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.
On the cusp of their 30th anniversary, the Bouncing Souls have revisited ten of their most beloved songs, reinventing them with different tempos, beats, instrumentation, and arrangements. The effect is not unlike sitting around a campfire with friends and banging out everyone’s favorite songs on an acoustic guitar; it’s the true and original meaning of folk music, which is songs sung by the people. No band merits or benefits from this treatment more than the Souls, whose audience singalongs have been a staple of their live experience going back to the days when they were still tossing toilets off roofs in New Brunswick, NJ. Stripped of the thundering electric guitars and drums, the poignancy and romanticism of the lyrics come to the fore. I said a long time ago that these guys were poets in torn jeans and denim jackets. Vol. 2 lets you discover the Bouncing Souls for the first time all over again.
2019’s exuberant, gang-vocal’d Morbid Stuff propelled Toronto’s PUP to minor commercial success and award consideration in their native Canada, as well as critical plaudits in the U.S. Five unreleased songs from those sessions comprise this 6-song EP, with one new track, “Rot,” which finds frontman Stefan Babcock’s well-chronicled self-loathing coursing through his body like an infection. “If I’m being honest with myself, nothing ever changes,” Babcock sings on “Nothing Changes,” but clearly things do change, not the least Babcock himself. Where once PUP championed crazy nights of stoned revelry, the more sober and serious songs on “This Place Sucks Ass” remind us that there’s always a morning after, and a price to pay. Of course these songs weren’t included on Morbid Stuff, they would have wrecked the vibe; but now, after eight months of a pandemic that’s killed thousands and wrecked economies, they make perfect sense: “Well isn’t it great?” Babcock asks on “Rot.” “I’m doing something productive with my self-destruction.”
TWO BASE HITS
Since Christmas shopping season seem to start mid-October these days, here’s a timely Yuletide themed punk record from Mike Patton (the one from SoCal’s Vista Blue.) Mike and his pals have written and recorded a dozen tracks of bouncy pop-punk based on Jean Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story,” the movie everybody watches at least a dozen times every December. The songs vary from catchy power-pop to that Lookout Records-style Ramonescore (Queers, Screeching Weasel,) with titles like “I’m Gonna Get An A+ On My Theme,” “I Don’t Want Your Tinker Toys,” and (my favorite,) “I Won’t Shoot My Eye Out.” It’s fast (many songs clock in at under a minute, none more than 2:50,) fun, and just the thing to put you in the mood while you’re painting reindeer and mistletoe on your N95 masks.
It’s been often asked why the Trump administration hasn’t inspired more of an upswell in protest songs, particularly in the punk and hardcore undergrounds. Dead End America answer with four blasts (and about six minutes) of unrestrained fury, disgust, and vituperation. Poison Idea drummer Steve “Thee Slayer Hippy” Hanford (who passed away just before the EP was finished) came up with the idea of a thrash-metal diatribe against Trumpism; he recruited a who’s who of loud, fast, angry music – Tony Avila, Ian Watts, Blaine Cook, and Nick Oliveri. Together they scream, thrash, and unapologetically proclaim what many of us have been thinking for the last four years, from the brutal “Bullet for 45 (Straight From A .45,”) featuring Eyehategod’s Mike IX Williams on vocals, to the disgusted “Twitter Troll” and the furious “Searching For a Reason.” This is the Dead Kennedys on steroids and Adderall, an ugly, passionate, and completely exhilarating record for these troubled times.
This Dayton, OH trio, fronted by siblings Nick and Kayla Hamby, may be the only band whose RIYL includes the Misfits, Sleater-Kinney, and Rotterdam’s Lone Wolf. Alternating male and female lead vocals, they remind me a bit of Lemuria too, writing catchy, vibrant punk and power-pop that often has a Halloween-y sub-text. I prefer the band’s bouncier, lighter side than the darker, heavier tracks, like “No Fun Summer,” “Deep Inside Your Heart Of Hearts,” and the band’s giddy theme song, although “Book Of Shadows” (at 3:10, the longest song on the album) does have a certain spooky savoir fare. This is a band that warrants future attention.
Dustin Umberger, who you might know as the prolific one-band pop-punk band Grim Deeds, has started Laptop Punk Records, where he releases singles by artists of a similar ilk as one-dollar downloads on Bandcamp. So far, Laptop Punk has graced us with “Repture,” a blast of dissonant streetpunk from Japan’s Stupid Plots; the Fastbacks’ Kim Warnick covering Blondie’s “Sunday Girl;” Boise, ID’s The State Streeters rocking out to “Don’t Be A Dick;” Indonesia’s Saturday Night Karaoke doing the Screeching Weasel-ish “Pandemic Generation;” and Long Island’s Rocky Rochelle (of The Young Rochelles) with the hypersonic “Don’t Sweat The Smallpox.” Umberger promises lots more to come at laptoppunkrecords.bandcamp.com.