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.
In celebration of the Yankees’ imminent 28th World Series victory, we’re only reviewing Home Runs this month. Enjoy!
ATTIC SALT – Get Wise (Jump Start Records)
There’s nothing not to like on this second album from Springfield, IL’s Attic Salt. Guitarists Alyssa Currie and Andy Harmon take turns on lead vocals, each providing their own sonic template for the band’s catchy, driving, upbeat melodies. Even when the lyrics wax forlorn, these songs will make you feel better, with the kind of poppy insouciance I remember fondly from the quirky Nineties bands that flit passionately (if uncommercially) between punk and indie. RIYL Discount, Lemuria, Worriers, The Measure (SA).
MOVING TARGETS – Humbucker (Dead Broke Rekerds)
In 1986, a damn fine year for music, Moving Targets’ debut Burning In Water ranked as my top album of the year, so it’s thrilling to hear the band back and still making vital, moving music that connects the dots between punk, metal, prog, and indie-rock. Singer/guitarist Kenny Chambers, the sole link between the band’s 1981 origins and its current incarnation, never found the same critical acclaim or commercial success as some of his contemporaries, but his music – to an adoring if miniscule coterie of critics and fans – represented the missing link between Boston’s ambitiously arty Mission Of Burma and those avatars of Midwestern rock, the Replacements and Husker Du. Humbucker, which follows 2019’s comeback Wires, delivers 15 unrelenting tracks without a dud in the bunch, with guitars and vocals unmistakably inspired by punk’s ferocious strum and yowl, yet subtly incorporating myriad other influences, from lightning-infused technical solos to dense prog-rock textures to infectious power-pop melody. The finale, “Jam In C,” suggests Marillion jamming with the Live At Leeds-era Who.
LOST IN SOCIETY – “Love And War” EP (Wiretap Records)
Asbury Park, NJ’s Lost In Society released a tasty Clash covers EP a few months ago, and now return with a 5-song collection of raw-throated punk rock fury written and recorded during the pandemic. Lost In Society deliver fist-pumping singalong catchiness delivered with the rawness and technical proficiency that used to be the hallmark of NJ’s Mutha Records. “We Want Change” combines BLM movement frustration, political indignation, and chanted gang vocals into the sort of pointed finger anthem that Bad Religion cranks out, while the catchy whoa-oh chorus of “Prescribed Paranoia” infuses the proceedings with rowdy pop-punk bon homie. The band slows things down and stretches out for the 5-minute closer “Stubborn,” where a broken heart rather than a clenched fist consumes singer Zach Moyle. Lost In Society have been an overlooked buried treasure in the sands of the Jersey shore for far too long.
SATURDAY’S HEROES – Turn Up The Music (Lovely)
The best punk band from Finspång, Sweden is back with seven tracks of rousing street punk, with a little unabashed cultural appropriation from the likes of Bouncing Souls and Dropkick Murphys. There’s the obligatory punk-rock sea chanty in “Seven Seas,” and a rousing coming of age anthem that’s part Pogues, part Clash. There might not be anything terribly original about Saturday’s Heroes, from the sonic guitars to their spirited gang vocals to the folk-influenced lyrics, but these Swedish pretenders to the punk rock throne have learned their lessons well.
THE AQUABATS! – Kooky Spooky… In Stereo (self-released)
Everyone’s favorite superhero ska/punk cartoon band might seem silly, but these mooks managed to crowdfund a cool $900,000 to pay for two full-length albums and 13 webisodes of “The Aquabats! Super Show!” Now just in time for Halloween, there’s Kooky Spooky… In Stereo, in which Devo meets Spike Lee meets “The Munsters Theme.” And while there’s certainly a time and place for angsty and cathartic and political protest music during a pandemic, a few laughs can’t hurt either. While tracks like the surfy “Nobody Lives Forever!,” the danceable ska/punk “Aliens And Monsters!,” and the horn-driven “Pajamazon!” (about staying home in pajamas forever) certainly make for delightful children’s music, adults (at least this one) will enjoy this nonsense too. RIYL Kepi Ghoulie, Weird Al, Reel Big Fish
HEAP – “HEAP EP” (Rave On Records)
Back in the mid-Nineties, when the Lower East Side still boasted enough cool little clubs to nurture a rock scene and nobody went to Brooklyn if they didn’t live there, Tim Heap and his band HEAP seemed part of the landscape, one of those amiable local bands that’d pop up on any given night and reliably deliver a nice set of cowpunk tunes and maybe a couple of clever covers. Now, produced by Eric “Roscoe Ambel,” Tim and the boys are back with this 3-song EP of amiable Hootenanny-ish rock, with big swaggering guitars and old-fashioned rock hooks and Heap’s amiable vocals, still firmly rooted in a romantically scruffy New York City that hasn’t really existed for decades. Not sure if anyone under 40 remembers Roberto Duran, but HEAP kicks off the EP with “No Mas,” turning Duran’s immortal epithet into a metaphor for failed romance. On “Renting,” Heap conflates life on the skids with the impermanence of a short-term lease: “We’re all renting and someday/Somebody’s gonna take our place.” The shit-kickin’ “You Remind Me Of Me” – part Johnny Thunders and part Hayes Carll – closes things out like that last bourbon on a Tuesday night at the Lakeside Lounge… a memory, but one well worth savoring.
SKULL DRUG – “Common Drugs” EP (self-released)
For something more on the hardcore/thrash tip, check out Phoenix, AZ’s Skull Drug, a musical punch in the lip whose style of furious, pissed off, rapidfire thrash whisked me back to the epic days of ABC No Rio hardcore. A ten year veterans of the all-ages trenches, singer/guitarist Evan Williams snarls and snaps with guttural fury, but despite the speed and volume and impressive guitarwork of his bandmates, his lyrics hit home. “Asthenia” reminded me of the stinging political invective of Born Against: “A nation divided, a world that’s stopped trying/A megalomania that’s horrifying/ Gripping to fear, I can see it so clear WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE?!” Equally powerful, “Prose For Fucking Cons” (I think “cons” stands for Congress) features a start/stop passage that will raise the hairs on the back of your neck: “Fed fables for breakfast, white lies are for lunch/And denial for dinner, good to be the winners/Policing the planet, but I’ve got a hunch/This potemkin party has poisoned the punch.” Get your mind melted and check this out.