ON THE SWANKY COVER of Pissed Jeans' latest album, a pale, silky ribbon cuts through a black background; the ribbon continues onto the back, becoming an outstretched hand offering a sweet delicacy to a reclining maiden. Upon first look, it's a decadent, coolly romantic image that almost looks like something that could grace a Sade album. But on closer look, the ribbon-like arm on the front is awfully hairy, and it's not grapes or figs or lotus blossoms that's being offered to the woman—it's a candy bar.
"It's actually a Snickers, but it's in a Three Musketeers wrapper," says Pissed Jeans singer Matt Korvette. "The Snickers just looks best when being bit into. And the wrapper for the Musketeers is just... better looking. The silver shine, you know? This is all pretty precise stuff. We put out one record every couple of years so we might as well."
Like its cover, King of Jeans is a mix of regal and trashy. The Jeans have never sounded tighter, and the album has rock-hard production, with each song cleanly compacted like a diamond. Korvette howls and screams as if every blood vessel in his neck were about to burst, and Brad Fry's guitar thrashes out chords that dissolve into feedback, while Sean McGuinness' drums beat holy hell atop groaning basslines from new member Randy Huth. (Huth is an old friend of Korvette and Fry from their high school days in Allentown, Pennsylvania; three-quarters of the band now live in Philadelphia.)
It's the sound of '80s hardcore punk all grown up, with a halfway decent job and maybe a kid or two; the anger is gone, but Pissed Jeans are still in love with hardcore's sound and energy, so instead of concocting rage for its own sake, the band sings about regular life without turning down any of the volume. There's a song about losing one's hair, and there's one about having a stiff back. In "Dream Smotherer," Korvette screams a couplet that initially sounds angry but eventually becomes weirdly romantic: "I will help you make ends meet/If you will let me get some sleep." Stripped of hardcore's didacticism, Pissed Jeans make music that's fun (and funny), but more importantly, their juxtaposition of aggressive music and mundane lyrics feels remarkably honest—even relevant.
"On our last record, we had a few songs where I would talk about middle-class living, like upper middle class and the things that you encounter," says Korvette. "And by no means was I being like, 'This is stupid, you are an asshole because you buy organic fruit,' which is kind of like the generic punk response—like, 'Fuck you, you rich bastard,' type of thing. And I would never want to come across that way, but people would just assume that was the purpose, just because the music is loud and noisy, and the vocals might be abrasive. [But] that's how so many people would take it just because of the presentation. I try to be pretty upfront and be like, 'Look, we're not broke. We're not living on the fringe of society; we're not trying to pretend that we are, either. Here is us, that's all. We're not necessarily interesting.'"