In 2020 UK punk trio Big Joanie crafted the impossible: a cover of Solange’s ‘Cranes In The Sky’ that rivals the brilliance of the original. While Solange pirouettes inside dream-like harmonies and slow-cooked drums, Big Joanie has their eyes narrowed, brows furrowed, as gained-up guitars lift the chilling escapist lyrics off the track like a plane creeping down the tarmac, inching away, away, away.
For the cover the trio took to the studio for the first time, releasing the single via Third Man Records. Formed almost a decade ago, the DIY champions’ jaunt into the studio revealed an uncultivated landscape of creative possibility. After four years, they’ve finally harvested all the nutrients. ‘Back Home’ has been reaped, finding Big Joanie reaching with twinkling fingers at their newly aggregated tools, tinkering away at a bigger, more dynamically constructed production full of raving guitars, catchy hooks, and a narrowed theme of finding your place in the world.
2018’s debut ‘Sistahs’ remained faithful to established punk thumbprints with guitar-based, lo-fi rock jams, bar none. ‘Back Home’ doesn’t disregard the group’s roots, but builds upon it, sparkling with shimmery production thanks to Margo Broom (Goat Girl, Fat White Family.)
Opener ‘Cactus Tree’ is a thunderous tune with gothic folk textures blending miraculously into heavy feedback and ritualistic harmonies. Midi-drums find their way onto ‘Insecure’ and ‘Count To 10’, the latter also including a glittering omnichord beat that lead vocalist Stephanie Phillips describes as if you’re “finding yourself in a Nintendo64.” Synths drive ‘Your Words’, distilling a tune that’s as if Depeche Mode made a baroque rock opera. ‘Confident Man’ is a down-tempo trance tune depicting how influencer culture is simply a facet of capitalist mentality. (“Am I pretty enough for you yet? Existing to be pretty on the internet.”)
Unlike ‘Confident Man’ there aren’t many overtly political sentiments on the albums, perhaps coming as a consequence of the new musical direction and/or the finite theme of “home.” ‘I Will’ is a temperate directive, using midi drums to mirror a slow step toward affordable housing “You build a house, you build a roof, you build a happy home.” However, the general ethos of displacement still weaves throughout so neatly, it’s hard to notice the stitching. Whether it’s the PIXIES-like jam ‘Taut’ about being in a never ending loop, frozen in a unidentifiable space, or the bouncy ‘In My Arms’ that looks for home in others when you’re current setting is unsatisfying and saturated of all its nutrients “(The city is a fright to me. Tread carefully. I’ve compromised too many times) the message is there. It just isn’t a clenched fist in the face, it’s sanded down into a polished path, leading you to an unmarked spot; an intangible bedrock.
So although ‘Back Home’ is not-so-punk after all, isn’t it rather punk to break a mold? Punk is a freedom of expression for anyone brave enough to be angry, to enter a space and make a home where you’re normally unwelcome. Big Joanie makes their own home on the record, and in the process, their own mark on contemporary rock. In a nutshell: Big Joanie is a band that deserves your attention.
Words: Sam Small