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.
Punk has fans all over the world but very few bands bring as much international flavor to the genre as the Rumjacks, whose members bring American, Australian, Italian, and Irish influences to the party. Hestia marks the Aussies’ fifth album in a 12-year career, and while the Rumjacks may be next to unknown in the U.S., heavy touring has won over fans in Canada, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Poland, and Australia. “Naysayers” kicks things off with rousing singalong ska-punk, “Bullhead” doubles down on the Celtic influence, while the title track (named after the goddess of home and hearth) mixes Irish folk tropes with fists in the air American punk (ala Bouncing Souls). If you’re looking for a good old-fashioned Pogues-y pub singalong, look no further than “Sainted Millions.” Over 13 tracks, the Rumjacks keep mixing things up, from acoustic and folkie (“Rhythm Of Her Name”) to hard and heavy and bordering on hardcore punk (“Golden Death.”) While the other members shine on the usual stew of drums, guitar, and bass, Adam Kenny on bouzouki and mandolin adds that je ne sais quoi that helps separate these guys from the pack.
For me, a few bands truly redefined pop punk in the first decade of the 21st Century, chief among them The Ergs from New Jersey, the Copyrights from Carbondale, IL, and Cinncinnati’s Dopamines. If you’ve never heard the latter, here’s a great opportunity to save yourself years of crate-hunting. Rad Girlfriend (whose co-owner Josh Goldman joined the band in 2013) has collected 27 impossible-to-find tracks from out-of-print singles, compilation, and split EP’s, as well as a few unreleased gems. There are a few outliers here – a caterwauling cover of Huey Lewis’ “Power Of Love,” acoustic remakes of their own songs from compilations – but mostly these are pop-punk anthems with doubled or tripled vocals and stick-in-your-ear melodies and anthemic choruses and clever lyrics. I was lucky enough to see the Dopamines on two coasts and loved every second of every performance. Happily, for a bunch of mooks who never took themselves seriously, they managed to capture an awful lot of their live energy in the studio. If you asked me to describe what Insubordination Fest felt and sounded like, I’d just tell you to play “My Future’s So Bright, I Have To Wear Night Goggles.” And if you don’t bounce off the walls and stick your finger in the hair and sing along wildly, then you just don’t get it.
Brad Marino belongs to Rum Bar’s roster of (mostly) New England-based acts who tread the borders of punk, power pop, and garage-rock. Like labelmates Geoff Palmer and Kurt Baker, Marino loves good old-fashioned Chuck Berry rock ‘n’ roll and manages to mine a seemingly infinite vein of catchy pop rock from it. “Local Show” recallss Nick Lowe’s self-deprecating humor, detailing the travails of being the biggest band in a small town. The bubblegum charms of “False Alarm” might have been knicked from the Rubinoos, while “Looking For Trouble” boasts a Dave Edmunds twang. If “Shake Some Action” is your favorite Flamin’ Groovies album or you think Paul Collins and Peter Case belong in the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame, you need to check out Brad Marino.
DROPKICK MURPHYS – Turn Up That Dial (Born & Bred)
When live music went silent last year during the pandemic, Boston’s Dropkick Murphys raised over $750,000 doing live streams to pay their crew and support various charities. That shouldn’t go unnoticed. As for their new album, well, this is a band that will never surprise but also never disappoint. There’s bag pipes and accordion and sea chanties and jigs and reels, all pumped up with big rock guitars and gang vocal choruses. We know what this will sound like before we play it, but hey, there’s something to be said for consistency when a band can do the same thing over and over this well. “Queen Of Suffolk County” and “Mick Jones Knicked My Pudding” even add a dollop of humor to the proceedings. So raise a pint or three and sing along.
For anyone who think all Italian punk bands play Ramonescore, here’s Locked In, a screamo outfit that whisked me back to the Summer of ’91 in the sweaty basement of ABC No Rio. This collaborative EP features guest vocalists on four tracks (and the fifth is a deceptive jazz piano instrumental.) If you’re looking for a dose of gut-punching metal with cookie monster vocals, look no further. This thing rocks so hard it will give you a nosebleed.
I’m okay with emo as long as the vocals don’t sound like an adenoidal twelve-year old throwing a temper tantrum. Boston’s Blind Drive owe as much to grunge’s heavy guitars and pummeling chord changes as the early ’00’s mall-punk they undoubtedly grew up on. We’re told, “”This EP consists of memoirs of cathartic yet beautiful stories of self-reflection in the hopes of redemption” but I can’t make out any of the lyrics with the guitars and bass gobbling up all the mid-range. Still, the double-kick is pretty awesome and it certainly sounds like they’re sorry about something.
ERNEST MOON – “Big Wow” (self-released)
Liverpudlians Steven Doran and Brian Murphy tease their upcoming album with this bit of Stiff Records rock ‘n’ roll swagger, with echoes of Wreckless Eric, Nick Lowe, and Ian Dury. It’s just two minutes of big twangy guitar and solid drumming with lyrics about being young and going nuts on Saturday night. Inspired girl-group “la la’s” on the chorus add just the right touch. More, please.
MIKE CHICK – “The High Life Let Me Down Last Night”/”Pine Lake Park” (Mint 400 Records)
Mike Chick, half of the fun Asbury Park combo Yawn Mower, put his pandemic downtime to good use, writing and recording this maxi-single with friends Mike Nock and Sam Bey. While the A-side sounds like it should be a honky-tonkin’ C&W yowler, the track’s psyche-rock vibe owes more to Guided By Voices, with stream of consciousness lyrics about the disorienting isolation of the pandemic: “The job is shutting down/Take a right hook straight to your bank account/Stare at a screen and scream through your eyelids.” The B-side, “Pine Lake Park,” combines a Sonic Youth riff with a solid beat and more pandemic paranoia, this time alleviated by a visit from some friends: “Failing immune systems intact/Once yr gone, yr never coming back/One step forward ahead of the pack/
Life is full of anxiety attacks.” The full Bandcamp download packages the single with a radio edit as well as acoustic and instrumental versions.
AUTHORITY ZERO – “The Back Nine” EP (self-released)
The first time I heard “Ollie Ollie Oxen Free,” the first single from this veteran Arizona combo’s new EP, I thought, “Wow, Bad Religion hasn’t sounded this good in a while!” With mammoth, full-bore production by Cameron Webb (Sum 41, Pennywise, A Day to Remember,) Authority Zero bring all your old Warped Tour favorites to life, from BR to Offspring to Reel Big Fish, everything sounding as generic as their name. I will give them this, no other punk band with progressive lyrics would title an EP after the favorite pastime of rich white codgers, so at least that part’s original.
The Биты – “The Queers Tribute Vol. 2” (self-released)
This Ukrainian Ramonecore band (pronounced “the bitty” and meaning “the baseball bats”) has an immense catalog online, and much of it shows a keen sense of humor and a thorough grounding in American pop-punk This 11-track collection of early Queers tunes (clocking in at barely 14 minutes) speeds everything up to superfast tempos that render most of it into soundalike snotty hardcore (which, to be fair, isn’t that different from the originals.) But the song selection includes some truly offensive stuff that even Joe Queer probably wishes had never happened (and I for one never needed to hear again.) It’s one thing to stand up for free speech and strike a blow against cancel culture, but it’s quite another to celebrate misogyny, homophobia, and pedophilia. The version of “Bonehead” rocks though.