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.
Jeff Janiak of Discharge provides the chilling vocals for this post-punk supergroup whose members have played with the likes Amebix, Zygote, Minstry, and Nausea. Ominous tracks like “The Tyrant Dies,” “Echoes Of Compromise” and “Dreadful Necessities” offer a chilling soundtrack as we march toward the death of democracy and mutually assured armageddon. The riffs, melodies, vocals, and percussion draw from Industrial and Goth and go them one better; “The One Thing We Cannot Avoid,” of course, turns out to be death. “Let Them Eat Fake” does with pessimism and nihilism what did with clay and marble. Be warned, but prepared to be impressed.
GOO – “Chomp” EP (self-released)
Keighley, West Yorkshire sounds like one of those quaint little towns you find in British sitcoms or murder mysteries, but as the home of goo, it’s now on the rock ‘n’ roll map. Fronted by guitarist Tanisha Badman, whose voice is cheeky sunshine, the lower-letter quartet writes infectious, banging singalongs with clever breaks and gorgeous harmony vocals. “Arcadia” references British poetry and legend, “Beth” wallows in self-doubt but finds a way out, “Rush” shares a conversation between friends – one of whom’s having a bad day, “De Novo” revisits the theme of finding positivity amid chaos. But it’s “Call In Sick,” previously released as a stand-alone single that will inspire you to shell out for a download. Equal parts Wire and Art Brut, it’s a post-punk anthem with an irresistible insistency about when those days when you don’t want to go to work but realize you can’t afford to stay home. As the Brits would say, “brilliant.”
Wow, this is wonderful. Three young women just out of college move from a small Indonesian town to Jakarta and somehow get discovered by Kill Rock Stars. Of course, the whole story is a bit less glamorous; Grrrl Gang have been rocking since 2016 so like most overnight successes, they’ve paid dues up the wazoo. But at least we get to delight in these rocking affirmations and anthems, like the bass-driven raver “Birthday Blues,” the gloriously self-assertive “A Fight Breaks Out In A Karaoke Bar,” the romantic “Blue Stained Lips,” and the quintessentially riot grrlish “Cool Girl.” They can rock out, they can harmonize, they can write songs, and I daresay they can be bigger than the Spice Girls if they keep making records this good.
“Ignore Alien Orders” is another pandemic album, this one from Stockholm, Sweden. Singer/guitarist Jens Aker wrote and recorded all the parts, except for longtime collaborator Thomas Hedblom on bass. The seven tracks hew to the alternative era sounds of Husker Du and Dinosaur Jr., with thick layers of turbulent guitar and thudding drums. Aker often echoes the disgust and malaise of Bob Mould; you can hear it on “Robot Creeps,” the anti-fascist “Brownshirt Trojan,” and the pro-labor “Worker’s Curse” (“tax cuts for the filthy rich / the rest should just be grateful for the chance to eat shit”). “Pattern Breaker” and “Keep Walking – Keep Rising” up the tempo with a little more energy, while the talked/sung “Alienation Blues” brings it all home with clobbering intensity.
SADLANDS – self-titled EP (self-released)
Produced by the Bouncing Souls’ Pete Steinkopf, this Brooklyn/Queens quartet features dueling singer/guitarists Samantha Campanile and Jess Lane, with Harley Cox on drums and Louis Rabeno on bass. The sweet, almost Dolly Parton-ish “McClellan” kicks off the four-song EP with melodic indie rock, kicked up several notches by the punky “After Tonight,” which ramps up the tempo, volume, and sass quotient. “Flowers” adds a 90s grunge flair with a triumphant lead vocal, and “With Friends Like These” wraps things up with a punchy “it’s not you, it’s me, no it’s really you” breakup song. Terrific guitar sounds here from Pete, and the two lead singers each add a unique flavor. More please.
Given what’s been in the news lately, anything that invokes a smile seems precious, hence my hearty recommendation for Australian power-poppers, The Summertimes. Test the waters by streaming “My Beautiful Girl Harbour,” which brings a bit of the earwig melody of “I Melt With You” but expands into a dreamy guitar solo and an “ooh-ooh ahh-ahh” chorus that lifts a weary soul. “Inside” has a Nuggets-y garage-rock thump, “Password” brings a Carnaby Street strut from the 60s, while “Love (It’s The Word”) brings jangly folk-rock to the party. If you think a song called “Athens, GA” might have an REM vibe, well, you’d be right, and the Summetimes nail it. “The Perfect Wave” wraps up the album with surf-rock guitars and a Zombies chorus, just the thing for what promises to be a chilly winter ahead.
WORM QUARTET – Carpe Tedium (self-released)
Tim “Shoebox” Crist has been delighting fans of The Dr. Demento Show for decades, and on his first new album in 12 years, he delivers 32(!) tracks and snippets of wacky, spazzy, satirical, nonsensical, and frequently hilarious inventiveness, recorded in a home studio using synths, keytar, and drum programming (with a few guest stars like nerdcore legends MC Lars and Devo Spice). Anyone who’s been gifted with logo’d crap from their employer will identify with “My Job Gave Me A Poncho,” parents who have cluelessly helped kids with homework will love “Math Is Bullshit,” aging punks will appreciate “Too Old For The Pit,” and lots of husbands (and wives) will laugh at “Tired Of Not (Having Sex With You”). If Monty Python and Lewis Carroll and Weird Al had a baby, it would rewrite the laws of human biology. But it might sound a bit like Worm Quartet.
It’s been a while since these Hasselhoffs were “young” they’re nearing their silver anniversary as a band, but happily remain a reliable conduit of adult pop-punk (and yes, that’s a thing). While the catchiness and harmonies hit familiar notes, “Dear Departed” benefits from expanded production and ambition, with piano, synth, horns, and strings adding complexity and texture, and songs that range from four and a half to almost nine minutes long. The lyrics extend beyond the usual pop-punk fare as well; there’s a wisdom and ruefulness earned by experience here, as well as a literary quality, in some cases drawing inspiration from Ray Bradbuy or Edgar Allan Poe. “You Belong To Me” could find a home on Classic Rock radio, and the elegiac “Still Got Time” is the cocktail you get from mixing Green Day with The Beatles.
3 DOLLARS – “You” / “Surprise” (Bloomfield Drive Records)
I have seen the future of rock ‘n’ roll yada yada yada, but seriously, check out these four Hoboken, NJ high-schoolers who make a stunning debut with two tracks channeling a myriad of influences (including a wad of Replacements). A-side “You” melds chugging riffs and stinging leads into a full-frontal attack until frontman Arthur Pawley’s vocals come in with keening urgency. Then the band pulls back for drummer Ben Kamel to show his stuff during an extended bridge, which explodes back into those riffs. You expect the vocals to come back but they don’t. 3 Dollars showcases its chops but keeps you guessing, and lord is that ever unexpected for a band who’s seven months away from its first high-school diploma. “Surprise” delivers two minutes of chugging rock that straddles punk and emo, with a world-weary, lovesick vocal whose stuttering cadence tosses 4/4 time aside.