Words by Jim Testa
Jim Testa founded the highly influential zine, Jersey Beat in 1982 which he continues to edit to this day. Through writing for his own publication and a number of other outlets, including as a staff writer for Hudson County’s Jersey Journal, he has championed local, regional and national up-and-coming bands. Punk has always shunned credentials, but rest assured that Jim won’t lead you astray.
Now into their third decade of flying their uniquely multi-cultural freak flag, singer Jack Terricloth and the ensemble known as the World/Inferno Friendship Society return with their first album since 2014 without losing a beat. WIFS seamlessly blends the sounds and beats of Romani and Balkan gypsies, third-wave Ska, Kurt Weill cabaret, Neil Diamond shlock, and their own unique brand of nonsense and somehow make it all come out as punk rock. Plus you get song titles like “The Cat In The Hat Has the Right To Sing The Blues” and “All I Can Do To Help You With Your Nightmares Is Keep You Up Late.” You might not like every track, because they’re all so different, but you’re going to love some of them.
These Washington, D.C. punks lash out at injustice and inequality on their debut album like a snottier Bad Religion or a more strident Bouncing Souls, with the occasional nod toward Screeching Weasel-ish pop-punk. Fast, loud, and angry, the band rages against everything from the high cost of healthcare and the corporate state to society’s complacency and acceptance of the world’s ills, with technology replacing religion as the opiate of the masses. Inspirational verse: “She’s sick in a hospital bed/She had to pay the bus fare/So she stopped her medicine/Now she works a second job /Just to pay the doctors off /When she looks at her scars /Man, it crushes her heart.”
Leave it to Anti-Flag to lead the charge against Trump’s election in 2020 with their trademark brand of fiery melodic punk. 20/20 Vision not only fires blistering salvos against the Ogre-In-Chief and his enablers (“You Make Me Sick,” “Christian Nationalist,” “Hate Conquers All,” “A Nation Sleeps”) and rallying cries for the resistance (“Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down,” “Resistance Frequencies.”) but more importantly, Anti-Flag provides a vision for what life might look like with a new president with the uplifting and hopeful “2020 Vision.” Raise a fist, raise your voice, and for God’s sake, get out and vote. Here’s your soundtrack for all three.
TWO BASE HITS
Darrell Bazian, a punk lifer from Detroit, shows a strong affection for the turgid tumult of classic Husker Du on his band’s 3-song EP, capturing not only the melodically-chorded song structures and frantic drumming but Bob Mould’s droney, psychedelic vocals as well. “Back To Hell” and “Stacking Tombstones” pull this off magnificently, counterbalancing heart-racing rhythms with laconic lead vocals and dense, swirling guitars. “Planning To Matter” adds more of a pop element, with dreamy group vocals and more melody. Definitely enough good stuff going on here for me to want more.
While the Huntingtons certainly had their place in the Lookout-era of Ramonescore pop-punk, you’re forgiven if you don’t know the name; this is the band’s eighth album, but first new release in 17 years. The title, loosely translated, suggests that these four mooks would either be dead or in jail if not for the saving grace of rock ‘n’ roll; I can’t argue with that, nor do I mind that bands like this still write and perform Ramones songs decades after the Ramones shuffled off this mortal coil. Maybe the world doesn’t need another “Say Hi To Your Mom,” but I dig the AC/DC stomp of “Bottom Of The Bottle,” and the late Jeffrey Hyman would have appreciated the pathos of “Too Old To Care” and “I Don’t Wanna Die Alone.”
On their fifth full-length, Florida’s Victims of Circumstance stay true to their school of catchy, danceable, clever ska punk tunes in the style of Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake. If you haven’t moved on to the next review already, then you’re almost certain to enjoy this, since it hits all the right notes for the genre. One might quibble in 2020 about singing the praises of a girl who’s more fun when she drinks (“The X,”) although this style of music is so firmly rooted in the Clinton presidency that it probably doesn’t matter. Besides, “Never Have I Ever” has a certain YouTube-y currency, and I have always been a sucker for a good sax section.
Norway’s Promdates do better Queers songs than the Queers have written in at least 20 years, so there’s that. They also have a Ramones-y track called “Substitute Teacher,” which this substitute teacher absolutely loves. Ramonescore might be old hat in the U.S.A. but it’s clearly still a big hit with the kids in Europe and Scandinavia, as evidenced by “Coffee OD,” “Lost My Phone,” “Do You Wanna Watch TV?”
OUT OF LEFT FIELD
You might know Chris Gethard from his crazy talk show, which aired for a bit on Fusion and TruTV after being birthed as a live skit show at NYC’s Upright Citizens Brigade. Gethard also hosts the podcast “Beautiful/Anonymous,” and has a successful Off-Broadway show, “Career Suicide.” But mostly he’s a funny guy from Jersey, and here he’s doing a live stand up set completely dedicated to the Garden State. I’m not really sure if outlanders will get the bits about Bayonne, Jersey diners, or our ridiculously dangerous theme parks, but I found it all hilarious. And there’s so much wisdom in the bit “Everyone In New Jersey Is A Little Bit Italian”.