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.
This Seattle trio claims Husker Du, Snuff, and Stiff Little Fingers as influences, which pretty much does my job for me. More precisely, guitarist Ean Hernandez, bassist “Tahoe Jeff” Mangalin, and drummer Matt Coleman write and sing songs that would sound right at home on Flip Your Wig, with each taking lead vocals in front of a hypnotic thrashy-yet-melodic roar of guitar, bass, and drums.
After laying low for the past five years, Rational Athem return with a banger, one of the best punk albums of the year that fuses the bratty brashness of Nineties pop-punk with mature lyrics, passionate vocals, and forceful performances. The Florida-turned-Iowan trio not only rocks but packs a potent sense of humor too, with tracks like “Welcome To Paradise City” (a mashup of Green Day and Guns N Roses,) “Godspeed You! Black Empanada,” and “Stay Together For The Chicks.”
From Bloomfield, NJ (Ted Leo’s hometown) comes Joy Cleaner’s You’re So Jaded, a jangly power-pop masterpiece (yes, I said it) that synthesizes influences as diverse as Nirvana, Teenage Fan Club, the Lemonheads, and Big Dipper. This record sounds a little bit like everything you loved in the Eighties and early Nineties, with infectious melodies, warm harmony vocals, clever and memorable lyrics, succinct but zingy guitar solos, and precise rat-a-tat-tat drumming.
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.
Indefatigable survivors of the Nineties pop-punk boom, the underrated SoCal quartet Bracket has largely sailed under the radar in recent years, only releasing two albums after 2000. But Too Old To Die Young will please both old and new fans. Bracket’s exquisite vocal harmonies remain a key component of the band’s sound, that fuses pissed-off pop-punk vocals and guitars with the soulful power-pop of bands like Fountains Of Wayne or Superchunk.
“Fat Mike” Burkett’s notorious alter ego Cokie The Clown will not make you laugh. Or even smile. That’s Fat Mike’s job in NoFX. Cokie The Clown provides Mike with a therapeutic outlet for all the pain, regret, and self-loathing that lies beneath the (usually inebriated) surface. Tears of a clown, indeed.
Nato Coles & his road-hardened Blue Diamond boys keep the promises Bruce Springsteen made in the Seventies and Eighties, singing working class anthems celebrating the misfits, outlaws, losers, and lovers who like their rock played loud and proud.
Is there a more reliable band in pop-punk than Teenage Bottlerocket? 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.
A list of the bands Mikey Erg has played, recorded, or toured with run longer than this entire website but first and foremost, he’s remembered for NJ’s early ‘00’s pop-punk trio The Ergs (who reunited this fall for a string of sold out 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.
My friend and colleague Jack Rabid once said that even bad Bad Religion was better than 90% of whatever anyone else in punk was doing. And nothing’s changed with Age Of Unreason, the band’s first new album in six years, which still finds Greg Graffin & Co. in top form 40 years and 17 albums into a remarkably prolific and consistent career. You won’t hear the name Donald Trump mentioned here, but the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue informs and inspires the entire album. “End Of History,” “The Paranoid Style,” “Candidate” and “My Sanity” all rail against the cruelty and corruption of American politics, and as always, you’re find yourself singing along. Inspirational verse: “Now in the last second of our December / How do you want to be remembered / For generosity / Or a fucking monstrosity?”
More of Jim Testa’s contributions