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.
Teenage Bottlerocket – Stay Rad! (Fat Wreck)
Is there a more reliable band in pop-punk than Teenage Bottlerocket? (Well, okay, the Copyrights, maybe, but that’s about it.) The Ramonescore template they adapted 15 years ago, when twins Ray and Brandon Carlisle teamed up with the Lillingtons’ Kody Templeman, still works fine, thank you. And although we lost Brandon tragically in 2015, TBR rocks on, with all of its rockingness and (happily) sense of humor intact. There are some monster hooks here as always, with obligatory nods to the Ramones (“I Want To Kill Clint Carlin,”) Screeching Weasel (“You Don’t Get The Joke,”) the Queers (“Night Of The Knuckleheads,”) the Misfits (“Creature From The Black Metal Lagoon,”) the Descendants (“Stupid Song,”) and even Jeffrey Lewis (!?!) (“The First Time I Did Acid Was The Last Time I Did Acid.”) “I Wanna Be A Dog” may be the most Teenage Bottlerocketiest song Teenage Bottlerocket has ever done. (That’s a good thing.) Inspirational Verse: “So put the needle down and let the noise fill up the room/ Throw all your cares away and dance around like a baboon.” Amen.
POW! – Shift (Castle Face Records)
POW! tells you all you need to know with their Facebook address: facebook.com/straighttothekisser . The veteran San Francisco combo’s fourth album attacks the cerebellum like a crazed version of the Fall starring in a Fifties sci-fi flick. Thee Oh See’s John Dwyer has a knack for finding and releasing bands that mirror his own dystopian visions, and POW! certainly fits the bill. Synths snarl and screech, drums crackle like they’re wrapped in wax paper and tin foil, but Iggy looms large in the band’s DNA.
TWO BASE HITS:
Fat Chance – Do Not Resuscitate (self-released)
Fat Chance – from the backwater burg of Vernon, NJ – labored eight years to get this album out, and it still disappeared into obscurity on its release. But these indefatigable ska-punks are onto something, merging the genre’s infectious beats and melodies with heartfelt and often downbeat lyrics. There’s a brilliant moment when the song “Quit Bitchin’” quotes the Misfits’ “Where Eagles Dare” that’s worth the price of a download all by itself. Ska punks, you know who you are; give Fat Chance a chance and you won’t be disappointed.
Problem Daughter – Grow Up Trash (Wiretap Records)
The best punk band in Utah? It’s probably not that wide a field but Problem Daughter needs to be at the top of the list. Formed by high school pals who have now been rocking together for a decade, Problem Daughter starts with the distinctively bratty vocals of Regan Ashton, whom I will now dub the Mikey Erg of the Rockies. The band finds new twists to familiar pop-punk tropes, keeping this album refreshingly off-center and unpredictable despite its head-bobbing feel-good familiarity. Keep an eye on this band.
The Lifters – “Are You Ready For The Good Life” / “Plane” (Uh Huh Records)
The Lifters (about whom I can find nothing online) presumably hail from Nashville, their label’s hometown, and deliver a jangly A-Side that recalls Dave Edmunds’ style of rough-edged blue-collar garage-rock. It has an ingratiating Midwestern teenagers-in-a-garage feel and is followed by the punkier, faster B-side, which sounds like the same teenagers with a bit more of an attitude. Good stuff.
The Cheap Cassettes – “Worse N’ Better” / “Hieroglyphics in Lipstick” (self-released)
Another great example of the enduring popularity of power-pop in the American underground. This is timeless rock ‘n’ roll; it recalls Alex Chilton’s Ork singles and Nick Lowe and Johnny Thunders and the Replacements. I actually prefer the B side; name one bad song about lipstick.
Sleep In – The Stars On Your Ceiling (Know Hope Records)
This sophomore album from NJ’s Sleep In lacks the spastic math-rock energy of their debut. If there’s a genre that appeals to me less than mainstream emo, it’s mainstream post-emo, where all bets are hedged and the listener is left standing wondering what to hold onto. The songwriting here shows promise but it’s muddied in the production.
OUT OF LEFT FIELD:
Bazooka – Zero Hits (Inner Ear Records)
The hottest new band from Athens (Athens, Greece, that is) sings in Greek, so don’t ask me about the lyrics. But clearly American garage rock and punk have made their mark there. Since Bazooka doesn’t know the rules (or doesn’t care whether they’re being broken,) they are funk horns and fuzzy synths and angular post-punk guitars in the mix, along with references to Sixties garage and Bouncing Souls-styled gang vocals. What’s the Greek word for “tasty smorgasbord?”