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.
A list of the bands Mikey Erg has played, recorded, or toured with run longer than this entire column, but first and foremost, he’s remembered for NJ’s early ‘00’s pop-punk trio The Ergs (who will be reuniting this fall for a string of shows.) The Mikey Erg of Waxbuilt Castles might be a little older and a whole lot wiser than the love smitten kid with the broken heart and yawpy voice of yore, but he’s still got a great ear for a pop hook. Ergs fans will cherish “Bad Decision Monday” as a return to form, although on most of this album (recorded with Mikey’s bandmate in The LLC, Alex Chute,) he’s channeling earlier (and might I suggest more adult?) influences like McCartney’s acoustic solo albums, early Elvis Costello, Eighties jangle-pop (the parts of R.E.M. they copped from the Byrds,) and the Replacements (check out “Somewhere Drinking, Drinking Somewhere,” a gem of Westbergian angst.) “Why Was I Programmed To Feel Pain?” sounds emo, but it’s mix of 70’s guitar textures and earwig hook make it a classic pop song.
Rather than traffic in tricky gender pronouns, I will let Louisville, Kentucky’s GRLwood describe themselves: “A two-piece band of Kentucky fried queerdos, wailing at max capacity,” and “angry queerdo genderfuck feminists screaming at you.” And yes, that’s what you get from these 14 spazzy, undulating tracks, where the ghosts of Ari Up and Poly Styrene inspire both punk ferocity and an unabashed libido. So you get feisty queercore anthems like “I’m Having Sex Tonight,” “Take Off Your Clothes,” and “Gay 4 U,” but also a meditation on suicidal ideation (“The State,”) a confessional story about sexual experimentation (“No Tongue,”) and the hilarious (although no less heartfelt) “I Hate My Mom.” RIYL Savages, Les Butcherettes
TWO BASE HITS
NJ punks Jack & The Me Offs wear their influences proudly on the sleeves of their ratty Queers t-shirts, with an album of short, fast songs that regurgitates familiar tropes like a Lookout Records tribute album. Here’s the band for anyone who thinks “Ursula Finally Has Tits” represents the apotheosis of 20th Century culture and Boogada Boogada Boogada was the best Screeching Weasel ever put out. There are also obvious nods to the thrashier and stupider side of the Ramones as well as the singalong street punk of Jersey heroes Bouncing Souls. Produced by Joe Queer, who must have felt like a proud papa hearing his legacy carried into the future.
Brian Baker (the one from Dayton, not Bad Religion) fronts this Midwestern quartet, and understandably, Guided By Voices’ influence looms large here, along with a love of grungy guitars, Nineties slacker-pop, and power pop. Both noisy and tuneful, Brat Curse invokes memories of Nirvana, Jawbreaker, and the Pixies while generating their own gleeful anarchy, ripping through a dozen peppery tracks (most of which clock in at 3 minutes or less.) Don’t play this in the car unless you’re driving fast, don’t listen at home unless you’re in the mood to have a ripping good time.
There are at least three other bands named Holy Smokes on Bandcamp, not to mention myriad headshops and tobacco stores, so you’re forgiven if you haven’t heard of this West Orange, NJ quartet. (That’s also why their Bandcamp page and website are confusingly named smokestheholy.com.) Their six-song debut Goldish consistently delights, and resists easy pigeonholing. The band describes itself as “alternative-folk-electric rock band,” but there are also elements of power-pop, new wave, progressive rock, and jazz, all delivered with a verve and an indie earnestness that reminds me of fellow Garden Staters like The Happy Fits and the Front Bottoms. The musicianship is top notch, the arrangements veer from cheery polished pop to noisy spazz outs, the vocal harmonies impress, and the songwriting never falters through six catchy, insistent tracks.
This Chicago trio has been around since 2010, and this third album reflects the precision and maturity that comes from a decade of touring and two earlier full lengths. This is sturdy, abrasive modern rock that could appeal as easily to fans of Foo Fighters as Bad Religion, with dense, smoldering riffs and emphatic vocals. The band has worked with and has obviously been influenced by the likes of J. Robbins, Bob Mould, and Seaweed, and if you’re looking for something that’s not quite hardcore but still packs more of a punch than the “Rock” they play at the mall, you could do worse.
Back in the Eighties, the Dogmatics played lovably sloppy garage-punk that charmed audiences up and down the East Coast, but the Boston combo’s career ended prematurely with the tragic death of bassist Paul O’Halloran. The band’s gigged intermittently since then, but now they’re recording a new album for Boston-based garage/punk/ glam/power-pop label Rum Bar Records. To tide us over, the Dogmatics have graced us with this single, a cover of “(Can’t Wait For The) Summertime” by Boston punks Unnatural Axe, and it’s like these guys never went away, still sounding snotty and bratty and ready to party. The ‘matics don’t change much, just substituting their surfy garage rock for the Axe’s heavily Johnny Thunders-inspired delivery.
OUT OF LEFT FIELD
Mickey PG would like these songs to remind us that it’s never too old to act ridiculous. And while “silly” and “weird” certainly come to mind here, Mickey and his band the Overshare also manage to tunefully tweak our funny bones with catchy songs about the virtues of an early bedtime, the allure of shopping at CVS, the satisfaction of a good salad dressing, and a thrashy powermetal tune about relaxation. Think Weird Al, Shel Silverstein, or Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show, don’t take any of it too seriously, and you’ll have a good time. Inspirational Verse: “I got a mortage/lots of insurance/eat lots of fiber/I watch MacGuyver/because all I want to do is Adult.”