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.
THE QUEERS – Save The World (All Star Records)
It’s almost as if Joe King had himself cryogenically frozen in 1995 and occasionally thawed to tour or release a new album. This first new Queers album in a decade recycles everything that made us love (and fret over) the band back in its Lookout Records heyday, which includes not just endearing power-pop melodies, doowop harmonies, self-deprecating humor, and fist-pumping Ramonescore singalongs, but an uncompromising dose of boneheaded misogyny. The good far outweighs the questionable, though; “My Heart’s In The Right Place,” “If I Had A Girl Like You,” and “Let The Rain Wash Away My Tears” rank among the best pop songs in the Queers catalog. “Nightmare To Deal With” apotheosizes that catchy Lookout pop-punk sound, a couple of goofy novelty tunes supply the laughs, and “We Love Our Fans” could finally replace “Fuck The World (I’m Hanging Out With You Tonight)” as the band’s set closer, once bands like this can tour again.
TWO BASE HITS
The Биты – Johnny Ramone Was A Bad Boy (self-released)
Pronounced “The Bity,” these Ukrainian punks pay homage to their favorite band with short, fast, and appropriately snotty odes like “Ramones Loved Beatles,” “I Slept With Joey Ramone,” and “Dee Dee Wants A High.” They rewrite the lyrics to Simon & Garfunkle’s “Mrs. Robinson” as “Mr. Joey Ramone,” and cover the poignant “Don’t Worry About Me,” which Joey finished for his first solo album while dying of cancer. It’s easy to dismiss this as a one-note joke but listen to the whole thing and it actually works as Ramonescore, with some very nice hooks and melodies along with the trademark “woh-oh-oh’s.” Dig deeper on The Bity’s Bandcamp page and you’ll find over a hundred (!) other albums, including some excellent Ramonescore compilations and tribute albums to Screeching Weasel, the Donnas, GG Allin, Lemmy, and the Rolling Stones (to name but a few.)
MUCK AND THE MIRES – Welcome to Muckingham Palace (Dirty Water Records)
Delayed (like so much 2020 music) by COVID, this latest full-length from Boston’s pre-eminent garage-punks proves worth the wait. Muck & The Mires might be retro-rockers but they’re not specificists; they happily plunder the Monkees, Sixties garage, “Shake Some Action,” early Beatles, Them, and the Ramones. Is this punk? Well, it’s certainly rock ‘n’ roll, and it’s one of the happiest, most energetic, non-stop entertaining albums I’ve heard all year. Nuff said.
THE JASONS / BLACK RUSSIANS – Split EP (Mom’s Basement Records)
I don’t know who these guys really are, but this fun 7-inch serves up six tracks (four on the digital version) from two fake bands: The Jasons, hockey-masked cretins from “Camp Crystal Lake, NJ,” and the Black Russians, who promote Stalinism through pop-punk. It’s also sort of a Battle of The Bands, since the Jasons start with “Kill A Commie For Mommy” and the Black Russians come right out with, “Kill The Jasons.” All foolishness aside, both bands blurt out some quality tuneage if you’re into fast, loud, and catchy, with the Jasons leaning more towards the Lillingtons and the BR’s to the Riverdales (albeit with more gravelly vocals.) Cold War jokes and shtick aside, both bands seem worth checking out for pop-punk fans, especially if you like your whoa-oh-oh’s accompanied by rapid-fire solos and sonic guitars.
A BUNCH OF JERKS – “The Dead EP” (Rum Bar Records)
Three tracks of sleazy fun from these Beantown goofballs, fronted by the trashy femme fatale Stabby and, as usual, charting a retro-rock course through decades of rock ‘n’ roll detritus. “The Dead” arrives a bit too late for Halloween but offers a spooky vibe that lands somewhere between Patti Smith and The Runaways, “Chad” has a Shangri-La’s vibe with surf guitars, and the band reverently covers Alice Cooper’s “No More Mr. Nice Guy” with punky aplomb. Their back catalog offers plenty of fun tunes along with clever covers, check ‘em out.
HAPPY – Imposter Syndrome (Rude Records)
This bass-less South Carolinian trio focuses on mental health, giving their emo pop a distinctive perspective. “Liarliar,” “Sick Is The New Sane,” “Background Noise,” and “A Cure For Wellness” preach that feeling bad is okay and normal. On their second full-length, following 2018’s well-received Cult Classic, the band hews closely to the template laid down by Saves The Day – boyish vocals, catchy melodies, upbeat sincerity, providing a “how-to” manual for troubled adolescence. There’s even a track called “Afterschool Special,” which Alanis Morrisette would probably call ironic.