TOP 10 NEW JERSEY ALBUMS
(click on title for link)
Females - All At Once
The Screaming Females' greatest strength has also been the
group's primary weakness; the New Brunswick trio has always
been sui generis, a thing unto itself, with Marissa
Paternoster's mind-bending guitar excursions and trademark
vibrato vocals stamping the band's identity on everything
they did. On the expansive 15-track All At Once,
the Screamales consistently strive to expand their palette,
embracing everything from pop-punk melodies to classic rock
anthems, a ska breakdown here or a prog-rock solo there. All
At Once provides proof positive that the Screaming Females'
nearly 15-year journey continues apace; they've never lost
the grit of those New Brunswick basements, but here they're
clearly aiming for the stars.
& The Rain – Beneath The Stars
Ashley & Justin Morey's giddy new-wavy synth-pop proved
to be one of the most infectious releases of the year. It's
a little unnerving at first to hear a diehard guitar rocker
like Justin (who literally grew up in front of New Jersey
crowds playing in the heavy-as-fuck Rye Coalition and psyche-rockers
Black Hollies) having so much fun with synthesizers and
drum machines, along with Ashley's yummy reverb'd vocals
Neck – Will This Do?
Lily Mastrodimos, formerly of Jawbreaker Reunion, fronts
this combo that combines folk, pop, and grunge into an eclectic
and electric mix of styles and sounds. Lily's dad is my
old friend Jim Mastro (Bongos, Health & Happiness Show,
Guitar Bar All-Stars) which may be where she gets that powerful
voice, assured sense of presence, and unfailing grasp of
songwriting basics. But Long Neck's overwhelming sense of
melancholy and regret belongs to her alone, and makes this
release such a riveting emotional experience.
City – Everyone’s Insecure
Ray Ketchem and Renée LoBue have been quietly and
consistently been making excellent albums together since
the '90's but the band garnered well-deserved attention
and a new audience with this breakthrough collection that
skirts the boundaries of jazz, indie pop, and show music.
Drummer Matt Hockenjos and siblings Emily and Justin Bornemann
move beyond the twee surf-pop of their earlier work to create
a full-realized collection of indie pop songs here, tracks
that transcend genres combine all the band's strengths,
from Emily's enchanting vocals to Justin's frantic guitar
to Matt's reggae-punk rhythms.
Like A Girl – What Makes Love Last
Singer Nicolle Maroulis' standing in NJ's transgender community
(and her work with the LGBTQ support group nomoredysphoria.com)
only serves as a footnote to her Montclair-based group's
stunning sophomore album. These warm folk-pop tunes come
infused with a bittersweet wisdom about love and longing
that will hit all listeners in their hearts, and the gorgeous
guitar tones and simple but propulsive percussion deliver
Maroulis' vocals beautifully.
The Happy Fits – Concentrate
I couldn't find Clinton, NJ on a map but I'm so glad this
talented college-aged trio came to my attention through
word of mouth and some of my fellow music journalists. While
Vampire Weekend seems an obvious influence, the Happy Fits'
irresistible, euphoric pop tunes reminded me of the House
Martins, a British band that these kids have probably never
heard. Never mind, just check them out, because these guys
might be the next Front Bottoms.
Emmich – “Auto Bio Part II”
Musician/author Val Emmich, a Jersey Beat favorite since
the late Nineties, follows up his 2014 album Auto Bio
Part I with this ostensible 5-song EP. (The $5 digital
download nets you an album-length 11 songs, with six bonus
demos.) These intensely personal songs feature Emmich's
signature folk-rock style, with lyrics that explore the
regrets, sorrows, memories and joys of a life well lived.
"Going To Waste In The Garden State" rises to
one of my favorite Val songs ever, a rollicking reminiscence
that recalls vintage Ben Kweller.
The Porchistas – Porch Drive
The Porchistas released this album on a flash drive, the
sort of out-of-the-box thinking that's always characterized
this fun, veteran Montclair combo. They're alternately goofy
and political, romantic and nonsensical, drawing from country-western,
folk, punk, and on this album, polka. A great album if you
feel like dancing around your apartment on a rainy day.
Birds – Roll Credits
It's hard to believe these garage-punks just celebrated
their 10th anniversary, but they've never sounded better
than on Roll Credits, a frantic collection of ageless,
timeless loud/fast music. Founding guitarist Mike Hunchback
is back in the fold, providing roiling melodies behind Brian
Gorsegner's snotty vocals. Part Angry Samoans, part Dead
Kennedy's, Night Birds realize that hardcore works best
when you don't eschew melody for speed, that surf-rock is
just as punk as metal, and that the personal can be as political
as screaming about the government.
Racecar – The Real Housewives Of Pyongyang
As a wise man once said, punk rock is like Christmas; it's
always more fun when there are kids around. When that kid
is Bloomfield's Troy Donohue, you get something special,
songwriting that's as madly in love with Dio as the Ramones,
and lyrics that communicate the travails and joys of being
16 like... well, only a 16 year old can.
NEW JERSEY EP’s
Front Bottoms – “Ann” EP
On "Ann," the second of the Front Bottoms' "Grandma
EP's," the band revisits another collection of tunes
mostly written and performed early in their career. But
here, the songs - which predictably focus on the travails
of post-adolescence, always Brian Sella's trademark - have
been recorded with the band's current lineup, with often
sophisticated and complex arrangements, adding horns and
strings and layered synths. It's both a nostalgic trip back
for the band's longtime fans and a look forward to what
the Front Bottoms may sound like in the future.
Gates – “Almost There” EP
Primarily the songwriting project of Ryan Smith, Jersey
City's Turnpike Gates bring a Celtic accent to what Greil
Marcus memorably called the music of "the old, weird
America," with rough-hewn vocals and bare-knuckled
riffage that brings the music of the heartland home to the
post-industrial dystopia of the Meadowlands. Recommended
for fans of Ezra Furman and Ike Reilly.
Yawn Mower – “Could Eat, Would Sleep”
NJ's always had its share of inspired duos like Cinema Cinema
and Brick+Mortar; add to that list Asbury Park's Yawn Mower
(guitarist Mike Chick and drummer Biff Swenson.) "Could
Eat, Would Sleep's" combination of impressive musicianship
with goofy elan recalls a lot of what Jersey does best,
mixing quirky humor with power-fuzz guitars and and defiant
Character Actor – S/T EP
A Jersey punk-rock supergroup of sorts, with the Ergs/Black
Wine's Jeff Schroeck, Night Birds' Brian Gorsegner, and
Full Of Fancy's Evan Kiel, the Character Actor EP came together
when Jeff and Brian's entry into fatherhood required them
to take temporary hiatuses from their other bands. The result?
About eight minutes of aggro pop-punk that's as much as
to listen to as these guys undoubtedly had making it.
Elevator Pitch – “First Floor” EP
Hoboken's first homegrown band to make a mark since Sweet
Lizard Illtet in the Nineties, most of this teenaged quintet
may still have driving licenses and SAT's ahead of them,
but their debut single displays remarkably sophisticated
musicianship and songwriting chops. Fiercely experimental,
the EP includes keyboardist Ed Horan's frenetic ode to Trump
son "Eric" and a jazzy-infused instrumental, both
of which promise great things to come.
21 Kings – “Things I Couldn’t Say”
Rich Quinlan raved,"The four tracks on 'Things I Couldn’t
Say' are exactly what is missing in contemporary rock n’
roll: Big riffs, catchy hooks, and enough tempo shifts to
make each song distinctive." With an obvious nod to
the Nineties, these childhood friends come of age on their
second EP, with first-person narratives that explore the
intricacies of modern life.
is an independently published music fanzine
covering punk, alternative, ska, techno and garage
music, focusing on New Jersey and the Tri-State
area. For the past 25 years, the Jersey Beat music
fanzine has been the authority on the latest upcoming
bands and a resource for all those interested in
rock and roll.