Joe Coffee – Bright As the Stars We’re Under

For many hardcore fans, the name Paul Bearer is immediately associated with seminal New York band Sheer Terror. Most don’t know that the outfit’s former frontman has a new group called Joe Coffee that just released their first album, Bright as the Stars We’re Under. It’s hard not to compare this venture with old Sheer Terror albums, but fans would be amiss to think Joe Coffee is the second coming of Paul Bearer’s previous band. Though Bearer is the link between the two, nothing else is the same, and one must remember this fact to truly appreciate Joe Coffee’s sound.

Singer Paul Bearer is accompanied in Joe Coffee by the standard guitarist, bassist, and drummer. The foursome is solid and offer listeners an album full of melodic post-punk and borderline hardcore that, while not breaking any new ground, tantalizes the ears without being overpowering. Previous associations aside, Bearer and his ever-enigmatic personality really are the focal point here, and it’s his lyrics and vocals that make a lasting impression. The songs run the gamut of styles and emotions, but one thing is clear throughout – Paul Bearer isn’t trying to sugar-coat life and he isn’t interested in being something he’s not. In a time of musical clones and bands created for mass-marketing appeal, it’s nice to find something this real.

The eight tracks on Bright as the Stars We’re Under barely seem like enough – especially since the first, “Intro,” is little more than the sound of a bunch of cows mooing and doesn’t contain any music. Highlights include “3 a.m. and 4 again,” which provides a mighty catchy melody and showcases Paul Bearer’s appealing singing voice. The near-screaming vocals of yesteryear are all but nonexistent on this album as a whole and it’s mighty refreshing. “Pretty in Pinko” falls in this same upbeat vein but with a more tongue-in-cheek approach. Leave it to Bearer to write a song that laments the loss of a Marxist girlfriend with lyrics like, “I was far too dumb to tell the difference between the Revolution and a piece of ass.” Other tracks, like “Coke and Sympathy” or “Rooftop Rendez-vous” present the harder side of Joe Coffee that will appeal more to punk/hardcore purists with crunchy guitar, louder vocals, and a tough guy attitude.

Bright as the Stars We’re Under definitely shows a sense of musical maturity for Paul Bearer and company that only comes after years in the industry. I find it rare for a first album to be so flawless these days, but these guys have clearly packed everything they know into each song. That doesn’t mean the album is overproduced or pretentious, it just has the right combination of bravado, humor, integrity, and passion for music to make fans out of the most skeptical of listeners. My only hope is the band’s next release contains twice as many songs to satisfy all their new fans.