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.
Most modern hardcore bands wouldn’t know a melody if one stagedived on top of them, but New Orleans’ Pears, now on their third album, specialize in mixing breakneck speed and bare knuckle toughness with some of the catchiest hooks you’ll hear this side of Bouncing Souls. Singer Zach Quinn channels Black Flag-era Rollins, sounding pissed off and disgusted at both society’s shortcomings and his own. The band does short, fast, and frantic as well as anybody out there, channeling early 80’s hardcore as well as 90’s pop-punk, and like Black Flag (but unlike an awful lot of metalcore), Pears actually has a sense of humor. Check out the nod to Chumbawumba on “Dial Up,” or the silly chorus of “Naptime,” which channels label stalwarts NOFX. If you haven’t discovered this band already, don’t let this slip by.
The insanely prolific one-man punk band known as Grim Deeds has probably already released another album or at least a handful of singles before you read this review, but if you’re a fan of classic Lookout!-era pop-punk (Weasel, Queers, MTX,) this maniac should be on your radar. He seems to possess an unlimited supply of insanely catchy melodies, which matched with his sharp wit guarantees a fun listen. He’s also meticulously meta, writing some of his best pop-punk numbers about pop-punk (or similar genres,) which here includes “Musicians Are The Worst People In The World,” “Ode To Oderus,” “I Can’t Listen To NOFX,” and my favorite, “Glenn The Heavy Metal Custodian.” Check out his Bandcamp for what’s probably the most extensive discography this side of R. Stevie Moore.
As Frank Portman (aka the beloved and esteemed Dr. Frank of the Mr. T Experience) explained in our Offshelf interview, this “best-of” collection only came together after decades of searching out, restoring, and remixing/mastering the original tapes from Portman’s three-decade discography. Even if you’re a longtime fan, you probably won’t own every song on this collection, which ranges from fan favorites like “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba,” “Dumb Little Band,” and “Even Hitler Had A Girlfriend” to deep-dive obscurities like the beautiful and nearly forgotten “London,” the very early “The History Of The Concept Of The Soul,” and the wistful yet witty “Leave The Thinking To The Smart People.” In comparing these versions to my originals (or in some cases, the messily-assembled Lookout! reissues,) I hear the most pronounced differences on the older material, especially the first couple of albums originally released by Rough Trade. Chris Thacker, the guru of Sounds Radical Records, also loves to package his releases with all sorts of clever packaging and gewgaws, so be sure to buy directly from their website.
The female trio THICK (Nikki Sisti on guitar and vocals, Kate Black on bass, vocals, and guitar, and Shari Page on drums and vocal) has been knocking around Brooklyn for quite a few years, so it’s great to see them finally release a debut album (and on Epitaph, no less). I saw their hyper-energetic live show at Aviv; two other closed DIY venues, Shea Stadium and Palisades, get namedropped in “WHUB,” a song that laments the demise of that scene. THICK’s engaging vocal harmonies recall the Bangles or Dramarama, but their straightforward indie-rock eschews frilliness for thrashy punk rock. The explosive “Fake News” might have been written by Wire (if Donald Trump had been president in 1977,) while “Mansplain” skewers male clichés about women in bands with withering sarcasm. THICK don’t take crap from anybody, even if they do feel like their generation might be approaching its expiration date. And while they might be sick of being told “Have a baby! You’re not an artist!” by hectoring elders, talked down to by men, and being lied to by the government, they’re still ready to have a good time on the Moldy Peaches-like album closer “Party With Me.”
TWO BASE HITS
With St. Patrick’s Day right around the corner, there’s reason to celebrate Spanish Love Songs, whose majestically tortured anthems of perseverance and triumph echo the indelibly Irish-American Ted Leo as well as generations of singer-songwriters in tweed jackets and flat caps. Ever since the release of their debut album Shmaltz, Spanish Love Songs have been inspiring the same sort of rousing crowd affection as a Gaslight Anthem or Titus Andronicus, and I suspect that this is a name you’ll be hearing a lot in the future.
A mere 34 years after their first gig, Bristol, England’s Flatmates are releasing their first full-length album, a delightful throwback showcasing Lisa Bouvier’s giddy vocals and keyboard player Rocker’s barrelhouse organ. The band channels Sixties girl-group pop, the Ramones’ three-chord melodies, and early Blondie, as well as the British Pub Rock sound that morphed into New Wave. And how can you not love song titles like “The Night We Murdered Love,” “Last Guitar In Town,” or “Punk Moth.”
I should probably be chastising Chicago’s Capgun Heroes for being so derivative, but damn if every one of these five singalong pop-punk nuggets doesn’t make me smile. The band variously reincarnates early Queers, the Ramones (of course,) the Copyrights, and Screeching Weasel (or maybe the Riverdales, or maybe both,) and the whole thing will take up about 10 minutes of your time. Well worth the investment.
Other than this Sacramento outfit includes members of The Bananas and Charles Albright, I don’t know much, but they remind me of the East Coast’s Steinways with their boy/girl vocals and deadpan pop-punk style, along with tongue-in-cheek songs like “The Sinister Origins Of Innocent Fun,” the surfy “Taco Tuesday,” and the celebratory “Cockroaches And Coca Cola.” RIYL: The Ergs, The Unlovables, Teenage Bottlerocker
HUMAN IMPULSE – self-titled (self-released)
This Minneapolis trio, featuring veterans of punishing punk-metal acts Ambassador Gun and Path of Destruction, tears through six pummeling examples of how to keep thrash alive without relying on soundalike breakdowns or wanky solos. These 17 minutes will leave you feeling like you’ve just been stomped and pummeled to within an inch of your life in some decrepit back alley… but in a good way.
THREE STRIKES, YOU’RE OUT!
Green Day’s 13th album – reportedly their last for Reprise – also happens to be their shortest, clocking in at under 26 minutes. As someone who still holds a grudge for the hours wasted listening to the Uno!, Dos!, Tres! trilogy, that’s probably the best thing about this collection of boppers, ballads, and throwaway rockers. If American Idiot was Green Day’s Tommy, Father of All… (as it’s being marketed at Walmart) is their jukebox musical, short pop ditties aping everything from “Hippy Hippy Shake” to the Hives retro-garage to rehashed Motown to bluesy Black Keys knockoffs. It’s a mess, some of it (the falsetto-sung title track, for starters) sounding almost nothing like the Green Day of Dookie or even 2016’s Revolution Radio. The album steadfastly avoids politics for nostalgia, arena clap alongs (is it a coincidence that the band just signed a merchandising deal with the NHL?), and quick exits. It’s almost as if Green Day got two minutes into some of these songs and realized there was no reason to take them any further.