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.
Sadly this seems to be Future Girls swan song, but the Halifax quartet goes out on a high note with five strong tracks of melodic punk. Frontperson Matty Grace certainly has so many other projects on their plate (Weekend Dads, Cluttered, Century Egg, Modern Cynics, and solo recordings,) it’s amazing this EP happened at all. The band wrote these songs during the early days of the covid pandemic and, after recruiting Becca Dalley (Cluttered/Book Buddies) on bass and vocals, self-recorded the tracks. Future Girls’ so-called “bummer punk,” which has dealt with gender dysphoria, depression, and other mental health issues, doesn’t lighten up here. Failed relationships loom large, as does the pandemic and a viral sense of hopelessness (“Go on and watch me sink to the bottom now,” Grace sings on “Fever.”) But the guitars shimmer and drive, the drums pound with relentless momentum, the melodies explode, and the buoyant vocals imbue everything with the sense that we’ll get through this somehow. Kudos to Dirt Cult and Tarantula Tapes for releasing it without a touring band to promote it.
Earlier this year, Brisbane’s Semantics made a splash Down Under with “This Love Could Kill You,” which tackles the painful topic of domestic abuse with roiling rock guitars and sensitive vocals. The band’s debut full-length expands on that template. When American emo went mainstream in the early 2000’s, it sadly had a misogynistic streak a mile wide, but these Aussies manage to manifest the strengths of that genre with more nuance and empathy. The band rocks out (“Get In The Car,” “Embrace Monotony,” “Last Time”) with melodies and tempos that recall the bright shiny pop rock of the Ergs, “Sad Songs” slows things down with acoustic guitars and introspection, and even at their most emo (“Didn’t Want To Hurt You,”) they manage to wail without whining.
TWO BASE HITS
FRANK MAKAK – Let’s Give The Neighbors A Reason To Complain (self-released)
Like GRIM DEEDS, Frank Makak is a one-man pop-punk band, ably assisted by “Teenage Robot Tommy,” his drum machine. Although he’s new to me, his Bandcamp page has albums going back to 2008, so he’s been banging this stuff out for a while. The seven tracks here offer variations on the Ramones/Weasel theme, the upfront bass adding a distinctive touch. “Do You Really Wanna Dance?” puts a fun spin on an old chestnut, “Breaking Out Of The Institute” melds Ramonescore with British New Wave, and I have no idea what “Frol” is about (publish the lyrics, dude) but it’s catchy. Finally, given that Makak is based in Montreal, I can report that nothing about this seems even vaguely French or Canadian.
To help hype their U.S. tour with The Chats, Portland, OR’s Mean Jeans “discovered” three unreleased tracks from their 2016 Fat Wreck release Tight New Dimension. If you already like their Ramones-y brand of jokey pop-punk – four chords, one string solos, and all – you’ll enjoy these tracks even if they don’t exactly add anything new to the genre. “Mind Fulla Slime” boasts an irresistible singalong chorus, “My Body Is A Wasteland” veers into Teenage Bottlerocket territory, and “Twistin’ Off A Cliff” adds the requisite “whoa-oh-oh’s” to the nihilistic dance smash of the year. I’ve never hear a Mean Jeans song I didn’t like, and that’s saying something.
PIGGIES – “And now…” EP (Monster Zero)
While this Kobe, Japan pop-punk trio sound like they’re 16 years old, Piggies formed back in 1997 and reunited in 2017 (the label calls them “very good, very mysterious!”) More power-pop than pop-punk really (think Kepi Ghoulie or Pat Termite, but co-ed,) the group’s Chipmunk vocals verge on twee, but Japanese bands do American punk so squirrely that it doesn’t matter, it just winds up sounding cool.. You won’t find a catchier or hookier EP on either continent either, and while the debt to the Queers or Screeching Weasel can be heard, Piggies reinvent those tropes with their own anime’ spin. Fun stuff.
POP UPS & FOUL BALLS
THE BLEEDING HEARTS – Rags To Riches (Bar-None)
Bob Stinson was only 27 when he was kicked out of the Replacements, in part for his substance abuse problems but equally due to a power struggle with frontman Paul Westerberg. In 1993, Stinson and some Minneapolis buddies recorded this album as The Bleeding Hearts, who then almost immediately imploded. Two years later, he was dead. Long unreleased and all but unheard, these tracks were largely written by vocalist/guitarist Mike Leonard, but the Replacements influence is undeniable. Several tracks nod to the Heartbreakers and the Rolling Stones, with a shambling blues vibe; “Imagination” sounds like an Exile On Main Street outtake (which is not a bad thing.) The short, punky “Gone” resurrects the sound of the ‘Mats’ “Suck” (meets Henry-era Black Flag,) while “Something Never Comes” strives for the Beatlesque. What we don’t hear are any of those amazing riffs that made Bob Stinson’s Replacements so special. Glad I finally got to hear this, kinda disappointed it’s so rote.
SAVAGE HEARTS – “1000 Degrees” / “White Light” (self-released)
The NYC duo of Gary Hews and LASE (with Russel Yusuf on drums) delivers two tracks of gutbucket rock ‘n’ roll with KISS vocals and lots of heavy guitars. Funny thing is that it works, in a Motorhead kind of way. Beavis & Butthead would have creamed over this stuff, and I suspect the pimply headbanger in all of us still get off on it now and then. The band put it better than I can: “Played in a hurry with sweaty hands and chronic delusion emerge Savage Hearts from the steamy streets of NYC, paying homage to the hyper-driven muse of loudness through the vital beat of repetition; this ain’t a trendy nostalgia act, fuck that.” Indeed.