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.
Nearly 20 years into a career of sustained excellence, Carbondale, Illinois’ Copyrights face down their fate with a concept album that deals with being exactly who they are, a small town, hard-touring pop-punk band whose six terrific albums have never enjoyed a whiff of mainstream success. There’s no bitterness here, but there’s certainly a touch of rancor and pissed-off resignation snarling through nearly every track, as the band lives with being “Part Of The Landscape,” or “Stuck In The Winter” of encroaching middle-age. “The longer I go, the less I understand,” goes “Enemies. “Sometimes I just want it over with.” As always, the band delivers these dour messages with soaring gang vocals, catchy, made-to-sing-along choruses, and racing melodies, but the theme that we’re running out of time – to find love, to fix the planet, to find a way to come together – is unrelenting. Never much of a political band, The Copyrights do touch on the covid pandemic, and how we’ve repeatedly fallen into the trap of thinking that we’re through the worse of it on “Halos:” ”And we celebrate with bread and wine/ You can sit all day and laugh it out/ But there’s not a goddamn thing to laugh about.” This marks the first Copyrights album in seven years, and their first full-length for Fat Wreck Chords. Let’s hope there’s a next time, and that the band has something a little less gloomy to rail about by then.
After youthful internships in Screeching Weasel, Sludgeworth, and the Queers, Dan Vapid came of age as a songwriter in The Riverdales. Now, after fronting his own band for a decade, he’s undeniably matured into one of the finest songwriters in pop-punk, managing to retain a foundation built on the power chords and power-pop melodies of the Ramones but adding his own unique signature. Interestingly, many of the songs on Escape Velocity are written from a female point of view, from the suicidal angst of “Burning Questions” to the desperation of “Runaway Jane” to the loneliness of “Teenage Wallflower,” to the online hunt for love in “Cyber World.” Troubled if not doomed relationships add another recurring theme, from the doo-wop flavored “The Talk” (about a couple about to break up) to the broken-hearted “Guilt And Relief,” about its aftermath. Musically, there aren’t two tracks on the album cut from the same mold, up to and including the closing “Midnight Blue,” with its acoustic guitar and a melancholy country-western melody. Great stuff.
The story of this album reads like a novel: Hans Condor, underground legends in Nashville with 15 years of frantic live shows under their belt, got to record half of this album at the legendary Grand Victor Sound studios after winning a contest sponsored by Nike. Years later, the band laid down the rest at a small DIY hole-in-the-wall. Bassist Erik Holcombe tragically took his own life in 2018. And lead singer Charles Kaster had to put the band on hiatus while he trained to become a policeman. After all that, Mississippi’s Dial Back Sound eventually mixed and mastered it all into an album and unleashes it on the world on November 16, with a dozen wild ‘n’ woolly songs (titles in ALL CAPS for good reason.) Part Stooges, part Motorhead, part Pink Lincolns, part Jesus Lizard, Hans Condor injects the rock back in rock ‘n’ roll; you can literally feel the sweat and spittle as these guys (Kaster, Elliot Virula on bass, and Roger Holcombe on drums) savage their way through tracks like “ROCK ‘N’ ROLL ANIMAL,” “ALL MESSED UP ON DEATH METAL AND SHIT,” and “HARDWIRED FOR DEATH.” If you run out of amphetamines this weekend, just crank the volume up on this and you’ll be just fine.
THREE BASE HITS
Best known in the UK as the lead singer of touring rock band More Kicks, James Sullivan makes an impressive and eclective solo debut, recorded at home on a Tascam 4-track during the covid lockdown. “Lea” gets out of the gate fast with a furious “Foggy Notion” groove under an Art Brut spoken-word vocal that’s all twitchy dancey exhuberance. But “It Won’t Do You Harm” pulls it back with an acoustic guitar-driven Beatlesque love ballad, followed by jangly power pop, psychedelic freak outs, a poppy piano ballad, a throbbing punk rock throwdown, and a potential arena-rock anthem. So it goes, with Sullivan trying on new personae and styles track by track. Color me impressed and now excuse me, I’m off to check out More Kicks.
Twenty-five year veterans of Boston’s ska-punk scene (which occasionally pops its head up from the underground but never completely goes away,) Big D & The Kids Table return with a 20-song collection of skanking fun after a 10-year dry spell; “the years went by because we were just doing other things,” says lead singer Dave McWane. Although ska punk records tend to be largely interchangeable (is this Reel Big Fish? Less Than Jake? Suicide Machines?), Big D & The Kids Table do their best to keep things interesting by varying song times, tossing in a half dozen comedy bits or sound bytes, and injecting their non-stop party vibe with lyrics that take on contemporary issues like overmedicating children (“Med Her Lazy,”) to stalking (“Too Much.”) The band slows down to a throbbing reggae tempo for “Beautiful Way” (about the glory of love,) lurches into hyperspeed on “Race Car Song,” and puts down “that guy” who thinks he’s funny (but isn’t) on the trenchant “Militant Humorist.” But hey, nobody listens to ska punk for the lyrics. To skank or not to skank, that is the question. This is, um, skankalicious.
GRIM DEEDS – Self-Titled (self-released)
The psychotically prolific Grim Deeds knocks out 13 pop-punk ditties for his latest full-length, expanding his basic Ramonescore palette to include homages to the Dickies (“The Minimalist,”) Dr. Frank/MTX (“Not My Usual Self,” “Begrudgingly,”) DEVO (“Clean,”) and the Descendents (“Skate Or Die.”) Everything clocks in at under two minutes, natch, except for the 4:37 cover of Swedish speedmetallers Blazon Stone, which lets our hero pull off a shredding guitar solo worthy of Yngwie Whatsisname. Ramonescore, thy name is Grim Deeds.
This “surprise EP” seems like a way for MakeWar to generate some new merch for Gainesvill’es The Fest, with two new songs and two culled from their full-length. This is Festcore to the max, fast and gruff and catchy, eschewing the band’s Latin HC side for new versions of two fairly generic tracks from the Get It Together LP along with the tongue-in-cheek, inside-jokey “I’m Sure My My Little Brother Never Listened To Lagwagon” and the touching (if thrashy) “Stay,” about the life and death of Mike Prieto’s dog Bruno (a song so emotional that Vinnie Caruana of Movielife/I Am The Avalanche sings all the ‘dog’ parts.) If you’re a fan, download the two new tracks for sure; if you don’t own Get It Together, get the whole thing.
I’ve been a fan of Kurt Baker since he was a gangly teenager with a Larry Fine haircut in The Leftovers; in case you’ve lost track, he’s been tearing up Europe for the last several years with his power-pop garage combo. Now Kurt’s back and a favorite of Little Steven Van Zandt’s, whose Wicked Cool Records has released two new singles. The original “Yeah Yeah!” finds Kurt in full “Nuggets” mode, cranking out a hooky bubblegum rave-up that’s fit right in on a jukebox loaded with Standells and Shadows Of Knight tunes. Kurt’s cover of Single Bullet Theory’s “Keep It Tight” adds a groovy Farfisa and a David Cassidy vocal as smooth as a chocolate milkshake. Watch for lots more from Kurt in 2022.