Pitchfork: Pissed Jeans frontman Matt Korvette’s uncanny superpower—to turn the drudgery of everyday life into the stuff of absurdist theater—has become honed over the years, but it was already strong on Pissed Jeans’ first album, Shallow, which is getting the reissue treatment from Sub Pop.
“They want it to be real, like I’m singing songs from my heart,” hypothesized Matt Korvette, lead singer of Pissed Jeans, in a 2012 interview. “But you’re clearly just performing for people on a stage, just the same as, like, a juggler.” Korvette’s comparison of himself to a carnival performer sums up Pissed Jeans’ longstanding paradox. In real life, Korvette (real name: Kosloff) is an office worker who holds down a “corporate insurance gig”; in Pissed Jeans, he assumes the name of a sports car and fronts a viciously dissonant punk rock band that’s signed to Sub Pop, torchbearers of the squirming, misanthropic sludge that Sub Pop once symbolized. Korvette switches between these two guises when the situation calls for it, ready at the crank of an amp to transform into some kind of writhing, grunt-spewing superhero. Call him The Juggler.
Korvette’s uncanny superpower—to turn the drudgery of everyday life into the stuff of absurdist theater—has become honed over the years, but it was already strong on Pissed Jeans’ first album, Shallow. Released in 2005 on the tiny label Parts Unknown and long out of print, it’s getting reissued by Sub Pop with the inclusion of two bonus tracks, “Throbbing Organ” and “Night Minutes”, drawn from their debut 7” in 2004. Those two songs don’t hold a candle to Shallow’s gut-shuddering power; the fidelity is thin to the point of flimsiness, and guitarist Bradley Fry had yet to fully harness his neck-wringing attack. Mostly, though, Korvette hangs in the background, yelping unintelligibly over two tracks that sound a lot like each other: splashes of asphalt gray and muddy brown that fall somewhere between the Birthday Party’s puked-up blues and the Jesus Lizard’s punch-drunk nut-thrusting.
Pissed Jeans’ black-eyed view of punk doesn’t brighten on Shallow—it just comes into focus. On “Ugly Twin (I’ve Got)”, Korvette projects his self-loathing onto a doppelganger; Fry’s riffs buckle under the combined weight of that ingrown hatred, grinding along at a snail’s pace and punctuated by scrambled, Greg Ginn-esque licks. That punch-the-mirror repugnance at one’s own navel-gazing existence takes a darkly comic turn on “Ashamed of My Cum”. Gnawing at his own syllables with all the puzzled-panther ferocity of Darby Crash, Korvette blurs and slurs his masturbatory confessional in an aptly orgasmic yowl of agony.
If there’s an early Sub Pop band that Pissed Jeans are the spiritual heirs to, it’s Mudhoney. The two groups sound little alike, but Korvette and crew have revamped Mudhoney’s slop-trawling skronk for a new millennium—and nowhere is that more evident than on Shallow’s first track, “I’m Sick”. While not on par with Mudhoney’s 1988 debut single, “Touch Me I’m Sick”, the song is Pissed Jeans’ opening shot, a bratty stab at infamy that perversely celebrates their own hopeless prognosis. “I’m dehydrated/ I’ve got diarrhea/ I can’t keep my food down/ My sinuses are clogged,” Korvette whines violently, and he makes damn sure he sounds like all four of these symptoms, plus more, are afflicting him as the tape rolls. There’s no cure in sight, and no punch line. A year before Twitter came into being, Korvette was already stringing together annoying, myopic tweets about how he feels like shit, then brazenly pretending they’re worthy of an audience. Between that and all the other examples of deadpan, documentarian tedium to be found on Shallow, a strange thing happens: Korvette stops his juggling and does sound like he’s singing from the heart. Only he may not actually be singing, and that may not actually be his heart.