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.
HOME RUNS, First Quarter 2023
I’d love these American ex-pats who’ve settled in Dublin just for their monikers: Meet Cory Hotline, Barry Tape, Juvenile Delinquent, and Colin Sick, who bellow and bluster through nine rapid-fire gang-vocal’d pub anthems that are pure fist-pumping punk rock fun. There’s a little Screeching Weasel and a lot of beer and a goodly amount of grit in every one of these tracks, most of which fly by so fast you’re never quite ready for the next one. Until that is the band hits you with the anthemic five-minute closer; I can’t make out a word they’re shouting but whatever it is, I believe it.
Ivan Julian has enjoyed a long, successful career since helping to launch punk rock as sideman to Richard Hell in the original Void Oids, although very little has had anywhere near the impact. And that’s a shame, because the man still has charisma, chops, and – unlike the universally Caucasian original cast of CBGB regulars – soul. Originally a limited European CD release, Pravda Records has made “Swing Your Lanterns” available digitally as well as on vinyl and CD in the states, which will hopefully introduce it to a wider audience. Julian incorporates elements of soul, funk, jazz, and gospel in this musical gumbo that still has a punk edge but also a sassy, swinging bottom end. Julian’s style can veer from edgy post-punk to classic rock but zero in on the bass and you’ll feel always find a groove.
KEPI GHOULIE – Ramones In Love (self-released)
On the heels of a somewhat lukewarm original album commemorating his signing to Pirates Press, a deal that will include several much-needed reissues, inveterate optimist and pop-punk mainstay Kepi Ghoulie delivers a Ramones tribute album that actually puts a new spin on songs we thought no one ever needed to cover again. As per the title, Kepi’s chosen some of the bruddahs’ most romantic pop songs, and reworked the arrangement to eliminate Johnny’s buzz saw guitar and substitute acoustic instrumentation, synths, and orchestral arrangements. The album’s also cleverly curated, running the gamut from the self-titled debut to late-career and half-forgotten gems like “7-11” and “Bye Bye Baby.” Kepi’s take on “Questioningly” may well bring tears to your eyes (actually, Joey’s original did too, at least for me) and the R.E.M.-y jangle of “Needles & Pins” makes you wonder why the Groovie Ghoulies never did it back in the day.
Liverpool’s Mark Murphy (ex-Crocodile Gods and The No Marks) and the Meds blast off with 10 terrific tracks on their sophomore album, basically taking the bare bones of Ramonescore and injecting the genre with even more melody and energy. Murphy has a distinctive and winning voice and a careful listen reveals all manner of chord changes, bass runs, and guitar solos running through fast, short songs that could basically pass as hardcore if they weren’t so clever. That’s especially true of “Ceci N’est Pas Une Chanson” and “Indiana Jones & You,” which I can’t stop running through my head.
If you stumbled onto “Desire Pathway” without knowing anything about the hardscrabble and resolutely DIY power trio that made it, you’d think you were listening to a suburban classic rock station. Why, after nearly 20 years and eight albums, they’re NOT on classic rock radio and playing arenas baffles me, but the band probably wouldn’t approve of mainstream success anyway. For the record, what you have here is simply one of the most gifted guitarists of her generation, Marissa Paternoster, ripping off solos like it was 1972, backed by a rhythm section that seems almost telepathic in its precision. There are some truly beautiful songs here – particularly “Mourning Dove” – with pre-covid lyrics that detail a rocky patch in Paternoster’s love life. The band continues to rock out so effortlessly that you might almost wish for a misstep or crappy song just to break up the monotony of sustained excellence.
Five years ago and barely out of high school, Shame emerged from the Britpunk underground amid a pack of young bands who loved recycling the staccato Wire-y riffs and melodies and declamatory spoke/sung vocals of Nineties post-punk. On their third (and arguably best) full-length, the lads sound more like one of the keynote alternative bands of the Eighties. Shirtless frontman Charlie Steen took voice lessons, for one thing, and has found the confidence to sing as well as bark his vocals. And while the overall theme here – hangin’ ‘bout wit’ yer mates – doesn’t exactly qualify as mature, the songs suggested that these now-midtwentysomethings have thought a bit about life and the bigger picture and transcended that youthful obsession with whatever’s happened in the last half hour. Bottom line, there are songs here – and don’t worry, still a few aural anxiety attacks as of old – that you don’t just need to hear, but will want to revisit years down the road.
Apparently, Ishka Eadmeades is the GRIM DEEDS of Australia, a ridiculously prolific song machine whose latest project is Tee Vee Repairman. This was originally released (and sold out) on cassette, so you know it’s punk. But more to the point, the music has an early Stiff Records vibe with a Ramonesy backbeat, Buzzcockian vocals, and catchy melodies. I firmly endorse any 12-song album whose longest track clocks in at 2:20, and I truly hope the instrumental closer “Stuck In The Mould” was written after overdosing on Zen Arcade.
I fell in love with Scotland’s Murderburgers a dozen years ago at Insub Fest and was happy to learn that ginger frontman Fraser Murderburger is still plying his trade under the moniker Wrong Life. “Emo-ish punky bullshit” is how he describes these 11 tracks, but there’s much more going on here, especially if you read the lyrics and realize what a poet this man is. And the music, that’s the same sturdy Ramones-y pop-punk, slowed down in spots from the Murderburgers’ often frantic tempos but always melodic, often earwiggily catchy, and sometimes even moving. Inspirational verse: The sun’s a little brighter than it was last year/ I can almost see it through the thin sheets of bone that grew over my eyes at night/ When I’d sit there waiting for my heart to stop/ I’m glad yours didn’t.”