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.
QUARANTINE AGE WASTELAND: A Benefit For Boston’s Small Venues (self-released)
This 30-track compilation offers a substantial mix of established and unknown bands in a variety of styles, and the $15 you’ll donate to download it goes to help Boston clubs struggling to survive the pandemic. Bands you might know include Boston post-punk pioneers Proletariat, ska-punks Big D & The Kids Table, pop-punk vets the Prozacs, and a previously unreleased track from Mikey Erg. I’m even more excited by the excellent tracks from bands I’ve never heard of: In The Meantime mix the Copyrights with Weaselcore, Cook Bag spit out fiery power pop, Mickey Rickshaw deliver frantic ska-punk, Duck & Cover and the Radiator Rattlers channel Op Ivy, the Stigmatics’ “American Dream” packs political punch, … the list goes on and on. The comp throws in some traditional hardcore if you’re the mosh pit type, Oh The Humanity! provides a hit of emo. A few more female voices might have been nice, but Carissa Johnson’s riot-grrl anthem “So Far So Good” had me scrambling to Google what else she’s released, and the Electric Street Queens’ Coco A Go-Go blew me away with her sleazy Seventies street-punk vibe. Great job, great cause.
SONGS FROM QUARANTINE: A Compilation (self-released)
Artists from five different continents and nine different countries contribute to this compilation, curated by Sara Barry of the Asbury Park band Teen Idle. Proceeds benefit the World Health Organization’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. You might not recognize any of these 13 artists (I’m only familiar with Asbury’s Deal Casino,) but it’s fascinating to hear bands from France, Egypt, Switzerland or China respond to the pandemic in their own way. Styles lean heavily to electro-pop and shoegaze; the vibe is chill, ethereal, and spacey, with the exception of Max Connery’s tongue-in-cheek “I Did Acid With Caroline.” Nothing here remotely qualifies as punk, but it’s worth checking out.
2nd GRADE – HIT TO HIT (Double Double Whammy Records)
There’s a lot of Buddy Holly and a bit of “Buddy Holly” and quite a lot of Alex Chilton in the two dozen fleeting tracks on 2nd Grade’s second album. Frontman and songwriter Peter Gill did the first 2nd Grade album by himself; here, he’s joined by a proper band. Few of these 24 tracks last two minutes, and most of them seem like ideas rather than full-fledged songs, which is a pity; there are some wonderful ideas here. Gill distills the difference between childish and childlike; he looks at the world with innocence and wonder: The anticipation of summer, the freedom of a bike ride, or just the joy of making noise with his band. “Boys In Heat” could be a lost Big Star demo, “When You Were My Sharona” offers 88 seconds of perfect power-pop. Part of me wants these songs to linger a bit longer, but then I realize that Gill wouldn’t be able to fit 24 of them on an album if they did. If Brian Wilson and Adam Schlesinger had a son, he’d write songs like 2nd Grade.
PEZZATI – “Pezzati The First EP” (self-released)
Given Naked Raygun’s importance to the evolution of Midwestern punk rock, and the fact that the band has only performed and recorded sporadically since its 2006 reunion, it’s surprising that singer Jeff Pezzati is only now self-releasing his first solo record on Bandcamp. Described as songs that Pezzati has long played for friends but never felt right about releasing before, the 5-song EP offers a different side of the combustible, confrontational frontman. The tracks sound strikingly different, from the symphonic, fully realized “Make Me Whole (Chinese Wall Song)” and “Chromatic Song” to the lo-fi but rousing “It’s Too Late,” which could have been a Tascam demo for a new Raygun track. “Ipcress File,” an instrumental homage to the Sixties spy thriller starring Michael Cain, features what sounds like a recorder and electronic drums. “Retro Girl” barely sounds like Pezzati and certainly doesn’t sound like Raygun; again, it’s a romantic pop song, recorded as a lo-fi demo with synth drums. The EP merits a listen even if the sound of Jeff Pezzati’s voice doesn’t trigger the powerful memories it does for me.
POP UPS, DRAG BUNTS, SINGLE BAGGERS
DORKATRON / 7 YEARS BAD LUCK – Split CD (Monster Zero)
European Ramonescore rages on with these two 100% Austrian bands who both sing in English and can whoa-oh with the best of them. Dorkatron live up to their name with poppy songs about robots, hall monitors, and the perils of shop class, and will appeal to fans of Teenage Bottlerocket / Riverdalesschool of pop-punk. 7 Years Bad Luck pack a bit more grit, with growlier vocals, coarser guitars, and faster tempos, right in the Screeching Weasel zone. Both bands can seem a bit rote unless you really love this genre, but both have a couple of standout songs that make this a bargain.
THE UNFIT – S/T (Share It Music)
Seattle’s Unfit met in high school and struggled through eight years of crappy gigs and sporadic recordings before releasing this first full-length. Cleary influenced by hometown heroes like Mudhoney and Nirvana, the band also has a Mark E. Smith chip on its shoulder which serves it well. But you’d think with that much time to work out material that there’d be a bit more in the way of distinctivesolos or hooks. Every track here sounds pretty much the same. I hear echoes of everything from Angry Samoans to Naked Raygun, which is fine, but to paraphrase Gore Vidal, being pissed off is no longer enough.
CIRCUS BATTALION – Scumming Attractins (self-released)
Beantown gutterpunk in the style of the early Queers with Wimpy, or Florida’s Pink Lincolns – loud, fast, and snotty, emphasis on the snot. Frontman Mike McMahon sounds like he smokes way too much and doesn’t like you. “Plutonium Field Boy” might seem like Bad Religion song title but it and the other four tracks here attack your ears more like the Descendents with a bad attitude. The band calls itself “the soundtrack to the Trump Apocalypse,” to which I say: It’s about time punk started sounding pissed off again.