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.
Rabbit Rabbit, Speedy Ortiz’ first album since 2018, completes the evolution of Sadie Dupuis’ lo-fi bedroom project into a full-fledged band, with longtime touring members Audrey Zee Whitesides (bass, piano, vocals) and drummer Joey Doubek joining Dupuis and guitarist/keyboardist Andy Moholt in the studio. The sonic template comes from 90s grunge and Liz Phair; it’s loud and roiling and emotional but never emo, if you define that term as self-pity and narcissism that turn against those who have offended you. Dupuis has a master’s degree in poetry and if ever an album called out for a lyric sheet, it’s this one, but as with most of Speedy Ortiz’ catalog, listeners will have to be satisfied with gleaning tasty bon mots whenever Dupuis’ vocals rise above layers of squalling guitars and clattering percussion. “Scabs” takes aim at anyone who crosses a picket line for selfish reasons (timely with the SAG-AFTRA strike in the headlines, although it should be noted Dupuis worked throughout the pandemic with musicians’ unions to help her unemployed brethren). One of the most powerful tracks, “Cry Cry Cry,” talks about Dupuis’ inability to shed tears in public; “three ways to cry,” she sings, “and one of them is silence.” “S02” is a conflicted love letter to Los Angeles (“I love L.A., where the cars cut you off from the right lane”). If there’s a theme, it might be that coupling up may not be the best cure for loneliness; most of the songs deal with failed relationships, with most of the failure coming from within. “How to grow up?” Dupuis asks on the set-closing “Ghostwriter.” “Mostly I don’t push much. I’m tired of anger. How do I let it go?”
Up until this album, The Armed spent 14 years remaining anonymous, going so far as hiring actors to portray band members in public appearances, creating fake personas, and making deceptive videos. Now we know that The Armed is Tony Wolski, a former ad man and video director, recruiting a shifting lineup of musicians and, on this album, some big-name guest stars (including Julien Baker, QOTSA’s Troy Van Leeuwen, ex-RHCP guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, and Jane’s Addiction’s Eric Avery and Stephen Perkins). On 2021’s “Ultrapop,” The Armed toyed with the mainstreain but didn’t really stray that far from their experimental, post-hardcore roots. “Perfect Saviors” furthers that metaphormosis. Not that they’ve smoothed over all the rough edges, but “FKA World” and “Everything’s Glitter” could pass for a rowdier, gnarlier Strokes and much of album references Britpop and the arena-rock fulsomeness of the shoegaze era. The album ends with three outliers: The bouncy synthpop of “Lair 2,” the orchestral ballad “In Heaven,” and the electronic, jazz-inflected gallop of “Public Grieving.” Wolski was quoted as saying that “Perfect Saviors” was “a sincere effort to create the… greatest rock album of the 21st century,” and while it’s not quite that, you can tell that he’s trying.
GUJI – “Guji” EP (Godless America Records)
GUJI are a synth-based quartet featuring three Chinese nationals and Chachy, the American guitarist and singer for Shanghai punks Round Eye. “Chinese Rocks,” sure, but Chinese rock? That’s a rarity, especially with a track like “I Like To Hang Out In China,” which lampoons the customs and lack of social freedoms there, and “My Mao Suit,” which teases the enforced dresscode. The music hews toward catchy American New Wave with the metronomic pulse of Devo and lots of synthesizers and drum machine effects. It’s catchy and fun, with a sweet 60s doo-wop vibe on “Sorry Day” and lush vocals harmonies on “Cereus.” The Bandcamp page says this was recorded during “the great Shanghai of 2022,” so it might be a one-off, but I’d certainly like to hear more. Meanwhile, check out Round Eye.
The problem with a lot of earnest singer-songwriters is that they can get pretty boring. Not a problem with Jeff Rosenstock. The former Bomb The Music Industry and Arrogant Sons Of Bitches frontman has earned “voice of his generation” accolades for a string of excellent solo albums, and “Hellmode” proves he’s still got something to say, and a consistently entertaining way to say it. From the “It’s End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” word soup of “Head,” the singalong pop-punk of “Liked U Better,” or the tortured guitars on the sad-boy ballad “Soft Living,” Rosenstock proves himself a gifted songwriter who transcends his ingrained mopeyness with inspired songwriting. Rosenstock dips into acoustic folk-punk with “Healmode” and “Graveyard Song,” and channels The Descendents on “I Wanna Be Wrong.” There’s no better example of his modus operandi than “Future Is Dumb,” which transforms existential dread into a poppy banger worthy of MTX (the little ska break brings a smile too). “The future is gone, the present’s insane,” he wails; and we smile and sing along. Punk rock, man.
Brighton, UK’s Young Francis Hi Fi whip through 13 tracks in about 30 minutes, taking inspiration The Ramones, The Real Kids, and Lenny Kaye’s “Nuggets” compilation of 60’s garage singles. The song titles pretty much tell you what it sounds like – “I Wanna Hold You Tight (Tonite),” “Baby You’re Braindead,” “Girls Like You,” “Bad Attitude,” “Gimme A Kiss” – revved up to a manic tempo and delivered with maximum energy and minimum finesse. “Do You Like Good Music” slows down a bit and suggests these guys roll around with their KISS records out, but mostly this is rama lama punk ‘n’ roll that asks no questions and takes no prisoners.
If you know The Manges, you know Italians love The Ramones. Now meet Chronics, whose album arrives a tad late for summer but who do a dead-on pastiche of American garage-rock. The guitars ring with distortion, not surf-rock reverb, so it’s more punk than surf; think Real Kids meet Flamin’ Groovies. Between the distorted guitars and fuzzy production, I can’t make out most of the lyrics, but “Pigs In Heaven” doesn’t appear to be about the police (proof if you want it they’re not from the USA), and tracks like “Surf Town,” “Do You Love The Sun,” “Gimme Fun,” and “Bad Girls” provide a strong Frankie & Annette vibe. There’s also a substantial dose of teenage angst which you can understand, given that Chronics’ hometown of Bologna is hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean. Originally released on vinyl in 2022, the album is now available digitally and on CD from Spaghetty Town.