wears the trousers magazine


pens: hey friend, what you doing? (2009)
October 1, 2009, 1:29 pm
Filed under: album, review, video | Tags: , , ,

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Pens
Hey Friend, What You Doing? ••••½
De Stijl

There’s nothing like a little controversy to inflate the buzz around debuts, but for London trio Pens the kerfuffle in question has come squarely from critic-to-critic politics rather than any attention seeking gimmicks from the artists themselves. Pitchfork’s damning review of the band’s recently pressed LP, Hey Friend, What You Doing? – which came complete with heaving sighs and ‘now now, we know best’ style tuts – incited a scathing response from legendary muso Everett True, who quite rightly countered their reviewer’s claims that Amelia Braekke-Dyer, Helen Taylor and Stef Orlando “can’t play their instruments”. No press is bad press, as the saying goes, and karma has most definitely cartwheeled on this one as Pitchfork’s bemoaning only helped to alert everyone to this awesomely necessary band and their giddy riot of a debut.

Two of the Pens crew are ex members of the long defunct DIY duo Look! Look! Dancing Boys, a comet burst of a band who got hot on the UK underground but disappeared shortly thereafter; with this new outfit comes something more tangible. Abrasive but accessible, scuzzy but super sharp, and loud but most assuredly astute, Hey Friend, What You Doing? is fun, but not in a light-hearted, Daisy Rock kind of way. Pens seem like the type of girls to graffiti toilet walls with semi-obscene diagrams and swap secret L7 bootlegs while enveloped in a haze of clandestine, possibly illegal smoke. And though keyboards are a part of their arsenal, they’re far from electro princesses; don’t let the pretty snyth intro on opening track ‘Horses’ fool you – Pens get heavy, underlined with big, fat, permanent marker.

Ear-splitting, democratically dispensed vocals are thrown out amongst deliciously thrashy rhythms, sharp-shooting riffs and dizzy keyboard calamities. ‘Hide The Kids’ wows with amphetamine fretwork and Bikini Kill-style vocals, while ‘Cry Baby’ , ‘1-2’ and ‘Fuckufuckinfuck’ are high-mileage feats with catchy singsong vocals that lose none of their punchy, golden structures in the ruckus of speeding tempos. The trio do downbeat with equal credit too; ‘High In The Cinema’ is a definite standout, anthemic with its stoner glamour and minor crime, while recent single ‘Freddie’ gets warm and melodic with a vein of ’80s pop-rock running through its distortion pedal heart. But even when they drop the noise volume, there’s an unmistakable kick in the band’s stride; the thunderclap beats and fat, stripped back bassline of ‘Sally Ain’t Nobody’ make for some gloweringly feelgood, surfed up manoeuvres.

Pens end their frenetic 14-song debut with the frenzied, 36-second sonic assault ‘Know About Me’, as heavy as Nirvana doing their thrash thing on Bleach but with all the lo-fi, maniacal charm of Mika Miko. It’s a perfect, nihilistic salute to an album that surges with genuine punk credibility – US inspired but totally British in execution. Yes, the trio are obnoxiously shouty and speakerphone loud, but some would say this is a plus, and besides, they miss all the usual wannabe girlband clichés like an upside down map. Hey Friend, What You Doing? is a bit like a joyride that screeches along the rail edges at breakneck speed – dizzy with glee, but never losing course. If you can imagine perfect measures of riot grrrl, ’80s hardcore, ’90s grunge and new-school indie noize put in a blender, poured into a pint glass and topped off with a cherry, you’re almost there.

Charlotte Richardson Andrews
UK release date: 28/09/09; www.myspace.com/penspenspenis

‘High In The Cinema’

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[…] Frauhaus! [4.5/5] 87 Rose Melberg – Homemade Ship [4/5] 86 Pens – Hey Friend, What You Doing? [4.5/5] 85 Cryptacize – Mythomania [3.5/5] 84 Tiny Vipers – Life On Earth [4/5; interview] 83 Arborea […]

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