Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Big Joan - The Long Slow Death of Big Joan

"There's no... there is no need... there is no need for alarm, alarm..." insists Annette Berlin on Noah's Farm, the second track on Big Joan's latest album, The Long Slow Death Of....

Those of us who've been following the Bristol fourpiece for any length of time are hoping the stress is on the "long, slow" part of that title rather than the "death". No-one who cares wants to see Big Joan set down any time soon.

The whole album shrieks, wails and punches against that phrase, "there's no need for alarm" (a shrill noise in the middle of 888 even sounds like a siren). It's a thrill ride. The overriding image I have listening to it is of a musical tank, rolling destructively down tight urban streets, in some apocalyptic future war film. A tank ridden by the band, with Annette atop it as a kind of visionary tank girl, of course. Her voice sometimes echoing off metal sheets; sometimes raving like a late night evangelist on a transistor radio the caterpillar tracks will drive into the ground. Noah's Farm is explicitly inspired by the book of Genesis, but the album is all Revelation.

Sorry, I can get carried away with imaginary visuals (though I challenge anyone not to think of a battering ram when listening to Morel's Sleep). The point is it's exciting. And threatening, and portentous, and above all confident. I've been trying to work out what this confidence is, because you feel when you first hear the songs as if they belong to a band used to playing them to huge crowds, and in (unjust) reality, Big Joan are relatively unknown outside of the Bristol rock scene. Of course the key to that sense of assurance and assertiveness is that they're not doing it for the sake of untold masses at all; they know exactly what they want the music to be regardless of whether very many other people are going to be shelling out for tickets to see them play it or not. The result is a sound which embodies an aggressive rejection of compromise, and it's a joy to listen in on if you're sick of bands making music the way they think you want to hear it. Paradoxically there surely is a crowd out there hungry for this, listening in on the last working radio sets in the world from behind metal sheets in zombie shelters, if only they can get the right point on the dial and hear Big Joan's call out to those still living.

Closing track Bin 1, a highly dramatic version of an instrumental long-term live favourite involving an actual bin, says everything I'm trying to say here about the album and the band, for itself, in no words at all.

Buy the album and a limited edition copy of the CD can be yours, while stocks last:

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