Co-produced with Lydia Lunch, the new Pissed Jeans LP is the sludge-punk band’s cleanest, most hi-fidelity album, and their deepest dive into the inglorious male psyche yet.Sometimes the best thing you can do as a male feminist is shut up and listen to women who know what they’re talking about better than you. That advice might hold doubly true for male musicians. For every “Suggestion”—and, really, there’s only been one “Suggestion”—there are countless self-identified good guys looking for an easy pat on the back simply for having their heart in the right place. There’s a reason why feminist punk spun off into a kind of genre unto itself: This is not subject matter that men usually do well.
Between their territorial growls and bludgeoning guitars, Pennsylvania sludge-punks Pissed Jeans have made a brand out of unfiltered male aggression; each of their four albums has played like an American Splendor comic reenacted by grizzly bears. Yet more so than frontmen who profess to be infinitely more political, Matt Korvette understands what he can contribute to the conversation about gender relations. His songs offer insight into the forces that drive men: the privileges, compulsions, indignities, entitlements, and double standards. He’s touched on this territory often—most notably on “Male Gaze,” his rubbernecking apology from 2013’s terrific Honeys—but he’s never run with the muse as righteously as he does on Why Love Now, the band’s deepest dive yet into the inglorious male psyche.
The record could almost pass for a concept album, if not for all of Korvette’s usual digressions. He balances out his social insights with asides about sugary snacks, laugh-tracked sitcoms, astrology, and the like, and those flashes of irreverence are more welcome than ever, since the core of the album couldn’t be more pointed. “The Bar Is Low” challenges the way society coddles men, rewarding them for the most modest demonstrations of decency, as if simply not being a violent monster entitles them to a medal. “Held down a job/Even snagged a raise,” Korvette sings, “Right there you’re due/For effusive praise.” On “It’s Your Knees,” he demonstrates how men neg women, picking at their insecurities to cut down their esteem.
As deft as Korvette is at describing what the patriarchy looks like from a man’s eyes, Why Love Now’s sharpest insights come from outside himself—by actually bringing in a woman. Author Lindsay Hunter penned and performs “I’m a Man,” a mid-album monologue about life as the office alpha male. Adopting her best Danny McBride voice, she assails a coworker with come-ons and double entendres: “You take dic-tations?/You get it?/You ever been stapled?/… You cold?/Put on that cardigan you got hanging over your chair/Do it slow.” Behind her committed comic performance, there’s a threat of real violence.
On a less loaded song cycle, Why Love Now’s relative tunefulness would be the narrative. No wave pioneer Lydia Lunch produced the album along with black metal practitioner Arthur Rizk, and while that seems like it should be a recipe for discord, the pairing somehow resulted in the cleanest, most high-fidelity Pissed Jeans record yet. None of the bands’ primary influences ever made an album this approachable—not Melvins, not the Jesus Lizard, certainly not Pigfuck. The glistening post-punk riff on “Love Without Emotion” could have come from any number of friendly, telegenic British buzz bands; it’d be virtually unidentifiable as a Pissed Jeans track if not for Korvette’s phlegmy ogre routine. The band was wise to offer more carrot than stick for this one, though. Their music has never gone down easier, but their commentary has never hit so uncomfortably hard.