Sometimes a band has a name so staggeringly bad that it takes real effort to get past it in order to give them a try. Case in point: Joanna Gruesome. It would be totally understandable if people gave them a pass based on the name alone, but it would also be a bummer because the Welsh noise poppers are actually very good. Taking in influences from classic punk, shoegaze, indie pop, riot girl, and noise pop, then throwing it all into a madly whirring blender, the group's debut album, Weird Sister, is a sonic treat made by a band in full control of their approach. They have a knack for balancing all-out noise with meltingly sweet melodies, frantic tempos with relaxed meanders, and peaceful interludes with moments of fury. The sound is anchored by the rock-solid team of Max Warren on bass and David Sanford on drums, propelled forward at thrilling velocity by the twin-guitar attack of Owen Williams and George Nicholls, and topped by the alternately sweet and shouty vocals of Alanna McArdle. It's an approach that's been taken before by many bands with varying degrees of success, but these kids make it sound fresh and exciting. Of course, there are times when their influences bob right to the surface, mainly Veronica Falls on the quieter songs, but it's never bad enough to cause any distress. The songs themselves are so catchy and energetic that it wouldn't matter much if they were all exact copies of other bands. "Sugarcrush" is super hooky and has an intense noise section that nearly bowls the listener over, "Lemonade Grrrl" has a pummelling rhythm and a sticky melody, "Secret Surprise" is a perfect mashup of riot girl and Velocity Girl. The tracks that stray a bit from their loud, fast, and fuzzy formula are good too, with the album-ending feedback ballad "Satan" and the slow-building "Candy" showing some nice range. It's worth noting that many of the songs on Weird Sister were previously released as singles and EP tracks over a three-year span, but were re-recorded under the watchful ear of MJ from the Hookworms. It gives the album the feel of a singles collection and that's not a bad thing. Gathering up the best songs a band has written in their early stages, then recording them at once with a sympathetic producer, is definitely the best way to make a debut album. Just ask Veronica Falls. Like that band, Joanna Gruesome make music that's at once breath-catchingly exciting and heartwarmingly pretty at its core, and their first album is one that noise pop fans will treasure, crummy name and all.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra