The catchy EPs that Welles has been building solo at home and quietly releasing for free (three now since April) have been major bright spots this year. Carefully constructed yet raw, each one explores a different genre, dishing out surprises that seem designed to put a smile under your mask. Following the “surreal jazz funk” of Non-Essential Business and the “country folk americana whatever” of Q2, the creative mind of Jesse Wells has most recently delivered “some heavy for u” with the release of Joe Dirt Cobain. These “songs from the bedroom” are everything we’d hoped for when he originally started teasing a ‘70s heavy metal-inspired release.
“These are May and June’s rejects while I toil for the next set of Welles tunes,” Jesse Wells told P&W, evidently unaware that his rejects rock so hard. When he put out the EP, he posted, “I am very thankful and thoughtful.” That was not long after his own fake review from Rolling Stoned: “a complete and utter disappointment” he raved – one of those self-deprecating Jesse jokes that sharply contrasts his technical chops and songwriting ability. Joe Dirt Cobain’s comedy/grunge mashup of a title has the same vibe, echoing that seriously-rocking but not-taking-itself-too-seriously quality of his music.
The gnarly riffs of first track “Class War” foreshadow the vicious badassery to come. Welles holds your attention with raging guitar and COVID-era observations that hit on maddening injustices. “Don’t you ever wonder ‘bout cash flow? / Don’t you wonder where it all goes? / People gotta slave while the plague comes and rapes all the people who can’t work from their homes,” Welles sings in his classic and pleasing voice. “All Aboard The Bus To Pineville” starts up faster and features three twists (at 00:58, 1:39, and 2:18). In this addictive song, he seems to make further commentary on class divide. One could interpret a jab at the privileged who are able to relax luxuriously during the pandemic because of their economic status: “Tell me more about the ties that bind / Only death allows you to unwind.”
Next track “Bachelor’s Degree (Ashleigh, Hayleigh, Brittany, Brooke)” has an equally unpredictable pace, topped off with the punk energy of a subversive pep rally – as in lines like “School is shit / I learned one thing / Teach your own self how to sing.” And we can’t help but notice how much the “Cobain” part of the EP’s title shines through on the following song, “Dead Man’s Legs.” With a guitar hook that sounds like an admiring nod to Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box,” the compelling song includes a treacherously-cool guitar solo and some tough lyrical truths – including “Nothing’s gonna fix the world for me” and “No one’s gonna fix the world for free.”
The longest song on Joe Dirt Cobain is a psychedelic-sounding treat called “The Sun is Like a Holy Apple Pie,” clocking in at 4:10 thanks to its mellow and syrupy melody. Creating the precise mood of laying in the grass and staring up at the clouds, Welles ponders life from the sun’s perspective: “It would be so pleasant to be so grossly incandescent.” EP closer “Step Inside My Nuclear Mind” gives us a final dose of his beastly guitar work and Welles seemingly shifts his focus to the flaws of the music industry. “Step inside my nuclear mind / Dig until you’ve found what you find,” he urges, as well as, “Oh and tell me which direction is north / I swear to god I’ll show you my worth.”
The fact that we already have another gripping batch of Welles tracks to enjoy makes his independent process all the more impressive – “No mac, no protools, nothing over 150 bucks. I am completely alone when I record,” he told us back when he unveiled Q2. It’s such a blast to headbang and groove to Joe Dirt Cobain that we hope he’ll write more in the ‘70s metal realm, but we also can’t expect him to stick with any one style. This is a D.I.Y. hero whose work could land in multiple aisles in a record store and do each genre justice. Here’s hoping Welles’ homemade EPs come out in some special vinyl release in the future, so that physical versions can be displayed side by side like the gems of rock history they are. Until that day, check out his Bandcamp page to hear the sixteen fresh songs that are greatly improving 2020 for us.
Article: Olivia Isenhart