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 title track is a scathing indictment of the male-dominated punk scene. “The Spaces In-between” is a song about “coping with the anxiety, depression, and alienation of life under late-stage capitalism andclimate crisis. “ Sounds like a barrel of laughs, right? And yet this 3-track EP by the genre-defying quartet from Lansing, Michigan is a blast, with horns and guitars and a lead singer who should soon be commanding the same sort of cultish devotion as Brian Sella of the Front Bottoms. She/Her/Hers started as a solo acoustic project by the singer who goes by Emma; Piper Bazard came aboard on trumpet. This is the group’s first full-band release, now including drummer Cody Kuuttila and bassist Jake Matter. It’s not just the trumpet that inspires the Front Bottoms comparison, but also the blending of power-pop and folk-pop and even a little jazz, with lyrics that cut to the quicky with disarming honesty. A cover of Rilo Kiley’s “The Execution Of All Things” completes this short but impressive EP, and will leave you wanting more.
The prospect of a new Lagwagon album seems about as exciting as another season of Law & Order: SVU or news of another Terminator movie. Then you listen and, holy crap, it’s good. Really good. Like their similarly ageless peers Bad Religion and the Descendents, Lagwagon found its niche years ago but still finds new ways to make familiar sounds feel new. On Railer, they actually draw from Bad Religion for inspiration on the insistent, intelligent fury of “Dark Matter,” while “Jini” suggests a Bouncing Souls singalong. But mostly Lagwagon delivers what their fans expect – catchy high-speed skate punk with those signature Fat Wreck guitar riffs and melodic vocals – while chafing at the idea that everything they do should sound the same. Inspirational verse: “Touch down, surrounded by the gathering devoted death shroud scene, you better be what they built you to be or watch them fucking leave.”
While you may not know the name Crossed Keys, the credentials of the band’s members include stints in the likes of Kid Dynamite and Good Riddance, Zolof The Rock & Roll Destroyer, and The Curse. Vocalist Joshua Alvarez (Halo Of Snakes) brings the melodicism and sincerity of the Descendents’ Milo to Crossed Keys’ breakneck tempos and urgent riffs, with lyrics that look back nostalgically at the halcyon DIY punk scene of the early 2000’s. While Crossed Keys is revisiting well-trod territory here, their take on punk/hardcore crossover avoids any whiff of retro revivalism RIYL Samiam, Shades of Grey, or pretty much anything on Jade Tree Records.
SICKO – In The Alternate Timeline (Red Scare)
The Nineties had a lot of terrific pop-punk bands who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time (or at least not in the right place.) If Sicko had been based in the East Bay, they could have been bigger than Green Day, or at least as enduring and popular as the Queers, but they had the misfortune of being based in Seattle at a height of the grunge era. Red Scare has collected what might be ironically called Sicko’s greatest hits, a career-spanning collection of tunes that will hopefully reawaken appreciation for the group. “Where I Live,” from Sicko’s first album, introduces a band that’s fast and snotty and fun, but the group could also write songs as clever as The Mr. T Experience, as catchy as the Queers, as poppy as Weezer, or with riff as compelling as Screeching Weasel’s. There are 19 tracks here and not one I will skip on my next listen.
The East Coast has a proud tradition of “dad rock bands,” veterans of the ‘90’s and early ‘00’s who have persevered despite families, careers, and sustained public indifference. Lots of bands break up over much less, but some keep going because they can’t imagine doing anything else. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Gandhar Savur helms this collective, whose membership has varied for its decade and a half, on-again/off-again existence. Here, he’s joined by longtime bandmate and bassist Drew Isleib, drummer Rob Hunsicker, and lead guitarist Kevin Shelbourne. His and his bandmates’ passion hasn’t abated a bit over the years; it almost seems fitting that the group’s third full-length should be its self-titled opus, since the band’s mix of suburban power-pop and basement-show punk have never sounded as mature or fully-formed. While muscular Nineties guitar rock carries the day, Scoville Unit also features the nostalgic Brill Building pop of “Every Single Day,” the Nuggets-y garage-punk of “Stuck In,” and the tender acoustic ballad “Only You,” and finishes up with the catchy, wistful romanticism of “Beach Song,” which recalls Evan Dando at his most winsome and infectious.
SEX HOGS II – “Ride The Tusk” 5-song cassette (self-released)
I am not a huge fan of cassettes. Been there, done that, and the only working tape player at home is a cheap Chinese Walkman knockoff. Still, the tape from Sex Hogs II, the pride of Chico, CA, intrigued me. (Note to bands: If you send out review cassettes, make damn sure you include a digital download link or you could be wasting a lot of postage.) I still have the cassette sitting on my desk unopened, but I’ve been cranking these guys on my iTunes quite a bit. Originally a highly theatrical and very noisy duo, Sex Hogs II have gotten a lot more melodic and jangly, with a roadhouse cowpunk vibe complete with surfy guitar licks and even a shot of harmonica. You can tell these guys must be a howl to see live too.
WAY OFF BASE
You say pop-punk, I say emo. I say Screeching Weasel, you say Blink-182. Okay, I get it. Genres change and mutate and one generation’s anthems are another generation’s anathema. Somewhere, there’s an audience for a Christian punk band with loud guitars and positive messages; certainly not my thing, but I do remember Hawk Nelson had a pretty good run. And even I have to admit that a song title like “I Liked Old AFI Better” shows a decent sense of humor. Yes, I’d rather have a root canal than listen to the high-pitched whiny bleating of this lead singer ever again, and yes, “Hope” sounds like something the cool kids would play at the Bible School Summer Camp’s Battle Of The Bands. But if any of this sounds like it wouldn’t make you jump off a roof, it’s there for the listening.