In 2018, Thurston Moore started his independent label Daydream Library Series solely to release Big Joanie's critically acclaimed debut album Sistahs. Since then, the black feminist punk band have become known for their passionate live performances and have featured in the coveted support slot for acts such as Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, and IDLES.
The London trio return with their spellbinding sophomore effort, Back Home, which successfully pushes the boundaries into more experimental fields yet retains their punk origins. The band comprising of, guitarist Stephanie Phillips, bassist Estella Adeyeri and drummer Chardine Taylor-Stone, are clearly proud of their roots.
The album’s title references a search for a place to call home. Phillips explained, “It’s about the different ideas of home, whether that’s here in the UK, back in Africa or the Caribbean, or a place that doesn’t really exist.” The eye-catching cover art, by multidisciplinary artist Angelica Ellis, continues on the same theme. The depiction of Taylor-Stone's nephew at the barbers is a reference to the embroidered wall hangings that were popular in Caribbean homes post-Windrush, proving a call back to the homes they had left behind.
Back Home opens with ‘Cactus Tree’, a gothic folk tale of a woman waiting for her lover. The blend of uplifting vocal harmonies mixed with roaring feedback creates an eerie feel driven on by a pulsating bass line. The band return to their more familiar territory with ‘Taut’, which radiates a classic Riot Grrl sound. The blend of voices through the chorus singing the line, “I always make the same mistakes, time and time again”, proves memorable.
The album stays into more experimental territory with ‘Confident Man’, musically a hypnotising trance that is driven on by Phillips' evocative lyrics, ending with the powerful line, “I only want to be a more confident me”. Before ‘What Are You Waiting For’ sees, the trio land on a pop-rock footing, with their instrumentation shining throughout.
One of the highlights of the album is ‘In My Arms’, a lively, uplifting ballad. “At this point, I was getting tired of living in London and dreaming about another life. It’s about knowing you should go another way in life, but you end up dreaming about the road you’ve travelled down even though you know it won’t take you where you need to go,” explained Phillips about writing it. The positive, uplifting vibe further emanates through ‘Your Words’. Before ‘Count to 10’ sees the group again change direction, this time bringing synth-based sounds to the fore.
It is the Riot grrrl inspired songs that feel most natural to Big Joanie, ‘Happier Still’ demonstrates this finely, with the yearning lyrics about wanting to feel “happier”. Introspective lyricism continues on ‘Insecure’; the powerfully honest song openly addresses the issue of “feeling insecure about my life”. Listing reasons for the insecurity, such as, “All my friends have settled down”, and despite ending by asking for reassurance, “Tell me, how will I ever succeed?” it is presented in a hopeful, encouraging way. Optimism further emits from the vibrant ‘Today’ before the defiant ‘I Will’ is expertly driven on by Adeyeri's basslines.
Throughout Back Home, Big Joanie has been unafraid to spread their wings, which culminates with closer ‘Sainted’. Closing the record in a similar manner to how they opened it with a gothic fable, albeit one that this time stretches genres from club pop to prog rock, ensuring the album finishes on a memorable note.
Back Home proves a triumph of exploration. Genre boundaries are successfully pushed to provide a captivating listening experience. As Stephanie Phillips has said, “For me, punk means freedom” Big Joanie seems to have found creative freedom on their second album whilst maintaining their punk roots. The success of their willingness to test themselves opens the door for their third album to be their most experimental yet.