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.
YEAR IN REVIEW – ALBUMS
1. Mikey Erg – Mikey Erg (Rad Girlfriend)
Mikey Erg doubles down on who Mike Yannich is and where he came from, a homage of sorts to the bands who paved the way. Ergs fans will delight in the unabashed pop-punk of “Can’t Be Too Careless,” “Hey Marissa” (a shoutout to Marissa Paternoster of Screaming Females,) and “Rumblestrip” (whose squiggly lead guitar line recalls Ergs guitarist Jeff Schroeck.) Other tracks invoke early influences like Black Flag and the Descendents. Mikey Erg has a little something for everyone who loves the music of Mikey Erg
2. NOFX – Single Album (Fat Wreck Chords)
Despite career setbacks thanks to his own big mouth, no one has ever hated Fat Mike more than he hates himself, which is why we’re always willing to give him one more chance. The man born Mike Burkett often puts his own foibles centerstage, from the self-loathing of “I Love You More Than You Hate Me” to the nihilism of “The Big Drag,” to songs detailing his failed marriage, fluid sexuality, drug dependency, and even his own music Even Fat Mike’s tasteless comment on the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, which stalled the band’s career for a time, proves fodder for a thoughtful meditation on gun violence.
3. Talk Show Host – Mid-Century Modern (Wiretap Records)
On their third album (and first for Wiretap Records,) Canadians Chris Veinot (guitar & vocals), Fabien Rivenet (bass,) and Sean Woolven (drums & backup vocals) strike a perfect balance between punk, power-pop, and the kind of anthemic indie rock you usually only see in the movies. Earwig hooks, singalong choruses, and ebullient energy power every track; they even manage to turn a powerful anti-gun song (“Warmest Condolences”) sound warm and fuzzy. “Up To No Good” suggests these guys came of age when Sum 41 was a really big deal, but they even make millennium mall-punk seem like a good idea, a true sign of greatness. (welovetalkshowhost.bandcamp.com)
4. Naked Raygun – Over The Overlords (WaxTrax)
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. On Over The Overlords, you get a bit of everything that made this band innovators and ever-evolving pioneers of Chicago punk: 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. 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.
5. Friends Of Cesar Romero – War Party Favors (Snappy Little Numbers)
Cheyenne tribal member J. Waylon Miller recruits bandmates for live shows, but he’s released 11 albums, umpteen EP’s, and innumberable 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 these 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.
6. Quicksand – Distant Populations (Epitaph)
Quicksand’s legacy and influence far surpass its output – just two albums, poorly marketed by Island in the mid-Nineties post-Nirvana era – but the band’s 2017 comeback album Interiors re-established these middle-aged veterans of the CBGB Hardcore Matinees as more tuneful and thoughtful tunesmiths. Now a trio, the band has traded its downtuned guitars and post-adolescencent polemics for shorter but no less creative meditations on relationships, isolation,and aging. Those enthrallingly heavy grooves remain, but the band has added wistful harmonies, more melody, and a near-telepathic cohesiveness.
7. Face To Face – No Way Out But Through (Fat Wreck Chords)
Face To Face’s sole founding member, vocalist Trevor Keith remains a reliable force in pop punk, 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 multiple generations. By phrasing the specific in the general, Face To Face avoid 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.
YEAR IN REVIEW – EPs
8. L CARS – “The World Is So Much Stranger” EP (self-released)
Lucas Carscadden played in the excellent Baltimore trio Dead Mechanical, but these days he’s a home-recording dad with a day job. “The World Is So Much Stranger” is a song cycle based on seven stories by Junji Ito, the Stephen King of Japanese manga. Lucas’ angsty, raspy vocals – think Blake Schwarzenbach throwing a temper tantrum – and his ear for melody and driving rhythms remain unique in the modern pop punk canon. You don’t need to have read the graphic novels to appreciate the sense of doom, dread, and crisis L Cars deliver.
9. Turnpike Gates – “City In Heat” (self-released)
Five notable tracks from this up’n’coming Jersey combo, fronted by singer/songwriter Ryan Smith and produced by the Bouncing Souls’ Pete Steinkopf . Although Smith currently hangs his hat in Jersey City, there’s a lot of Asbury Park here, from the Bouncing Souls gang vocals on “Drive By” to the Gaslight Anthem punch of “Church.” There’s a stinging indictment of Amurrica in the title track, more roiling rock on “Seasick,” and for something completely different, Smith chokes out the emotional “Make Me” accompanied by only acoustic guitar and sonorous cello.
10. Atom Driver – Is Anything Alright? (No Echo Records)
With former members of Boss Jim Gettys, Good Clean Fun, and Buzzkill, Atom Driver’s first three EP’s imagined a collision between a New Brunswick, NJ basement show and the Lower East Side’s post-punk shrine ABC No Rio. The addition of Deadguy’s Chris “Crispy” Corvino on vocals adds a bluesy, in-your-face swagger to the band’s furiously chugging blend of punk, garage, and metal, reminiscent of NJ’s equally underrated but undeniably awesome Rye Coalition. Every one of these songs punches you in the throat but leaves you pleading for more.