Jersey Beat Music Fanzine


Jim Testa

I don't like the term "Best Of." How do I know what the best albums of the year were? I didn't even get to listen to most of them. And you certainly don't need the likes of me to tell you about Beyonce or Kendrick or the Rolling Stones, there are plenty of other places for that kind of thing. These are my top records of the year, the ones I enjoyed listening to the most, the ones that I expect to enjoy for years to come... broken down to national acts and - because local music NEVER gets enough attention - my favorites from the Greater NJ/NYC area. In a pretty awful year in almost every way possible, 2016 at least managed to produce some good music. Enjoy!

Savages – Adore Life (Matador)
Kevin Devine – Instigator (Procrastinate! Music Traitors)
Peter Stampfel – Holiday For Strings (Don Giovanni)
Richard Barone – Sorrows & Promises: Greenwich Village In The 1960's (
Pansy Division - Quite Contrary (Alternative Tentacles)
The Gotobeds – Blood/Sugar/Secs/Traffic (Sub Pop)
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years (Sinderlyn)
Mikey Erg – Tentative Decisions (Don Giovanni)
Bouncing Souls – Simplicity (Rise)
Drive By Truckers – American Band (ATO)
Bob Mould – Patch The Sky (Merge)
Speed The Plough - Now (Coyote)
The Paranoid Style – Rolling Disclosure (Bar None)
Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart (Dirtnap)
Eleanor Friedberger – New View (French Kiss)
Mitski – Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans)
The Mr. T Experience - King Dork Approximately: The Album (
NOFX – First Ditch Effort (Fat Wreck)
Plow United - Three (Its Alive)
Cheap Trick – Bang, Zoom, Crazy… Hello! (Big Machine)

NO ICE - Come On Feel The NO ICE (
Rick Barry – Curses, Maledictions, and Harsh Iterations (
Glueboy – “Yikes” EP (
Ex-Mothers – Strange Fortune (
The Anderson Council – Assorted Colors (Jem)
The Romantic Comedy – “Let’s Be Said Together” EP (Rhyme & Reason)
Big Cheese - Supersonic Nothing (
The Everymen - These Mad Dogs Need Heroes (Ernest Jenning/Orchard)
The All-About – Be Safe Goodbye (
Tri-State – We Did What We Could Do (
TV Sound – Telecommando (Killing Horse)

DEAN WEEN – The Deaner Album (ATO)
MIKE WATT – Ring Spiel Tour ’95 (Columbia Legacy)
GRIM DEEDS – Hails and Schwing! (
MIND SPIDERS – Prosthesis (Dirtnap Records,
QUICHENIGHT – Camille’s Market (
EVAN O'DONNELL - Concrete Concrete AIN SVP AVR (

Paul Silver’s Top 20 Records for 2016

Let’s face it. 2016 sucked, big time. From the devastatingly awful election cycle to the numerous musical legends who died, from the ugly rise of white supremacy to the murder of innocent people of color at the hands of the police sworn to protect them, 2016 has been nothing short of deplorable. But, amidst all of the reasons for anger and sadness, hope shined through in the form of a bumper crop of great records.

As usual, my list is based off the music I’ve reviewed over the course of the past twelve months. And, as always, the order has nothing to do with ranking and everything to do with the order in which I reviewed the records. I’ve also got a big change in my list this year! Instead of calling it a top “10” which has somewhere between fourteen and seventeen records on it, this year I’ve got an even twenty!

THE DIRTY NIL – Higher Power – It’s just rowdy, raucous rock’n’roll music, loud and furious, ready to fuckin’ punch you in the jaw then in the gut with a one-two combination that you’ll never see coming.

WESTERN SETTINGS – Old Pain – Their previous release, “Yes It Is,” was phenomenally good, but this EP is next level stuff. The music is lush and beautiful, Ricky Schmidt’s gravelly vocals have just the right amount of angst, and the guitar solos have such a lonely, sad sound.

FREE KITTENS & BREAD – American Miserablist – There’s a range of styles here, from energetic guitar-fueled tracks to Americana-laced songs to nerd-pop. The arrangements are thoughtful, with judicious use of backing vocals and even horns, to add the right flavor to the song. And the song writing is really, really good. The lyrical content, the melodies, the arrangement – it’s all top notch.

FUCKO – Dealing With The Weird – Solid female lead vocals with occasional harmonies, easy tempos, fuzzed out guitars and bass – it has a pop punk edge without being too punk, and it’s indie-pop without getting too sappy. It’s got just the right balance. The best sounds of 90s indie-pop is still being made, courtesy of Fucko!

PEARS – Green Star – This sophomore release from NOLA’s hardest band charges forth with more deliberate pop punk and hardcore music than before. Where 2014’s debut, “Go To Prison,” was “thrown together,” according to vocalist Zach Quinn, “this, we slaved over it.” The time and attention certainly shows. The songs rage as hard as ever, but they show more cohesiveness than the debut.

BASTARDS OF YOUNG – White Knuckles – Bastards of Young play an emotionally edged brand of rock’n’roll, one that loosely falls under the pop punk category these days. This album can be exhausting to listen to, in a good way. I can even see this album, with the right push, getting it in front of the right people, having broader crossover appeal with the “alternative” crowd, so maybe expect bigger things from these guys.

MEAN JEANS – Tight New Dimension – Tight Ramones-core with a distinct humor. They’re fast’n’loud pop punk, and they’re a hell of a fun band. This is a really strong release.

DARIA – Impossible Colours – Starting with a solid post-punk base and adding in emo energy and some awesome mature melodic lines, France based Daria presents a dozen strong songs on this latest LP. Now, so-called emo-punk or post-punk bands are a dime a dozen, you know? But what sets Daria apart from the pack are those really strong melodies.

FAINTEST IDEA – Increasing The Minimum Rage – Faintest Idea, hailing from the port town of Kings Lynn in Norfolk, UK, are a pretty fucking unique band in this world, and that should be treasured. This album features tight, energetic ska music blended with tough working class oi, and the result is nothing short of astounding. And, while most ska bands, and even ska punk bands, are generally about fun times, Faintest Idea inject a heavy dose of economic, social, and political justice into their lyrics.

DIRECT HIT! – Wasted Mind – Direct Hit!’s Fat Wreck Chords debut is a solid release. The songs are somewhat poppier than those on previous releases, and the production is certainly a lot slicker. The arrangements are denser and more complex, too, some with instruments that are not usual to Direct Hit, like synth, piano, and saxophone.

MARTHA – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart – This band from the northeastern corner of England presents a dichotomy: the songs are sparkly and bubbly with a strong sense of optimism, but the lyrics tend more toward uncertainty, resignation, and even despair. Happiness and sadness, you can’t have one without the other. The songs teeter on the edge between pop punk and indie pop with the best aspects of each.

YEESH – Confirmation Bias – This is some of the strongest post-punk music I’ve heard in awhile. Angular intervals, generous use of overtones, minimalist melodies, and repetition are the tools used in constructing the ten songs on this, the band’s sophomore full-length LP. The songs are powerful and edgy, loud and insistent; they’re Chicago tough.

FOUR LIGHTS – Death to False Posi – The sounds of bands like The Mr. T Experience or The Parasites are what immediately come to mind, except maybe more refined and more mature. They effortlessly blend a variety of styles into something so coherent and musical, and they make it their own. This is an outstanding release.

TOYGUITAR – Move Like A Ghost – There’s just something about toyGuitar. Perhaps it’s the sunny feel. This is garage rock’n’roll mixed with surf, mixed with a bright beachy summer day. Perhaps it’s the sense of fun you get from the music. This is completely danceable, gloriously bouncy stuff. Perhaps it’s how genuine and nice the members of the band are. Or, perhaps, it’s all of these.

CRUZ RADICAL – S/T LP - This album rocks fucking hard! It’s hardcore! It’s rock’n’roll! It’s garage punk! It’s all of that and more! I can’t tell you what any of the songs are about, because they’re all sung in Spanish, but this record rules! It starts fast, loud, and hard and never lets up.

GREAT APES – California Heart – Lyrically, this is an incredibly strong yet depressing record. Listening to lyrics, such as from the title track, you get a sense of hopelessness that a kid in a boring town with nothing to do and no future in sight might feel. Musically, the album continues to be Great Apes’ unique blend of pop melodies and powerful punk, with some songs leaning more one way than the other.

WOLVES&WOLVES&WOLVES&WOLVES – The Cross & The Switchblade – Though the powerful lead vocals are gritty and grimy and the music pounds and pummels, the melodies are warm and inviting. The band’s emotions are palpable throughout the record, with every song dripping with feeling. The intensity never lets up, driving the album forward, on and on, just like the train that we hear at the very start of the first song.

SIGNALS MIDWEST – At This Age – Absolutely gorgeous. That’s the first thought that ran through mind upon the first of several listens to this, the fourth full-length album from the Cleveland outfit. Every song exudes emotion. The passion is palpable.

ST. LENOX – Ten Hymns From My American Gothic – Last year, St. Lenox’s debut LP, “Ten Songs About Memory and Hope,” floored me with its soulfulness, its truth, and its beauty, and it made my list of top records of the year. I couldn’t imagine that Andrew Choi, New York attorney and the alter ego of St. Lenox, could ever top it. This year, Choi is back with the sophomore St. Lenox release. The ten songs on this album are touching, poignant, and they’re beautiful.

DEAD TO ME – I Wanna Die In Los Angeles – Who isn’t a sucker for great, bouncy, melodic music that has an edge? And even more so when the lyrics to those happy sounding songs hide darkness and pain? That’s the magic of Dead To Me and it’s on display in this, the band’s first new release in five years.


In no particular order...

1. Nails - You Will Never Be One of Us. Music for a really bad day, or in my case, every day.

2. Against Me! - Shapeshift With Me "Dead Rats" might be my favorite song of the year.

3. Lysine Contingency - Virtuous Sentiments. Loved the name a lot; loved the playing even more.

4. St. Lenox - 10 Songs About Misery and Hope. I think about the 90s a lot, too.

5. Pinkwash - Collective Sigh I love a band that is challenging and brilliant; not an easy combination to find.

6. Transience - Skyward When Nails finally beats me down, this picks me back up again.

7. Grim Deeds - Hails! America's punk genius most deserving of your effusive praise.

8. Not Blood Paint - Believing is Believing I still listen to this frequently and I remain delightfully overwhelmed.

9. Pill - Convenience This could be America's most important band right now and Veronica Torres rules!

10. Dwell - Inate If you have not heard this, your life, at this moment, is embarrassingly incomplete


Top 40 @ 40 (or, the Top 5 x 9)

If Jersey Beat has taught us anything, it’s that people over 40 can be trusted. I’ve now got four decades under my belt, and my finger isn’t just on the pulse, it’s on NINE different pulses! Also, this is my clever way to give high honors to many different, deserved releases.


01. Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart (Fortuna Pop!/Dirtnap)
Their debut made my top list a few years ago, and here we have a follow-up that’s superior in almost every way. A four-piece punk-pop outfit from Durham, Martha’s hard candy sound churns together guy/girl vox, reference rock, and a heap of catchy hooks. The songwriting is stronger and the production is better this time around, but what really shines here is the confidence in the execution. Yes, these songs are about neurotic hearts and embracing the weird, but they do it with such conviction and gusto you can’t help but be all in.
02. Paranoid Style – Rolling Disclosure
03. Mikey Erg – Tentative Decisions
04. Doug Tuttle – It Calls On Me
05. Against Me! – Shapeshift With Me

TOP 5 Hip-Hop Albums

01. Sammus – Pieces In Space (Don Giovanni)
Your basic album review structure is two pronged: Describe what it is, and say if it’s good. Usually the former is the easy part and the latter requires you to dig up and carefully dissect those sneaky earworms. With Pieces In Space the situation is reversed. I can rattle off why I like her album easily – a smooth flow with sharp statements, clever-as-fuck lyrics, DIY beats, and hot guests spots all gel into a package that has me enjoying it on each consumption. However, Sammus here is defying categorization – not because it’s nothing like anything before it, but because (cue millennial-speak) It. Is. Everything.
It’s conscious rap: Themes of searching for and affirming identity permeate the album. Songs about race, gender, relationships, and therapy step into the ring, and Sammus’ narratives pull no punches. There’s a collegiate vibe in these tracks, but it isn’t backpacker fluff. These songs are cathartic, poetic, and thought-provoking, like all good conscious rap is.
It’s nerdcore: “All summer I’ve been overdosing on Pokemon...” Video games, sci-fi, comics, cartoons – it’s all touched upon. These beacons of geekery aren’t just here for name dropping, though. It’s all still flowing through the filter of an African-American female that’s acutely aware of geek culture’s shortcomings. Sammus is one of us, but she’ll also call you on your shit. Internet trolls and white-washed cartoons beware.
It’s pop: The first time I saw Sammus I had no idea what to expect. As the set went on her talents just kept stacking up. She makes her own beats, she can rap, and she can sing! Normally the hip-hop/pop crossovers don’t work for me. The choruses aren’t that great, and most of the time it just gets in the way of busting out more rhymes. Here though it succeeds. I find myself enjoying the pop hooks (though, full disclosure – one of them is a straight rip of Weezer’s “Holiday”) in the moment, and then later on humming them to myself after the record is over.
It’s rare that an album can draw on so many sources, still have a vision all it’s own, and not end up as a chaotic mess. When it happens I have a difficult time deciphering all it’s mysteries, but nevertheless I know I like it.

02. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
03. DJ Shadow – The Mountain Will Fall
04. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You For Your Service
05. Factor Chandelier – Factoria

Top 5 Shows I Saw This Year

01. Brian Wilson, Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary Tour (Chevy Court, Syracuse)
The joy I felt watching Brian Wilson, Al Jardine, Blondie Chaplin, and top-notch back-up bandmates play Pet Sounds in it’s entirety completely overshadowed the sad fact that the journey is over. Don’t get me wrong, may Brian live another 74 years, but this was the last tour for the masterpiece, and I feel like the Beach Boys chapter has finally closed (again, for the last time, for real).

Brian Wilson’s voice was unmistakable, charming and pleasant, you could still hear the heart in those lyrics. That being said, he sang with a different phrasing on many songs (since he can’t hold notes) and left the high end to Al Jardine’s son, Matt. What it lacked in purity was surpassed by the the ingenuity of the arrangements. The backing band pulled double and sometimes triple duty to do the album justice.
This album came out 10 years before I was born, and yet when I heard those songs I still felt like a kid again. That’s gotta be magic, right?
02. Andrew Bird w/ Sinkane (Ithaca Theater, Ithaca)
03. Belly (Union Transfer, Philadelphia)
04. Mikey Erg (full band), Worriers (The Chanticleer, Ithaca)
05. Tacocat w/ Pujol (Everybody Hits, Philadelphia)

TOP 5 Imports

01. Aries – Adieu Or Die (K Records)
I’m (ahem) a long time fan of K. The indie pop from that Northwest scene is right in my wheelhouse. I fell in love with this album before I even knew what label was involved, so this was just a happy coincidence after all. Not that being on K points to the sound here, of course. Yet again we have an amalgamation album (and again, created entirely by a lone individual – I’m beginning to see a theme here).
Isabel Fernandez makes swirly, flowing pop, directed by layers of vocal arrangements and buoyed by electronic flourishes. It’s dreamy yet not serene, it’s psychedelic without being trippy. Think more Dairy Queen flurry than cosmic expansion. It’s definitely a fun pop wave where the ride just feels right, even if you truly don’t know what’s going on. That literally may be the case with me, since it’s entirely in Spanish and I know nothing of the language beyond things like “yo la tengo” and um… “Los Lobos.”
02. Triangulo de Amor Bizarro – Salve Discordia
03. Kikagaku Moyo – House In The Tall Grass
04. Fumaca Preta – Impuros Fanaticos
05. Africaine 808 - Basar

TOP 5 Old Acts With New Albums

01. Teenage Fanclub – Here (Merge)
This is a special category of artists, only inclusive of bands that have been around for 25-plus years. But that specialness is compounded depending on how long the listener has been a fan. For example, Dinosaur Jr. being in the top 5 for someone who discovered them this year might mean something entirely different than a top-5 nod from someone who’s been a fan since 1989. Same ranking, totally different experience, emotions, and reactions to the music. Anyway, some artists make legit comebacks. Some just consistently make quality releases. Others coast along, making music that might not match their best, but it has the added advantage of being familiar. Here by Teenage Fanclub falls somewhere stage center in that triple-Venn diagram. They had a “standard” amount of releases in the 1990s (five over the entire decade), but this is only the fourth Fanclub album since the turn of the century – the last one being Shadows from 2012. Not enough output to be considered consistent, not absent enough for any album to be considered a comeback. But anytime an album shows up, it’s the most welcome thing on my radar. It’s Big Star homage through a Britpop filter. It’s Bealtes worship through the American indie/alternative lens. Catchy songs with vocals that at this point are defying age. Lots of breezy tunes, and they all hit the right spots of this long time fan. As I’m cultivating mixes and playlists I can hardly choose a favorite. That’s the sign of a solid album.
02. His Name Is Alive – Patterns Of Light
03. Dinosaur Jr. – Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not
04. David Bowie – Blackstar
05. Bob Mould – Patch The Sky

TOP 5 EP's

01. Vista Blue – Pray For Rain (Self Released)
This band actually put out eight EPs in 2016. My all-powerful manipulation of iTunes allows me to snag hits from all of them, but if I had to choose one, it’s the Pray For Rain EP, because… songs about baseball, dummy! In addition to being little gems of pure pop punk (read as: Lookout and Mutant pop), the EP has that “right time, right place” situation going for it. In a year when people started caring about baseball again, they threw 4 tracks at fans old and new, ready to laugh, cry, and enjoy a history in the making.
02. Total Bettys – Connect With The Couch
03. 50 Foot Wave – Bath White
04. Entrance - Promises
05. Exmaid – Neurotic Fantasies

TOP 5 Reissues, Collections, Compilations, Etc.

01. Big Star – Complete Third (Omnivore)
One of those releases that not only supplies us with exquisite music, but also sets the standard for all reissues that follow. Lots of rough/demo material without being overkill, and a final product that is as close to a completed vision as one could expect. Once again, I’ll admit my shortcomings as a music nerd and disclose that I was previously mostly only a #1 Record fan, but this stuff has me falling in love with the band all over again.
02. Psychotic Youth – Power Pop To Die For
03. Damien Jurado & Richard Swift – Other People’s Songs
04. XTC – English Settlement
05. Milk ’N ’Cookies – Milk ‘N’ Cookies

TOP 5 Old Albums I Discovered This Year

01. Trio – Trio (Mercury, 1981)
I admit it. I was one of THOSE people. One of those horrible, ignorant, fad-chasing sheep that didn’t care about an artist until a death made the news. Sure I knew that one song from a car commercial, but I never gave German outfit Trio a second thought (or even a first thought) until drummer Peter Behrens passed away this May. One internet wormhole later and I now recognize what a unique, creative, and awesome band Trio was. It definitely falls under minimalist, but usually that genre translates to “boring” in my mind. This album is miles from that, with bouncy oddball tunes that are “art punk” enough to make you raise an eyebrow, but performed with a little wink and smile, letting you know the band is aware of (and gleeful about) the absurdity of it all. Motorik rhythms, sparse keyboards, and even sparser guitar form the skeleton sound, but combined with these bare bones are pop elements that burrow deep. So simple! So devious! Discovering this album this year has been the perfect plan.
02. Dave Edmunds – Repeat When Necessary
03. V/A - It’s A Small World
04. Devo – Something For Everybody
05. Del Fuegos – Boston, Mass

The Bottom 5 (a.k.a The Rest Of My Top 10)

01. Dr. Dog – Psychedelic Swamp
02. Pity Sex – White Hot Moon
03. Quilt – Plaza
04. Tacocat – Lost Time
05. Hurry – Guided Meditation


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