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.
Modern Hut – I Don’t Want To Get Adjusted To This World (Don Giovanni)
Like Bill Callahan or Jeffrey Lewis, Joe Steinhardt sings as if he can barely be bothered to carry a tune, yet feels a desperate need to unburden his soul. This second album by Modern Hut finds Steinhardt (the poobah of Don Giovanni Records) again collaborating with Melissa Paternoster (of Screaming Females,) who adds vocals, guitars, and co-produced. Mostly spare and acoustic, with a few more fleshed-out tracks near the end, I Don’t Want To Get Adjusted To This World takes us into Joe Steinhardt’s mind, a dark and foreboding place. No fan of similes or conceits, three of the album’s eight tracks begin with the word “I,” one is an instrumental, one tells us how he feels about a disappointing partner, and one is a cover. Without Paternoster’s contributions, the album would sound like an old crackpot sitting in the corner with an acoustic guitar, muttering about old grievances. Her vocals add warmth and depth, and when she unleashes her magnificent guitar skills, the album soars. “I Don’t Want To Get Adjusted To This World” might sound like sarcastic millennial bitching, the title track is actually an old gospel song that Steinhardt and Paternoster perform with surprising sincerity and feeling. Only a true iconoclast can take you to church and mean it.
Goin’ Places – “Better Things To Do” EP (Mom’s Basement Records)
Lending credence to the theory not much happens on Staten Island, Goin’ Places formed in 2000, released an album in 2012, and now return with this EP. Collectors can spring for the lathe-cut 7-inch, but regular fans would be better served to stream or download these three quick, catchy pop-punk gems, that really make you question why these three mooks waited so long. “Been away for a long time, but now we’re back again,” they croon on “Save The World,” before ramping up the speed and volume to proclaim “we’re gonna save the world with rock ‘n’ roll.” The call and response vocals are textbook Insub Fest-era pop-punk – think Groovie Ghoulies, Beatnik Termites – as is the big smile this song will put on your face. “Better Things To Do” offers more of the same good stuff, along with a punchy one-string solo, and the guys wrap things up with “Instru Mental,” which is – yes – an instrumental with a nice lead guitar line and a cool stop/start rhythm.
Less Than Jake – Silver Linings (Pure Noise)
Released in December, Less Than Jake first full-length in seven years slipped under the radar for many, including me. The departure of founding drummer/lyricist Vinnie Fiorello might have been daunting, but the ageless Florida ska/punks’ have been touring and knocking out EP’s regularly, and now Silver Linings establishes that the horn-fueled collective remains as punchy and fun as their 1995 debut or early-2000’s heyday. Lyrically, the songs have shifted from adolescent hi-jinks and angst to the travails of adulthood, tackling mature topics like depression, lethargy, and self-destructive behavior. A few slower tracks like “Lost At Home” and “So Much Less” provide a respite from the breakneck tempos, but mostly this is Less Than Jake only ever-so-much-more-so: The horn arrangements fit seamlessly into the tracks, the guitars still provide gusto, the vocal harmonies entwine effortlessly. It’s rare that I’d recommend a band’s ninth album as a starting point, but whether you’re an old fan or completely new to Less Than Jake, Silver Linings won’t disappoint.
TWO BASE HITS
LOCKED IN – “Not Dead Yet” EP (Epidemic Records)
One unexpected consequence of the COVID pandemic has been the return from hiatus of bands after long periods – sometimes decades – of dormancy. Apparently that’s as true in Europe as here, as evidenced by the Italian hardcore band Locked In, back after seven years with this 5-song EP. Just as Italy has a legion of pop-punk bands rocking Ramonescore like it’s still 1995, Locked In inhabits that period in the early Eighties when the NYC hardcore scene made a hard right turn towards metal. The throbbing low end and unrelentingly throaty fury of the vocals hit familiar notes, although “Dying City” features a quiet break that stands out before the psychotic chugga-chugga strikes up again. Molto forte, molto arrabiato, molto veloce. If you’re still listening to Agnostic Front and Sick Of It All, by all means check this out.
OUT OF LEFT FIELD
Worm Quartet – “The Pac-Man EP” (Needlejuice Records)
You’ll find this under a different, much longer title on Spotify, because the streaming service wouldn’t host an “EP” with 11 tracks (!). Worm Quartet is actually a guy from Rochester, NY named Shoebox who creates crazy synth-driven novelty pop, akin to chiptune and nerdcore but really a force unto its own (and a favorite of Dr. Demento.) “The Pac-Man” EP consists of five new songs and “stuff” – remixes, funny intro’s and outro’s, and a full-length version of the music you hear playing Pac-Man – and it’s not only laugh-out-loud funny, but also surprisingly musical (especially the duet with nerdcore vet Devo Spice). Part Looney Tunes, part Lewis Carroll, part parody, part lunacy, Worm Quartet will make you smile and bob your head. Win/win.
BACK TO THE MINORS
Roger That! – Mucho Gusto (Tee Pee Records)
Featuring former members of Mirror Queen, The Pink Swords, Bunkbed and Widestance (yeah, me neither,) Roger That! play painfully dated NYC rawk that sounds like one of the Dictators’ weaker albums only wankier. Recommended if you think Hot In The Shade is the best Kiss album.