by Huw Baines (@huwbaines)
Joanna Gruesome were always unknowable. They spun ripping yarns, invented backstories and established a bullshit front that deflected straightforward attempts to categorize or reduce their music. Their songs were, almost uniformly, two minute explosions of noise and hooks framed by abstruse imagery. They were joy on tap: D-Beat for the indie-pop set.
At the core of their appeal was the interplay between vocalist Alanna McArdle and guitarist Owen Williams, who each possessed the ability to flick a switch between frenzied hardcore and rich, clever melodies in an instant. McArdle released two LPs, Weird Sister and Peanut Butter, with the band before leaving in 2015.
McArdle and Williams are back in tandem (bullshit and all). Here’s what they’ve told us so far about their new band, Ex-Vöid: they met, and wrote their songs, at a contemporary dance class, and they’re engaged in “psychological warfare” with one another based on their competing star signs. And here’s what we know for sure: their first release is a self-titled, three track cassette on Don Giovanni. It’s a little over six minutes long, and it’s really fucking good.
Ex-Vöid very much exist in the Joanna Gruesome wheelhouse but, flanked by bandmates Laurie Foster, Kester Davies and Jon Coddington, McArdle and Williams have pared back some of that band’s volatility while upping the straight ahead melodicism that characterized songs like the Peanut Butter highlight "Jerome (Liar)." The guitars are heavy on jangle and blink-and-you’ll-miss-them phrases, which often only get a single time to shine. If we miss them, tough shit.
Lyrically, things are only a little more straightforward. "Boyfriend" snottily deals with rejection and the gnawing anxiety of not really knowing what someone else is thinking: “When I get home, you don’t pick up the phone because you’re sick and tired of the things I say.” The phone conceit is parlayed into "Anyone (Other Than Ü)," which has a different inflection (at the start, at least). “My baby calls me every night, to check if I’m alright,” Williams sings in its opening line.
McArdle carries the final song, "(Angry At You) Baby," away on her shoulders. Her vocals here are fabulous, underpinning its pointed, bittersweet rage before a twin-guitar break that triple stamps their Ex-treme Pöwer Pöp tag (metal umlauts property of the band).
Short, sharp, fun, absurd... Ex-Vöid’s early thrashings are a delight, even if it still feels like we might be on the end of a practical joke that we don’t see coming until it’s too late.