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.
FIVE IRON FRENZY – Until This Shakes Apart (self-released)
Ska never really dies, it just slinks back into the underground for a bit before resurfacing again. Bands like NO FX keep going strong with at least one or two ska tunes on every album, and now here’s Five Iron Frenzy – formed in 1995, unheard from since 2013 – back with an album that not only finds inspiration in ska’s danceable syncopation but in the group’s Christian faith as well. Wait, don’t skip to the next review just yet – this isn’t judgmental hypocrisy and holier-than-thou proselytizing: “Tyrannis” lambastes racists who drop Jesus’ name while flying the Confederate flag, “In Through The Out Door” calls out anti-immigrant bigotry, and the reggae-infused “While Supplies Last” excoriates hypocrites who “waste your prayers protecting snipers/while you hoarded all the Lysol and diapers?” Inspirational verse: “f you vote to stop abortions/Damn the pregnant girls and orphans/Blame your decline on the LGBTQ/Offer platitudes not portions/Then your rancor is your fortune/And your poison is what’s poisoning you.” And the best part is that you can play this whole album and not pay a bit of attention to the lyrics and still have a jolly skanking good time.
Thanks to the Pop Punk Message Bored group on Facebook for tipping me off to these Swedish punks, who I can best describe as Ramonescore Meets ABBA. It’s still 1995 as far as Europe’s pop punk scene knows, but this goes above and beyond the usual 4/4 gabba-gabba regurgitation. The melodies explode, and each track has a crazy harmony breakdown that’s breathtaking, even if you don’t speak Swedish and can’t understand a word of it.
As long as we’re in Sweden, let’s check out the latest from Stockholm’s Viagra Boys, alternately inspired, borderline offensive, and brilliant. Infused with hard rock riffs, throbbing post-punk, Krautrock rhythms, and the skronking sax of No Wave NYC, Welfare Jazz takes no prisoners. From its jeering lampoons of country music (including a deconstructed John Prine cover that I totally hate) to blaring post-punk to the weird new-wave hybrid “Shooter,” it’s hard to tell if American-born frontman Sebastian Murphy is satirizing toxic masculinity or simply embracing it. But rest assured Viagra Boys will command your attention, whether you adore it or wind up flinging the LP across the room in rage.
DOUBLES AND TRIPLES
Sam Taylor, a sonic scientist based in Union City, NJ, writes and records as Psychiatric Metaphors (although there’s a live lineup for shows.) This is his fourth album under that name, begun in late 2019 but mostly completed during COVID lockdown. “City Lights” kickstarts these ten tracks with churning post-punk reminiscent of The Fall, with spoken/sung vocals and a chugging barrage of guitars. Taylor’s palette expands to include insane psychedelic guitar sounds and spazzy solos, along with pummeling Goth, Industrial, and Punk influences. The cavernous vocals and wall-of-sound perfectly mesh with the six-minute Spacemen 3 cover, “Revolution,” which takes the track in the direction that Sonic Boom and J.Spaceman would pursue in Spiritualized. A good half of the tracks sound like the soundtrack to a nervous breakdown; I’m guessing those are the ones written during COVID. Best listened to with headphones, loudly.
This single from Chicago’s Counterpunch marks their first new music since 2014, when the band was already a decade old. “Handbook” hits the listener hard, more classic than dated, a frantic indictment of modern society combining Fat Wreck gang vocal harmonies with the finger-wagging melodies and fury of Bad Religion. “We, The Role” hits a more pop-punk note with the kind of anthemic breakdowns that you can imagine driving crowds to stagediving kids into a frenzy at the friendly neighborhood Warped Tour. It’s been crazy how many bands who have been inactive for years have used COVID to inspire comebacks, but I ain’t complaining.
TOTAL MASSACE – “Get Rich Or Try Dying” (self-released)
There used to be a homeless character who roamed the fringes of the Jersey/NYC punk scene named Captain Fun. Shout out to him. The raw-throated lead singer of self-described “”anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist” L.A. punk quartet Total Massacre goes by Cap’n No-Fun, and while the message on “Get Rich Or Try Dying” has certainly been heard before, it’s worth hearing again. Set to a funky Dead Kennedys beat that explodes into a frantic hardcore breakdown, the track reiterates how the system’s stacked against the little guy and always benefits the wealthiest: “You know they could’ve bailed out the banks/and still paid off your mortgage/but what good is making the shareholders whole/if they can’t put the screws to your future?” Good question.