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.
Mikey Erg – S/T (Rad Girlfriend Records)
Does it mean anything that Mikey Erg waited for his third solo album to dub it the self-titled one? True, the Velvet Underground did the same thing; but so did friggin’ Sublime. It’s been over a decade since Mike Yannich’s namesake trio The Ergs called it quits, and the man has not only played and toured with dozens of other bands since then, but pursued a solo career doggedly enough to sustain himself as a professional musician while never straying far from the pop-punk underground that spawned him. Mikey Erg doubles down on who Mike Yannich is and where he came from, a homage of sorts to the bands who came before and paved the way, recorded with frequent collaborators Fid and Chris Pierce. After two albums in which Mikey stretched his Elvis Costello singer-songwriter chops, Ergs fans will delight in the unabashed pop-punk of “Can’t Be Too Careless,” “Hey Marissa” and “Rumblestrip” (whose squiggly lead guitar line recalls Ergs guitarist Jeff Schroeck.) Other tracks invoke early influences like Black Flag and the Descendents, with five tracks clocking in at less than two minutes; there’s a tribute to Denny Bartlett of Sicko, and a cover of Green Day’s early-career “Going To Pasalacqua.” The one outlier is “God Mic,” an introspective ballad with just acoustic guitar and Heidi Vanderlee (of Early Riser) on cello. And then there’s the 7-minute noise-rock finale, “Give Up,” a throwback to the Ergs’ 18-minute dirge “Upstairs/Downstairs.” Mikey Erg has a little something for everyone who loves the music of Mikey Erg. Bravo. A+
NOFX – Single Album (Fat Wreck Chords)
It’s hard to call Single Album a late-career comeback, since NO FX has never really gone away or lost their way musically, but it’s really good. No, make that great. And despite a major setback thanks to his own big mouth, no one has ever hated more Fat Mike more than he hates himself, which is why I’m always able to give him one more chance. In eulogizing his friend Steve Soto of The Adolescents in “Grieve Soto,” Fat Mike lays it all out: “we should all feel violated/ ‘Cause our scene’s castrated and annihilated/ GG used to be the most hated, then Ben, now it’s me/ ‘Cause I guess I say things insensitively.” The man born Mike Burkett often stands at the center of his own songs laughing at himself, from the self-loathing of “I Love You More Than You Hate Me” to the nihilism of “The Big Drag,” to songs detailing his failed marriage, fluid sexuality, drug dependency, and even his own music (“Linewleum” hilariously parodies fan favorite “Linoleum.”) Even Fat Mike’s tasteless comment on the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, which stalled the band’s career for a time, proves fodder for a thoughtful meditation on gun violence and its relationship to mental illness, religious extremism, and the gun lobby. The band hasn’t lost a step musically either, from the throttling and catchy punk-rock numbers to the slinky blues of “Doors And Fours,” which laments the OD’s that decimated the early L.A. punk scene (“on doors and fours we never knew/which one of us was turning blue/why wasn’t anybody scared?/’cos we were teenagers on loads/so no one really fucking cared.”) A+
State Drugs – Live, Laugh, Love (Ashtray Monument/Snappy Little Numbers)
There’s almost no information on Denver’s State Drugs to be found online, but the band strikes an engaging balance between Nineties alt-pop (think Soul Asylum and the Gin Blossoms), early 2000’s pop-punk, and the confessional mumblecore of Bright Eyes. “Hey Jealousy” serves as a template for almost everything here, but it’s all catchy, well arranged, impeccably performed, and the vocals have an ingratiating sincerity. Check them out.
Komet – S/T (One Chord Wonder)
The self-described “dumb little punk rock label” One Chord Wonder graces us with the debut album from Komet, a trio from Gradara, Italy (a port town on the Adriatic famous for neither cheese, charcuterie, nor pizza. Maybe Komet will put it on the map.) Blending elements of the Descendents and early Green Day with power-pop vocals, grunge-rock guitars, and a little pizzazz all their own, Komet deliver a pithy, poppy charmer here, with 13 tracks each clocking in at under two minutes (with most hitting about the 90 second mark.) Nothing lingers long enough not to like, but everything’s quite likable anyway. Even the shortest tracks find space for crunchy chords, a catchy chorus, and a zingy solo. Avanti così Komet!
Big Fang – “Everything And Nothing At Once, Part I” EP (self-released)
Connecticut’s Big Fang had big plans for a new album but like everybody else, found production interrupted by COVID. So they’ve released this six-song EP as Part I and hope to follow with a Part II this summer; if you buy it on Bandcamp after its March 5 release, the band will email you and ask what charity you’d like them to donate your purchase. While the lineup on these tracks has since disbanded, Big Fang can still boast lead singer and main songwriter Tony Mascolo, a talented guy with deep roots in the Connecticut indie scene. The songs here alternate between alt-rock bangers and poppier tracks taking their cue from left-of-center acts like Squeeze, Eighties New Wave, and singer-songwriters like Elvis Costello and Matthew Sweet. The production’s full on pro, and there’s a sense of classic rock formality to the meticulous way it’s all put together, but the heart of an old punk rocker clearly beats beneath.
Drones – Our Hell Is Right Here (Thousand Island Records)
We all felt the world was falling apart at some point in 2020. Lois McDougall, the vocalist and primary songwriter of London’s Drones, divorced, lost a family member, and struggled with mental illness, all of which make for a really lousy year but a totally compelling album. The quintet sounds more American than British, channeling Bad Religion and Against Me! as well as a host of post-punk and hardcore powerhouses. The band vectors from screaming fury to churning grooves, with a foray into acoustic balladry on “Listen.” There’s also a touch of emo in McDougall’s vocals at times, like the glottal catch at the beginning of “Grey Matters,” which contrasts nicely with the circle-pit fury she incites on tracks like “VOID” and “Lost In Translation.” Drones make politics personal, raging not against the machine but the human foibles and fears that hold us back. Inspirational verse: “Our greed has cost it all/Mourning deaths on burnt-out bridges we knew would never hold/For all the miracles we’ve missed while begging for forgiveness/ from gods that don’t exist.”
Rest Easy – “Sick Day” EP (Mutant League)
Vancouver’s Rest Easy might be a relatively new band but its members have knocked around in hard-touring ensembles like Daggermouth and Shook Ones. The raw-throated vocals and hyperspeed tempos have a comfortable familiarity – we’ve all sweated and knocked each other around to bands like this in some basement or another – but there’s also a bit of Soulside or Fugazi in the way the band can slow things down mid-song and go for a groove rather than a heart attack. Everybody has days like the one in “Bad Idea,” and sometimes the best thing you can do is just throw your head back and scream.