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.
Before there was a Milo (or Stephen, or Karl,) there was an early lineup of the Descendents that wrote and performed but never recorded. In 2002, drummer Bill Stevenson reunited guitarist Frank Navetta and bassist Tony Lombardo to begin filling that gap, working on those songs with vocalist Milo Aukerman. (Sadly, Navetta passed away in 2008.) Now, some 40 years after they were written, the band has released those lost songs, a portrait of the Descendents during the five years preceding Milo Goes To College, their acknowledged classis. It’s not surprising that this stuff does not quite achieve the level of awesomeness we’ve come to expect from the Descendents, but all the elements are there: Short blasts of catchy punk rock, snotty adolescent irreverence, with equal parts of edgy SoCal hardcore, over-caffeinated energy, surf drums, and Beach Boys harmonies; there’s even a track with the trademark Descendents “-age” suffix (“Nightage.”) New versions of “It’s A Hectic World” and “Ride The Wild” (from the band’s first single) and an outlier cover of the Dave Clark 5’s “Glad All Over” round out the collection. If you didn’t know the backstory and simply assumed this was the new Descendents album, you wouldn’t be disappointed. But for fans and rock historians, this glimpse into the formative years of one of the most important American bands in punk will be a vital document (as well as an enjoyable listen.)
On their first release in three years, Cincinnati slop-punks Vacation turn their thick, roiling guitar sound loose on an impressive collection of songs. Singer/guitarist Jerry Queen’s Dylanesque sloganeering impresses even while being buried in the lo-fi mix. On that release, Queen wrote the album by himself and each band member added their own filigree. With the sludgy stoner-rock of “Controlled Burn” providing the requsite change of pace, the rest of Existential Risks & Returns mumbles and stings and pokes and churns, declamatory and urging and rabble-rousing and inspiring, post-punk and indie-rock and grunge and yet not really any of those things. You know what this is? Recommended.
Ricky Rochelle – Unleash The Demos (self-released)
Ricky – the singer/drummer/songwriter of Long Island-based Ramonescore stalwarts The Young Rochelles – remains boyish and endearing on this ten-track collection of demos. The eclectic collection ranges from bubblegum power-pop (“Stupid Heart,” “Any Time”) to catchy pop-punk (“It’s All Baloney,” “Meter Maniac,”) to harder-edged, more strident post-punk (“Vulture Club,” “Simian.”) There’s plenty of Ramones chug here but other influences as well, and ultimately, a song like “Channel Changer” just sounds like Ricky Rochelle.
TWO BASE HITS
Speaking of the New Rochelles, bassist Rookie Rochelle has a new band called Pep Talk. This 3-song EP is a preview of the forthcoming full-length, “Live, Laugh, And Lobotomy” on Hey Pizza Records. The title track mixes giddy teenage emotions with a head-bobbing power-pop melody, while an alternate take of album track “Trespass” hews strictly to the Ramonescore template. As a bonus, and just to hammer home the obvious, there’s a medley of “I Wanted Everything,” “I’m Against It,” and “Bad Brain” from Rocket To Ruin. Gabba gabba. No surprises here, but nothing disappointing either.
The Animal Steel – A Surefire Way To Get Sober (Snappy Little Numbers)
You might not be old enough to remember George “The Animal” Steele, the psycho pro wrestler celebrated in song by the young Half Japanese. But that’s okay, because neither is this dad-rock quartet from Denver, who formed and recorded before COVID but, as with so much in our culture, put everything on hold for over a year. This is classic Fest-core, by which I mean those bands who travel annually to The Fest, Gainesville’s beer-soaked celebration of bearded bro-hugging fist-pumping punk and hardcore. While a few tracks veer perilously close to the metal these guys probably smoked their first bong to in high school, The Animal Steel mostly stick to raw-throated, gang-vocal’d anthems with emotion and urgency (but incomprehensible vocals.) “There Is No Dana, Only Zuul” drops a Ghostbusters reference that these guys’ kids won’t get, but I appreciated, but the band needs to invest in better mastering or new arrangements, since most of the album buzzes along in monochromatic mid-range that gets samey-sounding fast. RIYL Pretty much any band Mikey Erg plays in.