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.
Punk rock lifer Mikey Erg checked a few things off his bucket list with this album, recorded with Steve Albini at his Electrical Audio Studios in Chicago with DIY hero Jeff Rosenstock (Bomb The Music Industry!, Quote Unquote Records) on guitar. Albini gives the album a live feel – you honestly feel like you’re in the room with the musicians as they play the tunes – and Mikey’s cranked out another batch of terrific songs, from fast paced pop-punk bangers like the very Ergs-like “Just Like Judee Sill,” as well as the hooky and infectious “Caroline Told Me So,” “Goodnight Vienna,” “On A Carousel,” and “Heartbreak No. 53.” He balances the album with a few slower, angstier numbers (“Always Like This,” “Landmines,”) but regardless of tempo, the lyrics pretty much stick to broken hearts and regrets, which have always been this guy’s forte. And that voice – part sneer, part snarl, part puppy-dog yelp – gets you every time.
Joyce Manor’s first new release in four years will come as a welcome return to form for the band’s loyal following, since it eschews some of the swinging-for-the-fences embellishments of the last few albums (which made it seem like the Manors were still dreaming major label pipedreams) and simply does what this band has done best for well over a decade. Frontman Barry Johnson remains a prickly SOB who only sings love songs with a jaundiced eye toward the whole commitment thing, but that’s always been half the fun. The other half comes from those big hearty singalong melodies and arch, well-crafted lyrics, which this time include a pointed putdown to bands who haven’t enjoyed JM’s durability (“You’re Not Famous Anymore,”) a cadre of ridiculously catchy anti-love songs (“Gotta Let It Go,” “NBTSA,”) and a paean to the fucked up misfits who have supported this band for nearly 15 years (“Dance With Me,” which includes the observation, ““You’ve never been an addict, you’ve just got a little habit that you couldn’t cope without.”) The nine songs here literally fly by, each one fun and fast and to the point; nine songs, 19 minutes, and not a wasted second.
EXTRA ARMS – What Is Even Happening Right Now? (Forge Again Records)
Detroit’s Extra Arms deliver the best album title I can imagine for mid-2022, as our democracy, our economy and even our health all seem on the precipice of doom, but don’t let that fool you: This is a powerfully upbeat and smile-inducing album that melds pop-punk and power-pop, with frontman Ryan Allen doing a fairly good vocal imitation of a 70’s teen idol while the rest of the band chugs and thunders and harmonizes behind him. The result’s a bit like the Rubinoos or Bay City Rollers with pop-punk guitars and far ballsier rhythm section. And how can you not love the sentiment of “I Don’t Wanna Die,” which sounds like the apotheosis of megalomania but then twists it with the line, “I don’t wanna die / I want to stay alive/ for you.”
After a rousing if rough-edged debut EP, this Mesa, AZ trio delivers a full-length that might singlehandedly make you believe in the power of feminism, whoa-oh gang vocals, and punk pride to change the world. With notable guest vocalists and co-songwriters along for the ride, the ‘VPunks deliver nine killer in-your-face tracks here. Production by Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s Linh Le captures this band’s abundant energy in the studio and maximizes any and all musical assets, from the throttling rhythm section to powerful surging guitars. The songs can wax as melodic as the GoGo’s or roar as persuasively polemical as Bad Religion. Whether putting down misogyny (“No Rules,” ) Big Pharma (“Apothecary Ailment,”) flying their feminist flag loudly and proudly (“We Do It Better,” “Hold On,”) or just writing an old-fashioned, open-hearted, unabashedly uplifting punk rock anthem (“Todos Unidos,”) the Venomous Pinks have something to say, and you need to listen, and sing and dance and shout along with them.
UP FOR NOTHING – Esacape Route (It’s Alive)
It’s been six years since we’ve heard from Brooklyn’s Up For Nothing (who celebrate their 20th anniversary this year,) but as so often happens in punk rock, very little has changed. And that’s a good thing. Like their similarly long-lived neighbors the Challenged, UFN churn out upbeat, grungy pop-punk with exclamatory vocals, subtle but excellent guitar parts, and a rhythm section that’s as unstoppable and uncontainable as an avalanche. The title track pretty much sums up the album: a consummate multi-guitar attack, snotty but exuberant vocals, huge hooks, and rousing whoa-oh choruses. “Bad Person” speeds things up a notch for a shot of ramalama hardcore, “Cigarettes And Ash” has a bass part to die for, “Goldbrick’s” got a frantic Naked Raygun vibe, “The Grateful Dread” reminds me of the Ergs, and the acoustic finisher “Pine Barrens” seems to be written just to make this Jersey guy happily proud. Congrats, guys, success on all fronts.
VISTA BLUE – Stay Gold (self-released)
The ultra-prolific Mike Patton and friends are back with another pop-punk extravaganza, this one themed around S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. If you know the book (or the movie) (and who doesn’t?), the song titles and lyrics will have you waxing nostalgic as you’re bobbing your head. The music’s exactly what you’d expect if you know Vista Blue, a catchy melange of Screeching Weasel and Queers-style pop punk with a mix of loping, poppier tunes and heavier, faster ones. There are googly-eyed love songs about Cherry Valance and Randy’s girlfriend Marcia, and harder-edged tunes about rumbles and going on the lam, and a lovely doo woppy ballad about escaping to the country. Each track on Vista Blue’s Bandcamp page comes with a quote from the book, which adds a welcomed bit of context. Vista Blue scores again; or as Pony Boy might say, it’s tuff.
There’s a long backstory to these four instrumental surf-rock tracks, recorded by Michael Purkhiser back in the late Nineties. Twenty years earlier, Purkhiser played in a reputable power-pop combo called The Action while his older brother Erick was busy inventing psychobilly as Lux Interior of the Cramps. Purkhiser pursued an all-but-forgotten solo career and then in 1997, adopted the name 3-D and recorded these tracks, which lay unreleased for decades until Art Bourasseau of MuSick Recordings heard and wanted to release them. So here they are, and if you’re an aficionado of surf rock, you’ll enjoy them. Purkhiser packed the EP with great riffs, groovy Farfisa organ fills, dramatic bass, and even his own “3-D Theme Song” that mixes funky soul riffs with stinging psychedelic guitar solos. “Moonshot ’69” updates “Telstar” and “Requiem For A Surfer” manages to imbue surf rock riffs with a funereal feel. This might be more artifact than release, but it’s certainly a fun listen.