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.
THE DOLLYROTS – Daydream Explosion (Wicked Cool/The Orchard)
The commonly held idea that the team of Kelly Ogden and Luis Cabezas solely comprise L.A. punk darlings the Dollyrots doesn’t tell the whole story; the band has never just been a traditional Black Keys/White Stripes rock duo. On Daydream Explosion, the group’s eighth studio album, Noah Levy plays drums and wizardly multi-instrumentalist John Fields adds keyboards, programmed backing tracks, and additional instrumentation. That said, eight years into a largely DIY career that’s seen the Dollyrots crack the Billboard charts more than a few times, Ogden (whose snotty vocals angle the Dollyrots’ stinging lyrics from a female point of view) and Cabezas (a nimble, fluid guitarist) haven’t lost any of their bratty charm. While tracks like “Animal” and “In Your Face” pack the kind of big, dumb, earwig hooks that commercial radio lusts for, Daydream Explosion remains true to the band’s roots in giddy girl-group pop, catchy New Wave, and power-pop. Inspirational verse: “You know I even got a degree from a four year university / But I started a band and I’m singing this song, and now you know the whole freakin’ story.”
KEPI GHOULIE / THE COPYRIGHTS – “Observation Wagon” 7-inch EP (Stardumb/Red Scare)
Two pop-punk stalwarts – the irrepressible Kepi Ghoulie, pop-punk’s answer to Jonathan Richman, and always-reliable road warriors The Copyrights – team up following their joint European tour for one new track and a cover of a song by the other act. “Welcome Wagon” marks the first new Copyrights song since 2014, which makes this EP collectible in itself. But Kepi’s wonderfully nerdy reworking of the Copyrights’ “Four Eyes” works surprisingly well, while the ‘rights inject their trademark blue-collar testosterone into Kepi’s twee “Are You Passionate?” to excellent effect. No B-sides here, folks.
TWO BASE HITS
JOEY CAPE – Let Me Know When You Give Up (Fat Wreck)
Seems like punk lifer Joey Cape has been around forever, in bands like Lagwagon, Me First & The Gimme Gimmes, and Bad Astronaut. It’s actually been about 20 years, and for much of that time, Cape has also toured and recorded as an acoustic singer-songwriter. This is his fourth solo album and it’s a bit of a departure, because while Cape’s acoustic guitar frames most of these tracks, there’s quite a bit of additional instrumentation that gives much of the album a full band flavor. Cape comfortably juggles a handful of genres, from stalwart modern country (“I Know How To Run”) to subdued folkie introspection (“Possession.”) “Before My Heart Attack” even assays a complete new genre, Mid-Life Crisis Emo, while “Andalusia” and “You Should Always” fall squarely into classic folk-rock territory. “Fall Down” offers a few minutes of decent uptempo chug, but Let Me Know When You Give Up should be pressed with a warning sticker for Lagwagon and Me First fans. There’s another whole thing going on here, and it’s way more Neil Young than Young, Loud & Snotty.
THE GIRAFFES – Flower of the Cosmos (Silver Sleeves Records)
Criminally overlooked, the Giraffes have been churning out quality hard rock long before all the Polish butchers and Italian shoemakers in the band’s native Brooklyn found themselves gentrified into chi-chi coffee shops and pet boutiques. Flower Of The Cosmos continues the band’s winning streak, delivering an almost subliminal groove beneath clobbering riffs and pleasingly melodic vocals. “Raising Kids In The End Times” may be as cogent a summation of 2019 as you’ll find anywhere.
WEIRD SKIN – S/T (self-released)
I don’t usually cut-and-paste band bios, but this one was too good to resist: “WEIRD SKIN was put together by Azeem Sajid (vocals/guitar), who, along with Chris Grivet (bass), are one-half of defunct NYC pop punk band The Steinways. Azeem has also spent the last decade as the least recognizable member of perpetually inactive and geographically challenged House Boat.” For that small but rabid base of pop-punk diehards who bonded on the Pop Punk Message Board and attended every Insubordination Fest, those names will be as familiar as John, Paul, George, and Ringo. For everybody else, Weird Skin plays ultra-catchy fast/loud gang-vocal slop-punk, and although sounding like it was recorded in a broom closet, the album was mastered by Justin Perkins, who worked on a lot of Screeching Weasel stuff back in the day. RIYL any band that ever played Insub Fest, or Mikey Erg, Teenage Bottlerocket, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Descendents.
ONE BASE HITS
CRO-MAGS – “Don’t Give Up” EP (Victory)
Old punk rockers never die, they just sue each other over branding rights. After years of litigation, one-time middle-school gutterpunk pitbull Harley Flanagan won the right to the name Cro-Mags, and here he is with a bunch of new (if not exactly young) guys revisiting the early Eighties pummel and punch of classic crossover NY/HC. I lost interest in hardcore by the early Nineties when the music failed to evolve, but diehard fans of this kind of chest-beating riff-heavy fast-metal will not be disappointed.
OUT OF LEFT FIELD
GENYA RAVAN – Icon (Rum Bar)
Before there was a Debbie Harry, Joan Jett, or Patty Smyth, there was Genya Ravan, whose Goldie & The Gingerbreads tore up with Sixties opening for the Stones, Kinks, Yardbirds, and Hollies as one of the few all-female bands of the era. Later, she fronted the horn-driven Ten Wheel Drive, then turned producer and made ground-breaking recordings with Ronnie Spector and the Dead Boys. In recent years, she’s become a popular Sirius/XM radio personality. Not a bad resume’, and now Ravan returns with a new album on the trustworthy garage/power-pop label Rum Bar that’s a gonzo hybrid of Seventies bar band trash rock and down ‘n’ dirty punk. “Don’t Go In The Bathroom,” a gritty, graphic, and all-too-accurate homage to CBGB, more than makes this worth a listen, although it’s also fun to hear Ravan’s adrenalized take on Elvis Costello’s “Pump It Up,” or the shamelessly bawdy “He Got Me (When He Got His Pants On.)”