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Pissed Jeans - Shallow

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Artist: Pissed Jeans

Album: Shallow

Label: Parts Unknown

Review date: Aug. 4, 2005

Pissed Jeans is the ends to the musical means of four men from Allentown, Penn. (known for a regrettable jaunt of a working-class anthem by Billy Joel in the early ‘80s). Allentown is in the heart of the Lehigh Valley, a dip in the mountainous range that soon pans out into to the Poconos and the Catskills in the top right corner of Pennsylvania. Situated about 100 miles from both New York City and Philadelphia, and with several smaller colleges in the immediate region, Allentown can be viewed as an inland receptacle for humble living, where stalled plans, drug burns, sagging economies and a few failed dreams roll down in, along with all the requisite city culture one can vulture. Records, in particular, roll pretty good (check Sam McPheeters’s esteemed “Test for Roundness” in an old issue of his newsprint zine Error if you don’t believe) as do the men who sweat them, what with the regular record fairs in the area. It’s also home to a damn fine store called Double Decker, run by a sweet guy named Jamie who probably supplied the record collections that the members of Pissed Jeans undoubtedly have on hand.

Not a lot going on in Allentown, but they seem to get by OK. Finding things to do is the key to surviving your environment, wherever you are. So some of the kids in Allentown make their own fun in the basement of a sweatshop that they call Jeff the Pigeon, where outcast young men smash byproducts of industry (and each other), and somebody’s always complaining about things not being the way they used to be. Several bands have formed in this recess, including the riot-inducing hardcore of the Gatecrashers (of which Pissed Jeans contains every member in a different configuration), ferocious turbine-noise scrape of Air Conditioning, and the choogle of boogie merchants Pearls & Brass, incidentally now signed to Drag City. They got a scene, and it’s filthy, dirty and soaking in decay but they love it and intend to smash it to pieces every night so that it can start over anew each morning.

Violent apathy. You can probably lay that trip on Pissed Jeans. That’s how they come across. Shallow’s Ron Rege, Jr. cover art depicts a cartoon of patio furniture that has been overturned. It contains songs about being sick (“I’m Sick”), closet marines (“Closet Marine”), and Wachovia Bank (“Wachovia”). Someone once said “write what you know” and it’s hard to doubt that these guys didn’t follow that logic.

The record sounds like warm mud with shrapnel strewn through it. It’s big and loud and burly, plods along at mid-tempo with a thickness and ugliness formerly reserved for louts like Drunks With Guns, No Trend, and Flipper. They say Stickmen with Rayguns, too. Also Mount Shasta, Killdozer, Shorty and Fang. Which is to say, in all cases, uglified, mostly midwestern manrock, sebaceous and oozing, thick in the pubes and stout in the shoulders, chronically alone and for loners. File under abuse, right? Crystal meth and smelly feet? Not these guys; they look pretty clean.

If there are ever any deaths by misadventure in Pissed Jeans, it won’t be by overdose or some stupid shit like that. It will be doing something awesome, like riding a shopping cart down a steep hill into traffic. Pissed Jeans don’t look like the scum who made the original sounds, and yet they embrace it better than any workaday punk bands around, anywhere. They all have jobs too, (Kosloff is some sort of actuary, I think, and that’s not an easy job to hold down). That embracing of the source material is part of what makes Shallow so enjoyable and listenable, and why you’ll come back to it. They’re fun, but they also rage hard and in a non-poseur fashion. They’re human. They will appeal to anyone who’s ever crapped their pants and can admit it. Having a sense of shame is critical in appreciation of shit like this.

Singer Matt Kosloff kicks the album off over a four count, feedback-laden uh-huh of an electrified scribble that pulls together for a two-chord bridge, as he screams, “IIIIIIIIIIII’M SIIIIIIIIICK! / I GOT A HEADACHE! / I HAVE A FEVER! / I GOT A RUNNY NOOOOOOOOOOSE! … I GOT DIARRHEA!” This is not the rock ‘n’ roll pneumonia or the boogie woogie flu, this is being bummed out over having to burn a PTO day at your job, and feeling awful because you can’t enjoy your day due to illness. Who among us can’t relate to that? Minutes later, the song grinds away to nothing. “Boring Girls” is also apt, a suitable lament and probably the most serious on the record, and the music follows suit, knocking the chord count down to one boringly hot riff (it’s an A, good chord for monotony there). Stand in your room, flex, and kiss your muscles, cause you got a date with the mirror, and maybe UPN because that’s all your shitty TV antenna can pick up. And while you’re at home, alone, can you resort to rubbing one out? Pissed Jeans says nope in their daunting “Ashamed of My Cum,” a funny yet oddly touching ode to embarrassment at climax (“Never satisfied even after I’m done!” pukes Kosloff).

And musically? “I Broke My Own Heart” calms down on the vocal vitriol, but features something so genius, such a momentous and forward-thinking solo in the middle of guitar squiggle viscera: nearly 30 seconds of single-note feedback, right in the middle of the song, as the rhythm section plows away behind it. Right there. So lazy, so easy, so right. And of course nobody else thought of it for a long, long time. You’ll find a lot of that sort of who-wants-to-be-a-scum-millionaire knuckledrag wheedle guitar playing all over Shallow; ridiculous grandstanding solo crud offset by ultra lazy leads and then three-chord whomp ‘em when and where it’s warranted. Lotsa effects, lotsa feedback. Mega-stupe in the smartest way.

By Doug Mosurock

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