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.
NOFX and FRANK TURNER – West Coast vs. Wessex (Fat Wreck Chords)
Here’s a simple idea: Let British folk/punk troubadour Frank Turner and pop-punk court jesters NOFX each cover five of the other’s songs. It works because both artists treat the songs with such respect. Fat Mike and NOFX inject Turner’s songs with their usual pop-punk energy and joie de vivre, while Turner and his folk group The Sleeping Souls layer NOFX’s bare-boned punk tuneage with a more mature delivery and celestial harmonies. Fat Mike is no stranger to atheism, so Turner’s “Glory Hallelujah” (“there was never a god”) makes perfect sense, as does the political screed “Thatcher Fucked The Kids,” whose anti-aging message works seamlessly with ska-punk grooves. But Turner is the real magician here: NOFX’s “Bob” tells the story of a yob who becomes a violent skinhead; Turner turns it into a hymn, while finding hitherto unmined elements of pathos, empathy, and warmth beneath the swagger of deep-dive tracks “Falling In Love” and “Perfect Government.” An A+ effort from two old pros.
BROADWAY CALLS – Sad In The City (Red Scare Industries)
Broadway Calls had finished Sad In The City, the band’s first album in seven years, a month before word leaked out that Chinese tourists had carried the first cases of Covid-19 to the Pacific Northwest, and months before unidentified federal troops would arrive to quash peaceful protest in their hometown of Portland, Oregon. And yet the band managed to write an album about an apocalypse. “As my country collapses, can I crash on your couch?” asks singer Ty Vaughn in the opening notes of an album that infuses sturdy pop-punk melodies and driving rhythms into harrowing tales of paranoia, survival, and resistance. “Radiophobia” chilling prophesies the protests that would tear apart the streets of American cities in the summer of 2020, while “Went Dyin’” seemingly predicts the pandemic that would claim tens of thousands of lives. “Meet Me On The Moon” offers a quick blast of much-needed escapism. This would be a recommended pick in any circumstances, but its prescient encapsulation of our current zeitgeist makes it a Must Hear. A+
KILL LINCOLN – Can’t Complain (Bad Time Records)
These young D.C. rockers put the punk back in ska-punk, with horns and sax that do way more than just blurt along during the catchy whoa-oh choruses. The opening “Greetings From Inner Space” checks all the boxes for the Nineties ska-punk sound and if that’s your thing, you can definitely skank your brains out to this stuff. But Kill Lincoln also get angry – like, really angry – and fast and focused, and it’s not just the usual electric guitars with horns in the background, but trombones and sax playing the riffs and leads on some tracks. I really like what these guys do with this sound, keeping its classic appeal alive while pushing the genre forward. A
THE LAWRENCE ARMS – Skeleton Coast (Epitaph)
If you know the Lawrence Arms – and you really should by now – you’ll be glad you visited Skeleton Coast, the first new album from these Chicago vets since 2014’s Metropole. Bassist Brendan Kelly, guitarist Chris McCaughan, and drummer Neil Hennessy have been banging out first-rate punk together for different labels on their own schedule for over two decades, and they’re clearly not about to stop now. The sound is familiar, with Kelly and McCaughan trading lead vocals over sonic riffs and sturdy mid-western mid-tempo punk, drawing from sea chantys and angsty emo, singalong whoa-oh punk anthems and writerly, Jawbreaker-ish alt-rock. The mature ruminations of “Ghostwriter” segue into a squealing post-adolescent tantrum on “How To Rot.” Animals provide a recurring theme in the lyrics – whales and wolves, pigeons and coyotes, goblins and demons. Fourteen tracks, all but one under three minutes, fly in your face, not a dud in the lot. A
GRIM DEEDS – Pathos (self-released)
Dustin Umberger – the one-man-band home-recording rock ‘n’ roll juggernaut who performs and records as Grim Deeds – seems to release a song a week, and an album a month, and he’s only stepped it up while being stuck home during the pandemic. Pathos collects six originals and “Double Bubble,” a cover originally released on “America’s Favorite Band! A Tribute to The Kung Fu Monkeys.” Nothing here strays far from Grim Deeds’ standard Ramonescore template but things stray just far enough, breaking away from the copycat homages to the Queers, MTX, and Screeching Weasel that sometimes clutter Grim Deeds’ albums. Instead of songs about girls, we get the darker “The Paratrooper,” a tribute to his grandfather who fought in World War II, which recalls Throb Throb-era Naked Raygun. Empowered By Pride” takes a swipe at the self-righteous corona-virus “freedom fighters” who won’t wear a mask because they know better than anyone else, and while it’s hardly prog-rock, “The Unicorn” engages in a bit of epic fantasy. It’s nice to see Grim Deeds challenge himself and stretch a bit, and I can’t wait to hear the three or four new songs that should be in my in-box by the time this column is published. (Shortly after the release of this album, Umberger announced that Grim Deeds would begin an extended hiatus so he can focus on his new project, Bozen!, switching from Ramonescore to romantic power-pop.) A-
JERRY LEHANE – S/T EP (Rum Bar Records)
Thirty years ago, Jerry Lehane fronted the Dogmatics, a lovable Boston bar band whose much-too-short career ended when bassist Paul O’Halloran died in a tragic motorcycle accident. In 1991, between bands, Lehane cut five tracks for a possible new project one night with buddies from Scruffy The Cat, Sacred Cows, the Flies, and other beloved Boston bands of the era. Over the years, Lehane and the remaining Dogmatics have gotten together to gig occasionally and even reunited for an EP in 2019, with Lehane planning to finally release these long-lost tracks along with some new material this year. The Covid lockdown ended that idea, so Rum Bar and Lehane decided to release this EP as-is and test the waters. The Dogmatics held the distinction of being the least serious band on Gerard Cosloy’s Homestead Records, playing sloppy rock ‘n’ roll songs about mean nuns and pool parties on the two short albums they were able to release. “Kiss My Tattoo” and “Fish” here recapture that rock ‘n’ roll spirit, while other tracks find Lehane searching for a more mature vibe, turning to John Fogerty (“Feel Like Dying”) and Paul Westerberg (“All I Can Do”) for inspiration. C’mon, Jerry, the world needs you. A-