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.
ROUND EYE – Culture Shock Treatment (Paper+Plastick)
This international coterie of ex-pats who have chosen Shanghai as their home have nonetheless managed to create a second album of rollicking, raucous political punk, this one produced by Mike Watt, mixed by Bill Stephenson, and released by Less Than Jake’s Vinnie Fiorello. If those credentials don’t impress, the music should, a caterwauling concatenation of squawking sax, gonzo vocals, noisy guitars, and anarchic rhythms that sound like Jello Biafra, NOMEANSNO, the Minutemen and Iceage jamming on Captain Beefheart songs in Iggy Pop’s basement. In other words, this will blow your mind.
What you have here is one degree of separation from Ian MacKaye; he’s teamed up with his life and musical partner in The Evens, Amy Farina, and his Fugazi bandmate Joe Lally, forming a trio that both draws from but expands upon those previous groups. Ian MacKaye’s voice remains one of the most instantly recognizable instruments in – okay, I’ll say it – all of contemporary music, and his singing has both mellowed and improved over the years. From his screaming in Minor Threat to belting out angular funk in Fugazi to the intimacy and introspection of The Evens, MacKaye has matured in front of our eyes, from The World’s Angriest Teenager who scolded his peers about drinking and drugs to a nuanced vocalist and surprisingly inventive guitarist who works strikingly well with others. The loping syncopation of reggae and dub looms large here, as does Fugazi’s predilection for furious bursts of staccato post-punk. But Coriky does so much more, as on the haunting uncertainty of “Have A Cup Of Tea” or the sense of tired resignation and disgust that informs “Inauguration Day,” which begins quietly erupts into a crescendo of guitar fury worthy of Sonic Youth. MacKaye joked that all the good band names had been taken and called this project Coriky precisely because the word meant nothing. The music, however, is another story.
The album was supposed to be released on vinyl for Record Store Day back in April, but Record Store was postponed because of the pandemic so the band decided to release it digitally in late June, only a few months after the universally admired Mind Hive. Not bad for a bunch of geezers who have been upending expectations since “12XU” in 1977. The album consists of two sessions, recorded in 2010 and 2020 respectively (hence the title). The band has described these songs as “strays,” or “new old songs,” written over the length of the band’s career but either never released or substantially improved by live performance and rerecorded. You can listen to 10:20 as another welcome Wire album (their 17th!) or as a sampler of the band’s changing approaches and styles over the last four decades; either way, it’s marvelous. Wire completists could bore you annotating evolution of each of these tracks, but why bother? Just enjoy the band’s cerebral lyrics, motorik rhythms, jarring nervousness, or serene ambiance, each track creating its own atmosphere, personality, and mood. You can hear in these tracks the evolution of post-punk and ideas that have influenced dozens of your favorite bands, but there’s really nothing like the original.
TWO BASE HITS
THE REAL McKENZIES – Beer And Loathing (Fat Wreck Chords)
I hate bagpipes and have enjoyed a lifelong antipathy towards Irish/Scottish folk music, so why do I enjoy the latest album from Celtic punks The Real McKenzies (who, to complicate things further, actually hail from Canada?). In case you’re not confused enough, the band also records for pop-punk label Fat Wreck but hews much closer to the archetypal Epitaph sound of Bad Religion. The parts of the album I’ll skip in the future consist of the sea chanties and drinking songs that represent the band’s Celtic roots, while the fast, punky songs like “Beer And Loathing” (great title, by the way,) “Nary Do Gooder,” and the Bad Religion-ish “Death Of The Winnipeg Scene,” “36 Barrels” (which, in a Bad Religion song, would be a protest song about petroleum but here, I think, concerns rum,) and despite the title, “The Ballad Of Cpl. Hornburg.” “The Cremation Of Sam McGee” was an epic poem by the Alaskan Bard Robert Service, which my boyhood idol Jean Shepherd used to read on the radio; the McKenzies have set the poem to music, transforming it into a Pogues-like ballad, which is pretty effing cool.
POP ICONS – “Prelude” EP (self-released)
This likable trio delivers five tracks of fist-pumping pop-punk in the Lookout! style on their debut EP. I’m guessing these mooks like the Copyrights, the Ergs, and the Dopamines, although they might not know any of those bands living in Phoenix. There’s definitely an art to delivering a decent couple of verses and a catchy chorus in under two minutes, although the best song here clocks in at a lengthy 3:20, and I can close my eyes and visualize the crowd at Insubordination Fest pointing fingers in the air and moshing insanely to it. You’re going to have to settle for Bandcamp, but you should listen anyway.
POP FLIES, GROUND OUTS, CAUGHT LOOKING
SECOND ARROWS – S/T (Hellminded Records)
Featuring current and former members of Jersey underground legends Deadguy, Every Time I Die, Nora, and Ensign, Second Arrows certainly deserves respect, even if the band’s self-titled debut falls short of its stated goal “to create something entirely new, more than just the sum of its parts.” While densely layered and unrelentingly aggressive, even when tracks slow down to a sludgy doom-metal churn, Second Arrows sound like they’d be a riveting live band (as was Deadguy) but never approach anything remotely unique or innovative. The album was produced and recorded by Kevin Antreassian (Dillinger Escape Plan) which makes perfect sense; to paraphrase Thomas Hobbes, it’s nasty, brutish, and at eight songs, short, but nothing that anyone with a wallet chain, a Voivod tattoo, and an Unsane cassette hasn’t heard before.