The other day I went looking for a CREEM snack that’s big around the office: chocolate-covered espresso beans. They’re like crack, ideal for a team of world-class editors led by a ham-fisted and malevolent despot. Enveloped in sweet chocolate, this candy doubles as an upper to keep us focused, engaged, and filled with a glimmer of hope despite an endless parade of torment and humiliation.
Anyway, the local Trader Joe’s (or Trader Giotto’s or Trader Jose’s or Trader Joe San’s or whatever racist name features on the kimchi or ravioli or whatever in your cart) always has a giant pyramid of chocolate-covered espresso beans near the checkout line, artfully arranged to promote impulse buys. Except last time, instead of my usual power pellets, there was a giant pile of...pumpkin spice chocolate-covered espresso beans. Two bold flavors together isn’t enough? Turmeric is cool now, why not that, too? Oooooh, what about white truffle? Actually, I love a good aged rib eye. Throw that bitch in there!
With no regular beany-treaties in sight, I felt defeated yet determined to make sure that our vessel kept ahead of schedule. So I grabbed a bag and succumbed to the purple-haired cashier waving a numbered wooden paddle in the air. The beans are as gross as you’d think, and yet, every day, when I walk by that bag at the office, I pop one in my mouth, immediately disgusted by the taste and my purchase. Someone needs to teach me a lesson, might as well be me.
The main idea here is, don’t fuck with a good formula. If it’s good, it’s good.
London’s High Vis aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel with their new LP, Blending. This is modern hooligan pop, tipping the hat to Mancunian gods (the Stone Roses, Oasis, Buzzcocks, etc.) and others (the Chameleons, the Sound, etc.), presented with a hardcore snarl. You can practically smell the stale cigs and hear the Stone Island-clad lads throwing golden pints across the studio. Thank God! Finally, a Blending that is thoroughly enjoyable—best of the year, even—and doesn’t involve yuzu or dragon fruit or acai or some other bullshit.
In the spring of 2022, I went on a five-week European tour with my band, UV-TV. Like any first-time Euro indie tour, we played a gig grab bag that included a concrete tunnel, French restaurants, and some big shows in massive, beautiful venues. One particular low note was playing an echo chamber of a venue in Hull, U.K., across the street from an antique store with Nazi memorabilia in the window called Nan Queenie’s Tea Time or something, followed by a hotel where my bandmate found a bedbug.
Things improved after that. Toward the end of the tour, we played a festival in a converted movie theater in the German town of Kusel. It was Easter Sunday, so the town was completely closed. Kusel also appeared to not have any people in it.
The festival was actually great—people eventually showed up from all over the area. As 10 bands were mingling around between soundchecks, we made friends with this band Frankie from Brussels. They were cute and kind of weird, could make jokes in English, and had a skateboard, so we shot the shit over the 12 hours we were stuck there.
Since the town was completely closed, we’d been sitting around drinking the venue’s endless supply of beer since we got there at about 2 p.m. By the time Frankie got on stage at 1 a.m., watching the singer, Simon Lynen, I kept thinking, “There’s no way this guy is gonna make it.” But they were really, really good. At one point, Lynen tripped backwards and knocked over half the drum set, falling into the curtains and almost off the stage. This sent the rest of the band giggling, while the drummer somehow didn’t miss a beat. It was the sloppiest and tightest set I’ve ever seen. Frankie sound a bit like Country Teasers meets Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Lynen talks over some of the songs, reciting semi-clichés that remind me of bands like Suburban Lawns.
In tangent to being a band, they also make puppets (???!!!) and have created a touring puppet show called Laguna Beach, which includes mechanized puppets that perform while they perform. For a long time, their only original music online was lifted from this concept. “We had a four-track cassette recorder where we would record stuff in between working on the show,” Brecht Hayen (guitar, organ) told me recently. “It’s a mix of us having fun and pressing ‘record.’ [It’s] some demos and unfinished songs.” That’s definitely what it is—really catchy punk songs, in between total gibberish. You can’t even tell which song is which, the tape is just labeled “Side A” and “Side B.” Self-sabotaging genius is a rock ’n’ roll tradition.
Flash forward to October, and I’m munching on CREEM’s endless supply of disgusting pumpkin spice chocolate-covered espresso beans. Jef Staut (bass) tells me that the band is finally putting out a proper release on vinyl and cassette by the end of 2022. So look out for Frankie in your local Belgian record shop, or on Bandcamp, or in your puppet trade paper of choice. Probably.
I wanted to give Big Joanie the cover. But CREEM doesn’t put bands on the cover. The streaming model doesn’t leave record labels with a lot left over for a payola package sufficient to satisfy the needs of our editorial staff, and those Trader Joe’s pumpkin spice chocolate-covered espresso beans aren’t cheap. Plus, choosing cover artists based on “merit” is a hassle of untenable proportions when one editor listens to Japanese hardcore exclusively and one editor is incapable of walking past any Brooklyn building that existed in 2003 without pointing out that they “had a crazy time with Julian there.” So, though Big Joanie certainly deserve the cover of this magazine, my slathering praise will have to do. (Big Joanie’s label, Kill Rock Stars, can send me some espresso beans if the Sam McPheeters piece in this issue helps move a few Wrangler Brutes records.)
Formed in London’s DIY scene, Big Joanie (guitarist/lead vocalist Stephanie Phillips, bassist Estella Adeyeri, drummer Chardine Taylor-Stone) are post-punk, I suppose, but only in the way that everything is these days, and in that Chiswick Records would have killed to have the band on their label roster back in ’77. In actuality, Big Joanie are a transcendently lovely, hook-heavy pop/rock band, just with enough smarts and ideals to make them anomalies in any of the musical genres that historically favor hacks and sociopathic strivers (i.e., all of them). On Back Home, Big Joanie’s first album for Kill Rock Stars (following the band’s debut, Sistahs, which was released in 2018 on Thurston Moore and Eva Prinz’s Daydream Library Series imprint), the trio balance melancholic yearning with heavenly synth/guitar lines, fierce autonomy with declarations of aspirational joy, crashing propulsion with handclap party rocking, and a deceptively smooth songcraft savvy with a barely suppressed fire that can only be described as “really very tuff.”
It’s kind of like LaBelle-era Nona Hendryx, ’80s leather-clad Hendryx, and contemporary Captain Beefheart-covering Hendryx existing all at the same time, in the same band. But being equally well-versed in the discography of Solange Knowles, anorak pop hits spanning from the Northern soul mods to Colourbox, and the literature of the Internationalist Workers Party, Big Joanie are the better band that was always possible. Today the world, tomorrow the cover of this magazine.
A few years ago I was in Silver Lake, a “hip” Los Angeles neighborhood where breakfast sandwiches cost $17 (for those of you with 401(k)s, “cat-sitting” is what broke people do to go on vacation). The apartment building I was staying in was situated near the old Non Plus Ultra. Some jangly-ass bands were playing because the long tail of early Captured Tracks influence is alive and well; the warm weather keeps the Fender Jaguars plugged in, you know? Anyway, I walked over to the aforementioned venue unaware that it had moved, and thus found myself aimlessly trespassing, wandering around someone’s courtyard. In the distance, I saw some other rocker doing the same thing—he was a bit more brazen, peering into bedroom windows and shit. I asked him if he was looking for the gig, he said we had the wrong address, I asked for a ride to the correct address, we stopped for ice cream on the way there. Ten or so minutes before we pulled into the real parking lot, we stopped talking about noise bands and started talking about the Busan, South Korea-based indie rock band Say Sue Me. He was like, “Have you heard Sobs from Singapore? Similar vibe.” I hadn’t. I hate the word “vibe,” it’s lazy, but I’m in this rando’s car, and he’s sick, so I said, “Put it on!” He played their debut record, 2018’s very cute Telltale Signs, and I was hooked. Now they’ve got a second LP, Air Guitar, and it’s synthy indie pop rock (and sometimes new wave) that hits with the rush of a teenage crush, or mainlining pumpkin spice chocolate-covered espresso beans from Trader Joe’s, or, at least, the satisfaction of getting into a car with a stranger and not being turned into a skin suit. I have full confidence that many of you rockists will hate this band. And that’s on you, baby, because this shit rips. You can’t buy taste. Or good judgment, apparently: Non-men, please don’t get into a car with a stranger. That was dumb as hell.