What happened in the last year of my life. I can’t tell. Laughing at myself all I want in the middle of the night. Oh well.
- Mean Jeans, “Tears in My Beers” 2011
Before going on to lament about how good some BBQ sauce would be right about now, Mean Jeans’ lead singer and guitarist, Billy Jeans, makes a pretty apt statement for how his band views themselves. Even the most sensitive and self-deprecating forms of rock music don’t leave much room for self-parody. The undying need for musicians to make themselves look cool and/or sincere outweighs any semblance of laughter towards themselves. Turning yourself into the butt of the joke is something that comedians have mastered, while rock musicians squeak by with the a sense of pride, complicated shoes, and saying “whatever.” Self-deprecation may be a tool for the weak in rock music, but Mean Jeans harness a style of comedy and punk that is both hilarious and heartfelt. And for the last five years, the band has turned their obsession with The Ramones and Keanu Reeves into some of the finest punk in America.
Based out of Portland, OR, Mean Jeans got their start, like so many others, writing songs about pot and screaming into a laptop mic. Stoned 2 the Bone and License 2 Chill, the band’s first two EPs, played up their infectious ignorance, mastery of textese, and sense of humor with tracks like “WTF is a 401k?,” “Invisible Bugs,” and “Total Creep.” The band’s “nothing‘s too stupid” credo crept onto their debut LP Are You Serious?, which solidified their place as the nation’s proudest cretins, answering their own titular question with a resounding “No.” Still, tracks like “Born on a Saturday Night,” “Steve Don’t Party No More,” and “Lets Pogo B4 U Gogo” inspired the same caveman hop that The Ramones seemingly perfected 30 years earlier.
With the Ramones-aping punk bands hemorrhaging from all corners of the globe, Mean Jeans distance themselves with creativity and ingenuity. Like a screenwriter adapting a beloved novel, Mean Jeans carry the spirit and style of the Ramones without xeroxing them. So while Billy cops a mean Joey on Are You Serious? their songwriting is more influenced by the bands directly impacted by the Ramones, namely the beloved Queers. But while Joe Queer certainly made a career out of acting like a child — immortal “I Can’t Stop Farting” comes to mind — Mean Jeans act their age, relying on the inane features the 20-something slob to flesh out their songs.
2012 seemed to be the year that it all came together for Mean Jeans. After three years of garnering cult status thanks to wholly authentic Animal Chin-inspired videos, they released On Mars, the band’s second LP. On Mars works so well because of how successfully the band moves out of their comfort zone and taking their punk sounds into a bit more of pop territory without losing their sense of humor. It’s a bit slower and slickly produced, which generally is the kiss of death for almost any band, but Mean Jeans has the chops to pull it off.
On Mars joins the two best parts of the band and brings it all back home. Songs like “School Lunch Victim,” “Crummy Crummy,” and “2 Twisted 2 Luv U,” offer some of their tightest songwriting and slyest lyrics of the band’s tenure. We still get the some of the boneheadedness but the stronger melodies and vocal performances make their self-disappointment appear a bit more heartfelt, even when they’re complaining about there being “a butthole in [their] brain.” The added musicianship, varied songwriting, and downright impressive vocals make On Mars one of the most wholly satisfying and enjoyable records of the year. It’s an album that slips into your brain, damages it, and demands another spin.
The release of On Mars hasn’t slowed the band down. Following a pretty solid year of touring, the band has already been at work on several new split EPs, as well as what may be an inspired new series of music videos. 2012 may have been the year Mean jeans solidified their place as the reigning kings of self-deprecating punk, but 2013 might be their victory lap.