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.
FACE TO FACE – No Way Out But Through (Fat Wreck Chords)
Face To Face’s sole founding member, vocalist Trevor Keith, now finds himself writing and singing to audiences whose parents’ older siblings might have moshed to the band 30 years ago. To his and the rest of Face To Face’s credit, and despite never achieving the arena-rock status of some contemporaries, “No Way Out But Through” delivers exactly what you want: Rousing whoa-oh choruses, vibrant melodies, throbbing basslines, throttling guitars, and melodies galore, along with lyrics that can be enjoyed by a phrase that means something different now than it did 30 years ago – all ages. On one level, a tween might hear “Black Eye Specialist” as a song about a bully, but to adults, it speaks to our partisan divide and the rise of American hate speech: “I think I speak for everyone/ We don’t hate you/ We create you/ This is not an intervention/ but there’s a price to pay/ You’ll have to live with yourself.” By phrasing the specific in the general, Face To Face avoids seeming topical while speaking to our culture, our society, and our eternal search of self-identity. This is one hell of a catchy album that will make you think while you sing along.
NIGHTWATCHERS – Common Crusades (Lovely Records)
Take Face To Face’s brand of scalding skate punk, add the urgency and staccato monotones of post-punk, and move it to France, you’ve got Nightwatchers. The band sings in English and clearly draws influences from American hardcore, skatepunk, and post-punk; thematically, though, the album focuses on a specific political agenda, fighting back against the rise of Islamophobia, racism, and separatism. The lyrics quote speeches and writings made by individuals who exploited occupied territories during France’s colonial era, as well as present-day politicians, and I recommend finding them online as you listen. “Common Crusades” works as both an energizing exercise in modern punk rock and a role model for how music and politics need to co-exist.
THE MUSLIMS – Fuck These Fuckin’ Fascists (Epitaph)
This North Carolina trio – singer/guitarist Sheikh QADR, drummer Ba7Ba7, and bassist Abu Shea – make a lovely racket, channeling the screamy chaos of X-Ray Spex, the spastic energy of the Dead Kennedys, the athletic freneticism of Bad Brains, and the unbridled DIY joy of all the bands who ever wrote songs before they could play their instruments. Which is not to say the Muslims can’t play; there’s crazy rhythms, slashing riffs, complex chord changes, pumping bass, and even a trombone, all in service of gonzo vocals and political lyrics which tackle the police, corona virus, fascism, anti-immigrant bias, and LGBTQ+ pride, along with the best song title of 2021: “John McCain’s Ghost Sneaks Into The White House And Tea Bags The President.”
GROUND RULE DOUBLES
SHACKLEFORD – S/T (Side Mission Records)
From France we cross the pond to Merry Olde England, where Shackleford carries the torch of Nineties pop-punk with aggressive guitars, impressive drumming, spot on harmonies, and clever lyrics. “Guilt Would Creep” exemplifies the band’s Frankenstein approach: It starts like Screeching Weasel, throws in some Saves The Day, rocks like Pennywise, adds some NOFX, and goes all British whenever the singer enunciates his adverbs. Well worth checking out.
THE LAST GANG – Noise Noise Noise (Fat Wreck Chords)
The last thing I’d suggest to an aspiring female musician these days is to take advice from Fat Mike, but his counsel to dive deep into the Clash and roots reggae seems to have paid off for vocalist and songwriter Brenna Red. The Last Gang’s second album for Fat bristles with anger and rancor, fueled in large part by illiberal right-wing assaults on democracy and the truth. “Intelligence Is A Curse” calls out Breitbart and other far-right news outlets and politicians for slinging disinformation to their gullible cult. “Shameless” showcases Red’s vocals with an uplifting melody, while “Gimme Action” uses big bold guitar strokes to call for resistance and political activism. New guitarist Ken Aquino gets to strut his chops on “WFTW” (“We Fucked The World,”) a furious wake up call about climate change. Good stuff.
THE QUEERS – Reverberation (Sexy Baby Records/Tape Head City/Cleopatra)
Pop-punk fans who prefer the poppier side of the Queers catalog will go nuts over this covers album, in which Joe King and whomever he has in the band these days have shitloads of fun romping through bubblegum hits like the Monkees’ “Valleri,” the Troggs’ “With A Girl Like You,” perennial live favorite “The Kids Are Alright,” and a Beach Boys’d version of the Rolling Stones’ “I’d Much Rather Be With The Boys.” The Queers’ own “See You Later Fuckface” slips in somehow, but otherwise, it’s all a blast.
A BUNCH OF JERKS – Shart Topping Hits (Rum Bar Records)
They call themselves “the Rodney Dangerfield of Boston rock,” and maybe A Bunch Of Jerks don’t get any respect (could it be the name?) Nonetheless, the Beantown quartet, fronted by chanteuse Stabby, can lay down a tune, mashing up the Dictators and Blondie, New Wave, punk and garage. It’s a Beantown thing, this sound, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley doing The Twist to the Ramones and Shadows Of Knight, with a little Dogmatics and a dash of the Neighborhoods. The sublime covers of Blondie and Bowie are cherries on an already yummy rock ‘n’ roll sundae.