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.
THE ERGS! – “Time And The Season” EP (Dirtnap)
The Ergs! were arguably the best punk band of the first decade of the 21st Century, excelling at almost everything but – happily for us – staying broken up. Since disbanding in 2008, singer/drummer Mike Yannich, guiitarist Jeff Schroeck, and bassist Joe Keller have occasionally reunited for shows, festivals, and even a few recordings while remaining active in their own groups. The 4-song “Time And The Season” makes it seem like the near-sighted trio never went away. The EP features two covers – always a speciality – but more importantly, two originals you’ll immediately want to add to your Best of The Ergs! playlist: “Ultimate Falsetto Book,” a tip of the cap to Kansan power-pop trio Ultimate Fakebook, bounces along with a head-bobbing melody and a drop-dead hook, while “Half Empty Strip Mall” conjures a deliciously Ergsian metaphor for a break up with a distinctly Jersey motif. Of the covers, “Say You’re Sorry” goes the transformative route, taking the Merseybeat-sounding original and stripping away its Beatlesque jauntiness for speedy Jeff Erg spazz and Mikey Erg squawk, while “Time Of The Season” more or less faithfully renders the Zombies’ psychedelic classic (as befits a band that once did a song called “Rod Argent.”) Welcome back, gentlemen; don’t be strangers.
THE SAD TOMORROWS – S/T (Don Giovanni)
Speaking of Jeff Schroeck, he’s teamed up with Brian Gorsegner (Night Birds) and Hunchback’s J Nixon and Mike Hunchback in The Sad Tomorrows, whose debut EP showcases the talents of all four members. While Chris Pierce’s production screams ’00’s pop-punk and lends the EP a unifying sonic identity, each track draws from different influences and styles. So there’s the melodic “Long Vibration” with hints of Blondie and the Lemonheads, the harder-edged, Husker Du-ish “Won’t Upset You,” Mike’s gravel-throated vocal on “Forget It For Me Retail” with a Soul Asylum vibe, and the Sixties throwback of “Unsustainable Practices.” I can’t imagine that fans of the Ergs, Hunchback, or Night Birds wouldn’t love this, but there’s an accessibility here that could find an wider audience than those excellent if niche acts.
PARTY’Z – “Party’z EP” (self-released)
The name may sound like an Eighties hairmetal band but at the core of these four tracks from beats the heart of a broken-hearted emo boy, namely singer/guitarist Mark Jaeschke (formerly of Kittyhawk and Pet Symmetry.) Here’s the rub: The vocals and lovely indie-rock melodies lie buried under layers of buzzing distortion and fuzz, pierced by Delia Homik’s Casio-like keyboards and leavened by two-part harmonies from bassist Clare Teeling. “Saturday Night’s Alright (For Nothing)” not only sports a clever title but a terrific lyric, with lines like “but every time we look into each other’s eyes/ we used to see the future/ now we’re just reminded that saturday’s our useless metaphor.” Burying pop songs under a maelstrom of noise isn’t new – Dinosaur Jr. was doing it 30 years ago. But coupled with lyrics that flow like conversations, eschewing verse/chorus conventions and repeating chord progressions to flow almost like improvisations – Party’z delivers a distinctive upgrade on traditional indie-emo. Only on the final track, “Follow The Sound,” does the band find its happy ending: “Let’s go underground/ where the sirens play at night/ fade out and into me/ everything’s gonna be alright.” The band put this EP together during the covid lockdown but is now working on a full-length, and I can’t wait to hear it.
DATURA – Arcano Chemical (Sell The Heart Records)
I don’t know if the members of Datura wear eyeshadow and black clothes, but their music certainly does. The Wenatchee, WA trio has been knocking around the Pacific Northwest for several years, with two EP’s to their credit, but “Arcano Chemical” marks the goth-inspired group’s first full-length. The trick here isn’t the reverb’d vocals, or the pounding drums, or the spooky song titles like “Our Ship Is Lost,” “Phantasma,” or the impressive opener, “Bloody Shores.” It’s coming up those non-stop hooks and melodies that remind us why we all swooned to the Cure and Depeche Mode back in the day, no matter how silly they looked. And for a goth act, this album remains pleasantly upbeat. If like me you prefer goth that makes you want to dance, not slit yours wrists, Datura might be the ticket.
FILTHY MILITIA – “Coping Mechanism” EP (Pookout Records)
Like Jello and dessert, there’s always room for ska, especially when it’s done with deftness and panache. On the follow-up to their 2016 debut, the impressive co-ed North London quintet turn their horn-fueled sound to five tuneful tracks that meld uptempo Nineties ska-punk, melodic 2-Tone syncopation, smooth reggae grooves and even some dub (on the 9-minute “Don’t You Look Back,”) all with a steady onslaught of danceable feel-good hooks. I also find Filthy Militia’s upbeat attitude refreshing; in an era where jaded cynicism has almost become a given; the band sings unironically in favor of inclusion, community, acceptance, and triumphing adversity together, hearkening back to a more innocent time when we believed those ideals might be possible. Stay gold, stay filthy.
SCRUNCHIES – “No Home Planet” (Dirtnap)
The full-length won’t be here until April 1, but until then, check out this crazy single from Minneapolis’ “post-everything” trio Scrunchies. Laura Larson (guitar, vox,) Danielle Cusack (drums, vox) and Matt Castore (bass) wail like some mutant offspring of Screaming Females, Bikini Kill, and X-Ray Spex. It’s no coincidence that Larson and Cusack teamed up in a Buzzcocks tribute band called Buzzcunts or that the trio’s pedigree includes stints in Kitten Forever, teenage phenoms Bruise Violet, and Condominium. “No Home Planet” (which I assume is autobiographical) mashes up frantic screams with postpunk melodies and drums that sound like they’re falling down a flight of metal stairs. And now, this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=E94WyPX7tJE