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.
On their second full-length in a nine year career, the Young Rochelles stick to a strict formula, but one that works well for them: equal parts power-pop melodies, tight vocal harmonies, and Ramones. Drummer and lead vocalist Ricky Rochelle still sounds like a lovesick middle-schooler, and that acts as a large part of the band’s charm. You see a title like “You Broke My Fucking Heart” and you think you know what’s coming. But even with echoes of 90s Lookout Records curmudgeons like Ben Weasel and Joe Queer, the Young Rochelles always bring a sweetness that lifts your heart. And on the album’s most inventive tracks, like “Fractured Fairy Tales” and “I Just Saw A Little Love In Your Eyes,” the band transcends its Ramonescore influences to produce something quite special.
You can never go wrong sampling the latest from Rum Bar Records, as evidenced by this collection of garage and power pop from New Englander Brad Marino. Consistently catchy, insistent, and redolent of 60s rock ‘n’ roll (“Lucy” even dips its toe into Beatlemania) the highlights here include two co-writes with Marino’s longtime running buddy Kurt Baker, and a power-pop gem (think “That Thing You Do”) featuring Geoff Palmer and Joe King of The Queers. The intro to “(She’s) Doing Her Thing” suggests T-Rex glam before finding a garagey groove with a spirited Farfisa and joyous harmony background vocals. Nice.
Nobody makes watching the world fall completely apart as much fun as Luk Henderiks, whose ‘00’s emo-on-steroids attack makes Teenage Halloween one of the most exciting bands around. His ten tracks on “Till You Return” bark, scream, shout, and plead with manic abandon. But even when he seems at the end of the rope – like on the desperate “Doctor” (“I need a doctor to cure my pain / It’s a nightmare, I’m living in shame”) – there’s a moment of hope, as he screams “you’re not alone.” The two tracks sung by bassist Tricia Marshall not only stand out because of her powerful vocals but for providing a powerful female point of view, especially on “Say It” where she rails against having to look over her should to avoid toxic masculinity at shows. And while I’ve singled out Henderiks and Marshall, Teenage Halloween truly functions as an ensemble, with tightly constructed vocal harmonies, powerful arrangements, and exquisitely curated solos.
Spoke/sung post-punk in the vein of Shame, Idles, or Fontaines D.C. and derived from the angular riffs and provocative/declamatory vocals of Wire and The Fall. So The Pleasure Dome don’t get high points for originality, but they do inject this formula with energy and excitement, along with some surprisingly effective quieter moments. Hypnotically throbbing bass and emphatic but unflashy drumming reinforce the aggression and disgust pouring out of frontman Bobby Spender, and there’s a grungy loud/soft dynamic they work well. “No Guts No Fame” wraps things up with an acoustic ballad that flirts with Dylanesque poesy (“you have to change if you want to stay the same”).
This second release from the French rock n’ roll trio Howlin’ Jaws comes on the heels of the Rolling Stone’s tepid new sortie and totally kicks its butt. Using psychedelia the band adds layers of distorted vox, fuzzed out guitars, and jangling percussion to their purposeful take on 60s garage rock. Sitars add a mystical edge to several tracks, while “Through My Hands” recalls Revolver-era Beatles. Singer/bassist Djivan Abkarian, guitarist Lucas Humbert, and drummer Baptiste Leon excel at injecting fresh energy into vintage sounds, adding complexity by altering rhythms, tempos, volume, and guitar tones.
Way, way back in 1989, Dave and Ronnie Parasite (then NJ’s The Parasites) played a show with Sweet Baby and were so taken with the band that they demo’d five songs to pitch for Sweet Baby’s next record. Sweet Baby broke up and these songs disappeared… until now! If you’re a Parasites fan, you might wish these songs had been practiced and polished and recorded in a proper studio, but even as roughshod basement demos, these are tunes you’ll want to own. These guys were cranking out the hits back in the 80s; melodies poured out of them like a leaky waterbed. The two Dave songs here – “Love Me Too” and “Fool For You” – eventually made into the Parasites catalog, but the Ronnie songs would have been worthy as well. An unexpected blast from the past that reminded how much I liked this band.
This double-album tribute to the songs of Adam Green features a truly all-star cast redeeming Green’s reputation as a songwriter, suggesting the former Moldy Peaches co-frontman is capable of more than potty-mouthed novelty songs. As a huge fan of the Peaches, I jumped right into Green’s solo career, but the Law of Diminishing Returns struck with a vengeance, and he consistently came across lacking the discipline or ambition to write an album’s worth of quality material (or deliver a vocal performance that sounded like he was actually, you know, trying). Well, that’s my take on the guy, but the likes of Father John Misty, Devendra Banhart, Ben Kweller, Jenny Lewis, Joanna Sternberg and even Sean Lennon clearly disagree. And by cherrypicking their favorite tracks and leaving the sillier dross behind, they make a point. The production across these 25 tracks varies greatly, from full-on studio sheen to lo-fi bedroom pop, and I can’t myself ever listen to this again from start to finish. But there’s some excellent stuff here from Ben Kweller, Frankie Cosmos, Jenny Lewis, the Lemon Twigs, and the Lemonheads. Sean Lennon turns “That Fucking Feeling” on its head, while Cut Worms and Jonathan Rado deliver impressive faux Dylan and Lou Reed turns respectively. Inspirational verse: “Jessica Simpson, where has your love gone? It’s not in your music, no.”
POPPY ROBBIE – Neighborhood Beautification Commission (self-released)
From Eugene, OR by way of SE Texas, Poppy Robbie might sound like a reggae act, and there are definitely Caribbean rhythms at play here, but the music leans more towards Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello than anyone named Marley. Check out “Robert Pollard Trading Card Collection” and “(Still Bored) On The Weekend.” Extra points for the title “Giving Up With The Joneses.”
Prolific San Diegan Mike Patton (not the Mr. Bungle one) delivers two gifts for the holidays, a Christmas-themed EP from his band Vista Blue and the return of his “A Christmas Story”-themed project, Ralphie’s Red Ryders. This is Ramonescore, pure and simple, but always catchy, clever, and often brilliantly snarky. And if there’s one thing we need at the holidays, it’s something to smile about.
Vista Blue’s “It’s Christmas Time” sounds merry enough until it deadpans, “And all around the world the children say ‘it’s Christmas time’ / and everybody’s happy for just one day.” “What Are You Gonna Get?” is about presents and says out loud what we all think: “You deserve something great/ like 10’s and 20’s and real estate.” The final track laments how the rain can ruin a White Christmas when it washes all the snow away.
Ralphie’s Red Ryders (featuring Ralphie, Flick and Schwartz) takes Jean Shepherd’s “A Christmas Story” for its inspiration. Recalling the scene where Ralphie gets his mouth washed out with soap, “I Didn’t Say Fudge” protests the character’s innocence, while “Notafinga” pays homage to The Old Man’s epic battles with the family furnace.