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.
Naked Raygun’s first album in 31 years came as a total surprise, a wondrous delight, and a proper sendoff for bassist Pierre Kezdy, who passed away in 2020 shortly after recording had concluded. Lead singer Jeff Pezzati is now battling Parkinson’s Disease. If this proves to be the last we heard of the band, no one can say they didn’t go out at the top of their game. Over the course of four classic album, from 1983 to 1990, Chicago’s Naked Raygun helped pave the way for the whoa-oh style of singalong punk as well as evolving release to release to incorporate post-punk and even jazz fusion into their work. On Over The Overlords, you get a bit of everything: A dozen proper songs, a few weird sound collages, a remix, a live version of fan favorite “Knock Me Down” (from 1996’s All Rise,) and an album-ending five-and-a-half minute instrumental. The band – including Pezzati – sound like they haven’t aged a day in 30 years, with pulse-pounding, fist-pumping singalongs like “Living In The Good Times,” “Superheroes,” “Broken Things,” “Ode To Sean McKeough” (the late founder of Riot Fest,) and “Amishes.” The super-catchy “Treat Me Unkind” even pays tribute to one of Raygun’s biggest influences, ripping off the anthemic chorus of the Buzzcocks’ “I Don’t Mind.” There’s more of a post-punk experimental vibe on “Soul Hole Baby” and “Suicide Bomb,” while “Farewell To Arms” shifts into full-on Classic Rock mode, complete with keyboards and horns. This is a mid-year contender for my Album Of The Year, kids. Don’t miss it, stream it, but note that WaxTrax has several vinyl and CD packages available if you can’t live without physical product.
I’m told that while Cheyenne tribal member J. Waylon Miller recruits bandmates for live shows, he’s released 11 albums and umpteen EP’s and singles as a one-man band, recording at home on 4- and 8-track machines. Now based in Rapid City, SD, Miller absolutely delights with a dozen tracks of quality garage, power pop, and punk, mixing influences willy-nilly to create buoyant and original smile-inducing songs. Echoes of the Ramones, Shirelles, early Beatles, and 80’s New Wave mix and match, often in the same song, with head-bobbing rhythms and bubblegum melodies. The vocals often sound like a lovesick teenager, although Miller admits to being born in the 70’s. But heart and soul don’t care about the calendar, and this album has an abundance of both.
Let’s face it, Kody Templeman could sing the “Cars 4 Kids” theme and I’d listen to it. So, yes, Teenage Bottlerocket remain one of the most consistently entertaining bands in punk, and Sick Sesh! doesn’t do anything to damage that reputation. From the burly “Semi Truck” to the speedy, urgent “Strung Out On Stress,” the chugging Ramonescore of “Theoretical Reality” and “Statistic” to the sunnily romantic “Hey Dana” and “Spend The Night,” this is all primo TBR. The guitars especially sound great throughout, distinctive and melodic and driving. The album also benefits from three songs written by bassist Michael Chen, including the clever “Ghost Story” (sung from the POV of the ghost,) the charmingly innocent “The Squirrel,” and the emotional “Moving On,” a song about Chen’s decision to leave the band’s homebase of Laramie, Wyoming to be with his ailing father in Texas. TBR has been so good for so long that they’ve almost set their fans up for disappointment. But not this time.
TWO BASE HITS
If it’s on Dustin (Grim Deeds) Umberger’s Laptop Punk label, it’s probably Ramonescore, and broadly, that’s what you get from Iowa’s Dumbskull. But the band mixes things up enough to keep them refreshingly offbeat and fun, with goofy lyrics (“I Was A Teenage Weirdo,” “(She Don’t Want To Be A) Succubus (No More,”) doo wop vocals and surfy guitars, and even a trio of scifi themed ditties (“Teenagers From Outer Space,” “Klaatu Barada Nikito,” “Mind Remote Controller.”) Genius this is not, but the familiar ground it treads does lend itself for a pleasant jaunt.
My favorite Belgian has always been Hercule Poirot, but my favorite Belgian hardcore band ? Loud Love. Vocalist Dries’ guttural screams rip from his throat like Fugazi and Hot Water Music at their most passionate, but they’re counterpointed nicely by melodic gang vocals from the rest of the band. Complex and challenging guitar textures and off-kilter rhythms recall America’s wave of post-hardcore acts (Texas Is The Reason, Quicksand, and Into Another.) “The Last Great RNR Band” has a swaggering rock’n’roll beat and thundering guitars and “Last Party” ends the EP with a glorious mess of distorted guitars, arm-in-arm gang vocals, and thudding percussion. Six songs makes for a perfect EP too, in and out before all that unyielding intensity gives you a headache.
Miles To Nowhere – The RaceCar Phenomenon (Galaxy Punk Publishing)
This Tempe, AZ trio showcases the kittenish voice and songwriting of guitarist Kristen Taylor, with additional vocals by bassist Katie Grenert. Together with drummer Richard Duran, MTN sound bigger than a three-piece, bashing out Nineties-flavored indie rock, coy love songs, and bouncy pop-punk. Check out the catchy, uptempo “I Love You (iLY)” and the dreamy, post-adolescencent longing of “Growing Up.”