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.
For his fourth album as The Slow Death (and first in five years,) Jesse Swan Thorson has assembled a dream team lineup, including Mikey Erg, Dillinger Four’s Paddy Costello, and label honcho Josh Goldman of the Dopamines and Raging Nathans. Thorson throws a fakeout by starting the album with a slow, aching bit of Americana (not unlike John Doe’s solo work,) “Is There Anything Left,” but then immediately cranks up the tempo and delivers a furious, urgent onslaught of punk rock. Even there, though, Thorson (who tours and records with everchanging bandmates) remains a bit of a chameleon: “Now I’m Into Nothing” uses a wailing Velvet Underground guitar line and drone to propel the vocal, “Make ‘Em Go Away” offers meaty, midwestern post-emo, “Imaginary Problems,” “Young Trees,” and “Gimme One More Chance” lapse into riffy Ergs/Dopamines-styled pop-punk, and “While I’m Not Letting It Go” dips into early Sixties, Brill Building pop’n’roll. Whether he’s wailing or moaning, singing or shouting, Jesse Thorson knows how to deliver a song, and this all-star band makes the most of every note.
When the 3-piece lineup of Kal Marks imploded after the release of 2018’s “Universal Care,” frontman Carl Shane faced an existential dilemma: Go in a new direction, or reconstruct the project he’d guided for a nearly decade and a half, a group that proudly earned the accolade “loudest band in Boston.” Happily for us, a new four-piece, two-guitar lineup is here, tracing its sonic lineage to the SST and Touch & Go bands of the Eighties but delivering its blunt force trauma mindfucks with state of the art production as well as a sharp sense of social satire. Often dismissed as “noise-rock,” Kal Marks may be noisy but “My Name Is Hell” equally features powerful melodies, intricate shadings, and intriguing lyrics. Tracks like “Everybody Hertz” and “Debt” unleash the fury that Kal Marks fans expect, but subtler tracks like “Ovation” (which attacks televangelism) and “New Neighbor” add layers that make this much more than mere noise-rock.
This Austin quartet brands their music “Manchester by way of Minneapolis,” claiming influence from the Jam, XTC, and Teenage Fanclub as well as the Replacements and Husker Du. There’s definitely hints of Morrissey and the ‘Mats but these hearty, powerchorded heartland rockers seem far more Midwestern than Mancunian. If you haven’t heard the band, this album collects remixed tracks from two EP’s and will become the group’s first vinyl release. It makes perfect sense that Danny Dunlap (vocals, guitar), John Christoffel (guitar), David Hawkins (bass), and Josh Power (drums) have opened for Bob Mould and Superchunk and been championed on radio by Steve Van Zandt. They tread that fine line between punk, garage, and power-pop, with few sharp edges but an abundance of robust melodies, singalong choruses, supercharged guitars and energy-infused drumming.
TWO BASE HITS
Ben Weasel’s been writing Screeching Weasel songs for more than 35 years now, so it’s not surprising that 14 albums in, there’s a lot here that comes across as either formualic or overly familiar (“whoa oh oh oh oh.”) “Awful Disclosures” was recorded with the same crew as 2020’s “Some Freaks Of Atavism” (with the addition of Ben’s pre-pubescent son Joe on keyboards,) which means All-American Rejects’ Mike Kinnerty added guitar and produced. That probably accounts for some moments of overproduction, when the snotty vocals and iconoclastric lyrics actually come wrapped in cinematic music that sounds like it’s gunning for either a more mainstream audience or (shudder the thought) actual radio play. Yet with all that, fans will find a lot to like, with the 54-year old Ben souding downright youthful and invigorated on tracks like”Six Ways To Sunday,” “My Favorite Nightmare,” and “All Stitched Up,” delivering on that snotty, bouncy, ultra-catchy and, of course, Ramones-y pop-punk sound that Screeching Weasel pioneered in the early Nineties. Other tracks – like the genre exercise “In La Quinta del Sordo,” which sounds like it might have been written for the Riverdales a decade ago, or the dark “In The Castle” (with one of the most bizarre sexual metaphors ever) – fare less well. The keyboards impress, nothing like what you’d expect from a kid in elementary school, but synthesizers on a Screeching Weasel album seem as out of place as the band performing in leisure suits and platform heels. There is an exception; “Hey Diana,” with its Hammond organ-sounding keyboards, a buoyant, propulsive melody, and a classic Weasel lyric about a girl, stands out as a highlight. Final verdict: Not quite as fulfulling as “Some Freaks Of Atavism,” a thousand times better than the band’s attempt at a rock opera, “Baby Fat, Part 1.” (Rum Bar Records pressed CD’s, Striped Records has it on vinyl.)
These punk rock lifers – Pete and Bryan from Bouncing Souls, Brian Baker of Bad Religion/Dag Nasty, and Ari Katz from Lifetime (along with drummer Danny Windas) – sound like they’re having a blast on their second album as Beach Rats, recreating the hardcore they played and listened to as kids. The band debuted in 2018 with a 6-song EP that might have been tossed off in an afternoon. “Rat Beat,” written and recorded during pandemic downtime, delivers a full dozen tracks with more diversity and complexity. For the most part, Beach Rats race through rapidfire hardcore tunes like overcaffeinated adolescents, channeling boyhood idols like Adrenalin OD and the Descendents as Katz spits out lyrics about youthful obsessions and attitudes – “Bikes Out!” “Saturday,” “Summer’s End,” “Beach Talk,” “She’s A Goner,” and the quintessential “Fuck You Dad.” But “Clorox Boys” expands into more melodic, post-punk territory, offering a template for where these old pros might head if they do a third album.
Anton Benedicto and Nick Wuebben started playing these songs in a bedroom to entertain themselves. With the addition of a rhythm section, Adult School now brings this playful mix of indie-pop and emo to the world, delivered with ingratiating punk rock earnestness and zing. The tracks range from zippy and upbeat (the Jawbreaker-ish “St. Sebastian,” “Off Day”) to slow and introspective (“& Other Smash Hits,” “Celebrity,”) with the de rigeur nostalgic romp about “High School” and, naturally, songs about falling in love (Benedicto identifies as he/him, Wuebben as they/them.) They save the best for last, ending with “Love/Less,” packed with tight harmonies, propulsive rhythms, urgent vocals, and a terrific bass line. This is a band that deserves more attention; check them out.
The grooviest garage-punks in South America are back with 13-tracks of Farfisa-driven rock ‘n’ roll, still living the garage-rock revival that blew in and out of New York City back in the mid-Eighties. Vintage guitars, amps, and clothes add to the fun, along with song titles like “La Gente Es Una Mierda,” “Soy La Droga,” or “El Hombre De Dos Cabezas.” Apparently these Argentinian and Peruvian retro cavemen launched a Sixties revival throughout the continent, faithfully reincarnating the sounds of the Seeds, ? & The Mysterians, the Count Five, and the Music Machine. The Fleshtones do this better than anyone else on this side of the equator; Los Peyotes keep the fun going for the bottom half of the hemisphere.