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.
You could make the case that Toronto’s PUP has been unraveling since their inception. This is, after the all, the band that once sang about each other, “if this tour doesn’t kill you, then I will.” On their fourth full-length, though, the band gets right to the point, kicking things off with a twee piano-driven song about how much they hate their fans. (And it gets reprised twice!) Of course, it’s all tongue in cheek (sort of,) and it’s all pretty awesome, as we hear on “Totally Fine,” where Trevor Babcock’s gonzo vocal becomes enveloped in a miasma of heavenly harmony, a trick the group uses to good advantage throughout the album. “Robot Writes A Love Song” tries to parody romantic balladry, but the song’s heartfelt emotion ruins the joke. “Relentless” could be a Hold Steady song, if Craig Finn’s voice were pitched a little higher, while “Waiting” adds a roiling metal bottom to Babcock’s preaching vocals. Closing track “PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing For Bankruptcy,” with it’s throttling chords, squealing sax, and choral interlude, turns this band’s neuroses and paranoia into its magnum opus, rehashing the album’s ongoing theme of futiley trying to turn a buck from something you do for love into an anthem of self-loathing. But wait, there’s a punchline here too: ““I’m truly grateful for the life that I’ve led,” Babcock wails. “I’m just being dramatic.” If you’re not already a PUP fan, what are you waiting for?
Hailing from the Isle Of Wight, these fresh-faced Brits might just be your next favorite band. The title refers to their coastal bringing; this is their debut, not a greatest hits comp. Reminders hit that sweet spot where everything they play sounds familiar yet new, with the energy and exuberance of Eighties punk stalwarts from the Buzzcocks to Clash to Wreckless Eric but delivered in a fresh new way. And while the lyrics deal with the usual travails of post-adolescence, Reminders bring a palpable sense of joy to their music, especially when they get to crank it up and go nuts on the chorus, as they do on “Waiting On You,” or when they’re bemoaning how life seems like an endless cycle of disappointments (as on “Carousel.”) The final track, “Between Now & Six Thirty,” shows off the band’s acoustic chops; MTV Unplugged, are you listening?
MINIBEAST – On Ice (self-released)
Peter Prescott (of Mission Of Burma, Volcano Suns, Kustomized) has my ear whenever he has a new project. Here, he plays guitar and keyboards, with killer drummer Keith Seideland bassist Niels LaWhite. While there’s some declamatory shouting, Prescott’s vocals here serve more as one of the instruments than as a singer per se. “This is liquid music,” the band states on its Bandcamp page, “always moving.” And move it does, from down ‘n’ dirty punkola to tribal funk to futuristic synth tracks, the magnificent rhythm section locking into a groove while other instruments (including sax on a few songs) explore new dimensions. Much of the album unspools like improvised jams; other tracks quite deliberately evoke specific emotions and environments. Many tracks last seven minutes or longer, and the entire album runs over an album. It’s music to experience, not consumer quickly or in small bites.
Hailing from Ft. Wayne, IN, and not yet old enough to drink in the bars and clubs they play, Namen Namen (brothers Dylan and Ron Record on guitar and drums, bassist Zara McCord, and guitarist Kellen Baker) apparently own the reincarnated souls of countless teen garage bands from the Sixties. These six tracks, recorded live by a neighbor, boast a raw energy that’s sadly missing from a lot of music these days, whether they’re rumbling through a garagey thrasher like “Dracula AD” or channeling the softer side of the Velvets on “Mona.” They apocalyptic Nuggets-y rocker “2021” simultaneously suggests the Stooges and the early Stones. Lenny Kaye, call your service.
TWO BASE HITS
International pop punk, especially Ramonescore, always entertains, as long as you don’t expect anything you haven’t heard before. But if the idea of 13 catchy, harmonic tunes aping the Queers and Screeching Weasel floats your boat, then by all means check out this trio from Oslo, Norway. They do several things exceptionally well: Perfect background harmonies elevate many of the tracks, the bassist knows what he’s doing, and you have to love how these mooks so unabashedly update their idols. Cindy was on methadone, but here, “Becky’s On E.” Tracks like “Go Godzilla,” “Alien Girl,” and “I Believe In UFO’s” revisit a familiar scifi theme. And if you’re tired of doing the Riverdale Stomp, there’s always “The Hallington Hop.” Nothing runs much over two minutes either; Norweigns never overstay their welcome.
Several Baltimore punk lifers (Dom and Chris Kuhns from Pulling Teeth, Sebastian from Noisem, and Lucas Carscadden from Dead Mechanical and more recently, L Cars) flexing their chops on two tracks of fast, melodic hardcore. Honestly, I would listen to Lucas singing the IHOP menu if it had a good beat, but these go way beyond that (even if, together, they clock in at least then two minutes.) “Anchor” has the stronger melody but “Permanent Mistakes” packs a harder punch with its ramalama hardcore breakdown. The lyrics impress too; “Permanent Mistakes” expresses the pent-up rage of a dutiful husband and father who wants to cut loose and go nuts, while “Anchor” delivers a dismissive kiss-off to a loser who won’t (or can’t) get it together: “You were an anchor/ Cut free to sink/ So fucking sink.”