Album Review: Stay Clean Jolene – “Stay Clean Jolene”

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Inevitably, there comes a time of the year where all I want ringing in my ears are hoarse voices singing from the bleeding edge of experience. It happens when the days are cold and the nights are long and I have more than enough time to craft faux-poetic openings for reviews I’d rather put off for another night.

Yeah, I’m one of those guys who has a beard and loves Fuel for the Hate Game. I recently got into Leatherface and its all I can really talk about it. I’m a lame, predictable punk cliche, I know. I recently found a band of that ilk called Stay Clean Jolene. They have the melodic songwriting chops to be compared to Red City Radio plus the noodly musicianship requisite for me to namedrop Hot Water Music. Coming out at the tail end of 2014, it probably narrowly escaped a lot of best of lists, but its good enough that listeners might consider writing the date wrong just a little longer.

The album is self-titled, suggesting the band is minting the mold of what Stay Clean Jolene is, defining what is and is not a deviation from the core sound on future records. “Concrete Block” is an urgent opener with a big chorus and twirling guitar melodies that bring the verse out of the chugging power chord ghetto. Its fast paced yet downbeat, residing in that odd place between high energy and lethargia. I think it shows its emocore roots with songs like that, where you can hear the melodies spring naturally from speech cadences. They’re nostalgia tinged and not showy in the least, but they retain an earthiness that makes the big chorus melodies all the more dynamic and shoutable. “Heads and Breakables” exemplifies this trait, while at the same time taking on the breakneck speed of Fat Wreck skate punk. In a lot of ways, Stay Clean Jolene strive towards a middle-ground between a lot of latter day melodic punk, smoothing out their edges and creating a mosaic.

And for me, that’s where Stay Clean Jolene falters. It lacks the identity of the bands that inspired it. Even when combining identities, it comes off as one of those odd face melts you hear about on the news– the perfect James Bond. It melts the faces of Connery, Moore, Lazenby, Brosnan, Craig, and Dalton into something that lacks the individual charms of each. Its just a mechanical representation of superficial traits.

That’s not to say that Stay Clean Jolene isn’t earnest in their punk rock, and I definitely can’t say they aren’t competent. The songs, despite their mosaic feel are well written and competently performed. The songwriting is strong throughout the album, showing a knack for arrangement and melody. The lyricism is mostly personal, slice-of-life stuff, complete with anthemic calls for perseverance (“Green”). The album flashes by in twenty-six minutes with ten songs, which in my book is about perfect. As far as albums go, there’s a lot to be said for knowing when to have the needle lift.

Gruff, melodic post-hardcore influenced punk rock has sprung into its very own subgenre. Its weird to think about, because a lot of us can remember when the idea was new and still developing. Its been codified since then and had its own stereotypes attached to it, so I guess it may be dead in the water now. While Stay Clean Jolene haven’t killed it, they’re not giving it CPR either. Good songwriting isn’t enough. Competent musicianship isn’t enough. It needs fresh perspective and individual subversion to start breathing again. Its the difference between between being inspired by and inspiring others– a difference punks know all too well.


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