Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 


DEFEND THE RHINO - Fabricated (Mint 400)

Under the name Defend The Rhino, Canadian Nathaniel Sutton has released two albums of instrumental music on Mint 400. Problem is, instrumentals tend to have a niche audience, and it's a very small niche. So on Fabricated, Defend The Rhino gives us four instrumentals with and without vocals: The vocalists from Mint 400's flagship act Fairmont duet on "Winter Sweater" (which, from the shaggy laconic melody to the title, recalls Yo La Tengo;) Tiegan, a "solo folk jazz artist" on Mint 400, tries on a new genre with great success on the alluring electro-pop "In The Meantime," with its tribal beats and shimmering synths. I only know Young Legs (the solo moniker of NJ musician Steve Donahue) from his version of "Dumb" on Mint 400's tribute album to Nirvana's In Utero, but he finds a similar Cobain-esque groove on "Blue Dog," an exquisitely sad composition tinged with regret. And finally, a guy I'm quite familiar with - Adam Bird, of aBird, Those Mockingbirds, and Perfuma - adds his nuanced, raspy vocal to the orchestral "Afterlife," a somber, reflective ballad you could imagine playing over the end credits of your favorite Wes Anderson flick. Thematically, Fabricated holds together as a soothing rainy day record for chill afternoons, even with the disparate vocals; but I suspect these songs' future may lie in licensing them to film and TV, where they'd work perfectly.

YAWN MOWER - "Could Eat, Would Sleep" EP (Mint 400)

Jersey has no shortage of inspired duos, from Cinema Cinema to Brick + Mortar to the Components; they're all just drums, vocals, and usually a guitar or bass, but they're all different enough to carve out a niche in their respective scenes. To that list add Asbury Park's Yawn Mower (guitarist Mike Chick and drummer Biff Swenson,) whose wild live show - with crazy wigs, Hawaiian shirts, and plenty of ROCK - has earned them a rep as one of NJ's buzz bands of 2018. "Could Eat, Would Sleep" convinces me to believe the hype; the 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 insouciance. "Locals Summer" (about that idyllic time of year down the shore after the Bennies go home but before it gets too cold) needs more cowbell, but otherwise it's perfect, a clever rock 'n' roll pop tune (with raging sax solo and earworm hook) that, in a perfect world, should be blasting out of every car radio from Belmar to Cape May. The snarkily poppy "Operators (Are Standing By)" could be a Fountain Of Wayne outtake, with its insistent chugging melody and subtle pop intelligence. And in the great tradition of "finding metaphors for getting your heart broken," it doesn't get much better than "Kickstand." This is terrific. I want to hear more from these two numbnuts.

POSTER CHILDREN - Grand Bargain! (posterchildren.com)

What 14 year hiatus? Grand Bargain! is angry, energetic, political, and absolutely thrilling. The Poster Children's first release since 2004 (kids, y'know; it's hard to tour with kids) rocks with an urgency that makes this one of 2018's most exhilarating releases. Remember that before the band took its break, the Posterkids released a covers EP as a reaction to George W. Bush's re-election with tracks like the Clash's "Clampdown," Heaven 17's "We Don't Need No Fascist Groove Thang," and Fear's "Let's Have A War."

"Grand Bargain" kickstarts the new album with a fiery "fuck you" to Trumpworld, with guitarist/vocalist Rick Valentin spitting out declamatory lyrics over a thundering backbeat and ear-punishing riffs:

"America held hostage day one/A lot of folks woke up without power this morning /It’s every man for himself/And every woman at 70% of the going rate/ In the land of the free market/And the home of the wage slave/It's not the robots you need to worry about/It's the corporate human/I am a paid enemy of the state/Guilty in an attempt to educate/To teach is to leech to sell divine/The business of America is business.""

"Hippie Hills," "World's Insane," "Final Offense," and "Big Surprise" continue the album's assault, each a driving rock track with Valentin's disgust over the modern world palpable in his delivery. The band slows things down a bit on the reflective "Lucky Ones" (with a lovely doo-doo-doo bridge that reminds me of Pavement's "Cut My Hair,") and the quiet, foreboding "Safe Tonight."

If you liked the Poster Children before (I discovered them before they had even released their debut EP, thanks to an invite by old pal Mike Potential, and raved about every release through 2004's No More Songs About Sleep And Fire,) rest assured you won't be let down by Grand Bargain! Everything this band did well - from frantic barnburners to moody ballads, always with intriguing lyrics and earwig hooks - comes back with a vengeance. What took you guys so long? (Poster Children will be at Rough Trade in Williamsburg on Wednesday, July 18.)

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THE PORCHISTAS - Porch Drive (store.cdbaby.com/cd/theporchistas7)

Montclair's backporch troubadours The Porchistas drop their latest album digitally and on (CD? No. Vinyl? Guess again...) a 2G flash-drive wristband, an idea that's both delightfully goofy and just flat out brilliant. And that describes the band's music as well, with Alan Smith and Adam Falzer sharing lead vocal duties on 10 tracks that will make you both smile and think. These genre-hopping folkies seamless drop a reggae shuffle into one track, honky tonk piano on another, skittery ska here and laconic country pop there; and while you'll smile all the way through, these guys drop some meaty ideas into almost every track: "Intervention" mocks the hypocrisy of corporations that sponsor "Wellness Weeks" for their employees while polluting the water and air; "Hope For the Flowers," a lovely duet between Smith and Jenn Mustachio, reiterates the band's ecological ideals; and "The Abe Vigoda Polka" melds They Might Be Giants whimsy with gypsy violin in a hilarious road trip tale that includes a chance meeting with the infamous rubber-faced actor. Falzer's "Blue Louise" and several of the tracks remind me of the "country-eastern" rock pioneered by NJ's Cropduster a generation ago; good-timey music that's melds Nashville twang with Jersey snark. Give this a listen and treat yourself to a good time.

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FORGET THE WHALE - "Take To The Skies" EP (soundcloud.com/forget-the-whale)

This is the third EP from Forget The Whale, an indie-pop quartet that's part of the recent wave of exciting new Hudson County bands. This eclectic but charming 4-song EP showcases the hearty vocals of Alishia Taiping, Peter Durning's nimble touch on guitar and harp, Dan Pieraccini's melodic bass, and AJ Zienowicz' crisp, economical drums. They're pretty much Jersey kids through and through, eschewing trends, hyphenated labels, and esoteric sounds for solid musicianship and good ol' meat and potatoes pop songs. The old-fashioned classic-rock formalism of the title track references the Who, Fleetwood Mac, and sounds like something that could come wafting from Sirius's 90's channel (the same holds true for ""Without You.") "Ghost" unabashedly embraces Sixties blues-rock; it's smokily atmospheric and completely unapologetic in its embrace of lounge rock tropes, and succeeds because (not despite) that earnestness. "Half Way Home" - my favorite track, if you're keeping score at home - adds a slaphappy trumpet to a rollicking country-tinged melody, the sort of thing that could probably be a monster pop single for American Idol winner Maddie Poppe or some other contemporary New Country diva - it's got an irresistible hook and a catchy da-da-da chorus and really hows off Alishia's pipes. Forget the whale and just call me Ishmael, why rock the boat? (Forget The Whale's EP release show is Wednesday, June 20 as part of the Live In The Park series at Leonard Gordon Park in Jersey City.

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SONS OF AN ILLUSTRIOUS FATHER - Deus Sex Machina; or, Moving Slowly Beyond Nikola Tesla (sonsofanillustriousfather.com)

I met Ezra Miller at a Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen barbecue quite a few years ago, and it was immediately apparent that this young man had a passionate love of music. But even as a teenager, he earned his living as an actor - at that point, in a series of well-regarded but little seen indie films like City Island and We Need To Talk About Kevin, and TV appearances on shows like Royal Pains and Law & Order:SVU. It became an unspoken rule that if I wrote about Ezra and his band, I didn't mention the "other thing." The last thing that he and his bandmates, Lilah Larson and Josh Aubin, seemed to want was to cash in on their drummer's non-musical notoriety.

All that's changed now; for the first time, SOAIF is being described as "Ezra Miller's band" and everything I've seen online mentions his breakout roles as the Flash (in the Justice League films) and his cult appearance in the Potterverse (as Credence Barebone in Amazing Beasts And Where To Find Them.) And why not? Lots of young actors play in bands and then abandon them once they've "made it;" Ezra's commitment just confirms my impression of him as truly devoted to his music and his friends. Speaking of which, Deus Sex Machina was recorded with Oliver Ignatius at Holy Fang Studios in Bushwick, the current incarnation of what used to be Mama Coco's, and you can hear Oliver all over this record - playing, singing, recording, arranging.

While earlier SOAIF albums always divided lead vocals democratically, Ezra emerges on Deus Sex Machina as the de factor lead singer and frontman of the band (even though he's technically the drummer; the band members switch instruments frequently, and for the first time on this album, incorporates the use of electronics heavily.) Lilah Larson and Josh Aubin do get a lead vocal occasionally, but mostly it's Ezra's supple, expressive, and dramatic vocals that predominate here. This band isn't going to tell you what to think, but they will tell you how to feel, and the emotions - anger, frustration, resentment, regret - tend to be communicated by melody and rhythm.

In the past, I've found this band a bit droney, but this collection of songs resonates and reverberates with roiling highs and lows. The powerful "Eg" finds a funky groove you won't expect, while "Unarmed" delivers us into the arms of David Bowie.

The lyrics hit on several themes; Miller has identified as gay in several interviews and the theme of otherness recurs frequently, although often couched in cryptic and free-verse allusions. "U.S. Gay" kicks off the album with contradictory and often violent imagery

I want "FAG" tattooed in red on my forehead
A revolution in my bed
To do as Valerie said (cut up men)
I wanna be straight instead

And then there's this free-verse passage from "Extraordinary Rendition:"

Oh, the allure of new experience
And so, sex
Nowadays you can get your sex
In bloody plastic oil spill concentrate convenience

Nicholas Tesla is the forgotten father of alternating current, a man whom time (and Thomas Edison) tossed into the dustbin of history. Getting past that kind of thing isn't easy, but then, neither is struggling for identity in the modern world. "Deus Sex Machina;" well, that's a pun on a last-minute twist in the plot that surprisingly solves everybody's problems, SOAIF just add sex to the mix. That's kind of what Sons Of An Illustrious Father try to do with this album - get through to the next day, putting yesterday's injustices behind us, hoping that something will come along that will make things turn out okay.

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THE FRONT BOTTOMS - "Ann" EP (Fueled By Ramen)

The press release says, "The six-track Ann EP, which follows 2014’s Rose EP, will feature five new recordings of never before released fan favorite songs as well as a brand new track, 'Tie Dye Dragon.'" Sorry, FBR, but that isn't true, since two of the tracks - "Pale Beneath The Tan (Squeeze)" and "Lonely Eyes" - appeared on the band's out-of-print 2008 EP, "I Hate My Friends" (which you can find on Youtube) and I don't know if any of these songs actually qualify as "fan favorites" (unless by "fans" you mean the handful of kids who used to see the FB's at the Meat Locker and all-ages basement shows back before they signed to Bar/None, who might remember a few of these tracks.) I will grant that all fans of the band's earlier, rawer, more angsty material should like these songs; they represent what Brian Sella does best, expressing the hormone-driven angst of adolescence with unabashed passion and taking the whole thing much more seriously than grown-ups ever do. " The next 29 minutes are gonna flow like concrete / my heart'll get so low, it can touch my feet," Sella wails on "Today Is Not Real." But broken hearts, even teenage ones, heal: "I'll feel better," he recites, again and again like a mantra, for the chorus. I can hear the kids singing along even now. When these songs were originally written and performed, the Front Bottoms were a trio, just acoustic guitar, Matt Uychich's stripped down kit, and his brother Brian on keyboards. These days the Front Bottoms record with a full band, but the tracks on "Ann" eschew the overproduction and elaborate arrangements that many fans disliked on Going Grey (their most recent full length.) The sound here hits your ears fuller and bigger than on their early demos, but the EP still sounds like it was recorded in a closet; "a bone thrown to the fans of the scuzzball sound of the early EP's," as a friend of mine opined.

On "Somebody Else," the hook - "And I have no idea what you're going through," each vowel stretched and yowled with pained regret epitomizes classic Sella. "I Think You're Nose Is Bleeding" so perfectly captures the desperation of a kid who thinks his or her world is falling apart that I'm amazed it wasn't picked up for the soundtrack of "13 Reasons Why:"

Well, I will move to the city
And I will sleep on a bench in Central Park
And I will make new friends
And we can keep all our things in shopping carts
And when the cops come to find me
The new friends will hide me
We will steal whatever we need for fun
And if they get suspicious, it means all my new friends will run

The new song, "Tie-Dyed Dragon," finds the 30-ish Sella still writing from the point of view of his younger self, remembering an acid trip from his school days, perched on the brink of adult self-awareness:

I guess I'm older now
I guess I'm older now
I am caught in between who I am and who I'm supposed to be
Everything's confusing

Nobody likes me. Nobody loves me. There's nobody I can trust. And it's all my fault. That's what growing up feels like. That's what the Front Bottoms sing about. That's why the kids - and the kid still alive in all of our hearts - love them.


GENE TURONIS (Gene D. Plumber) - All The Pretty Girls (Bar/None)

Long before Steve Fallon, Glenn Morrow and Richard Barone set the wheels in motion to turn Hoboken into a latterday music Mecca, Gene Turonis was regaling friends and family with kitchen-table hootenannies and bar room performances of winsome covers and clever originals. At the same time, Gene spent his days unclogging the Mile Square City's sinks and fixing their boilers, and so he became known as "Gene The Singing Plumber" (and later, Gene D. Plumber.) Now Bar/None (hi, Glenn!) brings the story full circle by releasing this collection (5 covers, eight originals,) recorded originally with just Gene and his acoustic guitar, then fleshed out by a gaggle of talented friends on guitars, bass, fiddle, piano, organ, and drums. The pleasures here come fast and often, whether Gene is revisting Sixties boogaloo or Mexican cojunto or whistling through the bridge of a Merle Haggard chestnut or putting his own spin of one of George Jones' whiskey-stained country standards. The self-deprecating, homespun humor of "I've Been A Fool All My Life" (co-written with the Insect Trust's Luke Faust) and the tongue-in-cheek waltz "Diamonds As Big As Potatoes" prove that Gene's as much a songwriter as an impeccable interpreter of other people's recordings. They don't make 'em like this anymore, folks, and more's the pity.

DR. FRANK - The Way It Sounds Like (Sounds Rad! soundsradical.com)

Originally compiled as an extra piece of merch for Dr. Frank's 2012 European tour, The Way It Sounds Like collects 15 live recordings of the Mr. T Experience frontman's solo acoustic performances from various venues. It's kind of like having Frank Portman bring his acoustic over to your apartment and playing a set of your favorite MTX songs in your living room. Sounds Rad!, the new label from Insubordination Records' Chris Thacker, has cheekily released the album on cassette, including a special package that bundles a USB cassette recorder and recording software so you can transfer this to your computer. It's a fun idea, a fun record, and a nice addition to the collection of any Dr. Frank fan. And it's available digitally too if you don't want to bother with cassettes.

CHRIS BUTLER - Got It Together (ChrisButler1.bandcamp.com)

Chris Butler didn't invent American New Wave, but then, Lewis & Clark didn't "invent" America either. Let's just say that neither would have been the same without these guys. Butler witnessed the Kent State Massacre as a college student, then helped launch Akron's indie scene in Tin Huey, then wrote several monster hits for the Waitresses. He currently lives in serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer's old house, and did I mention that he's in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world's longest pop song, "The Devil Glitch?" So, yes, this guy has a resume', he's an old friend, and happily, he's still going strong. The self-produced, self-recorded Got It Together finds Butler fiddling with an array of vintage keyboards

and guitars, musing about a crazy world of topics, from awful Akron winters to existential crises, to old girlfriends, to what it's like to quit smoking. Butler also ponders his own mortality with trademark wit and self deprecation on my favorite tracks, "Never Been Old Before" and "Better Than I Ever Was," either of which should immediately be adapted as the official theme song of the AARP. (Things get a bit morbid on "Awake," which is actually about "a wake.") In fact, almost every track here could be an anthem for curmudgeonly spiritual independence; "reality's never applied to me, never did and never will," Butler proclaims on "Physics." And then there's this piece of inspirational verse: "All of the hard knocks I took on the chin/ all of the races that I didn’t win / don’t seem to matter, ‘cause nothing was lost/ nobody was counting, and I didn’t kill myself off ." Amen, brother.

JEFFREY LEWIS - Works By Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010) (Don Giovanni)

Jeffrey Lewis may just be the last true son of the Lower East Side, raised by hippie parents in a rent-controlled apartment just a few blocks from the Sidewalk Cafe', where the twentyish Jeff would establish himself as an avatar of the Anti-Folk movement. Lewis has always shown an inspired reverence for L.E.S. culture, making several inspired albums with fractured-folkie Peter Stampfel and celebrating the work of the Fugs' Tuli Kupferberg with annual memorial concerts after Tuli passed away in 2010. Now, Lewis has captured those loony-tune hootenanies for posterity with this collection of some of Kupferberg's lesser known originals and a smattering of his inspired song parodies (like turning "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" into a foot fetish anthem, or transposing Woody's "This Train Is Bound For Glory" to Brooklyn.) The cast includes Stampfel, Steve Espinola on piano and "electric tennis racket," Brian Speaker on lead guitar, and Heather Wagner on drums and vocals; Lewis' arrangements and the acoustic performances here capture the freewheeling anarchy of the Fugs' recordings, all tendered with respect, affection, and most of all, an abiding belief in the power of irreverence.

MADAM WEST - "Warm Bodies" EP (madamwest.bandcamp.com)

As a sequel to the 2016 full-length Madam West Loves You, the six-song "Warm Bodies" EP (produced and recorded by Oliver Ignatius at Wild Fang Studios) finds vocalist Sophie Chernin once again cooing over an intriguing mix of shoegazey synths, undulating bass, sophisticated percussion, and stinging guitars. Bushwick millennials usually strive to be in-your-face Saturday nighters but Madam West would rather soundtrack your lazy Sunday brunch; the strengths here tend to be muted rather than extravagant, with forays into skittish jazz and sophisticated scatting melodies. Languid and almost aquatic in their immersiveness, the 5-minute "Seams" and the 6-minute "Wise Blood" skirt the border where prog-rock transgresses into noodley jamming, redeemed by rhythmic bursts of adrenalin that squirt a shot of bourbon into Madam West's sonic chamomile tea.

GUY CAPECELATRO III - "July" (Two Ton Santa; Bandcamp.com)

Guy Capecelatro has been utilizing an interesting process of late; he'll create the basic tracks of an EP, and then send them off to friends to finish. In this case, his collaborator was NJ's Joe Merklee (of Damfino,) who brought the songs to producer and multi-instrumentalist Oliver Ignatius at his Wild Fang Studio (formerly Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen) to flesh out and complete. The EP consists of four tracks and then four different demo versions of those songs, realized in sometimes subtle and sometimes strikingly different fashion. As someone who's had his own tracks eminently enhanced by Oliver Ignatius' prodigious musicianship, it's a bit hard to tell whom to credit for what here, but the end result sounds more Capecelatro than Merklee's Damfino, dreamy and delicate, ethereal and otherworldly on "You Are Molecular," with gentle nods to Scott Miller, Brian Wilson, Big Star, and the Beatles on "Drifting Backwards" and "The Fog Of Distance." I especially enjoyed the loping, folkie, acoustic-guitar version of "Drifting Backwards" and the stripped-down, Chris Bell-like take of "This Decision."

SAILOR BOYFRIEND - "EXPOSURE!" EP (sailorboyfriend.bandcamp.com)

I'm usually not a huge synth-pop fan but I've got a big crush on Sailor Boyfriend, the Jersey City-based collaboration of Alex Mercuri (vocals, guitar, and bass) and Andy Waldron (vocals, synth, and programming.) It's nigh near impossible not to like a song called "Do You Like Sonic Youth?" but even more so when its Velvets-y groove and sarcastic spoken-word bridge delivers a worthy paean to the NYC art-rockers. "(This Is) The Dream Of Alan And Mike" updates the Pet Shop Boys with oozy synths and an infectious beat, while the sexy, simmering "Cold War Love Song," featuring a guest vocal by Krissy Lassiter (aka Krissanthemum,) cries for an extended dance mix. Good stuff, can't wait to hear more.

JOHN PRINE - The Tree Of Forgiveness (Oh Boy!)

John Prine and Loudon Wainwright III are about the same age age, a year or two on the wrong side of 70, and both have settled comfortably into disrepectable old age by confronting their mortality head on with humor, empathy, and grace. If you're a John Prine fan, you already know what The Tree Of Forgiveness sounds like; it's the same rustic melodies and modest folk chords you've heard before, with lyrics you wish you wrote. Prine's beat cancer twice now, so his voice might be a little craggier than it once was, but it still gets the job done; he's singing about screen doors and old loves, regrets and wishes, the end of summer and the light at the end of the tunnel. On "When I Get To Heaven," Prine talks about how he's going to spend eternity by starting a rock 'n' roll band. But first he's gonna smoke a cigarette "nine miles long." On "The Lonesome Friends Of Science," Prine feels sorry for poor Pluto, once a mighty planet, now just another faded star waiting to be recognized in some Hollywood sushi bar. I hope John Prine gets to make another dozen albums like this one, but if that doesn't happen, I'll be happy listening to this one until I meet him up yonder and join that band of his.

WRECKLESS ERIC - Construction Time And Demolition (Southern Domestic)

When Stiff Records took a chance on 23-year old Eric Goulden and let him record "Whole Wide World," they had Nick Lowe play guitar; they didn't think Eric could manage those two chords by himself. Wreckless Eric has had a chip on his shoulder ever since, and some 40 years later, he's still playing the curmudgeonly Cockney runt, despite a surprisingly full career. (I became a collector of sorts after reading his 2004 memoir A Dysfunctional Success: The Wreckless Eric Manual, and scooped up records he'd done as The Len Bright Combo, Le Beat Group Electronique, the Donovan of Trash, and the Hitsville House Band. )

On Construction Time And Demolition, Wreckless Eric channels a life's worth of bitterness and frustration into gritty, grimey pop songs that - while lacking the singalong brio of early favorites like "Take The KASH" or "Veronica" - still pack a punch. That uniquely piquant, adenoidal voice powerfully evokes a range of emotions, from pity to disgust to anger to regret; the big-production horns of "They Don't Mean No Harm" rock like his early Stiff songs, "The World Revolved Around Me" captures the disillusionment of a life spent toiling in the lower ranks of show business, "Wow & Flutter" examines the conflicted relationship between fanboys and fallen idols, and the autobiographical "40 Years" further explores that theme with surprisingly little self-pity. And when, on "Unnatural Act," Wreckless Eric sings, "We were descended from dinosaurs, we weren't meant to survive," you've got the sum total of human existence in one couplet; "Enough of this shit, enough of this shit, when are we gonna get enough of this shit? " he asks. I don't know, but I'm glad he's still around to ask the question.

ACID DAD s/t (Greenway Records)

Even though Acid Dad has been bouncing around Bushwick for a good four years, they've taken their time releasing their first full-length (following a well-received EP and 7-inch,) and it shows. Acid Dad sounds as if every note, every beat has been woodshedded and tweaked to seamless efficiency, the way bands used to do it in the Seventies. Acid Dad nabashedly embraces its influences, which include Television's undulating guitar lines, the Velvets' incessant chug, Nineties grunge fantasias, shoegaze's groove-laden drones, and slow psychedelic jams. It's rare these days to hear a band having as much fun as Acid Dad does playing "Mistress;" you'll feel the same way listening to "Die Hard" or "2ci." If you like a little variety with your tempos (and/or your drugs,) dig these guys stretching out on the languid "Child" or "Dissin.'" I made it a point to see these guys at SXSW this year and they blew me away. See them now, Brooklyn, they'll be on the road and beyond your grasp before you know it.

ANDREW WHOLF - Forever Is So (andrewwholf.bandcamp.com)

A Hoboken teenager and guitar phenom who you'll often find busking at the train station (or occasionally playing restaurants and bars around town, if he can talk his way in,) Andrew Wholf brings a love of classic blues and freeform jazz to his own take on modern pop. Recording with friends Brian Lawlor on keyboards, Cody McCorry on bass, and Kevin Grossman on drums, Forever Is So showcases Andrew's virtuosity on seven instrumental tracks, from the groove of "4 AM Funk" to the syncopated intricacies of "Careful Of A Fool," to the sinuous, romantic "Forever Is So." Jazz fans, here's your perfect brunch music. New Jersey, remember the name, you'll be seeing it soon.

BIG NEIL - Never A Full Moment (Something Wicked; bigneil.bandcamp.com)

After several years of touring with the Front Bottoms, Tom Warren has returned to his mostly-acoustic folk/punk project Big Neil. The best tracks here demonstrate an abiding affection for Pavement and the Lemonheads, early Beck, and a little Loudon Wainwright III. So if you're into slacker anthems and sweet, earnest vocals and the occasionally pithy guitar lick, banjo plink, or cowbell clang, this is the album for you. (Warren wrote and recorded the album by himself, by the way.) I haven't heard his earlier Big Neil releases but this one completely won me over. Like the Front Bottoms' Brian Sella, Warren writes with a self-deprecating sense of humor and enormous warmth, honesty, and self-awareness: "Most days you feel like shit/some nights you get over it," he philosophizes on "Axl Rose"; "wish I could play like Paul Simon/but it always comes out like Neil Diamond," he confesses on "Down All Day." The lyrics meld well with some eyebrow-raising musicianship (check out the acoustic guitar on "Alibi,") and some easy, gentle, loping melodies ("Tolerance.")

CONFIDENCE MAN - Confident Music For Confident People (Heavenly)

There used to be a NJ band called Planet Janet. Now a young Aussie named Janet Planet coyly talk/sings as the lead vocalist of Confidence Man, four Antipodean musicians who have left behind their teenaged psychedelic noodling for giddy, mostly electronic dance-pop. There are nods here to Right Said Fred, Donna Summer, and the Spice Girls, pushing all of it to the point of cartoonish caricature. But that's the point here: This is fun music, dancing around your bedroom music, bouncing off the walls at the clubs music. And on that level, it succeeds brilliantly. It sounds a bit as if Helen Love's teenage daughter traded in her mom's signature Casio for some vintage synths and set all her most revealing Snapchats to a disco soundtrack.

 


TUFFY - Lighting Things On Fire (tuffy2.bandcamp.com)

Pop punk fans might remember Thatcher Ulrich from the A.G.'s and Sinkhole, two bands that coasted under the radar during the Lookout! pop-punk boom of the Nineties. Tuffy features Thatcher on bass, guitar, and vocals, Yasmin Dalisay on guitar and vocals, and, on this album, his old bandmate Chris Pierce on drums. Utterly delightful, Tuffy finds Yasmin and Thatcher singing over poppy riffs, shoegazey guitars, and bouncy melodies. It's not quite pop-punk, not exactly power-pop, maybe just something in between that recalls those girl-fronted twee-pop bands of the Nineties like Drop Nineteens and the Swirlies, as well as early Liz Phair. There's not a duff track on the album, and while for me Tuffy's forte comes in the quirky boy/girl songs like "Respite" and "Those Dogs Were Cloned," the bulk of the album showcases Yasmin's candy-sweet voice, which conveys a cheeky confidence and an ebullient sense of fun. This is a totally enjoyable album, one that I've listend to many times.

AMY RIGBY - The Old Guys (Southern Domestic; amyrigby.com)

On her still-remarkable first solo album, Diary Of A Mad Housewife, Amy Rigby wrote about herself. But since then, both on her own and with her husband "Wreckless Eric" Goulden (who produced,) she's proven to be one of the most inventive songwriters of her generation. Her "Dancing With Joey Ramone" still ranks as one of my favorite songs ever, and The Old Guys finds her in top form - witty, insightful, and wistful lyrically, inventive musically. The album starts with "From Philiproth At Gmail To RZimmerman At AOL," imagining an email from the great American novelist to Bob Dylan on the announcement of Dylan's Nobel Prize for Literature. "When you step out on that Nobel stage, spare a moment for the man who labors on the page," she sings. "When you stand in the spotlight where you've always been, I'll be alone with the pen, alone with the pen." "Are We Still There Yet?" plumbs the power of nostalgia, "Playing Pittsburgh" reflects on the life of the professional musician who's never achieved stardom, and the title track salutes the "old guys" who showed her the way to her career. "Bob" is an affectionate ballad that remembers the musician who taught Rigby "about Lou Reed and the key of E," while "One Off" ups the tempo to a pop rock ditty about a memorable love affair. Wreckless Eric's flawless production uses Rigby's acoustic guitar as a template but enlivens every track with either a fierce bass line or a catchy riff or, on "Bob," just the subtle use of a trumpet. This is my favorite album of 2018 so far and a strong contender for my best of the year list. Highly recommended.

STARDUST ONE - "Lonely Station " EP (CDBaby.com)

If you were around Maxwell's back in the Nineties, you might remember Friction Wheel, a bunch of Fordham kids with a punchy rock sound who caught the ear of Steve Fallon. It's 20 years later or so and lead singer/guitarist Will Lopez (now a professional standup comic in Miami!) has returned with a new band, Stardust One. Other than time, not much has changed; Willie's still got a great voice, like a more expressive and supple Dave Grohl, and his band packs the same sonic kick, with obvious debts to Husker Du, Superchunk, and Dinosaur Jr. Stardust One knows riffs and hooks; this sounds less dated than you might think and simply classic. I've been listening to this for months now, and I have to apologize to Willie for taking so long to review it. None of us are getting any younger.

TONY SAXON - Old Souls & Long Term Goals (Mint 400)

As you can see from the artwork, Tony Saxon brings a throwback vibe to NJ's Mint 400 Records, a latterday garage rocker who mixes soul, R&B, rockabilly, and surf rock into a likable combination that's part Fleshtons, part Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and part Ventures. I have a huge problem with the sequencing on this album though. It starts with a surf instrumental (who starts a vocal album with an instrumental?), and then, after the representative (and entertaining) "Fortune Teller," delivers three covers in a row. The first, Elvis' "One Night," bombs; I am firmly of the mind that covering Elvis is always mistake unless you really remake the song. You're never going to better the original, but you're probably going to devolve into shtick. Johnny Kidd & The Pirates' "Shakin' All Over" brings nothing new to a song that most fans of this genre will already know. It might have been best to limit the covers to the Flamin' Groovies' "Slow Death," a fairly obscure track that Saxon manages to bring back to life. The rest of the album is fine, as described above, although did we really need two songs about fortune tellers? I hear Saxon's stage show is fantastic, and there are moments here that hint at that, but Old Souls & Long Term Goals winds up more Tony Clifton than Peter Zaremba.

STARCRAWLER - STARCRAWLER (Rough Trade)

Strawcrawler are a Los Angeles glam band fronted by 18-year old Arrow DeWilde along with some high school pals. There isn't really an original idea on this album (by the third track, they're copping a Nirvana riff, and "Pussy Tower" rips off the Runaways' "Cherry Bomb," ) but I give these kids credit: It's catchy and jumpy fun, they look tragically fabulous, and glam certainly beats another shoegazer snoozeathon. If MTV still played music videos, they'd already be big stars. Remember it was Rough Trade who swooped in and signed the Strokes the last time rock 'n' roll needed a Messiah. Today, driver's license; tomorrow the world.

PAINTED DOLL - Painted Doll (Tee Pee)

Painted Doll is the unlikely collaboration of comedian Dave Hill (who actually has plenty of indie cred from his time in Cleveland's Cobra Verde) and heavy metal shredder Chris Reifert. What they've come up is an album of psychedelic garage rock with a heavy debt to early Pink Floyd, Roky Erikson, and Blue Oyster Cult, and it's awesome. "We surrendered long ago/to a thing called rock 'n' roll" Hill wails on the opener, "Together Alone," and backs it up with the next nine tracks, packed with smoking riffs, mind-melting solos, and head-thrashing rhythms. Hill's love of the Kinks and power-pop supply the melodies, while Reifert keeps things down and dirty. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed a garage rock joint this thoroughly. And the album art's a guaranteed contender for cover of the year too.

MARYBETH D'AMICO - Great & Solemn Wild (marybethmusic.bandcamp.com)

Jersey City singer/songwriter Marybeth D'Amico passed away in 2015, but her produce Pat Byrne has managed to finish and release this final album, an intimate collection of introspective folk songs recorded with only voice and acoustic guitar. Marybeth's voice exudes a wonderful combination of little-girl innocence and grownup resolve, as on the powerful breakup song "Inside Out." There's a powerful bluesy resonance on "The Lawn Mower Song," which despite its whimsical title suggests Billie Holliday's bittersweet mix of honey and tears. Marybeth's sweet side shines on the lullaby-like "Dream" only to be followed by the adult confessional "Didn't Know How." The title (and final) track, "Great & Solemn Wind," unwinds with the stentorian beauty of a traditional hymn, a testament to the incandescent beauty of this lady's soul. Good bye Marybeth, I'm sorry we didn't meet sooner.

POTATO ROCKET - Grown Ass Adults (Rhodehouse Records; potatorocket.bandcamp.com)

The title Grown Ass Adults, the debut from Calgary's Potato Rocket, resonates with me because I knew singer/guitarist Jesse Rhodes when he was barely out of high-school and part of the all-ages brigade of the Pop Punk Message Board/Insubordination Fest scene in the mid-00's. Clearly all those shows spent worshipping at the feet of Grath Madden and Mikey Erg paid off, and now Rhodes' Potato Rocket has picked up the mantle of dispossessed twentysomething punk, griping about dead-end jobs and not enough coffee and dead-end relationships to catchy singalong power-chorded guitars and rampaging drums. Rhodes' husky vocals, equal parts Ben Weasel snot and Blake Schwarzenbach rasp, provide a perfect counterbalance to bassist Tila Lee's honey-sweet voice (they should do more of that back and forth thing,) and drummer Jonathan Clayton is a smoking powerhouse. Pop-punk may be dead, but somebody didn't get the memo.

THE GINGERLYS - S/T (Top Shelf/Babe City)

The Gingerlys have been through a lot - including several lead singers - since forming in Valley Stream back in 2013, but this self-titled album makes the statement that the band has found its identity and is ready to take on the world. Jackie Mendoza's gossamer vocals float over airy synths and shoe-gazey guitars to create dream-pop symphonies set to a motorik 4/4 beat inspired by Krautrock. Lots of bands do pretty vocals and shimmery guitars, it's really the rhythm section here that sucks me in. Gingerlys is perfect at 10 tracks; short enough not to become repetitive, long enough to let the band stretch and show off its talent for textures, melody, and rhythm.

KEVIN DEVINE - We Are Who We've Always Been (Procrastinate! Music)

Kevin Devine has announced he will put his solo career on hold and tour with his longtime friends Brand New for the forseeable future; this album, an acoustic reworking of his 2016 fuzz-rock release Instigator, serves as a good-bye to his fans and a recapitulation of his career. Given the financial realities of being an indie artist in 2017 (Devine has a wife and daughter,) I can see why he'd make this decision, but Kevin has been a friend of mine for as long as I've been a fan of his music and I'd really hate to think we won't be hearing any new songs or tours from him and the Goddamn Band. For the time being, We Are Who We've Always Been provides some solace. Instigator was a terrific but overlooked album; Devine's tour to promote it had to be cancelled, and it never got the attention it deserved. The tracks that had big bold band arrangements on Instigator are rearrangedhere with just acoustic guitar, imbuing them with the intimacy of one of Kevin's solo shows, allowing Devine to bring new nuances to tracks like "No Why," "Magic Magnet," and the very personal two-song punch of "No History" and "Before You're Here" (the latter about the birth of his daughter.) Songs presented acoustically on Instigator have been expanded with additional instruments and players, making a song like "Freddy Gray's Blues" (about the murder of unarmed African-Americans by police) even more powerful. I thought last year that Instigator might have been Devine's best album; now it's a tie.

RATS OF UNUSUAL SIZE - Duck (facebook.com/ROUSgroup)

Back in the Nineties, Jim Fourniadis and his Rats Of Unusual Size were a local favorite in a scene we affectionately called Scumrock, which railed against the injustices and indignities of Giuliani's NYC. Jim relocated to Michigan and we lost touch for a while, but now in 2017, he's brought back the band to take on Donald Trump. Duck revives the grungy, garagey, thrashy, goofy sound of scumrock with satirical lyrics that rake the current POTUS over the coals. On tracks like "GOPBlues," "I'm Presidential," "I'm White," "Billionaire," and "Down Mar A Lago Way," ROUS skewer Trump's pomposity, hypocrisy, and incompetence. "When I hear his latest shocking quote, sure wish I could go back and change my vote," wails a repentant Republican in "GOPBlues," while the epidemic of politically-tinged fake news gets its comeuppance on "Ted Baxter." Good to have you back, guys.

THE VICE RAGS - "The Vice Rags" EP (thevicerags.bandcamp.com)

Maybe it's just a coincidence that NJ's latest supergroup (of sorts) - veteran scene drummer Joe Chyb, Paul Rosevear and Gay Elvis of Readymade Breakup, and guitarist Jack Roberts - popped up right after the tragic death of Tom Petty, because I sure hear a lot of Petty here. Mostly though I hear a whole lotta rock 'n' roll, and that doesn't even include the rip-the-roof-off-the-joint cover of Little Richard's "Lucille" that closes the EP. "Shut Up & Love Me" borrows bluesy chord changes and if not for the loud, modern, sonic guitars, Elvis could've recorded this one. There are riffs here that make you feel like you're out in the middle of the desert one second and rollin' through Beverly Hills the next, there's bar room boogie and a little bit of Springsteen, and that Petty thing comes back loud and clear on "Out On The Street." At only six songs, this is my favorite EP of the year, and with a couple of more tracks, it would have been a contender for album of the year. More please.

SHILPA RAY - Door Girl (Northern Spy)

Patti Smith and Debbie Harry tend to be the role models most cited as Shilpa Ray's, but remember that Bette Midler, Madonna, and Lady Gaga all came from NYC's club scene too. It's in that larger context that I like to think of Ray, one of the more distinctive modern voices to chronicle the city's nightlife. Door Girl purports to tell the story of Shilpa's days as the door person at Piano's, but it's almost as if this 21st Century girl were writing about Max's Kansas City or Hurrah. The NYC of Door Girl recalls the sleazy, filthy, bankrupt gotham of Giuliani and Beame more than the gentrified post-9/11 megapolis of today, with its dark seedy streets, muggers and rapists lurking around every corner after midnight, and bridge-and-tunnel kids in pop-up collars looking for glamour amid the sleaze. The cover art, inspired by the New York Dolls, reinforces the 70's vibe.

Strident notes of urgency, anger and revulsion on "EMT Police & The Fire Department," inspired by Ray's most awful nights on the LES, give way to gentler tunes like "Add Value Add Time" which, besides being perhaps the only song ever written about the MetroCard, conjures up a timeless chronicle of riding the subway. The Blondie-esque "Rockaway Blues," the "Rapture"-like hip hop of "Revelations Of A Stamp Monkey," and 60's girl-group paeans nicked from Midler and Gaga all pay homage to Shilpa Ray's roots, while "My World Shatters By the BQE" may be the finest love/hate song to the city since LCD Soundsystem's "New York I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down."

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ROCKSTAR RACECAR - S/T (Rockstarracecar.com)

Many years ago, I wrote a song called “Punk Rock Is Not Day Care,” a jab at tweens invading my beloved punk scene. I take it all back. Troy Donohue, Heaney, and the Wolverine – the punk glam trio known as Rockstar Racecar – can rock my world anytime, even though the oldest is still a couple of years away from a learner’s permit. “Coney Coney,” their paean to Coney Island, is pure Ramones meet Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon, “Dead Man” finds a convincingly funky Lou Reed groove, and they even manage a completely respectable power ballad with “Conspiracy.” The gem here though is the six-minute Stooges-esque guitar freakout “In The Shower,” which is as funny as it is powerful. If they ever play a show I’m at and don’t do that song, I’m sending them to bed without any desert.

ATOM DRIVER – “In The West” EP (atomdriver.bandcamp.com)

If you’re at all familiar with these guys’ previous New Brunswick bands, Buzzkill and Boss Jim Gettys, then you’ll already have a good idea of the pummeling Nineties grunge-core Atom Driver delivers. From Mark Segal’s caterwauling, often declamatory vocals and wall-of-sound guitar attack to Mike Polilli’s avalanche drum sound, the sonic assault here just never lets up. The syncopated groove of “Toetapper’s Revenge” adds a nice twist to the template, and the anthemic closer “Play Dead” sends me straight back to the Court Tavern circa ’96, when the Boss Jims and Nudeswirl and Bionic Rhoda and Prosolar Mechanics competed weekly to blow out our ears and blow our minds.

THE CRYPTKEEPER 5 – The Stronghold (cryptkeeperfive.com)

Maybe it’s the name, which conjures up images of a jokey monster-themed garage band, but these 20-year veterans of the Jersey club scene remain criminally underappreciated and underheard, especially given the popularity of some of the band’s contemporaries with a similar heartland sound. Singer Jimmy Ott’s working class sincerity and the band’s guitar-driven, galloping tempos make the inevitable Springsteen comparisons unavoidable; it’s hard not to think of the big guy with lyrics like “I wanna cut the ties that bind/wanna live, wanna love blind/keep movin’ forward.” But CK5 have virtues uniquely their own, including some gorgeous vocal harmonies and lyrics that eschew false nostalgia for a clear-eyed view of the world. There are two versions of a song called “Maddog 2020” here, the first delivered with a deliberate “No Surrender” chug; but the second, interpreted acoustically as a male/female country duet, adds a whole different spin to the album. And the band’s powerful cover of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Two-Headed Boy” takes Jeff Mangum’s psych-pop masterpiece and makes it wholly Cryptkeeper 5’s own.

DEBRA DEVI – “Wild Little Girl” EP (debradevi.com)

Jersey City’s Debra Devi is that rare singer/songwriter whose musicianship rivals their songwriting and vocals (Hoboken’s Karyn Kuhl comes immediately to mind as another.) Firmly grounded in a Sixties blues/rock tradition, Devi’s new 5-song EP mixes wistfulness with forcefulness; she’s all in your face on “Shake It,” wistful and meditative on “Butterly,” wanders into modern country on “Tired Of Waiting,” and comes across as broken-hearted but hopeful on “Stay.” Every track leaves room for an organic, expansive solo. Fans of classic guitar rock should eat this up.

JIGSAW YOUTH – America’s Sweethearts (jigsawyouth.bandcamp.com)

The only reason that Jigsaw Youth aren’t the biggest band in NYC already is probably that they’re still too young to get into most 21+ clubs. Once they’re legal, I expect this feminist grunge-punk trio will cause the same sort of sensation as Savages a few years ago: An unrelenting guitar attack that’s all fuzz and fury, a bottom end that pounds like a migraine, and a singer that spits sarcasm in your face like it was acid. They invoke girl grope tropes (“House,”) the Runaways (“USA Death Metal #13,”) 90’s pop-punk (“Aunt Jenny’s Got My Back,”) and even the acrid wit of the Waitresses (“Loser Punk.”) Today all-ages shows, tomorrow the world.

JOHNNY ANGEL WENDELL – “Smut And Politics” EP (johnnyangelwendell.bandcamp.com)

A veteran of Boston’s indie scene in the Eighties, and now a dad living in California, I first crossed paths with Johnny Wendell when my band the Love Pushers opened for his band the Blackjacks back around 1986. More recently though, our similar lefty politics and music backgrounds have made us frequent sparring partners on Facebook. On this new EP, Johnny delivers mostly acoustic, comedic ditties that poke fun at the folly and foibles of modern life. “Size!” jibes society’s preoccupation with the subject, from what’s in your pants to POTUS’ hands. The whistle-y “Eternal Bliss/Satan’s Kiss” reminds us that happiness is a state of mind, “a blowjob in heaven” if you’re lucky, while “Guillotine (Off With Their Heads)” takes a light-hearted look at the death penalty. “Celebrity Death Song” even makes fun of death, focusing on some of the macabre ways famous people have kicked the bucket. Even if you’re not old enough to remember Nelson Rockefeller or Mama Cass Elliot, it’s good for a chuckle, as is this entire EP.

THE MOMS – “Songs From The Road” EP (Bar/None)

The Moms, the young Jersey punk band signed to Bar/None, take a short detour before the release of their debut full-length for the label with this covers EP, featuring three songs from bands you’ve probably never heard of (Trashkanistan, Half Raptor, and Cheapshow) and one song you probably haven’t heard from the Front Bottoms (“The Power Of Supply (La la La)” from their early EP, “My Grandma Vs. Pneumonia.”) What we learn here is that The Moms sound like an awful lot like a ton of Jersey punk bands playing basements (think Bouncing Souls) with big loud singalong choruses and angsty vocals. They do a more than commendable job on all these tracks, although the stand out for me is the Replacements-ish “Sadly But Shirley.” I’m hoping we get more on Doing Asbestos We Can, the LP due in October.

JULIAN FULTON – “Battered Receptions” EP (julianfulton.bandcamp.com)

Julian Fulton is one of those talented singer/songwriters that Asbury seems to nurture with frightening regularity. I became a fan when Julian first recorded with his band the Zombie Gospel, but this solo EP just solidifies my faith that he’s got a brilliant future. Fulton’s got a fascinating voice, at once boyish and wise, reminiscent of the young Paul Simon (especially on “Rosie’s Disposition.”) Julian’s soulful falsetto strengthens the conviction of “Howl,” which like the Ginsberg poem seems to be a declaration for his own lost generation. “For You” has an almost Beatlesque psychedelic-dream quality to it, an ambitious ending to a quality release.

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by Jim Testa

It all started with a pun.

When my buddy Howard Wuelfing and I graduated from Rutgers, Howard eloped and moved to Washington DC and I went home to Weehawken. Howard became very involved with the early D.C. punk scene (which is how I wound up writing a song for the Slickee Boys... but that's a whole other story.) Howard started a fanzine, first called Descenes and then later Dischords, and had friends from around the country submit scene reports. (This was years before Maximum Rock N Roll, mind you.) So the writer from L.A. would talk about seeing the Descendents play in his friend's backyard and the guy from Minneapolis would rave about watching Husker Du in a basement. I wanted in, and I had started hanging out at Maxwell's, so I decided to do a column about the nascent NJ scene, and called it "Jersey Beat" - a pun on Mersey Beat, the term British music journalists in the 60's coined to describe the sound coming from Liverpool and other towns along the Mersey River (like, y'know, the Beatles.) A few years later, Howard's marriage ended and with it the zine, but I was having so much been being "the fanzine guy" at Maxwell's (I used to leave a stack of every issue on the cigarette machine at the door) that I decided to just start my own zine. It was 1982, DIY was in the air, I wanted to be a music writer and couldn't get published anywhere else... so why not?

And that's how Jersey Beat was born. In the beginning, every issue was about 12 pages, printed by a old hippie on an offset press in between cranking out wedding invitations and business cards. I'd get the pages, bring them home, collate them, staple them, and voila! A fanzine! There were no computers in 1982, remember. I had a manual typewriter, a pair of scissors, a jar of rubber cement, and a lot of imagination. (Press-off letters provided the headlines.)

In 1982, word was just beginning to get out about the scene at Maxwell's, moreso in NYC (thanks to publications like New York Rocker and the Soho Weekly News that employed Hoboken regulars like Glenn Morrow and Ira Kaplan). But Jersey had a scene of its own. The drinking age was still 18, and there were clubs and live music all over the place - the Showplace in Dover, the Dirt Club and the Jetty in Bloomfield, Patrix and the Court Tavern in New Brunswick... So for our first issue, for reasons that make no sense to me now, I decided to put a skinny-tie New Wave band called the Jitterz on the cover of our first issue. They've long disappeared into the mists of rock 'n' roll oblivion, but I did better with the second issue, which featured the biggest stars of the Maxwell's scene, the Bongos.

When I wasn't bouncing around to the sound of pop rock at Maxwell's, I was banging my head to the latest new sound to hit the east coast, something called hardcore that had migrated from California and soon found a short-lived home in a club a few blocks from Maxwell's called Mile Square City. Bikers used to like to drink there late at night, so the promoter started and ended the hardcore shows early, and that's where I met bands like Adrenalin O.D. (who'd be NJ's premier HC band well into the Nineties,) Even Worse, and Pleased Youth. At least until the Saturday night when either the bikers showed up early or the punk show ran late; whatever, the two factions started an old-fashioned bottle-smashing furniture-crashing brawl that smashed up the place and ended live music at Mile Square City.

Thanks to my day job in insurance, I was on the cutting edge of the personal computer revolution as it happened. And everytime the computers at work got upgraded, so did the quality of the zine. Soon I learned I could have photos professionally dot-screened so they'd look as good as they did in professional magazines and newspapers. As the zine's notoriety grew, I started attracting a few advertisers and could add pages, content, and more features. Friends and local musicians joined the staff. And then one day I went to see my old hippie printer and found that his store had burned to the ground.

That was a rough couple of issues. Photocopier technology then was not was it is now. We did a couple of issues that looked like crap. Then Jack Rabid, who started his zine The Big Takeover a few months before I published the first Jersey Beat, told me about a plant in Long Island City called Linco Printing. They had this marvelous machine that could print eight newsprint pages at a time, fold and collate and staple the whole shebang, and spit it out as a finished magazine. For a few more bucks, you could even add a color cover on glossy heavy paper. As long as I did multiples of 8 pages, we were gold.

The punk rock boom of the Nineties (launched by Nirvana and then followed by Green Day and the Offspring) meant that a lot of the silly little bands I had been writing about for years were suddenly starting to make money. The same for their labels. And God bless 'em, the people at Lookoout and Epitaph and SST and Twintone were very generous about pouring some of their newfound wealth back into the scene. Advertising took off and at our little fanzine ballooned to 128 pages with a glossy coveer, and stayed that way until we stopped publishing in 2007.

See, a funny thing happened in the '00's. Record labels stopped making money hand over fist. The pop punk boom (which Jersey Beat had covered extensively; I'm sure I hold the world record for interviewing Screeching Weasel and the Queers) waned. But even more than the decline in advertising, the death of independent distribution is what really killed our print zine. In the boom years of the Eighties and Nineties, it was easy to send hundreds of zines to both mom 'n' pop and chain record stores. (Tower Records' magazine wing played a huge role in the story of 80's fanzinedom; they had stores all over the country and actually paid you honestly and on time.) But all those distributors either went bankrupt (often taking huge amounts of unpaid-for inventory with them) or were bought up by bigger companies who had no interest in zines. By our final issues, I was giving away way more copies than I was selling. And most of the copies I was selling was through mail order which, thanks to rising postal rates, actually lost me money.

Jersey Beat had hopped on the web almost as soon as it was possible, back in the days of dial-up modems and tiny graphics and text-based sites. We registered the JerseyBeat.com domain in 1997 - one of the first fanzines to do so - and once the print issues stopped, we revamped the site to be a full-fledged online music magazine And that's where we are now.

On Friday, April 14, we're going to return to Maxwell's (now known at Maxwell's Tavern,) and many of the people who helped inspire me to start the zine back in 1982 will be there to perform and celebrate: Richard Barone of the Bongos, Glenn Morrow of the Individuals (who went on to a pretty nice career as the owner of Bar/None Records,) Glenn Mercer and Dave Weckerman of the Feelies, the original lineup of the Cucumbers, three founding members of Gutbank (Alice Genese, Karyn Kuhl, and Bob Bert,) John and Toni Baumgartner of Speed The Plough, Joe and Cindi Merklee of Balloon Squad, and many more. Thirty-five years after it all started, it's a miracle we're all still around; beyond miraculous that we're all not only still making music, but also fast friends. It will be a night of nostalgia, to be sure. But it will also be a chance to hear some of the music that rocked Maxwell's fabled walls way back then, by artists who - in my humble opinion - have only gotten better with age.

I'm also excited to announce that I'm beginning work on a Best Of Jersey Beat antholgy to be published by Don Giovanni Records, which has already published two books by our old friend Larry Livermore of Lookout Records fame.

Advance tickets are $10 and available here. Proceeds will benefit The Project Matters, a local NJ charity that mentors and supports young musicians.


WYLDLIFE - Out On Your Block (wickedcoolrecords.com)

There's a fine line where the sweaty arrogance of punk rock meets the manicured catchiness of power-pop, and on their third full-length, Wyldlife straddle it with a compellingly casual swagger. Frontman Dave Feldman tosses off his snotty vocals like the bastard child of Johny Thunders and Phil Lynott, greasy and grooving on the 70's styled party anthem "Get Loud," with its seductive riffage (Thin Lizzy meets Eddie & The Hot Rods?) Everybody gets a chance to shine here, though, from Spencer Alexander's head-bobbing bassline on "Teenage Heart" to Sam Allen's shredding solo on the (ironically) Ramonesy "Deadbeats" to Stevie Dios' nuanced drumming, pounding and frantic on an uptempo track like "Contraband" to a disciplined backbeat on the poppier "120 Minutes." Dave Feldman's lyrics toss off inspired rhyming couplets with the wit and grace of my old running buddy Johnny Puke in Cletus, providing a solid structure that contrasts with the scuzzy abandon of the music. I really liked Wyldife's first two albums but this one doesn't miss a beat; it's a consistently entertaining Saturday night on the town with four boys who really know how to party.

 

THE CATHOLIC GIRLS - Somebody Better Get A Room (CDBaby.com)

Jersey Beat #5 (Fall, 1982) included our first reviews of the Cucumbers and the Smithereens, and as if that weren't enough, on the cover we featured a red-hot group of young women from Essex County who played sassy punk rock in Catholic school uniforms. Twenty years before Britney Spears cashed in on the idea, they were called the Catholic Girls, one of the first Jersey indie bands to sign to a major label. They were banned by both Saturday Night Live and the archdiocese of Rhode Island for being too risque back then, and now, a miraculous 35 years later, the uniforms are long gone but they've got a new album that shows they haven't lost a step. It's not like the band has been MIA for 30 years; after a hiatus to start families and careers, the group has been rocking and recording throughout the new millennium. On Somebody Better Get A Room, the Catholic Girls - which includes founding members Gail Petersen on vocals, guitarist Roxy Andersen, and drummer Doreen Holmes - give us four new tracks, with Petersen's quavering alto still as alluring and commanding as ever. The songs range from the hard-rocking "Don't Cry" to the wry, winking, harmony-drenched power-pop of "Somebody Better Get A Room" to the power ballad "Without A Country," to the dramatic hearbreak of "Gone." Part Patti Smith, part Pat Benatar, part Chryssie Hynde, part Joan Jett, this music - like all those artists - has an agelessness to it. On the following five live tracks, the 'Girls revisit their discography, including the controversial-at-the-time "Young Boys," which now just sounds kind of cute coming from these adult - but far from over the hill - ladies.

JAIME ROSE - "Nowhere" EP (CD Baby.com)

Jaime Della Fave's solo EP will come as no surprise to fans of the Hoboken based singer. Even when sharing credit with her brother Dom in The Fave, Jaime has always projected the image of a strong, independent woman with a powerful but mellifluous voice.

With guitarist Max Feinstein and bassist Jaime DeJesus providing gently gliding accompaniment, "Nowhere" takes the breezy SoCal country-rock of the early Seventies and fuses it with the self-aware, impassioned lyricism of the present. "Watch me if you can, I'm moving on," Jaime sings to the subject of "Liar," a jilted lover song that makes no apologies and accepts no blame for her lover's infidelity. Jaime sounds lost and confused on "Nowhere," hopeful and embracing on "Breathe." What's refreshing is that there's none of that fevered oversinging, no operatic high notes or theatrical crescendos, none of those noodly vocal runs that win praise on reality shows and ruin good songs in reality. Jaime Rose Della Fave is a down to earth woman with adult concerns, doubts, and hopes, and it's a pleasure to hear her share them with us.

ADAM & THE PLANTS - "Born With The Gift Of Magic" (Sniffling Indie Kids)

In the Meltdowns, Ben Franklin, Blackwater, Zac Clark and The Griswolds, and Kids with Guns (all bands I greatly enjoyed, by the way,) Adam Copeland has always been a sideman or a collaborator, but never the star. So it's no surprise that the first track on this EP (a followup to 2015's promising full-length debut) should be "Side Man," a whimsical tribute to the guys who never get the glory. "I'm reliably fine, you don't have to pay any mind, I'm a side man," he sings, with the wink-wink wit of the young Ray Davies. Copeland's got a distinctive voice which he uses to good effect, but on these four tracks - much more than on the full-length - he makes full use of his talented band as well (Jersey City scene vets Gary Laurie, Lloyd L. Naideck, and Henry Prol.) The arrangemets are dense and complex, both catchy and compelling. "Madeline" incorporates strings and Beach Boys harmonies on a bouncy track on a girl who has it all together, while the leisurely, languid "Mystery Song" brings an orchestral calm to the proceedings. "The Marquis" (I'm guessing deSade) lets Copeland stretch vocally to strike a spooky voodoo vibe that's accentuated by Naideck's tribal drumming and a incandescent guitar solo. Adam & The Plants sound much bigger than a four piece and rock far more seriously than the silly pun of their name implies. You might say they're the kings of the florid frontier.


LILAH LARSON - Pentimento (lilahlarson.com)

Primarily known as one third of the NYC alt-folk band Sons Of An Illustrious Father, Lilah Larson has purged her soul with this deeply felt collection of self-reflective ballads, recorded in Montreal with producer Howard Bilerman (Arcade Fire, Vic Chestnutt.) Most tracks feature stripped down arrangements with Larson's vocals, guitar, and an antique pump organ, built around old-timey folk and country melodies. Larson's always been outspoken about her role as a queer musician in an often unwelcoming culture, but the graceful country waltz "Dear Mountain, Love Valley" could have been a hit on the Grand Old Opry. Larson's often compared to Patti Smith but for me, the depth of emotional engagement and effortless dynamics in her voice recall Bette Midler, if you can imagine the Divine Miss M surrounded by rustic acoustic instrumentation. The heartbroken breakup song "tbh" and the mellifluous romantic ballad "Father Daughter Ghost" (whose warm instrumentation is juxtaposed to a cold metallic electronic beat) traffic in universal emotions, even if written from a deeply personal perspective, but the track that hit me hardest is the Dylanesque "On Inertia," with its simple wisdom about surviving trying times: "All my friends who I never see/have no way to know they mean so much to me." Lilah Larson's voice is a warm, inviting thing, like coffee and toast on a chilly Sunday morning, and the pain in her lyrics is filtered through a unwaning, almost religious belief in hope and salvation.

THE KURT BAKER COMBO - In Orbit! (Wicked Cool Records)

Steve Van Zandt and I have a lot in common. Besides both being big Bruce Springsteen fans, we also dig bands who deliver the catchiness of power-pop with the energy of garage-punk. So it's not surprising that Little Steven's Wicked Cool Records has signed not only my Jersey City bros Wyldlife (see above) but my old pal Kurt Baker, now living in Spain (where people still pay to hear rock n' roll) and recording with his live combo. Kurt's always been a prolific songwriter, from his teenage days in the Leftovers to his solo career, but In Orbit! really is one of his strongest releases to date, filled with his trademark My Aim Is True-like hooks but with the energy amped up considerably. "Modern Day Rock 'N' Roll Girl" has the cheeky wit and chunky riffs of classic Nick Lowe, while "Ugly Way To Be" reaches back to Mersey Beat pop for its inspiration. There's not a duff track here, just bright and brash rock 'n' roll delivered for a complete disregard of whatever trendy crap might be in vogue. That's what living in Spain will do for ya.

THE CONNECTION - Just For Fun (Rum Bar Records)

Geoff Palmer and his band the Connection hit the studio late last year wit a few friends (like Chris "B-Face" Barnard of Queers/Mopes fame) to record a set of rock 'n' roll covers, and boy, it's great. From the familiar (Bob Seger's "Get Out Of Denver," the Stones' "No Expectations," Cheap Trick's "Southern Girls") to some deep album cuts, Geoff & Co. do their picks proud. It's great to hear the Dictators' "Stay With Me" taken absolutely seriously and delivered with power pop precision, or Gary Lewis' "I Can Read Between The Lines" performed with a Byrds-ian jangle. Dave Edmunds' "Other Guys Girls" is a natural fit, and Gram Parson's "Streeets of Baltimore" lets Palmer affectionately play around with alt-country. (It's the harmonies on this one that nail it.) From Buddy Holly to George Thorogood, the Connections seem capable of making any catchy guitar track their own. and why not? A covers album by one of Amereica's best bar bands seems like a slam dunk to me. If I had a jukebox in my corner bar, it'd sound pretty much like this.


 

ATOM DRIVER - "Slackjaw"EP (Powerbunny 4x4)

One part Boss Jim Gettys, one part Buzzkill... Anyone old enough to remember when those bands ruled New Brunswick in the Nineties will already be salivating. Guitarist/vocalist Mark Segal and drummer Mike Polilli are joined by bassist Justin Ingstrup (formerly of Good Clean Fun) in Atom Driver, who deliver an unsurprising but nonetheless bracing wallop on their debut EP. Segal's caterwauling vocals and sonic guitar benefit enormously from Polilli's powerful, almost tribal drumming and sophisticated arrangements that tease with dynamics and throw out one-liners like gut punches. "Hey, you may hate me now, but wait until I nail you to the wall," Segals shouts out in "Hate Me Now." The rumbling post-hardcore workout "Slackjaw" ramps up the speed and anger for a thrilling two minutes, and the unrelenting assault continues with the pummeling, caustic "Knives In" and the frantic "Cowboy," with an insanely intense avalanche of drums and guttural vocal emphases. Emphatic sums up closer "Best Defense" too; Segal snarls like caged animal while Polilli throttles his kit with unreal abandon. If you're old enough, you know what it's like to bump into an old friend you haven't seen for years and pick right up where you left off. That's what Atom Driver feels like. This isn't the 90's revival; this is the real thing, forged by musicians made only tougher, smarter, and more gifted by the passing decades. (Atom Driver's Mark Segal was recently a guest on the Jersey Beat Podcast, which you can download or stream here.)

THE PORCHISTAS - "Axis And Allies" EP (theporchistas.com)

Montclair's folk-pop jesters the Porchistas have always had a penchant for novelty tunes, and on their new EP, they deliver a passle of them. With The Defending Champions horns, the EP starts with a spooky ska-infused salute to a Soprano's styled Jersey hitman on "Mischief Night," spoof Alex Jones conspiracy wingnuts with the reggae-ish "Ebolabama," and serve up a funky F-you to the PEOTUS called "Mr. Chump" (that's even nastier than my anti-Trump song!) Then there's a boozy horn-fueled love song to the Porchista's home base, Tierney's Tavern in Montclair, that's enjoyable even if you don't get all the hometown references. So far, this EP has been all shits 'n' giggles, funny genre songs with a message (like Randy Newman at his pithiest,) but the finishes on a sentimental note with "Old And Gray," a slightly tongue-in-cheek but nonetheless winsomely romantic ballad, on which frontman Alan Smith duets with Jenn Santa Maria (from the wonderful folk group Bone & Marrow.)

SEASIDE CAVES - Hope (Chunksaah)

Don't let the fact that Hope was produced by the BSouls' Pete Steinkopf mislead you; there's no pop-punk to the droney synth-driven sound of Asbury's Seaside Caves. The insistent propulsive drumming might shoo away the shoegaze tag, but Todd Wacha's dreamy, yearning, breathy vocals (often suggesting Joe D'Augustino of Cymbals Eat Guitars) evince that ethereal genre, as do the dense, swirling arrangements. "Summer" is the evocative seasonal song that every Asbury Park band should have in its repertoire, but the atmospheric gloom of "Cry" and "Hearts." I'm not a fan of the two short instrumental interludes - they strike me as filler - but "Wreckage" closes the album with a suitably dramatic crescendo.

MAGIC MOUNTAIN - Magic Mountain (Powerbunny 4x4)

Released on January 1, here's one that's already a contender for my Best of 2017 list. Jeff Scavone (best known for his tenure in Bionic Rhoda and the proprietor of Powerbunny 4x4 Records, a great chronicler of the New Brunswick rock scene) has used the name Magic Mountain for over a decade, but this current lineup includes the Milwaukee's Jeff Nordstedt on guitar along with bassist Frank Bridges and drummer Andy Fountas. Jeff's scratchy, playful vocals haven't changed much in 20 years; these tracks still convey the same boyish wonderment as Bionic Rhoda's "Chili Dog" or "Tricycle." The songs sound like Big Star on Adderall, power pop played with precision and power. Anyone who thinks electric guitar is headed for obsolescence need only listen to the exquisite riffing on tracks like "Thrown Away" and "Both Suns" to know that's nonsense. The one constant through these six songs remains the haunted longing in Scavone's voice. It's beautiful and painful at the same time, sad yet hopeful, set to a soundtrack that can be as delicate as Sister Lovers and as powerful as Who's Next.

TONY LOW - Rendezvousing (reverbnation.com/tonylow)

Late last year I reconnected with Rudi Protrudi of the Fuzztones for the first time in decades and now here's Tony Low, late of 80's garagerock favorites the Cheepskates, with a refreshingly crisp and light album of acoustic tinged pop rock. Tony's voice still has that warm inviting tone I remember and he's still got a great ear for riffs and melodies. "Do The Mikey" may poke fun at those dance craze songs of the Sixties but it comes closest to recapturing the Cheepskates' old sound. Other tracks were inspired by real-life encounters, from the poignant "Pictures Of My Son" to the sonorous regret-filled "Adonis Fell," Low imbues these tracks with a sadness, humor, and most of all empathy for the varied personalities he meets along the way. "Should've Known," with its spritely accordion, sounds like something you'd dance to at a wedding, while "The Awful Dream" melds a garagey riff with delicate lead guitar.

Not everything works perfectly (the psychedelilc "Flicker" goes on a bit too long for my taste, and the instrumental appended to the end of the album seems like an afterthought,) but overall this was a nice reintroduction to an old friend.

UNCLE EINAR - Get Thee To Nod (uncleeinar.bandcamp.com)

Jon Petry (guitar/vocals) and Rich Samartin (drums) got their name from a Ray Bradbury short story and their sound from recordingf live in a basement. Thus Sussex County, NJ's Uncle Einar serve up a lo-fi psychedelic stew of garage, grunge, and experimental post-punk, not unlike Jeff The Brotherhood jamming in the garage with Daniel Johnston. These guys like to screw with your head (and ears too;) on "I Am Kurt" and "my Head," the sound drops out until the tracks become almost inaudible, then they're right back in your face for the sludgy, yearning "Devil Blues." (Adam Pumilia adds bass on the slow, trippy, Dylanesque"I Feel.") Clearly not for everyone, but fans of lo-fi American roots rock should keep an ear out for these guys.

STUART MOXHAM IN THE STRAIGHT WORLD (Les Disques Maladroits)

The Young Marble Giants never made much of an impact in America, but in the Hoboken pop scene of the Eighties, they were as revered as Big Star, and with good reason. With Allison Statton's reserved, almost shy vocals and Stuart Moxham's minimalist, gently beautiful songwriting and arrangements, YMG stood in sharp contrast to the loud, fast bands of 1979, but their music holds up wonderfully. This compilation features NJ's Speed The Plough doing one of YMG's signature songs, "Final Day," and over a dozen groups I'm frankly not familiar with, all with intriguing names (Photon, The Pippinger-Flur, Entre Knobs, Watoo Watoo, Bureau Of Public Secrets,) doing mostly reverent versions of YMG's fairly small catalog. A nice surprise is that Stuart Moxham himself (whom this comp will benefit) ontributes an unreleased track that fans will definitely want to add to their collection.

THE BITTER CHILLS - Feel Good Songs For Bad People (Mint 400)

This Americana group caught my ear at last fall's North Jersey Independent Rock Festival, and their second album more than lives up to that promise. With Matt Cheplic (of Mint 400's flagship band Fairmont) on vocals and guitar, the Bitter Chills utilize mandolin, upright bass, accordion, piano, and guitars to create comforting and ingratiating melodies with a bit of power-pop brio, inspiring Bar/None's Glenn Morrow to compare them to Marshall Crenshaw. Lots of bands can do catchy twang; the kicker here is the band's everyman sense of humor, reflected in the casual observances of songs like "Girls Like Guys," "My Baby Lacks The Energy (To Find Someone New,)" "Folk It Down," and "Jared Livingston, Last Of The Great American Schoolyard Bullies," an inspired fusion of Bob Dylan's epic character songs and the modern "Wimpy Kid" novels of Jeff Kininey. I must be bad people; these songs left me feeling pretty good.

MINT 40 RECORDS PRESENTS IN UTERO (mint400records.bandcamp.com)

In the past, NJ's Mint 400 Records has organized tribute compilations to Pet Sounds, Lou Reed, and the year 1967, so why not Nirvana's masterwork, considered by many to be the best album of the '90's? What can we learn from a tribute version In Utero? Without Kurt Cobain's voice and Steve Albini's controversial production, what remains are the songs, and some damn good ones at that, especially as interpreted here by the likes of Duke Of Norfolk, Fairmont, A.Bird (who I assume is Adam Bird of Those Mockingbirds,) and the Maravines. Peeling away the familiar angst and distortion, these artists find the psychedelic melodicism and garage-rock classicism buried in Cobain's compositions. A good song is always worth another listen; a great song begs for reinterpretation. "Rape Me" here is reborn as a classical instrumental, but as compensation, Theordore Grimm unearths the barely-heard Nirvana track "Sappy" and Fairmont covers the Dave Grohl-penned B-side "Marigold."

pronoun - There's No One New Around You (Rhyme & Reason)

Alyse Vellturo is (small p) pronoun, whose debut EP we're told comes to us from her Brooklyn bedroom, recorded with a single guitar and some simple synths and home recording gear. The skittering electronic beats might expose the home production, but Vellturo's exquisitely layered voice and synth tracks quickly dispel any notion that this heartbroken, housebound indie girl doesn't know exactly what she's doing. Skittering upbeat tempos render the tracks thoughtful but never morose; if anything, TNONAY seems more a celebration of independence rather than a meditation about loneliness. "Snowed In - "There's No One New Around You" finds Vellturo reflecting on the broken romance that inspired the first three tracks and finding the self-considence and self-reliance to press. In the end, that's all any of us can do, especially in these difficult times.


THE FUZZTONE (RAISIN’ A RUCKUS) by Rudi Protrudi (www.fanproshop.de)

Fans of NYC’s 80’s garage-rock scene might remember Rudi Protrudi as the mop-topped lead singer of the Fuzztones, one of the most popular bands of that era. In this memoir (the first of a two parts,) Protrudi takes us his from his childhood in a white-trash (his words) Pennsylvania boondock to his stints in L.A. and New York as an aspiring rocker. What makes The Fuzztone so much fun is Protrudi’s complete no-holds-barred honesty, whether it’s the intimate details of innumerable sexual escapades or his willingness to name names and speak his mind about the movers and shakers of the music scenes he passed through. (I particularly enjoyed his telltale stories about the Manhattan club scene of the late Seventies and early Eighties, when Danceteria, Peppermint Louge, and Hurrah turned local bands into high-paid stars.) There are as many potential lawsuits in these pages as orgasms, and there are a lot of orgasms. Read it before somebody gets wise and files a motion to suppress all the juicy stuff.

THE FUZZTONE (LIFE AT PSYCHEDELIC VELOCITY) by Rudi Protrudi (www.fanproshop.de)

Part two of Rudi Protrudi's autobiography takes us from the heyday of the Fuzztones' popularity in L.A. all the way up to today (with Rudi happily living in Germany with musical collaborator Lana Loveland and his daughter Twila.) Both volumes combine personal narrative with oral history, interjecting quotes from the many characters in the story (band members, record label people, girlfriends) with Rudi's own voice. You'll find tales of innumerable ups and downs, near constant lineup changes, several surprisingly successful side ventures (like Link Protrudi & The Jaymen, ) two failed marriages, an astonishing discography of original material, covers, compilation tracks, and reissues, a hiatus from music (and a short career shrinkwrapping porn DVD's,) and so many tour horror stories that you'll start to think (as Rudi did for many years) that he was cursed. If this comes as news to most U.S. fans, that's because the vast majority of the Fuzztones career happened in Europe (and to a lesser extent, other continents,) where the band has remained a consistent draw for the last 30 years. I'm guessing Rudi kept detailed journals, because the sheer abundance of detail here - virtually a day to day record of tour life, romantic entanglements, business machinations, and of course sex, drugs, and alcohol (and then even more sex!) - makes the book a bit of a slog. Still, I found Rudi's story endlessly fascinating (it should be a primer to teach aspiring bands everything that can go wrong on tour,) especially since - after decades of travail, disappointments, and barely scraping by - the story ends happily. Book Two comes with a 37-track CD tracing Rudi's career from his first teenage garage band through various projects, bands, collaborations, live tracks, and demos. Throughout, Rudi Protrudi makes a convincing case that the Fuzztones deserve their own niche in rock n'n' roll history, bridging the Sixties garage scene and its Eighties revival with a unique blend of fuzz, psychedelia, garage, and punk, and sharing the stage over a remarkable 35 year career with both the pioneers of fuzz (Link Wray, Music Machine, Sonics, Arthur Lee, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and many, many more) and the genre's many acolytes and imitators.


RICHARD BARONE - SORROWS & PROMISES: Greenwich Village In The 1960's (richardbarone.com)

From his early days in the Bongos through an impressive solo career now in its fourth decade, Richard Barone has always been an exquisite interpreter of pop well as a talented songwriter in his own right. On Sorrows & Promises, Richard covers songs written by some of the young talent festering in the Greenwich Village of the early 1960's, from the familiar (Dylan, Lovin' Spoonful, Velvets) to the more obscure . Most listeners might not know that Buddy Holly lived in Greenwich Village shortly before his tragic death; Barone addresses that fact with a moving cover of Holly's bittersweet "Learning The Game." Dion (of the Belmonts fame) turns up to duet with Richard on Dion's folky "The Road I'm On (Gloria,)" Most fans only know Fred Neil as the composer of the Nilsson hit "Everbody's Talkin'," but Barone unearths a lovely lost song, "The Other Side Of Life," performed with the sparsest instrumentation, letting Richard's evocative vocals tell the story. This album is a delight from start to finish, lovingly curated and spotlessly orchestrated, a crowning jewel in a career already filled with memorable moments.

THE ROMANTIC COMEDY - “Let's Be Sad Together" EP (Rhyme & Reason)

Layne Montgomery used to wear his heart on the sleeve of his Morrissey t-shirt .as the lovelorn lead singer of NYC’s The Great American Novel. Now a few years older, his yelpy bleating has seasoned into more tuneful pop singing and songwriting, but he still’s no good with girls. With 30 just a few years away, the protagonist of “Let’s Be Sad Together” pines for a girl as miserable as he is, while in “The Thirst,” our hero watches his girl ruin a viewing of “That Thing You Do” but insist she still wants to be friends. When Layne sings “it’s alright to love and be loved” on “It’s Alright To Feel,” he sounds like he’s trying to convince himself, not us. The production, by Passion Pit’s Ayad Al Adhamy, verges on being just a bit too slick and polished for such unkempt emotions, but "Let's Be Sad Together" represents a nice step forward for Layne and his bandmates, and I like the fact that Layne is back to being a frontman and leaving the bass in the capable hands of Max Miller. Familiar faces Pete Kilpin on guitar and Aidan Shepard on bass round out the lineup.

QUICHENIGHT - "Camille's Market" cassette (quichenight.bandcamp.com)

Boston-turned-Nashville singer/songwriter Brett Rosenberg earns his living touring in Pujol but his quirky lo-fi solo project Quichenight offers insight into this prolific auteur's wide-ranging tastes. I met Brett at W.E. Fest 15 years ago when he was still a teenage tyro playing cheeky, witty, clever power-pop, and elements of that style endure here on tracks like "Crazy And Hostile," the Beach Boys homage "Good Gods," or the twangy "Stickin' My Nose In The Cole Slaw." But there are also forays into funk, metal, country, and faux Calypso. Ween fans should love Rosenberg's irreverent genre-hopping sense of humor

 

. A TRIBUTE TO LINK WRAY (Mint 400)

Music historians credit Link Wray with inventing the power chord, paving the way for punk, metal, and most classic rock, but sadly he's largely remembered today only for his 1958 instrumental single "Rumble." In his day, Link Wray's ferocious guitar style was actually banned in several major cities for fear the music would incite youth violence. You can believe that hearing Jack Skuller's rumbling version of "Slinky," or Mint 400 flagship band Fairmont's tribute to "Rumble." The One And Nines manage to recreate Wray's novelty hit "Run Chicken Run" (with the electric guitar mimicking the clucking sound of barnyard poultry.) Other standout tracks include Zachs Uncle's throbbing rendition of "Jack The Ripper," The Limbos' horn-driven "The Swag," Fairmont's version of Wray's cover of Howlin Wolf's "Hidden Charms" (one of the few Wray tracks with lyrics and vocals!) and Thee Sonomatic's version of Wray's motorcycle anthem "Hang On."

NOFX - First Ditch Effort (Fat Wreck)

NOFX has always been one of punks most irreverent bands, with an unyielding contempt for politie society that's sometimes spilled over to its audience. That anger hasn't abated on First Ditch Effort - this is among the most ferocious album in the band's extensive catalog - but clearly something has changed. The band's often self-directed nihilism now seems more self-aware, nowhere moreso than on the opening track, "6 Years On Dope," in which singers Fat Mike and Melvin look for a way out of their self-destructive spiral. "Happy Father's Day" invokes the familiar NOFX trope of dysfunctional families and tracks like "Generation Z" and "California Drought" bemoan the inevitable environmental apocalypse we're heading for, while "Oxymoronic" attacks the deadly consequences of Big Pharma dealing out addictive painkillers. NOFX has always been great at poking polite society in the eye, but there are powerful songs of self-enlightenment here as well, like the cry for sexual tolerance on "I'm A Transves-lite" and the heartfelt tribute to the late Tony Sly, "I'm So Sorry Tony." Perhaps nothing captures the redemptive tone of First Ditch Effort as much as "I Don't Like Me Anymore," in which Fat Mike takes a sobering look in the mirror and sees a middle-aged drug abuser headed for a nasty end. For a band that's made its living making fun of everything (including itself,) First Ditch Effort impresses. Maybe you can teach old punks new tricks.

OVERLORD - The Well-Tempered Overlord (overlordusa.com)

Overlord belongs to that unheralded generation of bands that carried NYC on its back between the Strokes' original Big Bang and the millennial invasion of Bushwick. Most of his contemporaries struggle to throw together the occasional reunion gig, but Overlord's George Pasles reliably manages to pop out a quality album a year, and "pop" is indeed the operative term. It's not "pop" as in popular, sadly, but "pop" as in music that consistently seems both familiar and fresh, filled with well-worn tropes but always finding a few new wrinkles in the indie-rock canon. Few musicians use the studio as effectively as Pasles, with vocal harmonies becoming another instrument to add to his already potent arsenal: Sarah Brockett on bass, Matt Houser on drums, and Tris McCall on synths ably accmpany Pasles' nimble guitar and sweet-throated vocals on songs that consistently impress as intelligent, thoughtful, catchy, and often quite humorous. (Seriously, there are keyboard riffs on "Posthumous Honors" asfunny as pratfalls. And then there's the high school glee club harmony chorus singing "my whole life was a bad idea..." Hilarious.) Yes, the lyrics, if you strain to hear them in the mix, are wonderful, but the sounds and tempos on this record - happy, skittish, cheeky, light-hearted, optimistic, bounding- will leave you smiling even if you don't bother to suss out a word.

PANSY DIVISION - Quite Contrary (Alternative Tentacles)

It's not surprising that the punk band that taught America how to be comfortable with homosexuality is having no problem growing older gracefully too. If you only know Pansy Division from their mid-90's Lookout albums, you'll find Quite Contrary less twee and jokey but still just as irreverent, catchy, and saucy as ever. Guitarist Jon Ginoli and bassist Chris Freeman still write paeans to horniness, and they haven't lost their sense of humor, but now instead of singing about twinks, sex toys, and groovy underwear, their songs are tempered with wisdom and reflection. "You're On The Phone" complains about a boyfriend tied to his tech, "I'm The Friend" chronicles how Ginoli's sad-sack romantic failures have followed him into his fifties, and "(Is This What It's Like) Getting Old" offers a light-hearted countryish romp not unlike Loudon Wainwriting III's recent laments about aging. But there are some lovely love songs here too, as well as a few serious ones: Ginoli's "Too Much To Ask" angrily questions a lover's lack of commitment, while Freeman's "Blame The Bible" offers a biting political barb against right-wing Christian intolerance. And bassist Joel Reader (the straight guy in this otherwise gay quartet) delivers a powerful version of the Pet Shop Boys' "It's A Sin," with PD's crunchy guitarist replacing the original's layered synths. Quite Contracy is a long overdue delight that will please longtime listeners and hopefully win Pansy Division a new generation of fans too.

YJY - "The Same Noise" EP (Sniffling Indie Kids)

One of the delights of the summer, YJY's sophomore effort delivers four tracks of chimey indie pop that combines cocky, youthful vocals with reverb-y guitars and infectious melodies.

"Summer Lifeguard" is a perfect summer crush song with its surfy guitars and breezy rhythm. "Past My Prime" is a playful poke at quarter-life crises while I like to think of "Through Being Hip" as an answer song to 1999's "Through Being Cool" by Jersey icons Saves The Day; it proves - as those of us far past our twenties know all too well - that life=high school. Finally, the bittersweet "Evergreeens' melds a sonic homage to the Cure with touching lyrics about post-adolescent regret. Keep your eye on this band.

GLUEBOY - Yikes (glueboy.bandcamp.com)

I'm sure there are 21-year olds out there with great jobs and amazing sex lives and perfect shiny teeth and great hair and six pack abs, but c'mon, those aren't the people you want starting punk rock bands. Give me the scrawny unkempt misfit ready to take on the world, who looks around and realizes the world doesn't give a fuck. That is the sound - the fury, the disgust, the resentment, the disillusionment, the urgency - of Glueboy. I'm almost glad these guys are breaking up, because it's highly unlikely they'd ever make a record this good again. Jonathan Marty's tortured vocals don't worry much about staying on key or enunciation, but man do they capture the living hell of post-adolescence. Whether you're living through it or just remember it (like me,) Glueboy's hasn't just made an album here, but a statement. Marty's guitar flails from thrashy hardcore to catchy pop jangle, supported by Coby Chafet's bouncing melodic bass and Eli Sills' thrashing drums, and in their best moments, they sound like the three of them are tumbling down a flight of stairs together without missing a note. Pissed off and not sure what to do about it, Glueboy sound like 2016. Yikes, indeed. (Glueboy's final show will be at Aviv in Brooklyn on Sunday, August 28.)

BIG CHEESE - Supersonic Nothing (bigcheeseband.bandcamp.com)

On their debut album Loose Teeth, Big Cheese introduced itself as a latterday grunge band capable of two and a half minute explosions of rapidfire screaming vocals and barrages of brutal guitar, bass and drums. So it's a bit offputting to hear a dirgey seven-minute Stooges homage in the style of "1969" open the band's sophomore release. But fear not, frontman Adam Patten's back to screaming his head off by the second track, which sounds like somebody dropped a piano on Mark Arm's foot. Oliver Ignatius, who co-produced with the band at Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen studio, delivers some filthy fuzz tones on Patten's shrieking guitar and Desi Joseph's deceptively funky bass, with Justin Iwiiski providing his own throttling brand of ear damage on the drums. Malestroms of noise pour out of tracks like the well-written "Detroit In 1979" and the snarling"Crack Yr Whip." Like a good pitcher, Patten keeps his fastballs looking sharp by throwing in a few changeups and curves, and it's clear from the songwriting here that he's listened to at least as much Sonic Youth as Mudhoney. Supersonic Nothing will keep you on your toes, but still give you an earache.

GRIM DEEDS - IF THE SHOW FITS (grimdeeds.bandcamp.com)

Grim Deeds - the South California based pop-punk solo artist - releases songs so fast, it can be exhausting. This 15-track album came out the last week of July, and there are already six new singles on his Bandcamp page as I write this. Recording at home on Garageband keeps these recordings fairly low-fi but consistently listenable; If The Show Fits finds Grim Deeds focusing on fast, loud, electric guitar, waffling between speedmetal, pop-punk, and Eighties hardcore. What really sets Grim Deeds apart - besides being so damn prolific - is his sense of humor, which manages to blend Ben Weasel's snarky put-downs with Dr. Frank's more erudite and benign wit. If The Show Fits even expands the palette a bit with a blast of Bad Religion style social criticism. But most of Grim Deeds' humor is directed at himself, self-referential and self-deprecating. And then there's his unending fandom, which this time directs itself to Dave Mustaine and, Weird Paul Petrosky. (You should really check out his songs about Joe Queer, John Jughead, and Dr. Frank!) By the time you read this review, there'll probably be a new Grim Deeds album out anyway, so just go to his Bandcamp page (it's all there for free, or next to it) and enjoy.

ERIC AMBEL - Lakeside (Last Chance Records)

Originally released in limited-edition vinyl, Eric Ambel's fourth studio album (and first in many years) Lakeside will be made available digitally and on CD by Last Chance Records on August 20. And if you're a fan of sturdy roots rocks, that's a good thing indeed. Ambel's reputation as a producer has far outshadowed his career as a singer/songwriter, but on this collaboratin with Squirrel Nut Zippers' Jimbo Mathus, Ambel delivers a quality set of gutsy Americana leavened with wit and charm.


THE EVERYMEN - These Mad Dogs Need Heroes (Ernest Jenning/Orchard)

Take a gruff-voiced frontman, add a sax and an unapologetic passion for rock 'n' roll, and you're bound to draw a few Springsteen comparisons. But NJ's Everymen are so much more than that. It's time for the Garden State (and everybody else) to start appreciating these hard-touring mofos. Once a high-octane nine-piece party machine, the Everymen have slimmed down to a quintet and much of These Mad Dogs Need Heroes finds singers Mike V. and Catherine Herrick crooning contemplative and confessional love songs, with melodies that connect to both the Shangri-La's and Asbury Park. Fear not, though, the Everymen can still kick out the jams, often flavored with classic doo-wop filigree, Beach Boys-thick harmonies, and garage-rock fervor. As much as I can appreciate the almost operatic vocalizing on the downbeat "Oh Lucia" or the wisful vulnerability in Herrick's voice on "I Woke Up," I still wait for the rock 'n' roll romps like "Nick Lower" and "Bridge And Tunnel Of Love" (which also has to be one of the best double-punk song titles ever.) The Everymen may be fewer in number this time round, but they're still getting better with every release.

KANDEL - O Great Habit (henrykandel.bandcamp.com)

If you know Henry Kandel at all, it's probably for his tenor sax in the late, lamented flagship band of the Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen collective, Ghost Pal. On O Great Habit, Henry displays his skills as a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, and it's a total mindfuck. The ambitious 17-track album is a prog-rock tour de force with visits to Renaissance Fairs, Strawberry Fields, cloistered monasteries, and an infant's nursery. Songs meander in unexpected directions, with mind-expanding arrangements that contrast the familiar analog sounds of sax, banjo, and human whistling with the otherworldly sonics of digeridoo and EWI (an "electronic wind instrument" that combines a wind controller with a synthesizer.) Kandel is fearless, up to and including not being afraid to sound like a bit of an affected dork at times, but that only adds to the guilessless beauty of the sounds he's collected here. O Great Habit will challenge you, beguile you, and mostly likely haunt you.

THE CUCUMBERS - The Fake Doom Years (1983-1986) (thecucumbers.net)

This compilation happily offers long out-of-print vinyl releases from one of my all-time favorite bands, the Cucumbers, to a new generation of listeners. The Cucumbers - at the time, and still today, Deena Shoskes and Jon Fried - were one of the first bands I discovered when I started going to Maxwell's in 1980. This compilation includes a couple of singles, a full length album, and several heretofore unavailable tracks by these relentlessly cheery new-wave popsters. Yes, this music is very Eighties, but iot's also timeless - boy/girl harmonies, earwig melodies, bouncy beats. The fun includes the group's infectious first single "My Boyfriend" (which actually caused a bit of a stir in 1983 when Jon sang the "my boyfriend won't wash the dishes" verse without changing genders;) the band's sexy cover of Elvis' "All Shook Up," which helped make the Cuckes the darlings of NYC's downtown club scene for a while; and giddy confections like "Who Betrays Me" and the surfy "Don't Watch TV." The bonus track “Keep Your Cool” was recorded when the band won recording studio time in a battle of the bands sponsored by WDHA in 1985. The second bonus track, “The Body Groove,” was recorded live at Ziggy’s nightclub in Winston-Salem, NC, in September 1985 by club soundman Dan Griffin, who later became the group's touring sound tech. Give this a listen and it'll cheer you up, I promise.

EVAN O'DONNELL - Concrete Concrete AIN SVP AVR (evanodonnell.bandcamp.com)

The Brooklyn What's Evan O'Donell should have just called his solo album "My Band Could Be Your Life." Especially for 30-ish pre-millennials, Concrete Concrete provides a textbook example of how sturdy Nineties alt-rock can still be captivating and enriching. O'Donnell's voice glides somewhere between Malkmus and Dando, while his songwriting incorporates those influences as well as meatier bands like Dinosaur Jr. and the Pixies. The acoustic "You're Coming Home" is pretty much a straight Lemonheads rip, mopily romantic and introspective. But O'Donnell channels his inner Westerberg too on rockers like "Buster On The Granite Highway" or "No I Wanna Sound LIke Chrissie Hynde" (with its nifty doo-wop bridge.) Evan's currently living in Europe, although I believe he plans to return to the US and revive the Brooklyn What eventually, which would definitely be a good thing. But in the meantime, rock out and satisfy your 90's jones with Concrete Concrete.

CONNECTIONS – Midnight Run (Anyway)

Ohio’s Connections (not to be confused with New England’s The Connections) share Buckeye DNA with the fuzz-pop of Guided By Voices and the Eighties nerd-rock of Great Plains. On their fourth full-length since 2012, the group doesn’t change things up much, still delivering head-bobbing power-pop enveloped in fuzzy guitars and filtered vocals. When the band’s hitting on all cylinders, like the effervescent “Kate and Everyone Else” or the urgent “John From Cincinnati,” Connections delivers satisfyingly, but much of the album drags and lacks the fizzy punch good power-pop requires. Midnight Run would have made a killer EP but disappoints over its 14 tracks.

MARTHA – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart (Dirtnap)

Get ready to fall in love with Martha, self-proclaimed “straightedge vegan anarchists” from the town of Pity Me in the U.K. who fuse the desperate post-adolescent urgency of Los Campesinos! with the catchy one-string solos and gang vocal melodies of Nineties pop-punk. The band segues from the introspective (“Chekhov’s Hangnail”) to geeky love songs like “Precarious (Supermarket Song)” and “The Awkward Ones,” combining engaging wordplay with chunky chords and irresistible melodies. They can channel the Kinks on one track, the Replacements on another, or recall both Helen Love’s giddy pop and Lemuria’s post-emo sophistication. This is a terrifically entertaining album by a seasoned group (visit their Bandcamp page for a bonanza of free downloads) that’s remained a secret in the States for far too long.



NO ICE - Come On Feel The NO ICE (NOICE.bandcamp.com)

Let's not prevaricate: I love NO ICE (pronounced "noice," with a heavy Brooklyn accent.) These unkempt, pug-ugly punk rockers make music as messy and casual and ingratiating as they look. Fronted by the charismatic Jamie Frey, whose gruff, garrulous vocals fall somewhere between Malkmus, Westerberg, and your drunken uncle singing Neil Diamond at your bar mitzvah, NO ICE stands apart from the small army of sloppy, drunken Brooklyn indie-pop combos by seamlessly incorporating an affection for Sixties doo-wop with their slacker anthems and party songs. There are some obvious touchstones - Pavement ("Summer Bummer,") 'Mats ("Darlin'," "Guitar,") Sixties Brill Building girl-group pop ("Leave Her Alone," ) and of course the Ramones ("Out With The Brats.") But tracks like the doo-wop flavored "We Get High Together" and the should-be-a-hit pop gem "The Cemetery" set this band of sweaty misfits apart. And the loungey closing-time ballad "Five Beers" could have been covered by Sinatra in another lifetime. Gwynnn Galitzer's lovely backing vocals and harmonies provide a delightful counterpoint to Frey's scruffy voice, and Jesse Katz's drumming unassumedly keeps every track in a tight groove without ever getting fussy or showboaty. By all means, take their advice and come on, feel the NO ICE.

DIPLOPIA - A Season Atones (diplopia.bandcamp.com)

Ex-Perenniel Reel guitarist Evan Dibbs is Diplopia, a solo project that displays a wealth of talent. Simple finger-picked guitar in the folk tradition accompanies "Adeline," the six-song EP's opener, a showcase for Dibb's boyish vocals, both sophisticated (he namedrops Gertrude Stein) and yet innocent and vulnerable. As the Ep progresses, though, Dibbs incorporates beguiling jazz guitar and ever more intricate arrangements and compositions. It never sounds busy (or jammy,) since he retains that feel for folkie economy, but it's quite lovely and will leave you both entertained and impressed. Every folksinger worth his salt has to write a song about his hometown and Dibbs does not disappoint with "Hoboken," which recalls coming of age in the Mile Square City ("I'm just learning to drive the 1/9 Highway") amid summer baseball games and corner bodegas.

 

EXPERIMENT 34 - "Charismanic" EP (experiment34music.bandcamp.com)

This young New Brunswick quartet mixing a sci-fi backstory with a sound rooted in classic rock. This 3-song sampler teases the band's forthcoming debut full-length. "Check Up" starts this off by channeling the early Red Hot Chili Peppers, with funky bass and nimbly rapped lyrics. "Three Days In The Chamber" channels the Doors, with a slinky Morrison-esque vocal, groovy harmonies, and psychedelic guitars. The EP closes with "144 Evergreen Place," which continues the late 60's vibe with a nod to the Stooges. Experiment 34 brings a healthy sense of humor and fun to the band (you can read about their secret origin here) and like so many NJ bands, they clearly prioritize musicianship over image or style. You can catch Experiment 34 as part of Hub City Fest on Thursday, April 21 at Pino's in Highland Park.

ROY ORBITRON - Girls' Boyfriends (royorbitron.org)

The prolific Conor Meara releases a lot of music as Roy Orbitron, but it never sounds rushed or careless. With his deep, low, cowboy voice and a nuanced command of folk, country, and rock 'n' roll, his songs always reverberate with the honesty and thoughtfulness of a Johnny Cash or Tom Petty. His songs can be confessional ("Love Dies Hard,") whimsical ("Condoms In My Leather Jacket," "Fuck College," ) or spiritual ("Brimstone Suckers," "Swimmers Ear.") There are touches of Tom Waits' gutter poetry and Springsteen's working class angst. Some of these songs have appeared on earlier EP's, but as a debut album, Girls' Boyfriends makes a fine introduction to this burgenoning talent.

UNDERLINED PASSAGES - Fantastic Quest (Mint 400)

Baltimore's Underlined Passages almost sound as if this music has emerged through a time warp from the heyday of Eighties college rock, with its melliflous reverb'd vocals and easy going pop jangle. Fantastic Quest has its share of bite and snarl too, like the emphatic opening guitar barrage of "Everyone Was There." This is one of those records where everyone's going to hear their own favorite bands mirrored back at them; I hear REM and Tears For Fears, for instance, but I know other critics have compared UP to Sunny Day Real Estate, Nada Surf, and Jimmy Eat World. And that's fine. This is solid, unpretentious songcraft that's clearly been crafted with care and precision, easy on the ears and soothing to the soul.

SINK TAPES - EP 16 (sinktapes.bandcamp.com)

Yes, this is the 16th EP from New Brunswick's Sink Tapes, who also seem to play two basements a week and still find time to tour (and presumably sleep once in a while.) The songs on "EP 16" retain Sink Tapes' trademark shoegazey sound but it's clear this band is growing exponentially. "Special Arrangement" evokes Pavements' slacker jangle while the infectious rhythm of "It's Wearable" captures a Jesus & Mary groove. There are plenty of other influences at work here, from Neil Young to the Feelies, but more and more Sink Tapes are establishing their own unique niche in New Jersey's underground.

 

GOLDEN BLOOM - Searching For Sunlight (goldenbloommusic.com)

It took one song - 2009's "Doomsday Devices" - to convert me into a diehard fan of Shawn Fogel and his always-shifting band Golden Bloom. A near-perfect indie pop tune reminiscent of Fountains of Wayne, "Doomsday Devices' introduced Fogel as a smooth-voiced crooner with a sharp wit and a knack for earwig melodies. On the crowd-funded Searching For Sunlight, there are still echoes of those days - check out the wistful "Great Unknown" - but for the most part, Fogel has moved beyond being just clever and cute. If I compare him to James Taylor, you might think it's a left-handed compliment, but Taylor's early work remains an indelible chapter of the Great American Songbook, and that's the caliber of craft Fogel's exercising here. Every penny he raised to fund this album clearly went into maximizing his time recording and mixing Every tone, every instrument, every moment sounds meticulously arranged, yet always organic and natural. Fogel's voice has never sounded better - warm, inviting, tinged with palapable regret on the beautiful "Books You've Never Read," or hopeful and uplifting on the harmonic title track. This one's going right at the top of the journal I'm keeping of the best albums of the year; I'll be seeing you again in December, buddy.

 

SUN CLUB - The Dongo Dorango (ATO)

Baltimore’s Sun Club is an astonishing live band. I know because I accidentally discovered them at SXSW a few years ago and was blown away. The question with great live bands, always, is whether that energy can be captured in the studio, and The Dongo Dorango does so with mixed results. First and foremost, I don’t understand why everything here struggles to escape from a suffocating blanket of reverb. It’s like the band’s in a fist fight with one arm tied behind their back. But at least they come out swinging, showing off abundant hooks, ferocious post-adolescent energy, keening vocals, and a healthy sense of dark humor (reflected in goofy song titles like “Puppy Gumgum” and “Cheeba Swiftkick.”) But a track like “Dress Like Mothers” should explode, whereas it merely sounds stifled by all that reverb and distortion. Similarly the band’s throttling percussion only rarely gets a chance to detonate. Shoegazers aren’t this sweaty, sexy, or irreverent; whoever tried to stuff Sun Club into that niche should be banned from the studio the next time the group records.

J HACHA DE ZOLA – Escape From Fat Kat City (jhachadezola.bandcamp.com)

Equal parts Tom Waits gutter poetry and Dresden Dolls Brechtian angst, Escape From Fat Kat City was recorded by Jersey City’s J Hacha De Zola in the shadows of Rahway State Prison. Those grim halls seemed to have rubbed off, since this album has a murky gloom that’s hard to shake. De Zola has the flair of a carny barker and the calculated use of trumpet and accordion throughout this album adds just the right oddball touches to evoke seamy back alleys and the disreputable allure of circus sideshows. “Let It Go” showcases a soulful strut while “Hold Tight” might have sprung from a Sixties spy-flick soundtrack; the cinematic theme continues on the film noir-ish “Ice Cream & Cigarettes,” the Spaghetti Western languor of “Blue Sky,” and the piano ballad “City Girls,” which transports the listener to an intimate European café. This is a wonderfully evocative album where every song seems to create its own space and backdrop. You just may have to renew your passport to give it a proper listen.

YOUNG CUM – Something To Eat (Say No Go)

Hands down, the Worst Band Name in NYC goes to Young Cum, Bones Howell’s new rock ‘n’ roll quartet. A name like that is just about guaranteed to turn off discerning listeners who might actually dig this tuneful homage to Seventies blues-based punk and Eighties Lou Reed. “Dead End Bar” is a near perfect pop song, catchy as heck and bright as a new penny, while the tongue-twisting “Big Glasses” and the urgently screaming guitars of “Bloodrage” recall vintage Jim Carroll. A bit of glam boogie enlivens the crunchy guitars and gritty vocals of “Tradin’.” I give this EP four out of five stars, but sorry, Bones, I’m taking one away for the dumb name.

BAY KEE – Wonder Wild (Human Sound)

Christine Spilka’s voice is a gift, and it’s treated not just with respect but exaltation on the 8-song debut of her new solo project, Bay Kee. Spilka’s solo turns in the Jean Jackets, her previous band, suggested a millennial Liz Phair, adept at indie-pop. But Bay Kee opens up entirely new vistas, with vocals that capture both the innocence of childhood and the world-weary ennui of a young woman who’s passing out of adolescence into adulthood. Each track here has been crafted at Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen to swath that voice in just the right accoutrements, from gossamer folk-pop to the ethereal neo-psychedelia of “Shady Birds,” with its analog synths and minimalist percussion (from ex-Jean Jacket Dominic Knowles.) There is a gentle but insistent groove that runs through tracks like “Red Rover” and “New Star” that makes the inclusion of Josh Parris’ rap on “Yeah, no” seem more of an inevitability than a surprise. This is music that seems destined for the mainstream, no matter how intimate the delivery or confessional the material.


RIOT ON THE DANCE FLOOR: The Story of Randy Now & City Gardens (DVD) (www.citygardenfilm.com)

"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend:" That line from John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance might make great westerns, but it's problematic with documentaries. If your goal is to tell the story of a New Jersey concert venue and the dedicated maniac who made it all happen, do you stay true to history and lay it all out, warts and all, or include only the parts that people want to remember? That's my problem with Riot On The Dance Floor; it's a nostalgic look back at Trenton's City Gardens and a love letter to its promoter, Randy "Now" Ellis, who's portrayed as the victim of his own obsessive love for bringing live music to Trenton.

Director Steve Tozzi intercuts found Super-8 footage and early VHS video from the club with talking head interviews of former staffers, fans, and artists, using Randy Now's current circumstances as a framing device. (Nearly broke and without any savings, Randy is seen scraping out a meager living promoting small shows in his native Bordentown.) It's a theme that's returned to a few too many times, so that admirtation for this remarkable man nearly turns to pity. I wonder if that's the tone Steve Tozzi wanted to project?

The documentary does do a great job at illuminating City Gardens' role as a major East Coast hub for the burgeoning hardcore scene of the Eighties, as well as its role in nurturing homegrown talent like Ween (a City Gardens favorite,) Vision, and the Bouncing Souls. City Gardens also became a favorite tour stop for bands like Black Flag, the Dead Kennedys, GWAR, and the Butthole Surfers, and the documentary includes interviews with Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra, who explicate that history. It's a shame the filmmakers couldn't include more documentation of some of the "college rock" superstars who stopped at City Gardens too, from the Replacements and Husker Du to the Violent Femmes and X. It wasn't all hardcore, all the time.


Randy Now, now.

After Randy and City Gardens, the third major player here is the city of Trenton itself, and I was glad to see the filmmakers take the time to talk a bit about the city, its history, and its decline, and how an unused warehouse in a scarily sketchy part of a decaying urban ghetto managed to attract so many rabid fans and eager musicians.

The documentary does a less complete job in explicating City Garden's huge influence in the industrial dance music boom of the Nineties (where's Nine Inch Nails? Peter Murphy? ) and the film barely mentions the club's long run of successful DJ-driven dance nights. You can also argue (and I will) that there's way too much Ween (and only Mickey Melchiondo, at that, no Aaron or Dave or Claude or Kirk) and not nearly enough mention of bands like Shades Apart, Adrenalin OD, Ben Vaughn. and other Jersey/Philly staples of the scene. Fugazi only played City Gardens twice, but the ubiquitous Ian MacKaye gets loads of screen time; yet the doctumentary barely mentions the Ramones, who hold the record for the most City Gardens gigs (22!)

There are a few fun anecdotes- like how Randy solved his all-ages problem after the drinking age in NJ went up by installing a hot dog machine and getting a restaurant license - but the documentary skips over the (to me, interesting) factoid that John Stewart worked as a CG bartender before his career took off, or that after Black Flag, Henry Rollins recruited his Rollins Band from the South Jersey musicians he met at City Gardens. The documentary also skips over Green Day's two soldout shows, which convinced the band it was time to leave Lookout! and sign to a major label.


The City Gardens building today


The best way to enjoy Riot On The Dance Floor is as a companion piece to Steven DiLodovico and Amy Yates Wuelfing's oral history, No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes. Together, you get it all - the sights and the sounds as well as the kind of in-depth reporting that just wasn't possible in a 100-minute film. Kudos to Tozzi for making ample use of Ken Salerno's concert photography (some of which appeared in Jersey Beat back in the day,) and the soundtrack - compiled by CG alum Toby Record - will provide attentive listeners with a potpourri of Jersey bands from the era who didn't make it into the film proper. (If licensing can be worked out, I'd love to see the soundtrack released as a standalone compilation album.)

If you're old enough to remember City Gardens, this documentary will bring back nostalgic memories (and possibly some night terrors, if you were ever caught in one of the venue's ferocious mosh pits;) and if you missed the whole thing, then Riot On The Dance Floor will give you a peek at a remarkable piece of New Jersey musical history, The DVD (which includes a bonus disc of outtakes that I haven't seen yet) is available for pre-order from citygardensfilm.com.



HAVE MOICY 2: The Hoodoo Bash (Red Newt Records)

Back in 1976, Robert Christgau proclaimed Have Moicy! "the greatest folk album of the rock era" and Rolling Stone listed it in their Top 20 albums of the year. The compilation featured Peter Stampfel and the Unholy Modal Rounders, Jeffrey Fredericks & The Clamtones, and Michael Hurley, and its mishmash of traditional acoustic instrumentation and druggy lyrics set the template for the freak-folk and anti-folk movements that would follow.

Nearly 40 years later (in 2012, to be exact,) Peter Stampfel recruited a new batch of freaks, folkies, and friends, and in slapdash recording sessions over a few days in Portland, Oregon, finally managed to record a sequel. Fredericks died years ago and Hurley was invited to the sessions but declined, so Have Moicy 2 features a mostly new cast of characters and is very much a Stampfel family affair: Daughter Zoe, NYC's Jeffrey Lewis, and Seattle legend Baby Gramps have all made albums with Peter, and Brooklyn's Down Hill Strugglers (which includes onetime Holy Modal Rounder Sam Shepard's son Walker) provide backup on banjo, fiddle, guitar, bass, and harmonica. The Northwest contingent of the ensemble also includes Brooklyn singer/songwriter Kristin Andreassen (who hit it off so well with Jeffrey Lewis that she wound up moving to Brooklyn and touring for a few years in his band,) as well as folksinger (and former Rounder) Robin Remaily, who along with Stampfel appeared on the first Have Moicy!

Have Moicy 2 is much more of a collaborative effort than its predecessor, with many of the songs co-written by the album's stars; on several tracks, a different artist will sing each verse. (Happily, unlike the original, this Have Moicy - the CD version, at least - comes with extensive liner notes that let the listener suss who's singing what.) Not that Stampfel, Lewis, and Baby Gramps (who croaks like Max Schneider's Popeye) have voices that could be mistaken for anyone else. The Cd booklet provides a fascinating look at how some of these songs came togethe, and the recording process, which involved all the musicians standing in a circle with a single set of earphones for the engineer, was anything but ideal. But as the first Have Moicy proved, and as Jeff Lewis suggests in his liner notes, if you gather a few great creative folks in one studio, each one only has to bring in a small number of great tunes and you've got a classic album pretty easily. Nothing about making Have Moicy 2 went easily though, and that includes the three years the tapes sat in a studio waiting to be mixed and mastered. Now that it's here though, it's well worth the wait.

If you're a fan of the two Lewis/Stampfel albums, you'll enjoy their collaborations here, including "Nonsense," the creationist-bashing "Intelligent Design," and the lost-in-the-woods lament "The Call." Kristin and Peter team up for the silly but very fun "Butt's On Fire," and Baby Gramps' "Nailers Consumption" makes for the perfect introduction to this Northwest oddball. "Eat That Roadkill" has Stampfel updating an old minstrel song from the 1880's with comic effect (another version appeared on his Don Giovanni album with the Brooklyn & Lower Manhattan Banjo Squadron.) But while Stampfel, Lewis, and Baby Gramps stand out, like the first Have Moicy, HM2 is very much a showcase for everyone involved, so Remaily and several members of the Down Hill Strugglers get their own tunes, and none disappoint. The tracks by Elli Smith, Craig Judelman, and Walker Shepard, shorn of Stampfel and Lewis' goofy wit, nonetheless share the same warm, campfire vibe, with fiddles and banjo, jew's harp and harmonica, like something that might have drifted in on the AM band from some hillbilly radio station back in the Twenties or Thirties. And it's fitting that Robin Remaily's "All My Friends" closes the album, since it's the track that sounds most as if it might have come from the first Have Moicy sessions.

Peter Stampfel discussed the making of Have Moicy 2 in the Jersey Beat interview we did in 2014, which you can read here or listen to here.


ICED INK - "Willie Nelson Prince" EP (icedink.bandcamp.com)

I quickly found that I much preferred to listen to the six tracks on "Willie Nelson Prince" as one long psychedelic instrumental freakout, in which Mike Krenner's guitar and Gregg Mitchell's bass (fueled by Ethan Meyer's polyrhythmic drums) seamless segue through a half dozen hyphenate genres. You'll hear prog-rock, noise-rock, and surf-rock, funk and jazz and metal, math-rock tempo changes and Morricone western soundtracks. Recorded live at Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen, so much happens so quickly on this EP that you won't even notice that no one is singing. This music doesn't need vocals, it needs a seat belt.

JERSEY DRIVE - "Ludicrous Speed Go" (jerseydrive.com)

The bio tells me that Jersey Drive has been around since 2006 but it's only recently that the band retooled its sound into "acousta-punk," which is exactly what you think: Punk rock on acoustic guitars. And not just strummed guitars - although there are plenty of power chords here - but delicate finger-picked flamenco intros and solos. "Hate Inside" sounds like acoustic Bad Religion with hearty gang vocals juxtaposed against acoustic guitar and very light bass. "Jessie" has a Bob Dylan vibe, "Long Way Honme" is a nostalgic lament, and "If Minds Could Kill" takes on bigotry. It's a little disconcerting to hear punk played without drums or distortion, but Jersey Drive's attitude and conviction just might win you over.

SPEED THE PLOUGH - Now (Coyote Records)

Speed The Plough’s orchestral pop has survived almost as many regenerations as Doctor Who, starting back in 1984 as an offshoot of the Feelies side-project The Trypes. The current lineup includes founding members Jon and Toni Baumgartner, old friends Ed Seifert and Cindi Merklee, the Baumgartners’ grown son Michael, and drummer John Demeski, whose father, Feelies drummer Stan, held the job twenty years earlier. Now also marks the relaunch of Coyote Records, the label that former Maxwell’s owner Steve Fallon started in the early Eighties to chronicle the burgeoning Hoboken pop scene of the era. Like its predecessors, Now focuses on lush melodic pop, with flute, woodwinds, keyboards, and cello, but sports a few crunchy guitar rockers and a foray into jazz fusion too. You can feel the Feelies DNA in the hypnotic polyrhythms and use of percussion to augment the album’s graceful grooves, but the Baumgartners’ signature vocals - Toni’s voice a gossamer breeze and Jon’s a gruffer post-punk snarl – mark this as indelibly Speed The Plough. Seifert and Merklee contribute songs as well, expanding the group's palette with the pastoral, acoustic "Miss Amelia" and the driving, grinding "Ed's Song." Now marks both a renewal of Speed The Plough's original mission statement and a powerful signal that this band still has new sonic territory to explore.

STRINGER - "Dead Ass" EP (stringerny.bandcamp.com)

Stringer's debut EP consists of only six fairly short songs, but it feels like you're getting far more bang for your buck because each track stands by itself as one of many possible futures for this nascent Brooklyn supergroup. For the uninitiated, Stringer consists of 3/4 of Heeney, who built up a solid constituency in the Brooklyn underground with frequent shows at Shea Stadium and other area venues. But guitarists Mark Fletcher and Max Kagan, along with drummer John Spencer, decided that Heeney had run out of steam, or at least creative potential, so they ditched the name and the songs and reformed, adding the ubiquitous J. Boxer (Gradients, Old Table, Fiasco, Bluffing, etc. etc.) That gives Stringer three solid songwriters and three lead singers (with the vocalists trading guitars and bass back and forth throughout their sets,) but it also means that this is a group still searching for its identity. In the mantime, we're treated to a potpourri of Brooklynese punk and post-rock, starting with Kagan's raw-throated vocal on the grungy, Nirvana-esque "Fear Of Death." That's followed by Boxer's "Black Bile," a fast, rousing punk singalong with gang vocals (and surprisingly clean harmonies.) There's more harmony vocals on Fletcher's poppy "Dirty Room," along with a clean lead guitar melody line that pushes the band in a more indie-rock direction. "Luxury" continues that vibe, like Superchunk or Spoon but with a heavier rhythm section. "Just Like You" adds a snotty, frantic punk-rock tune with Kagan on lead vox that clocks in at well under two minutes, leaving both you and the band breathless, but the guys rally with the bright, bouncy, almost power-pop "Wanting Less" for the finale. I know the guys in Stringer (I'l be interviewing them soon for the Jersey Beat Podcast) and they've got a ferocious work ethic; "we need 50 more shows to get good," Mark Fletcher told me at a recent gig, and you can bet they'll use every one of them to hammer these farflung ideas into a cohesive whole. And then, world, watch out. "Dead Ass" will available in a limited run of 100 cassettes and digitally on December 12. Until then, you can stream the EP at Post Thrash.com.

THE MAX LEVINE ENSEMBLE -
Backlash, Baby (themaxlevineensemble.bandcamp.com/ album/backlash-baby)

David Combs and Ben "Bepstein" Epstein started the Max Levine Ensemble in high school over 15 years ago (and no, there's noone named Max in the band,) but Backlash, Baby is only the group's second full-length and its first album in nearly a decade. Combs - who also performed and recorded solo material for years under the name Spoonboy - has certainly grown as a songwriter and singer in that time, but you'd be hard-pressed not to imagine him as a spindly 16-year old when you hear him sing. Backlash, Baby has the frantic urgency and piss-and-vinegar snottiness of youth, with its roots still firmly planted in Combs' beloved pop-punk. But you'll hear echoes of bands like Superchunk and Weezer here as well, anthemic melodies and swelling choruses that made TMLE sound much bigger than a punk-rock trio. "My Valerian" might be the story of a lovesick boy pining for a girl, but it includes a laundry list of herbal remedies and concludes with the unlikely metaphor "she's my Valerian." That's the Max Levine Ensemble in a nutshell, they take something simple and familiar and add a little twist that makes it fresh and original. Pop punk certainly needs its champions these days, and The Max Levine Ensemble from Washington D.C. is right at the top of the list for this listener.

WRECKLESS ERIC - amERICa (Fire)

It's been nearly 40 years since a curmudgeonly little runt named Eric Goulden rebranded himself as Wreckless Eric and exploded on the UK music scene as a Stiff Records labelmate of punk rock tyros Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, and Ian Dury. Goulden remains mostly known (if at all) in this country for his first single, the whiny two-chord masterpiece "Whole Wide World," but in fact the man's had a long career eking out a living on the fringes on the music industry. Now, in his Sixties and happily resettled as a country squire in scenic Upstate New York with his wife Amy Rigby, Wreckless Eric returns with a spot on album that turns his comic insights onto his adopted country, often with brillian results. Singing with that unmistakable guttersnipe yowl, the album begins with "Several Shades Of Green," an arch look back at the music industry that refused to make him a star. Goulden's not bitter, though (well, maybe a little) as much as sardonic; he knows now it was always a stacked deck, but says he would have played the game anyway even if he'd known he had no change of winning. Given the current furor over U.S. gun ownership, "White Bread" provides an outsider's look at the disaffected Middle Americans who might actually vote for Donald Trump ("nothing ever happens in this town/everything closes at sundown/ it wouldn't be worth the risk/ business is never that brisk.") "Boy Band' casts a jaundiced eye at the music industry's hype machine, while "Space Age" complains that while we're living in the future, the future's turning out to be not so great. Wreckless Eric might not still have the ear for pop hooks he showed in "Take The KASH" or "Can I Be Your Hero," but his brand of dyspeptic power-pop (siphoned from British pub rock with a dash of punk , lots of skittish guitars and organ) still delivers laughs and a rock and roll punch, coming from a lifelong jokester who's still not afraid to make a corny pun like amERICa.

THE BRAINSTEMS - No Place Else (Bad Diet Records)

One of the nicest things about being a rock critic is when an album comes in the mail from a band you've never heard of, and it just blows your mind. St. Louis garage punks The Brainstems sound like they were locked in a room with nothing but Velvet Underground albums and "Pink Flag" for a month, and then released into a studio to make their own record. This is fiery, minimalist punk with great lo-fi guitar sounds and clipped, wiry (excuse the pun) vocals . Given that they're pretty young, it's not surprising to read that they started out as a Ty Segall cover band, although "Time To Ride" reeks of the Paisley Underground movement of the Eighties and the gallumphing post-punk poetry of "The People's Joy" suggests they've listened to Richard Hell and Jim Carrooll. These St. Louis kids (growing up a few miles from Ferguson) don't shy away from politics either, confronting the issues of racism, modernday segreation, and police violence against minorities squarely on "Redline." And they even throw in a ska-punk tune to get the moshpit movin' a little. I hear the band released three EP's while building up to this impressive debut full lengther. I'm going to track those down, and I recommend you do the same.

JACOBUS - "Jacobus" EP (jacobus.bandcamp.com)

Here's an even younger band, this one from suburban New Jersey, and it's an EP that reflects the childish enthusiasm of its cover art. On "Goin' Up On A Wednesday," Jacobus sounds so damn giddily overjoyed to be making a record that it's hard not to smile and go along for the ride. They play a brash mix of Nineties alt-rock and punk, with nods to Pavement and the early 'Mats, less concerned with hitting all the right notes or singing on key than with having fun. Just check out the lyrics to that first track... oh wait, they printed the words to Chris Brown's "Tuesday" on their Bandcamp page instead of their own lyrics. Too much like homework, I guess. But that's the attitude you're dealing with here; ungainly and awkward in matters of the heart, but confident they're ready to rock 'n' roll you into submission. Boys, I'm all yours.

ORQUESTRA RAIZ - As Americas (YB Records)

Jersey City meeets Sao Paulo on this delightful orchestral album of Brazilian rhythms and melodies, featuring Alex Tea of Jersey City's reggae/fusion group Kiwi and Jeff and Vera of JC's The One and Nines, along with a host of Brazilian musicians. I don't know much about Brazilian music beyond my dad's old Sinatra/Jobim albums but I can report that this album is a lovely sojourn through delicate melodies and beguiling rhythms, beautifully orchestrated with guitar, flute, sax, trumpet, and percussion. Tea, who was introduced to Brazilian music and culture through Brazilian marital art capoeira, met co-producer Klaus Sena through friends in Sao Paulo and their intercontinental friendship spawned the idea to create Orquestra Raiz. The As Americas album is their debut effort. The tracks segue between teasingly sexy love songs to the percussive instrumental track "Interludo Tambores" to a few big-band numbers that might even get this old guy onto the dancefloor in the right setting.


MAN NAMED PEARL - -Quietus Make - (mannamedpearl.bandcamp.com)

Jersey-bred, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Jesse Turits has reinvented himself as Man Named Pearl, leaving behind the "aw shucks" backporch folk of his earlier recordings for ethereal dub-based soundscapes as otherworldly as the Himalayas. Droning harmonium combines with Turits' moaning vocals and minimalist drum beats on the meditative "When You Woke," while "Quietly And Slow" bravely strips away all instrumentation for a soulful a cappella blues. On tracks like "Insomniac's Lullaby" and "Atlas," the seductive "Coo" and the gently rocking "Blue Blue Sea," Turits' folk roots reveal themselves with strummed acoustic guitars and beguiling melodies, but it's all recorded with a psychedelic sense of space that's simultaneously disorienting and comforting.

 

THE UNLOVABLES / DIRT BIKE ANNIE - REUNION SHOW (Whoa Oh Records)

Step into the Wayback Machine, Sherman, today we're going back to 2005, when the hottest sound in NYC was pop-punk and no one but rappers had even heard of Bushwick. Both of these bands (along with the label Whoa Oh Records) have returned from the recent past as vibrant and fun as ever, with singer Hallie Bullitt, drummer Mikey Erg, and rest of the Unlovables romping through six catchy, hooky, ebullient pop-punk tunes while Dirt Bike Annie deliver a more garage and power-pop take on rock 'n' roll. The Unlovables' "Miracle Braves" is the hit here, a lefthanded ode to baseball with Hallie hitting a home run with the hook "hey batter batter, when you're swinging and missing the ball, you know none of this shit's gonna matter at all." (Only why wasn't the song called "Miracle Mets??") The other tracks all traffic in the Unlovables' trademark sunny view of romance, with Mikey Erg's drums propelling Hallie's candy-coated vocals. Dirt Bike Annie predated the pop punk scene by almost a decade, and their house shows in Jersey City helped launch the careers of bands like the Ergs. Guitarist Jeanie Lee takes the first lead vocal on "Saludos A Todos," while Adam Rabuck and Dan Paquin sing the other four tracks, all of which confirm Dirt Bike Annie's influence as the progenitor of scene-defining bands like the Lillingtons and Copyrights. Yes, Reunion Show will be a nostalgic treat for some of us, but new listeners might just discover what they missed back when New York City bands elevated having fun into an art form.

TEEN MEN - S/T (Bar None)

Teen Men represent a busman’s holiday of sorts for The Spinto Band’s Nick Krill and Joe Hobson and visual artists Albert Birney and Catharine Maloney. The band’s live shows reportedly come alive with imaginative background projections and animations, while on record the group provides a pleasing if less than compelling pastiche of Caribbean and African rhythms and silky, buoyant melodies. Skittish synths and vibrant vocals on tracks like “It’s All Rushing Back” and “Kids Being Kids” prove enjoyable but it all feels like we’ve been here before (mostly on Vampire Weekend records.)
















KURT BAKER -PLAY IT COOL
THE CONNECTION - LABOR IT LOVE
(Rum Bar Records)

Kurt Baker and the Connection's Geoff Palmer have similar roots, both New Englanders with pop-punk pasts (the Leftovers and the Guts, respectively.) Think of them as the Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe of their generation, Baker all twitchy affectations, Palmer a witty songwriter dabbling in pub-rock grooves whose "Labor Of Love" flashes the same self-deprecating humor as Lowe's "They Called It Rock." If you're a fan of catchy bar-band rock 'n' roll, you'll enjoy both of these albums, Baker a little riffier and New Wave, the Connections more solidly garage with the occasional foray into country.

I can listen to both of these bands all day, but hey, it's only rock 'n' roll (and I like it.)

SHELLSHAG - WHY’D I HAVE TO GET SO HIGH? (Don Giovanni)

Brooklyn’s John Driver and Jennifer Shagawat (AKA Shell and Shag) have been bashing out their simple, straightforward two-piece punk rock masterpieces for longer than almost anyone can remember , and their live shows always turn into celebratory pop-punk parties filled with happy dancing fans. But on their latest album, the songs get a little more downbeat and retrospective; as the album’s title suggests, maybe twenty years of non-stop partying has consequences. The sober “5 1 And Change” finds Shell asking Shag to never change, along with the heartfelt line “I’m so glad I found you.” On “90’s Problem,” things get really dark; “don’t hold your breath waiting for my impending death,” Driver sings over a strummed acoustic guitar, until the fuzzbox and drums kick in and things get back to being bouncy again. Still, there’s tinges of sadness throughout this album, even on the songs that celebrate Shell and Shag’s unending, fairytale romance. (And the track “50/50” even questions that.) Nothing lasts forever, this album suggests, not even love and rock ‘n’ roll.


BIG FIGMENT - CHIMAERICS (Bigfigment.bandcamp.com)

From the freaky sandbox that is Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen comes the new album from Brooklyn's Big Figment, whose horn driven funk combines with Jennae Santos' sultry vocals to conjure up a mix of Seventies jazz fusion and funky prog-rock. These cats can do three and a half minute pop songs or jam forever, but either way you're going on a trippy journey where Miles vibes with Maria Muldaur and everybody at the party gets really stoned. From the nearly 6-minute "Cut Knuckle," with its anxious, undulating bass riff, to the 7-minute lysergic mindtrip of "Bug Zapper," to the smoky jambalaya of the 11-minute "Cookin'," Big Figment will keep your head spinning and your ears entranced.

LAURA STEVENSON - COCKSURE (Don Giovanni)

While Brooklyn chanteuse Laura Stevenson rebranded herself as a solo artist with 2013’s Wheel, she’s still recording and touring with her excellent band the Cans (in fact, she married the guitarist!) Keeping in mind that Stevenson was born the grandchild of a classical composer and started out as the keyboardist in a punk band, it’s not surprising that her influences seamlessly span early Joni Mitchell to early Lemonheads, as her voice glides from sultry torch songs to fierce pop-punk. Personally, I prefer the punkier Laura, best represented here by “Happiness, Etc.” and “Life Is Long,” although she’s equally adept at Liz Phair alt-rock (“Claustrophobe,” “Emily In Half.”) The grand six-minute medley “Tom Sawyer/You Know Where You Can Find Me” should leave you wondering why Laura’s not trading spots in the Top 20 with Miley and Taylor.

 


JEFFREY LEWIS & LOS BOLTS - Manhattan (Rough Trade)

Lower East Side native and anti-folk hero Jeff Lewis has been churning out quality albums prolifically over the last few years (as he sings in the self-deprecating "Support Tour," ya gotta have good merch,) including two excellent collaborative records with Peter Stampfel, 2014's Jeffrey Lewis & The Jrams, and 2011's A Turn In The Dream Songs. For me, though, this is Jeffrey's best solo joint since 2009's Em Are I. Recorded primarily with Heather Wagner on drums and Caitlin Gray on bass, keyboards, and vocals (like the Jrams,) Manhattan also includes contributions from a small army of pals in both New York and England, giving the album a fuller, more produced sound than Lewis' earlier acoustic work. But of course the key here is the songwriting, as always, dense bundles of rhyming couplets that can be by turns witty, introspective, sentimental, or downright hilarious. Highlights includes the aforementioned "Support Tour," a behind-the-scenes look at the music business, the furious, frantic garage-rocking "Sad Screaming Old Man," the jangly "Outta Town" (about missing his girlfriend,) and Caitlin Gray's lead vocal turn on "Avenue A, Shanghai, Hollywood." If you're wondering exactly what anti-folk is, check out "Back To Manhattan," "It Only Takes A Moment," or "Have A Baby," jangly iterations that epitomize the genre's witty, loping, two-chord vibe. And just for laughs Lewis rewriters Poe's "The Raven" as the more New Yorkish "The Pigeon," infused with Yiddish as a funny yet touching reminiscence of the Lower East Side of yesteryear.

KINKY FRIENDMAN - The Loneliest Man I Ever Met (Avenue A)

There was a time when Kinky Friedman ruled outlaw country as the orneriest, most outrageously politically incorrect cahoot in music, as well as a frequent guest on Imus In The Morning, a onetime candidate for governor of Texas, and author of a slew of mystery novels featuring himself as the main character. Four decades (!) after his last studio album, Kinky returns in a far kinder, gentler and more introspective reincarnation, crooning his way through a collection of covers, cowboy songs, and standards infused with his wry wit and the craggy remnants of his voice. If you're looking for the yuks of "Ride "Em Jewboy," look elsewhere, but those who have always appreciated Kinky's sentimental side (as evidenced on a reworking of his own "Wild Man Of Borneo" or the never-released title track) will savor his interpretations of Warren Zevon's "My Shit's Fucked Up," Dylan's "Girl From The North Country," Johnny Cash's "Pickin' Time," and Merle Haggard's weepy "Mama's Hungry Eyes." Kinky even assays two oldies from the Great American Songbook, the cowboy classic "Wand'rin Star" and Vera Lynn's 1940 standard "A Nightingale Sang In Berkley Sang." In the hands of a lesser singer, I'd dismiss much of this as shmaltz, but Kinky makes you believe every word of every song, especially his duet with Willie Nelson on Willie's bleary-eyed anthem "Bloody Mary Morning." Pour yourself one (or something stronger) and settle back to savor this album.

MAL BLUM - You Look A Lot Like Me (Don Giovanni)

This is NYC singer/songwriter Mal Blum's fifth full length album, although I admit Blum didn't make it onto my radar until dueting with Chris Gethard on his Don Giovanni comedy album last year. Blum can be funny but not a comedian; I have no idea if the Sidewalk Cafe's a regular stop but I'd classify these sweet, self-effacing ditties as anti-folk (especially since Blum's voice resembles scene godmother Kimya Dawson's.) Like Jeffrey Lewis, Blum favors catchy, densely worded, simply chorded ditties. While I understand early recordings were mostly acoustic, You Look A Lot Like Me features a rockin' electric combo with driving guitars and melodic basslines that nicely set off Blum's delicate vocals. Most of these songs have a simple theme, finding your way through your twenties in a big city; on "Robert Frost," Blum admits that if that poem about coming to a fork in the road had been theirs, the protagonist probably would have just stood there, unsure of which way to go. That's a feeling a lot of us of any age can relate to; in fact, relatable might be the best word to sum this album up. On You Look A Lot Like Me, you'll discover a sweet soul who wonders about life a lot like you.

THE FRONT BOTTOMS - Back On Top (Fueled By Ramen)

Back On Top is a nicely ironic title since the album represents the Front Bottoms' grab for the brass ring, moving from a small indie (and the lowest rung of the music industry food chain) to a semi-major label and (theoretically, at least) expanding its audience exponentially in the process. Gone are just Brian and Mat, those scruffy underdogs with the scratchy acoustic guitar and minimalist drumkit, replaced by a confident quartet that now includes bassist Tom Warren and multi-instrumentalist Ciaran O'Donnell. If that means that the Front Bottoms ccasionally sound more like Fallout Boy than a basement punk band, well, that's just the price you pay for getting on the radio.

Some musicians hit this point in their careers and founder; others take wing. Back On Top soars. If Brian Sella and Mat Uychich often came across as gawky post-adolescents on the well-received Talon Of The Hawk, here they seem very happy navigating the choppy waters of early adulthood. Sella's learned how to sing - confidently, melodically, and on key - but he hasn't lost his earnestness, his innocence, or his talent for turning a catchy phrase into a monster singalong hook: "Sometimes you have to close your eyes to truly see the light," he sings on "Motorcycle," a phrase so endearing you're willing to overlook the harmonic choir and muscled electric guitars that accompany it. "Cough It Out" and "The Plan (Fuck Jobs)" hew closest to the old Front Bottoms sound, with strummed acoustic guitar, but Warren's bouncy bass parts and O'Donnell's sprightly synths and trumpet elevate the tracks from pop ditties to potential pop hits. In a cultural landscape littered with the plastic and the predictable, the Front Bottoms will either arrive like a breath of fresh air, or their earnestness and enthusiasm will fall on deaf ears. America, put down your phones for a second and listen to what you have here. You may not recognize it, but it's the sound of your heart beating.

ROADSIDE GRAVES - Acne/Ears (Don Giovanni Records)

It's been four years since the Roadside Graves' last new album, and with members now scattered across the country, it was reasonable to wonder if we'd ever get another full-length from the Jersey-bred Americana collective. Acne/Ears retains all of the group's strengths - John Gleason's quavery, evocative vocals, a galloping rhythm section, impeccably orchestrated guitars - and doubles down on the Graves' avoidance of traditional verse/chorus/verse song structures and a steady beat. Songs here speed up, slow down, and speed up again, as if Gleason shared a psychic link with his rhythm section. In the past though, the band primarily told stories about other people, linking into a literary tradition that ran from Faulkner to S.E. Hinton. On Acne/Ears, Gleason seems to be primarily singing about himself, from the confessional title track (which segues from the adolescent humiliation of acne to the triuimphant moment when he discovered the liberating power of music) to his years on the road, wondering if he'd ever get to live a "normal life" ("Donna (Reno)"), to the night he stayed awake waiting for his father to pass away ("The Whole Night.") Acne/Ears can be so intimate - about death and dying, about divorce, and growing older - that he can feel like eavesdropping. But the Graves also remember how to rock, with invigorating tracks like "Contact High Alumni" (a "Footloose" for fortysomethings) and the inspiring "Gospel Radio" lighting the way back to a time (before Gaslight Anthem and the Screaming Females) when the Graves were the most anthemic, exciting band in New Jersey. It's good to have them back.

CRAIG FINN - Faith In The Future (Partisan)

I wouldn't recommend Faith In The Future to someone not already familiar with Craig Finn's work in the Hold Steady, but for the already converted, the songs on Finn's second solo album will be welcomed like old acquaintances you haven't catched up with in a while. Finn is a storyteller who creates indelible characters, but as he's gotten older, they've morphed from skateboard punks and straight-edgers into middle aged men and women searching for meaning or questioning their faith (or looking askance at the "computer kids" in the corner.) In the bluesy, horn-driven lounge ballad "Roman Guitars," it's a washed up musician whose life gets meaning from his fans; on album-opener "Maggie, I'm Still Searching For Our Son," it's a lost soul trying to atone for the sins of his past. Sin (and Finn's Catholicism) take center stage on the album's most riveting track, "Saint Peter Upside Down," mixing misery with the metaphor of Simon Peter, who felt he didn't deserve to be crucified the same way as Jesus and so had the centurions hang up upside down on the cross. Those of a certain age (like myself) will certainly identify with the self-pity and longing of "Going To A Show;" it's like a perfect Replacements song, fast-forwarded twenty years: "I try so hard not to talk to myself/ But it's hard 'cause I'm always alone/And I want to take you home." The biggest difference between the Hold Steady and a Finn solo joint is that here, Finn writes the music as well as the lyrics, so it's mostly major chord melodies with stripped down arrangements, your ears forced to focus on the words. They're good words, good songs. Enjoy.


PWR BTTM - Ugly Cherries (Father &Daughter/Miscreant)

The world has changed quite a bit since Pansy Division subverted gay stereotypes (Jon Ginoli the doe-eyed twink, Chris Freeman the bitchy queen) to launch queercore in the mid-Nineties. In 2015, thankfully, guitarist Ben Hopkins and drummer Liv Bruce don't have to camp it up to make their voices heard; like Pansy Division, Pwr Bttm write clever, arch, very catchy songs, but they sing them in their own voices. Society is gay enough today that, on recordings at least, Ben and Liv don't have to dress up like the Village People for people to understand where they're coming from. Or as Hopkins sings on "Serving Goffman," "I want to dress the whole world in drag, but then I realize it's already like that." (On stage, however, you're likely to find the duo in thrift store drag, faces smeared with makeup, leaving no room for iminterpretation.) They know their world is filled with infinite possibilities ("we can do our makeup in the parking lot, we can get so famous that we both get shot,") but don't bother them in the shower, please. There are silly songs about post-adolescent lust ("I Wanna Boi,") but Pwr Bttm knows that acceptance isnt universal and it still pays to keep your eyes open ("All The Boys.") The dramatic "West Texas" preaches that you can run away from your problems but you can't run away from yourself, while "1994" recycles Weezer's woozy romanticism with pitch-perfect accuracy while "House In Virginia" lets Hopkins stretch his vocals on a beautiful, moving ballad. Pwr Bttm might be Mike Huckabee's worse nightmare but give them a chance and they may just be your next favorite band.

SLONK DONKERSON - The Lunar Martini Motorbike Club And Their Respective Destinies (slonkdonkerson.com)

Slonk Donkerson sounds like every other rock 'n' roll trio in Brooklyn... if every other rock 'n' roll band in Brooklyn shared a passion for Todd Rudngren, Nick Lowe, Cheap Trick, and Rush. It's insanely hard to be clever but not too clever , ambitious enough to weave four or five distinct vocal melodies into a single track without becoming overly busy, to write songs that capture the ambition and breadth of arena rock without coming across as pretentious. Slonk Donkerson walks that tightrope as well as any band in Brooklyn, with nine tracks that deceptively sound like basic garage-pop until you look under the hood and discover a universe of moving parts. If I had to guess at the recipe for a Lunar Martini, I'd say equal parts moxie, talent, rock 'n' roll, and moonbeams. In a word, delicious.


 

DOCTOR BARBER - "Sick Sad World" EP (edonway.wix.com)

Oozing out of Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen like an attempt to mate the Butthole Surfers with Ween gone terribly wrong, "Sick Sad World" throws down five lysergic slabs of stoner rock with eternally unspooling riffs, a paleolithic rhythm section, and vocals literally curdled with contempt and disgust. Credit Ethan Donway for those vocals, J. Mascis for much of the inspiration, Liz Francesconi for the monster psychedelic guitar, MCFK honcho Oliver Ignatus for the sludgy bass, and The Brooklyn What's Jesse Katz for the drumming. (Sam Braverman will be manning the skins on upcoming live shows.) Somewhere behind the wall-of-sludge guitars and headachey bottom, Donway howls, moans, croons and wails, filtered through thick layers of distortion. This is the kind of record that makes me kind of sorry I don't do drugs.


THE DEAFENING COLORS -
Carousel Season (thedeafeningcolors.bandcamp.com)

You won't believe two people recorded this record in a bedroom (not far from my own in Weehawken, NJ, to boot!) when you hear the kaleidoscopic layers of instrumentation and gorgeous harmonies they've been able to capture on a home recording. Even more impressively, Carousel Season is a concept album about the Jersey shore, and the songwriting even surpasses the mind-blowing arrangements with its mix of whimsy, nostalgia, melancholy and joy. "Diving Horse's Ghost" captures the lost glories of Atlantic City on a par with Springsteen's opus, while you'll swear that Brian Wilson had a hand somewhere in the surf rock glories of "Jerry Ryan." "Parkway South" is the perfect Jersey driving song, while "Carousel Season" captures the emotional resonance of Bruce Johnston's immortal "Surf's Up."

Where have these guys been hiding?

DAMFINO - "Disembodied Smile" EP (damfino.bandcamp.com)

Joe Merklee and I became friends a long time ago when he was fronting the suburban NJ power-pop combo Balloon Squad, but like a lot of people, he put music aside when the demands of career and family intervened. When Joe went through an ugly divorce, though, he turned to music as a form of therapy, and wrote a cathartic, gutwrenching, soul-searching collection of songs which he released a few months ago as Crossed Eyes And Mixed Motives. Happily, Joe enjoyed making music again so much that he and his musical partner, keyboardist Joel Bachrach, returned to Joe's roots to write and record the breezily delightful "Disembodied Smile" EP. Recorded at Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen with a coterie of MCFK regulars (including Oliver Ignatius, Zac Coe, and Carson Moody) as well as old friend Tom Shad on bass, "Disembodied Smile" melds Merklee's power-pop roots with influences like Big Star and Game Theory. After the harrowing angst of "Crossed Eyes," it's a delight to hear Joe's whimsical side on ditties like "Tattoo Compass," "Spot" (a charming song about skin cancer, if you can believe that,) and even an exuberant love song ("Considerations.") The album concludes beautifully with the keyboard-based ballad "A Good Time to Be Lonely," which suggests Joe has moved past his divorce and has found contentment in his own company. For all of us of a certain age trying to be happy, "Disembodied Smile" has a great deal to say, all of it well-spoken and comforting.

YJY - "Couch Surfin' USA" EP (yjyband.bandcamp.com)

New Brunswick's basement scene remains a bottomless wellspring of talent and one of the latest bands making noise is YJY, whose debut EP delivers five slammin' tracks of slacker garage-pop. Guitarist/singer Steve Sachs has the same yelping enthusiasm in his voice as Superchunk's Mac Macaughan, and that's a powerful weapon. If there's one quality I treasure in young bands, it's when they sing like their lives depend on it, and that's the kind of infectious fervor you get from YJY. And it's not just Sachs, since bassist Ricky Lorenzo and guitarist Dave Sachs take lead vocal turns as well. The guitar squall they whip is deleriously thick and soupy, but the bouncy bass and vocals manage to cut through that maelstrom of sound and carry the day. Today, New Brunswick; tomorrow, the world. Remember you read it here first.

 

MINIBOONE - Bad Sports (Ernest Jenning)

A double apology is due here, to Miniboone for taking so long to review this release, and to my readers for keeping them in the dark so long about this terrific collection of pop-rock gems. While they toil in near obscurity in Jersey and NYC clubs, Miniboone shares much of the same DNA as chartbusters like Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend. Bad Sports overflows with big catchy hooks and singalong melodies, intelligent lyrics and a couple of killer song titles ("I Know You Would Do Anything For Love But What Would You Do For Me," for starters.) The songwriting ranges from trenchant and bitter ("IRL") to Nick Lowe-like pop ("Basic Song," "Erasure") to wistful ("Any Other City") to quirky new-wave ("No Fun In The Funhouse.") Need a pick-me-up? Pick up a copy of Bad Sports.

THE PLANES - "Evacuation Kit" EP (theplanesnyc.bancamp.com)

Stephen Perry and his band The Planes are so unassuming that it's really easy to underappricate the fine singing and the songwriting finesse at work on this 4 song EP. These songs hit a lot of familiar tropes - Nineties guitar rock, Sixties pop, and that most overused of labels, "indie;" but even when they feel comfortably familiar, there's never the sense that you're revisiting something you've already heard. There's a scratchy violin that adds a nice layer of dissonance to the almost-twee melodies, and Perry's vocals kinda reminds me of the guy from the Shins. Its a $5 digital downlod on Bandcamp and will give you years of enjoyment, as opposed to that five dollar Budweiser you'll drink in two minutes and won't even get you drunk. So check out the Planes and you won't feel like you've been taken for a ride.

THE ANTICS - "Emily Jones" EP (wearetheantics.com)

The easy answer to "Who are the Antics?" is to say they're a young NJ band that likes Joy Division. That was certainly true when the teenaged group released its first album five years ago, but since then, frontman/songwriter Luke Meisenbacher and drummer Josh Reitan have had to cope not only with a shifting cast of bandmates but their own post-adolescence. On the 6-song "Emily Jones," you can hear the band evolving from its early post-punk influences to include sexy classic rock ("Forget" channels the Doors' "Riders On The Storm," down to the thunderstorm sound effects) to buoyant new-wave. The basslines still say 1979, but happily everything else about the Antics is moving towards the future. Me, I'd lock them in a room with "Through Being Cool" for a couple of days and see what comes out of that.



THE PAPER JETS - "Almost Fine" EP (The FDR Label)

Are The Paper Jets the best rock band to come out of Princeton since Saves The Day? On the strength of this sophomore EP, they're certainly heading in that direction. On the first three tracks here, the power trio echoes Cheap Trick, combustible glam rock, Fountains of Wayne's urbane cynicism, and Ted Leo's rallying dynamism. "Jo Don't Let Me" (and bonus track "As Long As I Can See The Light") are the obligatory ballads that earns extra points for sounding way more Paul McCartney than the might-be-expected Bon Jovi or Springsteen influences. The Paper Jets have brains, chops, hook, and soul. And as should be obvious, a very bright future.

THE DAN McLANE FAMILY BAND - "Passion Of The Christ/Love Me" EP (thedanmclanefamilyband.bandcamp.com)

If you're already a fan of the Harmonica Lewinskies (and who isn't?), you know Dan McLane, that band's burly, bearded co-frontman and songwriter. On this solo jaunt, Dan teams up with family and friends (a dozen or so, according to the liner notes) to pursue his interests in blues and Americana, as opposed to the Lewinskies' brand of horn-fueled party rock. The horns are still there, but used more subtly, while rustic acoustic instruments like banjo and fiddle flavor the mix. "Betty Ford Blues" has a shit-stomping hootenanny feel while "No Son Of Mine" rocks a little harder and heavier, but the whole affair has the relaxed, homey feel of Dylan's Basement Tapes. This EP sounds like it was fun to make, which makes it nearly impossible not to enjoy listening to it.

THE HOLYDRUG COUPLE - Moonlust (Sacred Bones)

The Holydrug Couple, Ives Sepulveda and Manuel Parra, hail from Santiago, Chile, a city that I'm told is not unlike San Francisco in both climate and temperment. Perhaps that explains why their music washes over the listener in a lysergic haze. But there's more here than retro psychdelia of the stripe you hear in Brooklyn; this is truly mind-melting music, with the vocals used as another instrument in creating layers of gossamer sound, along with lush keyboards, droning synths, and simple, nearly cymbal-free drumming. With titles like "French Movie Title" and "Generique Noir," the HDC make implicit their sonic debt to the French electronic duo Air, as well as the French composer Serge Gainsbourg. Moonlust is alternately grand, trippy, sexy, and mysterious. If they ever remake Barbarella, these are the guys who should write the score.

DIRTY FENCES - Full Tramp (Slovenly)

NYC does two things well, spinning out and showcasing the latest flavor-of-the-week trendsetters, while still supplying enough dive bars to nurture snarly no-frills garage-punk bands whose style is as classic (and sweat-drenched) as the Ramones' leather jackets. Full Tramp, the Dirty Fences' second album, could have been recorded in 1979 or 2001 or last week; its heritage includes Johnny Thunder, the Speedies, the Fleshtones, Blondie, and the Dictators, but nothing here sounds forced or retro or nostalgic. This may just be the best rock 'n' roll album to come out of NYC in 2015 though.

DAMFINO - Crossed Eyes And Mixed Motives (damfino.bandcamp.com)

I met Joe Merklee many years ago when he was fronting the power pop band Balloon Squad. We lost touched because, like so many people, Joe got married and had a kid and had other things to do. But when his marriage fell apart, Joe came back to music (for catharsis and healing as much as for a way to get his mind off his divorce) and we were brought back togther. Crossed Eyes And Mixed Motives is an incredibly powerful work unlike anything Joe had done before; it's angry and bitter and sardonic. Just the song titles give you shivers: "I'm The Fucking Idiot," "Two Shits That Pass In The Night," "I Shatter," "Who The Hell Are You And What Did You Do With My Wife?" Well, you get the picture. My favorite song here is also the most heartbreaking; "Heaven Underfoot" describes what it was like when Joe and his wife told their song that they were getting divorced. Joel Bachrach's keyboards add nuance and dynamics to Joe's tortured vocals and guitar.
Inspirational verse: "I closed my eyes and then I opened my heart/ I wanted to love you but that was not too smart/ we're miles apart." Happily, Joe's gotten all that bile out of his system and will be soon release a new album of upbeat, soulful, happy rocking as in his Balloon Squad's days. In the meantime, if you've ever had your heart broken, your world turned upside down, or your belief in love shattered, give this a listen.

ISHMAEL - "Mention" EP (ishmaeltheband.bandcamp.com)

This NYC trio calls its music "emo/prog," two reasons I shouldn't like it. But there's something ingratiating about this 4 song EP. Nick Otte's vocals have a soulful romanticism not usually associated with emo (or prog,) and Andy Werle's intricate guitar work is lovely. Even when the band starts using screaming response vocals on the title track, there's a controlled intensity that doesn't cross the line into cacophony like so much screamo. Also Aaron Silberstein gives a clinic here on understated drums, adding just enough rhythm and texture to keep the band's tricky time signatures in check. This is staying on the iPod and I'll be listening to it again.

THE GRAVEYARD KIDS - It's Been A Wonderful Evening (thegraveyardkids.bandcamp.com)

I literally watched the Graveyard Kids grow up, transforming from a twitchy punk rock band barely out of school into the accomplished, jazzy combo that recorded this masterful swan song EP. (The band is on indefinite hiatus, with two members relocating to a different city.) Augmented by a small army of Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen regulars on piano, horns, strings, background vocals, and percussion, the Graveyard Kids' special magic plumbs the talents of three lead singers (Liza Crichton, Jordan Smith, and Chadbourne Oliver , the latter two switching back and forth between guitar and bass.) I can't even begin to list all the high points here, but let's just mention Jordan and Liza's joyous harmony vocals enveloped by swelling horns on "End Of The World," the funky horns and piano at back Chad's soulful vocal on "From The Chambers of St. Peter," and the skronking sax solo on "Snake Eyes." The Graveyard Kids couldn't have gone out on a higher note, and the production (by Oliver Ignatius at Mama Coco's) elevates this entire groovy session to a higher plane. Bye, Kids, it's been wonderful.


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