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.
No time to waste on weak swings, pop ups, Baltimore chops, or even sacrifice bunts. Register to vote, figure out how and where and when you will vote, and then enjoy these HOME RUNS.
SOULSIDE – “This Ship”/”Madeleine Said” (Dischord)
It’s been over 30 years since Soulside (or Soul Side) last released a new record, but after a stint of successful live reunions, the group surprised the world with this single (which includes the bonus track “Survival” with the download.) Three-fourths of Soulside went on to form the successful post-punk (and briefly major label) band Girls Against Boys, while frontman Bobby Sullivan went on to sing in Seven League Boots, Rain Like The Sound of Trains, and Sevens (with his brother Mark.) As remarkable as a reunion of the original four members might seem (the band formed as D.C. high school students as Lunchmeat all the way back in 1985,) these three songs show that the band’s creative chemistry has survived time and distance. “This Ship,” with its throbbing intensity and polyrhythmic beat, brings echoes of D.C.’s Revolution Summer and Fugazi. Sullivan’s voice retains its youthful urgency, while a maelstrom of noisy guitars and thrashing drums bring explosive energy to the party. “Madeleine” has a sinuous D.C. postpunk sound reminiscent of Jawbox, while “Survival” adds an unexpected layer of melody, with Sullivan channeling Bad Religion’s Greg Gaffin. If you were afraid this would disappoint, fear not. Soulside are back; hope for more.
BLOODY YOUR HANDS – Sunday Scaries (self-released)
While the chunky chords and rambunctious melody of “Checked Out” might qualify as punk, this third full-length from Brooklyn’s Bloody Your Hands transcends genres and easy labeling. It’s nothing short of a masterpiece of melodic, heartfelt, and angst-ridden millennial indie-rock, questioning the basic tenets of adulthood while grappling with loneliness and lost. Like so much music that’s come out during the pandemic, the album might have been written before our current crisis but resonates with the anxiety, sadness, and longing that six months of COVID has wrought. Jameson Edwards (vocals, guitars, keys), Mike Horaz (drums, vocals, percussion) and John Walsh (bass, vocals, keys) couldn’t be more in sync, using unusual time signatures and chord changes to infuse a distinctness into each of these 10 tracks, with Nineties grunge and early 21st century emo as templates. From high energy, gang vocal’d singalongs like “The Way They Fall” and “Drunk Forenics” to the tender acoustic ballad “Hitchhiker” to the bright sunshiney pop-punk of set closer “The Problem,” it all works. This is an album I’ll been coming back to when it’s time to write up my year-end best-of list.
While some of the antipodean jokes from Melbourne, Australia’s Catholic Guilt might fly over American heads, couldn’t this lyric be about Brooklyn? “And in the streets to the North, the hipsters are trawling alleyways trying to find the next hip spot before it becomes passe’/And in the laneways to the South, the once cool drown their sorrows away as they ponder into their craft brew when their life became so safe?” Music is indeed a universal language, especially when accompanied by strong melodies, eloquent lyrics, harmonious gang vocals, and powerful but unintrusive guitars. Catholic Guilt tend to get thrown into the folk-punk pile next to the Frank Turners of the world, but I’m hearing a talented, sincere, and altogether convincing punk band here, with strong elements of melodic millennium emo but perfectly palatable to fans of the Bouncing Souls or Against Me!
As a fanzine guy throughout the 80’s and 90’s, I got to review almost everything on the Lookout! label, back to the first Green Day singles. But I have very little recollection of the Potatomen, originally comprised of label owners Larry Livermore and Patrick Hynes, along with a young intern named Chris Appelgren. (Appelgren would wind up owning the label after Hynes and Livermore’s departure, while later incarnations of the band included other drummers and musicians.) Compared to labelmates like the aforementioned Green Day, Screeching Weasel, Mr. T Experience (and later, the Donnas, Ted Leo, and Kepi Ghouli,) the Potatomen do not loom large in the Pop Punk canon, with many contemporary observers dismissing them as sounding too much like the Smiths. But now Don Giovanni Records has plans to reissue the band’s back catalog, and to start things off, this album offers some never-heard Potatomen tracks as an appetizer, including 2001 demos of the band woodshedding songs for a never-completed album.
If Toytown turns out to be your introduction to the Potatomen, you might be surprised to learn that its principals were fully-formed adults, not aspiring teens still stuck in that stage when one’s muse tends to be a reflection of favorite influences. Of the 2001 demos, the winsome, nostalgic “Toytown” embraces the band’s Morrissey crush, “I Fell In Love” and “The Beautiful & The Damned” channel 60’s doo wop and Buddy Holly, and “The Loneliest Boy In The World” (which could and should be about Morrissey) actually sounds like a homage to Ralph McTell’s “Streets Of London.” The punkiest song on the album, “Empty Inside,” also connects to Livermore’s early love of Hank Williams, with a hootenanny feel.
The collection concludes with three covers: The fairly obscure “Trinidad” by Brent’s TV, the slightly less obscure (but for Lookout! fans, beloved ) “Debra Jean” by the Queers, and Morrissey’s signature “Every Day is Like Sunday .” “Trinidad” boasts a live immediacy, while “Debra Jean” connects the dots between Joe Queer and Dion & The Belmonts. “Every Day Is Like Sunday,” has an almost New Romantic/Shoegaze vibe, quite unlike anything else here, as if Larry fell asleep watching Duran Duran videos and wrote this in his dreams. Slowly but surely, thanks to labels like Don Giovanni Records and Chris Thacker’s Sounds Rad, many of the gaps in the Lookout! catalog are being filled in. This album makes a nice addition.
Any sucker for power-pop needs the summery blast of this third album from San Francisco’s Cocktails. The big hooks and catchy melodies start from the first notes of “Bun E. Carlos,” the band’s buoyant paean to the Cheap Trick drummer. The band touches on the wistfulness nostalgia of pandemic lockdown (“Nobody’s Going To The Movies,”) invokes a bit of the Clash on the punky “Janeland,” strikes up a jaunty country vibe on “Washoe County,” and adds a bit of Big Star jangle to the regretful “Take It Back.”