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.
WHIMSYLAND – self-titled (Bloated Kat Records/Waterslide Records/Worst Idea Records)
From the infinite wellspring of childlike wonder that is the mind of Chadd Derkins comes the best pop-punk album of… the decade? Chadd assembled an all-star pop-punk lineup to record this tribute to an imaginary amusement park, where every ride has a theme song and every moment is filled with joy. The core band includes several people you probably know if you’re a regular reader of this column, including Mikey Erg, Grath Madden, Chris Grivet, Charles Vorkas and Andy Conway, along with a small army of guest contributors (Dan Paquin, Adam Rabuck, Azeem Sajid, Erin Hays, Jonnie Whoa-Oh, Kelly Sullivan, Adam Fletcher, Kait Eldridge, and lots lots more). The tone of the songs change along with the attraction they’re celebrating: “Nautilus To Neptune” and “Volcano Valley Rally” promise high-speed adventure and fun, “Frankenstein’s Silver Mine” is appropriately spooky, “Oatmeal Cookies: The Ride” feeds your sweet-tooth craving for power-pop, “The Keurig Dr. Pepper Hall Of Tomorrow” rings with hope and promise, and “Burglary On The Orient Express Starring Hercule Parrot” features a rascally character with a Belgian accent and musically recalls The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The basic 15-track album concludes (of course) with a fireworks spectacular as we leave the park, but there are nine more tracks available including demos, remixes, and alternate versions.
ONEIDA – Success (Joyful Noise)
With the demise of Sonic Youth, Oneida emerged as the leading flagbearer of NYC’s underground rock scene – 25-year veterans of experimental guitar music who forged their own DIY scene (and watched gentrification take most of it away). Oneida’s never been categorizable, following their own muse wherever it’s lead, from dub to noise-rock to krautrock to abstract minimalism. And now, after a 4-year hiatus, they’ve done the one thing no one would have expected: Success is a 7-track rock ‘n’ roll record that mimics the Velvet Underground, from thudding 4/4 Mo Tuckets beats to spastic guitar solos to extended drones. The last few Oneida albums have been rambling affairs that – like the legendary eight-hour concerts at their former studio Ocropolis – required effort to get through. Success is fun, and at times even funny, from the 10 minute-plus “I Wanna Hold Your Electric Hand” to the two-minute rager “Opportunities.” “Paralyzed” is built over an undulating “Foggy Notion” riff that would have made the early Modern Lovers soil their jeans, while the head-bobbing “Beat Me To The Punch” invokes not just the VU but acolytes like the Feelies and Dream Syndicate, complete with an ear-rending freakout solo at the bridge. Put this on at your next party and people will not only be dancing but wondering what the heck it is and how you got so cool.
This trio of Brooklynite women follows up the 2020 debut “5 Years Behind” with 11 tracks that deliver everything you want in a sophomore release. The songwriting’s sharper, the performances a bit more on point, but what makes them special – specifically, an unflinching honesty in confronting life’s harsh truths and their own foibles – remains undiminished. Often singing in three-part harmony, THICK build on the legacy of bands like the Go Go’s and Bangles, injecting catchy hooks and singalong choruses into songs, but they’re also clearly inspired by Riot Grrl punk as well as contemporaries like Wet Leg; on “Wants & Needs,” one of the album’s standout tracks, the band even dips back into Sixties girl-group pop for inspiration. While the rest of us bemoan how the pandemic wrecked out lives, THICK sings “I Wish 2016 Never Happened,” remembering a bad relationship and lamenting, “I try not to hate myself for what you did.” The album might be titled “Happy Now” but lead singer Shari Page spends most of the album explaining why she’s not, sometimes with shoegazing melodies and sometimes with blasts of chunky hard rock. The least we can do it listen to what THICK has to say.
DUST STAR – Open Up That Heart (Lame-O Records)
Legend has it that Justin Jurgens and Cameron Wisch began writing the songs that would become Dust Star’s debut album on an acid trip, jamming in a shipping container that doubled as a makeshift bedroom. Whether that’s true or it, it’s a fact that both musicians hail from the ridiculously prolific Purchase, NY music scene that produced the likes of Mitski, Porches, Frankie Cosmos, LVL Up, and Double Double Whammy Records. So perhaps it’s not surprising that this album is unrelentingly wonderful, a succession of punky power-pop and chugging, melodic punk rock that shares inspiration from Pet Sounds and Big Star’s #1 Record. There are other comparisons to be made as well: Teenage Fanclub on the poppier tunes, Pixies on the punkier ones, even the Raspberries when these guys really shoot for the pop-o-sphere. I can’t pick a favorite song. What’s yours?
ANTHROPHOBIA – Live At Nitro Bar (self-released)
If you don’t know Reading, PA’s Anthrophobia by now, you haven’t been paying attention. Ageless scene warriors who have been throwing down their unrelenting blend of punk, metal, grunge, and hard rock for decades, frontman Frank Phobia and his current lineup have graced us with a live album to coincide with the band’s induction into the Berk’s County Hall of Fame. Frank remains in great voice on the punishing “Vanishing,” adds a soulful swagger to “Half Annihilated,” and screams himself hoarse on the pummeling ferociousness of “Ghosts.” This is a great (and cheap!) introduction to am uncompromisingly force of nature that might be a flyspeck in the history of rock ‘n’ roll, but earned a place of honor in my personal Hall of Fame long ago.
I LOVE RICH – You Have The Right… To Remain Sexy (self-released)
Imagine, if you will, a band that in 2022 worships Kiss, has members named Chuck E. Sleaze and Full Throttle, and write songs like “God’s Gift To Women,” “I Paid In Sex,” and the immortal “Revolution In My Pants.” After listening to this several times, I still can’t decide if I Love Rich, fronted by singer/bassist/songwriter Rich Love – is parody, pastiche, or dead serious. This might have been funny when the Dictators did it in 1975, but I Love Rich comes across as loud, obnoxious, and misogynistic. Of course, Kiss rode that horse for four decades and still gets to compete in the occasional rodeo, so what do I know?
PERSONAL STYLE – “False Memories” / “Heartbeat Memorial” (self-released)
Buffalo’s Personal Style – Stephen Floyd (bass, vocals,) Bryan Johnson (guitar, vocals,) and Even Wachowski (drums) – were nice enough to send three of their vinyl singles. This is the new one, and it certainly whet my appetite to hear more. The A Side, “False Memories,” is a bit of restrained post-punk with a nimble bassline and metronomic drums that recall Talking Heads, with soft verse/loud chorus dynamics and poetic lyrics that examine how the memory of a relationship often bears little resemblance to its reality. “Heartbeat Memorial” on the flipside revs up the speed, volume, and distortion for a fullbore punk rock onslaught that comes at you from every angle, from the plaintive vocals to a wall of thundering guitars, crashing cymbals, and feedback. Recommended! Check out their other singles on Bandcamp.
TITUS ANDRONICUS – “An Anomaly” (Merge)
NJ punk titans Titus Andronicus tease their upcoming album The Will To Live with this 7-minute video single, in which frontman Patrick Stickles’ gruff voice is backed by an harmonic choir on a lengthy Dylanesque diatribe about the nature of heaven and hell: “If you want to meet the Devil, meet a man / And if you want to meet an Angel, go to Hell.” A repeating classic rock riff and an extended guitar solo fall flat in creating the kind of excitement this band is capable of, and as for the video… I am hardly the arbiter of what is cool, but Patrick, dude, Paul Westerberg never would have danced like that in one of his band’s videos.