Photo by Pat Graham

Welsh noise-pop band Joanna Gruesome has taken everything it did before and streamlined it. Faster, simpler, more straightforward—the band isn’t turning over a new leaf so much as it’s taken the first leaf, buffed it, and shrunk it down into the most compact frond possible. The group’s debut record, Weird Sisters, was a feedback-laden blast of sunny pop, ebullient and wicked, like an over-caffeinated Velocity Girl covering old punk songs. The band seemed bursting with ideas, and tried on a number of them in that first outing.

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The new record, Peanut Butter, is a more cohesive and primal affair. With 10 songs clocking in at barely 22 minutes, the album feels like the distillation of Joanna Gruesome into its bare essence. The band’s breathy, sunny harmonies are in full force on every track, alternating with the occasional shout-alongs that call to mind a pissed-off Poly Styrene. Peanut Butter is still mostly earnest and energetic pop songs, but they’ve been subjected to a fuzzier layer of noise. The group has orchestrated a subtle re-shuffling of the first record’s formula: What was a broader and more eclectic pop spectrum that occasionally dabbled in punk has shifted into an equally vibrant but more one-note palate.

That goes for the production, as well. The record is more high-end, and thinner—evoking the kind of wham-bam late ’70s punk soundtrack where lo-fi sounds stripped away bass depth. This isn’t to say it’s tinny, just that the band is clearly pursuing an aural vibe more in line with early Ramones than contemporary rock. With the similarity of songs and one-size-fits-all engineering, the tracks tend to blur together, making for an experience more akin to one 20-minute epic than a collection of 10 tunes. It’s about as cohesive as an album can be, in that regard.

The songs work better as part of a collective than individually. Nothing here has the immediacy of Weird Sisters’ “Sugercrush” and its girl-group-meets-distortion pop stylings, but this record is more structured as a whole. Almost every track, from “Honestly Do Yr Worst” and its sweet sing-song melodies, to the shout-along pep of “Psykick Espionage,” mixes into a collectively homogenous assault that weirdly doesn’t suffer from its lack of distinctive tracks. “Crayon,” one of the few songs that differs slightly from the formula, starts gently, before lurching into a rough playground yell of a verse. It layers even more noise into its hippie-vibe breakdown, like flower children trying to carry on a peace march and getting mowed down by sniper fire.

Joanna Gruesome is doubling down on the idea of an album being greater than the sum of its parts. Taken in one full burst, Peanut Butter succeeds as a rousing and frenetic call to arms, built on the back of sunny harmonies and squealing distortion. It’s not the best record of the year, but it might be the most efficient.

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