doubt isn’t weakness. Within these songs, McArdle sings honestly about the way mental health influences simple personal interactions. “I’m sick, I’m weird”, she admits on ‘I Don’t Wanna Relax’, which counterbalances her lyrical unease with the first of several rapturously silly cock-rock guitar solos on the album. On the muted grunge of ‘There Is No Function Stacy’, she highlights the way anyone who exists outside perceived social norms is viewed as “some variety of space alien”.

This sensitivity to the nuances of relationships is a crucial development for Joanna Gruesome and the way their music veers between compassion and rage, an exhilarating dynamic they’ve brought into piercing focus on ‘Peanut Butter’. 2013 debut ‘Weird Sister’ was fuelled by revenge fantasies; here, the five-piece – who, despite being based in different parts of the UK, still call Cardiff their home – channel their own power. McArdle’s every scream is a sharp shock, while Owen Williams and George Nicholls’ guitars play triumphant and tender. ‘Peanut Butter’ does more in 22 minutes than most albums do in 40.

The subject matter of the final four songs matches the music’s unyielding directness: calmly accepting that a relationship is futile (‘Separate Bedrooms’) and calling out mind-games with dizzy rage (‘Jerome (Liar)’, ‘Psykick Espionage’). In context, closer ‘Hey I Wanna Be Yr Best Friend’ becomes a radically straightforward declaration where McArdle and Williams harmonise over a calm pulse before another brief pomp-rocking solo – a comic moment that works at the expense of their own sensitivity. ‘Peanut Butter’ sees Joanna Gruesome relishing the power of refusal, bending the tropes of macho rock and relationships to their own twisted whims.