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.
As befits a band that’s more Jersey than a pork roll breakfast sandwich, the grizzled, graying, and utterly uncompromising Cathedral Ceilings identify only as Nicky, Tommy, and Ralphie, and have come to rock you. Recorded and mixed by the inestimable Tom Beajour at the Nuthouse (a few blocks from my apartment, in Union City, NJ,) Summer of Misguided Dynamite sounds like what might have happened if the Descendents had moved to D.C. during Revolution Summer, or if New Brunswick’s Court Tavern had wound up spawning the same industry-changing zeitgiest as Eighties Athens or Nineties Seattle. Ralph Malanga, the guitar and voice here, has been at this for a while (Footstone, Stuyvesant) and he hasn’t lost an inch off his fastball, as they say in the Big Leagues. On this debut album (following two singles,) Cathedral Ceilings come out of the gate full bore and pound the listener with churning, head-bopping, unabashed fury, guitars ablaze and drums throttling for all they’re worth. It’s not until the 10th track that they take a bit of a breather with the ballad “Wanted To Say;” but then they’re right back at it with “The Prosciutto Happiness” (if someone rebooted “Friends” with fiftysomething rock ‘n’ roll lifers, this would be the theme song) and the Husker Du Meets The Police wail of “You Weren’t Even Listening.”
The vinyl for this doesn’t come out until July but you can download and stream it now, which would be an excellent idea. Another knockout pop-punk band from the Dayton, OH label, Starter Jacket puts the power in power pop, with a muscular guitar sound that packs a wallop even while the melodies and vocals charm your pants off. Luke McNeill from The Copyrights and Lanny Durbin sing and play guitar, with Matt Sailor on bass and Fred Malcolm on drums. There’s not a duff track here. Everything has this big thick enveloping sound that bounces and throbs and drags you in and makes you want to stay for more. I can’t even pick a favorite track, but I bet you will.
Whither riot girrl? Here’s a supergroup for you: Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Quasi, Wild Flag), Drew Grow (And the Pastors Wives, Careen), Kathy Foster (The Thermals), and Anita Lee Elliot (Viva Voce) with guest appearances from Stephen Malkmus (Pavement) and Mary Timony (Helium.) And it doesn’t sound anything like what you’re expecting. A cinematic sweep and air of melodrama inform some tracks, while others like “Wrong Wrong Wrong” reference glam and No Wave but again, delivered with drama. The title track channels Bowie – a big influence throughout the album– with a Tom Waits gutter poet intro. Slang keeps you guessing what will come next.
Although this Sonoma County, CA trio has released a few EP’s and played around for eight years, Happiness, To Me marks the group’s debut full-length. While perhaps not the best career move, waiting that long pretty much guarantees that a band will have an album’s worth of worthy songs that it knows how to play, and that’s the case here. Essentially the musical offspring of Green Day, with catchy-pop songs delivered with sharp harmonies and snotty insouciance, the band’s biggest strength may simply be its earnestness. This is a band that sounds like they mean every word, every note, every chord. But time and practice have also taught the group how to maximize its strengths. The arrangements uplift every track to its full potential. This record makes you feel good – about yourself and about the world – and we can use a lot more of that.
Long Island’s favorite Ramonecore nerds return with four fun, scifi-themed tracks which gleefully demonstrate the band’s knack for happy melodies, tight harmonies, engaging riffs, and solid songwriting. Of the four songs here, only two clock in at two minutes or more, so you won’t get bored waiting for the hook. And the Rochelles – fronted, as always, by the boyish power-pop vocals of drummer Ricky Rochelle – manage to accomplish quite a bit within a fairly restrictive genre template. They’re not reinventing the wheel but these old pros know what they’re doing.
THESE FAST TIMES – The Road To Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions (self-released)
There’s a little Jawbreaker in this Montreal quartet and that’s fine with me. You hear it in the raw-throated, emotional vocals and some of the melodies. But there’s also a whole lotta gang vocal singalong energy; six tracks here and they all grab you by the ears and don’t let go, propelling you on a sonic and emotional journey. Well worth checking out.