DAVID HEATLEY - Life Our Own Way (davidheatley.com)
David Heatley is best known as a cartoonist (for The New Yorker among other outlets) and an animator, but he's also a songwriter with some history in the NYC anti-folk scene of the Nineties. His latest solo album is an eclectic affair, to say the least. Much of it falls into the category that used to be known as Adult Alternative Album rock - easygoing, tuneful, pretty even, a slightly hipper but no less accessible variation of the shlock you hear over supermarket and department store PA's. A couple of tunes ape cracked country or New Orleans party music, and then there's a bunch of stuff that's just plain weird, the kind of thing you might have heard on Avenue A back in 1999 from the likes of Jeffrey Lewis, the Moldy Peaches, or R. Stevie Moore. "I Love You (Duh)" is a disco novelty tune with female voices, "Meme" (as in "I don't wanna be a meme") goes very Moldy Peaches with angular scifi guitars, a Devo-esque beat, and tongue in cheek lyrics. The opening track, "Blowing Off The World" channels Velvet Underground drone and "Pissin White Light" takes the conceit even further, to the point of VU pastiche (with a bit of Moldy Peaches scatology.) At 15 tunes, I wonder if this might have worked better as one album of the straightforward light-pop stuff and an EP of the kooky tunes, but it's certainly an interesting (if uneven) listen.
KEVIN DEVINE - Nothing's Real, So Nothing's Wrong (devinylrecordsny.bandcamp.com)
Kevin Devine calls this "a grown-up break-up (or break-ups, as it were) record, for strugglers by strugglers, a kitchen-sink 10th album pivot." Emotions - sadness, regret, weariness, and an occasional glimpse of hope - seep through the music, the arrangements, and the familiar sound of Kevin's voice, but I wish he had published the lyrics on his Bandcamp page, because I can't help feeling that I'm missing a good deal of what he's saying here. In conversation (yes, we're old friends,) Kevin can be one of the most erudite and thoughtful people I've ever met, and his lyrics often reflect that, but they're frequently muddied in the mix and indistinct, except for repeated choruses like "I need an override, I need an override" or "swan dive, swan dive, can't die, swan dive." The song titles provide plenty of clues though: "Albatross," "If I'm Going To Die Here," "Hell Is An Impression Of Myself," "It's A Trap!," and "I Tried To Fall In Love (My Head Got In The Way.)" This is Devine's first new album in six years - a long stretch for him - a period in which he experienced fatherhood and the pandemic (and it concomitant loss of touring and income, although Devine successfully nurtured a sustaining Patreon following with live-from-his-living-room concerts, giveaways, and other digital outreach. There's a psychedelic thread running through the album - disembodied voices, weird synth intros, and a dense, hazy mix - that makes it quite unlike his last release, the relatively straightforward Instigator. Above all else you can say about Kevin Devine, his has always been honest with his audience, and on Nothing's Real, So Nothing's Wrong, you can hear him struggling and coming out the other side, but never failing to deliver a compelling song.
LOVECHILD - "Desperation Blues"/"Trouble Down The Line" (lovechildny.bandcamp.com)
Leo Lovechild and his collaborators (twin brothers Aaron and Wyatt Mones) in the drummerless Lovechild follow up their excellent January, 2022 debut album with this two-song single. Leo is a true child of New York City, which perhaps explains the similarity to those other NYC kids, Paul and Artie, especially on this release's B-side "Trouble Down The Line," with its echoes of Ricky Nelson and the Everly Brothers. Despite its title, "Desperation Blues" (with its finger picked acoustic guitar and warm harmonies)also hews far more strongly to Paul Simon than Bob Dylan. If NYC still had a folk scene, Lovechild would be at its forefront.
NEW NORDE - "Whatever's Clever" EP (Trash Casual/Mint400)
Hailing from New Hampshire, the three members of New Norde used to be regular visitors to the Garden State club scene when they were in The Minus Scale a decade or so ago. This new music seems to purposely mimic the warm, engaging tones of Nineties alternative rock; think Soul Asylum, Better Than Ezra, Nada Surf, or The Promise Ring. "Bleeder" boasts a bold melody and sonic riffs, "Want Me" revisits the Lemonheads, and "Amy" could be an outtake from that oddest of Seventies artifacts, The Beach Boys Love You. "Just Yr Luck" represents a perfect example of a small band writing and playing a song that sounds like it should heard in arenas, while "Slack" has a more intimate feel, reminiscent of the Midwestern emo bands that were all the range back in The Minus Scale's day. This EP reminds me of those wonderful shows that Mint 400's Neil Sabatino used to put on in Bound Brook back at the turn of the 21st Century, not a bad era by any means.
DEFECTING GREY - Arc (Fake Chapter Records)
Defecting Grey's first album features three veteran faces from the NJ underground: Brothers C.J. and Vince Grogan (on lead vocals/guitar/keyboards and bass/backing voc respectively) and drummer Mike Polilli (Buzzkill, Atom Driver.) I met the Grogans back in the Eighties when they were part of the NJ mod/garage revival in The Phantom 5, while Mike's been a mainstay of New Brunswick Rock for almost as long. After several EP's, Defecting Grey has delivered an album of psychedelic garage punk that recalls the similar fusion pioneered by Husker Du (C.J. even sustains his vowels like Bob Mould.) But there's a lot more going here than mere Husker worship. Vince Grogan plays his bass like a lead guitar, Mike Polilli brings the thunder, "Post Modern Western" veers towards power pop, the 6 minute-plus "The Seven Hunters" emphasizes the band's psychedelic side, and album-closer "Citroen" borrows some Ramones chord changes, infuses them with a burst of blistering lead guitar, and winds up as the album's most memorable track.
ROY ORBITRON - "Post-Byronic" EP (royorbitron.bandcamp.com)
Conor Meara is the voice and songwriter behind Roy Orbitron, although this new EP pulls out all the stops and features 11 other musicians or vocalists. It doesn't ever sound fussy or overproduced though. Rather, a lovely violin line or a bit of tinkling piano subtly add nuance to Meara's baritone vocals and simple melodies. 2016's Girls' Boyfriends album ranged from the comedic to the spiritual, but "Post-Byronic" has a washed-out weariness running through it. Whether that's a reflection of the covid pandemic or simply a shift in Meara's style, it makes for a more cohesive listen. His singing here has a careless caterwauling quality, more Tom Waits than Johnny Cash this time out, and it works well whether it's on a weathered, modern sea chanty like "40 Years Overseas" or an uptempo alternative rocker like "Mama Zu." It's only on the EP ending "E Broadway" that Meara really feels his oats, with a bluesy barroom melody that erupts into a punk rock finale and bawdy lyrics that celebrate bragadaccio and booze. Wikipedia tells us that "the Byronic hero presents an idealised, but flawed character whose attributes include: great talent; great passion; a distaste for society and social institutions; a lack of respect for rank and privilege (although possessing both); being thwarted in love by social constraint or death; rebellion; exile; an unsavory secret past; arrogance; overconfidence or lack of foresight; and, ultimately, a self-destructive manner." Put that to music and you've got "E Broadway." Nice work, dude.
SUPER USER FRIENDLY - Senor Gato (superusefriendly.bandcamp.com)
This bicoastal duo consists of Roberto "Blurry" Lurie and longtime Jersey Beat fave Crugie (Cycomotogoat, The Disturbed, and the crazy kid dancing behind John Popper in that Blues Traveler video in Washington Square Park.) Senor Gato is available as a double LP or 15 digital tracks, but either way, it's a lot to digest (and no surprise to fans of Hoboken's Cycomotogoat, who were known for going the extra mile in everything.) It's impossible to sum up 15 tracks in one sentence, but let's start with "weird modern lounge music" or maybe, "Urge Overkill Meets Zappa," with detours into instrumentals (Mariachi, Surf) and a few novelty tracks. Some of this is refreshingly entertaining and some of it misses the mark (double albums tend to do that.) I would suggest that, like certain hallucinogenic substances, Super User Friendly is best taken in small doses but can result in a pleasurable trip. RIYL Ween, Zappa, They Might Be Giants.
CURSE OF LONO - People In Cars (Submarine Cat Records)
The UK's Curse of Lono takes its name from Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and its musical inspiration from the gothic rock of the Deep American South, it's not surprising that frontman (and sole remaining band member) Felix Bechtolsheimer sings with no trace of a British accent. While there's some lovely singing here, Bechtolsheimer often speaks his lyrics in the style of Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, or Leonard Cohen, with a deep voice that scrapes along the bottom of his lower register. Stylistically, it provides Curse of Lono with a vibe that's oddly comforting and reassured, feelings we can all use at the tail end of a deadly pandemic, and it's refreshing to hear music that has undeniable country and Americana roots (think Lee Hazelwood) but never mentions pickup truckss, dogs, trains, or mama. Instead, these are quietly ruminative songs with echoes of the Velvets (the slinky "Ursula Andress") or Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell ("Alabaster Charlie,") music that compromises nothing in pursuit of commercial appeal and yet still sticks in your head like the hottest pop single.
With frontman Troy Donahue graduating high school in the Spring, this may be the swan song from Bloomfield's favorite teen metalheads. If so, they're going out with a band. It's been fun watching them literally grow up (drummer Wolverine, Troy's brother, was 9 when I met the group) and Senior Citizen earns them straight A's as far as improvements in musicianship, songwriting, and Donahue's clever lyrics and increasingly nuanced vocals. Spend a few hours at any guitar store and you'll see ten mooks walk in off the street and shred like Yngwie. Ask them to write a song as solid as “Created A Monster” or “Girl For A Day” and you got another think coming. And hanging out with Murphy's Law has paid dividends too; check out the whoa-oh chorus and “Oi! Oi!”chants on “Punk Isn't Dead” (a much more original title than the generic “Punk's Not Dead,” no?) Always go that extra mile, Troy. It pays off in the long run.
AMANDA ROSE RILEY – Coming Home (amandaroseriley.bandcamp.com)
Amanda Rose Riley has always turned the prosaic into a virtue, recording at home with her strummed acoustic guitar and voice. Her latest batch of songs, written and recorded during the pandemic, starts with “Coming Home,” one of her most powerful compositions to date, expressing her feelings about embracing friends and family again after being separated (in this case, by covid, but expressed universally.) The majority of the other tracks deal with Amanda's dreams for a career as a musician, even if she knows that stardom as eluded her; “I can be happy with the bronze, I can happy with so much,” she sings. “I'm lucky to be in this game at all, feeling like this song is my life purpose.” If humility is a virtue, this is the most virtuous performer in New Jersey. There are moments of self-doubt (“Running On Empty,”) and reflections on what might have been (“You Could Do Anything,”) and that devastating moment when you realize that what you're living now is going to be your life (“But I don’t love songs anymore/ I only like them now/ And I don’t dream of open doors/ Because I only wear them out.”) But somehow, she ekes joy out of heartbreak, and hope out of disappointment . Amanda Rose Riley's heart is an open book, and I like her type.
THE SUCCESSFUL FAILURES – James Cotton Mather (thesuccessfulfailures.com)
Trenton's Successful Failures have been so good for so long (over a decade and counting) that it's easy to take them for granted. But the muscular American guitar rock of James Cotton Mather finds the foursome at the top of their form, on a concept album of sorts that tells the life story of the title protagonist – born in Maine, scarred by his father's death at sea, eventually finding fulfillment as a lumberjack. But for my money, you can enjoy the album as a collection of singles, each song carrying its weight in terms of hooks, riffs, melodies, chord progressions, roiling rhythms, and Mike Chorba's capably suggestive vocals. The chugging Seventies boogie of “Let The Power Go Through You,” the Creedence Clearwater churn of “Hand Grenades,” the Beatles-meet-David Byrne sprawl of “Little Ivan,” and Hollies-esque “Cara (Can I Take Your Pain Away?)” all add up to a celebration of what Greil Marcus famously called “the old, weird America,” a place where ordinary people live lives worth singing about.
OUT OF SYSTEM TRANSFER – Just Be Loud (outofsystemtransfer.bandcamp.com)
This September release by NYC's “gonzo anti-folk punk rock radical leftist hootenanny” fell through the cracks, but it's never too late to catch up with its joyously goofy virtues: Jesse Sternberg's nimble vocals and humorous lyrics, the old-timey vibe of its banjolele/guitar/keyboards arrangements, clattering tambourine and vibroslap percussion, and the band's signature secret weapon, trombonist Jon Good. Danielle Kolker adds banjole (a cross between a banjo and a uke, I assume,) percussion, but most importantly, duet vocals on some of the album's strongest tracks. Think a more rustic Too Much Joy or a less drug-addled Fugs, and just sit back and enjoy tracks like the satirical “Sad Young Socialists,” the anthemic “Showbiz,” or the plain out hilarious “Weird Old Man.”
BAT FANGS – Queen Of My World (Don Giovanni)
Reading Nothin' But A Good Time, Tom Beaujour's oral history of 80's hair metal, made me realize that the genre did have its strong points, it's just that the music was always played by preening narcissists, strung out drug addicts, or jerks. Betsy Wright (Ex Hex) on guitar and vocals, and drummer Laura King (Mac McCaughn Band and Speed Stick) bring different sensibilities and styles (the former from D.C., the latter from Carrboro, NC) but a common love of all the excesses of 80's Capital-R Rock. Bat Fangs deliver a non-stop barrage of memorable guitar hooks, catchy melodies, fist-pumping choruses, and muscular drumming, with a wink and nod that let's you know it's all quite over the top.
SID YIDDISH & HIS CANDY STORE HENCHMEN - Until Further Notice Everyday Feels Like Sunday (streaming)
Evanston' Illinois' Sid Yiddish describes himself as a multi-disciplinary, modern-day Renaissance man, one who supports himself as a performance artist, actor, throat singer, tap dancer, conductor (or rather, compductionist, cueing improvisational sound collages to accompany his stream of consciousness spoken word.) He is also, to be frank, a weirdo, which if you're a regular reader know that I regard as a good thing. He has sung on "America's Got Talent" (he got buzzed,) appeared on an episode of "Shameless" (as a rabbi,) and performed at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. On this live album, Sid and his crew (which includes electric guitar, bass, sax, flute, violin, keyboards, and a wide variety of noisemaking doodads) create seven compositions ranging in length from nine of four-and-a-half minutes or so. Sid's "lyrics" range from the workaday to the inscrutable, while the music sometimes coalesces into freeeform bebop but more often than not sounds like musical instruments recreating a traffic jam (or what a bad acid trip at the dentist's might sound like.) Be forwared; this is for the adventurous, not the meek. But I've seen crazier stuff on some Top Albums lists this year too.
VIGILANTE COWBOYS - On The Beach (vigilantecowboys.bandcamp.com)
North Jersey dad-rockers Vigilante Cowboys mix covers and originals on their latest release, including fun versions of Camper Van Beethoven's "Take The Skinheads Bowling" and Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World." The band's originals reincarnate the Dictators on "All That Stuff," go surfy and poppy on "On The Beach," wax philosophical on the riff-driven "Names," and rock out like Motorhead on "Jump Back." But really, guys, does the world need yet another rendition of "Femme Fatale?")
LORD BALTIMORE - "Angel" (lordbaltimore.bandcamp.com)
Lord Baltimore is a trans artist, originally from Maryland but now based in NYC. After flirting with grunge and then industrial, the three-song "Angel" EP finds them flirting with electronic club music. A self-described "late bloomer," "Angel" is all about sexual awakening, tentative forays at coupling, and self-discovery (also, road trips.) "Ketamine Tea" is sensual and slinky, all restrained synths and minimal percussion. "Something Like Thirst" has more a rock beat but it's still sensual, like a Madonna or Lady Gaga number sung in a lower register. While the first two songs deal with exploring one's sexuality, "Gulf Of Mexico" deals with discovering a beautiful place, with a melody to match. Keep an eye on this one, they're going places.
THE JEFFREY LEWIS & PETER STAMPFEL BAND - Both Ways (The Great Lost 2017 Double-Album)
If you go back and read my 2016 interview with Peter Stampfel, he talks about putting the final touches on this album, which should have been released the following year. But, y'know, shit happens: Peter took a fall and was off his feet for a while, and then advancing dysphonia all but destroyed his voice. And then there was that pesky Covid thing. So with tongue at least partly in cheek, we now have Both Ways, sub-titled "The Great Lost 2017 Double Album."
While two generations apart, Stampfel (who'll soon turn 83) and Jeffrey Lewis (a spry 45) represent a long-gone Lower East Side weird-folk tradition that started with the Fugs and probably ended with the 2019 sale of the Sidewalk Cafe, the birthplace and longtime home of Anti-Folk. Happily, these two guys haven't lost a beat; Lewis with his adenoidal monotone and battered acoustic guitar, Stampfel with his gonzo shriek, screechy fiddle, and plucked mandolin. If you haven't heard the first two Stampfel/Lewis albums, you should find them, immediately, but in the meantime, here are the many joys of Both Ways: the title track, a musician's manifesto ("anyone can use self-pity, anyone can whine and mope/but it takes a go-getter or a heavy metal setter if you wanna be more than oke;") a folksy murder ballad about "The Tennessee Crud," two anti-Internet screeds (the catchy "Brand New Ways To Waste Your Life" and the threnodic "Internet;") a rocker about the "Black Leather Swamp Nazi" and the uplifitingly silly "Birdies In The Woods (Brilliancy Medley,)" a sprightly, wacky ode to our winged friends; and two folkie barn dance romps, "Sometimes I See" and "The New Old Georgia Stomp." Remembering that this was meant to come out in 2017, there's also "Song For The Women's March, January 20, 2017," which turns the old children's song "The Cat Came Back" into a screed about Trump's misogyny and sexual misconduct. The guys also turn their considerable wit to several other song parodies, transforming Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" into a lament about Trump's unseen tax returns, updating "Auld Lang Syne" for a dysfunctional millennium, and reworking "Needles As Pins" as, yes, another anti-Internet rant, "Log-Ins And PINS." And then there are the covers, inspired gonzo tributes in the tradition of Stampfel's old band The Bottlecaps: Television's "Marquee Moon" with fiddle playing the lead guitar parts, obscure songs by Hawkwind and the Beach Nuts, and an e.e. cummings poem set to music - all delivered with Stampfel & Lewis' trademark caterwauling vocals, folkie instrumentation, and offkilter humor.
THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL - Extremely Loud And Incredibly Online (thegreatamericannovel.bandcamp.com)
NYC millennials The Great American Novel return with a few new faces but, thanks to frontman and primary songwriter Layne Montgomery, another potent dose of their GBV-worshipping guitar rock. If Layne ever gets good with girls, his career may be over, but until then, we can enjoy the post-adolescent angst of "Do You Enjoy Being Depressed," "Coulda Fooled Me," "Man Of Tomorrow," "This Will Not Be Our Year," and...well, pretty much this whole album. I applaud GAN for posting lyrics on their Bandcamp page (please, bands, do this!) which make it clear that EL&IO is basically a concept album about failed relationships, but one infused with wonderful melodies and Layne's plaintive vocals and a terrific rhythm section. Can't wait to hear these songs live. Inspirational verse: "Hoisted by my own petard/ Running away when things get too hard/ I hope you’re still thinking of me/ When you see a box of Rice-a-Roni."
THE CAMPBELL APARTMENT – The Very Best Of Ari Vais & The Campbell Apartment (Mint 400 Records)
I've been a fan of San Franciscan Ari Vais and his band The Campbell Apartment since 2008's Insomniac's Almanac, which wound up on my year-end Best Of list. This compilation collects Mint 400's choice of his best songs from the band's four albums, as well as several “lost” tracks from his pre-CA bands, Northampton, MA's Humbert and the NYC-based Pelicans. If you're new to the band, what you'll find here is a power-pop sensibility that's brushed shoulders with Fountains of Wayne (Jody Porter was in the band for the IN! album) and shares an obvious kinship with Game Theory, Silver Jews, and Jeff Mangum. The mishmosh sequencing presents the songs in no particular order, and since this is a streaming-only release, there's no way to figure out a chronology (although the Humbert and Pelicans songs are identified.) To me, there's no larger compliment than to note my favorite song, “VP Of Snails,” appears on Campbell Apartment's latest album, 2020's Curmudgeon, suggesting that after 20 years, Vais' best may still be in front of him. But that's not to slight the “very best” here, from the pop-jangle of “Something In The Way” to the exuberant zing of “Wife” to the grungy “My Many Mini-Obsessions,” basically a list of his crushes. Vais may be a romantic at heart but long before his marriage ended in divorce, he's looked askance at love, as evidenced by “I Don't Believe In Love (Anymore,)” “Long Distance Relationship (Is A Four-Letter Word,)” the unrequited longing in “Season In The Sun,” or even the Pelicans' early “We Just Don't Get Along.” Still, he has his moments: How can you not love the very Fountains Of Wayne-y line “we met at Vintage Vinyl/but things were never final” in “St. Louis?” Humbert's “Greyhound” reveals some youthful Nirvana worship – nothing wrong with that – while the catchy, uptempo “Like A Flood” suggests I would have really liked the Pelicans if I had ever seen them. Lots of good stuff here if you're into any and all varieties of indie power-pop, stream it so you'll be ready for the Campbell Apartment's next album, which is in the works.
JUSTUS PROFITT – Speedstar (Bar-None)
L.A.'s Justus Profitt had the music media lauding him as the second coming on Eliot Smith with his debut lo-fi bedroom-pop album, but on his sophomore release, it's all jangly guitars and sultry vocals and self-aware, post-romantic songwriting. The self-awareness comes on a track like “Big Mistake,” in which Proffit recalls his rockstar lifestyle: “In a rose bush slip and fall/ Leaning drunk against the wall/
I made a big mistake/Entertainer lost inside of the maze.” Most of the music we'll hear in 2021 (that was written in 2020) will somehow reflect the isolation and despondency of our pandemic year, and there's certainly a sadness running throughout Speedstar. But there's also a sense of coming out the other side, an inherent optimism (call it poptimism.) On first listen, these 10 tracks reminded me of Chris Stamey and, in their best moments, Stamey's mentor Alex Chilton. There's a Big Star sense of yearning to go with a silky melody and lush harmony vocals on “There Goes The Fun,” while the acoustic ballad “Change” had me humming Paul McCartney's “Blackbird.” The album has a wonderful balance of sonics too, like the way a tambourine pairs perfectly with acoustic guitars on “Upside Down Entertainer,” or how the trebley, ringing guitars on “Spitting On The Sidewalk” set off Proffit's higher register vocal. There's not a song here that I don't want to hear again, and that's rare.
CHRIS ACKER – Odd, Ordinary & Otherwise (GarHoleRecords.com)
New Orleans songsmith Chris Acker spent the pandemic holed up with pedal steel guitarist Nikolai Shveitser and came out of it with one damn fine album of low-key countryish songs with warmth, insight, and a welcomed sense of humor. Backed by a terrific combo called the Growing Boys, Acker can spin a compelling tune out of how much he likes “Walking” or craft a honky-tonk slow-dance tune like “Mahogany,” and when he writes a love song, man, the dude has a way with words: “I wanna feel you on the skin like Coppertone/ I wanna beg, wanna beg like a payday loan/ I'm gonna stand my ground like a traffic cone / honey, I'm gonna last like styrofoam.” John Prine hated being dubbed “the new Dylan” so I'm loathe to anoint Acker as the second coming of Prine, but they surely do have a lot in common, although there's a kinship with Kinky Friedman and Steve Goodman, Willie Nelson and Woody Guthrie. If any of that sounds appetizing, dig in to Chris Acker.
JACK SKULLER - “My Disappearing Act” (jackskuller.bandcamp.com)
The Skullers, Jack Skuller's modern rockabilly trio, proved to be one of the casualties of the covid pandemic, but on this solo EP, the 25-year old singer-songwriter forges a new path. Ever since debuting as a precocious 13-year old with the single “Love Is A Drum,” Skuller has infused his music with rockabilly and blues influences, but here, he skews towards a modern country sound. “Anyhow” starts us off with a pop-rock banger with an optmistic chorus, just the ticket coming out of this pandemic: “Straight ahead we will be found/ We will get to where we're goin', anyhow.” “Pride” boasts bright, modern production, but it's the kind of pure country song that George Jones might have written. Nashville, are you listening? “Only Getting Older” expresses a mid-twenties midlife crisis (“think I'm getting closer/ only getting older”) while “Antibodies (Buy You Time)” (written, Jack says, before the pandemic) uses spaghetti western guitars to flavor a downbeat, almost nihilistic lyric. Co-written with ageless NYC art-pop veteran George Usher, “My Disappearing Act” offers a moving account of a failed relationship, with orchestral production not only showcases Skuller's vocal prowess but also an abililty to communicate complicated emotions in a song. Bravo.
STEPHEN CHOPEK - Dweller (Declared Goods)
I got to know Stephen Chopek when he drummed in the Everymen, one of my favorite NJ bands at the time, but he also toured with the likes of John Mayer, Norah Jones, and Jesse Malin. After a sojourn in Memphis, he's now based in Atlanta, and clearly much more than just a drummer: Chopek wrote and recorded all of "Dweller" by himself, after a songwriting binge that hit him after returning from touring behind Soul Coughing's Mike Doughty just before Covid-19 locked down the world. Chopek's multi-tracked vocals oftimes sound like a choir sung this album, and the range of guitar sounds and synth fills impress as well. But what drives and informs this EP are the drums, evoking the polyrhythms of the Caribbean. Even when's a song in standard rock 4/4 time, it's filled with complicated fills and counter-rhythms, keeping the listener off balance even as the seductive melodies offer a familiar pop-rock template. This is a really cool listen that will keep you engaged and on your toes.
DIVINE HORSEMEN - Hot Rise Of An Ice Cream Phoenix (In The Red)
More than 30 years after the Divine Horsemen officially disbanded, the seminal voices of Chris Desjardins (better known as Chris D.) and Julie Christensen reunite, recorded with original guitarist Peter Andrus and X's DJ Bonebrake on drums. Having already successfully rebooted his 70's punk band The Flesh Eaters, a new Divine Horsemen album seemed inevitable; although at this point, Desjardins and Christensen seem more focused on shaping other people's material. The duo bring their inimitable style to songs by Tim Lee, Johnny Duke & Will Kimbrough, Patti Smith, Jefferson Airplane, and the lightheartedly outre "Can't You See," a rarity culled from an old Robert Downey Sr. flick, as well as reworked versions of two tracks from Chris D.'s 1995 solo album. Desjardsin and Christensen wrote or co-wrote a handful of originals as well, including the flamenco-inflected "Stoney Path" and the chugging, blues-based "Mystery Writers." But the songwriting's almost besides the point here; the joy lies in these well-worn and contrasting voices swapping verses and then coming together to recreate their own unique vision of what Greil Marcus called "the old weird America," a sleazy, in-your-face fusion of punk and Americana, Mickey Spillane and the Stooges, Sam Fuller and Johnny Cash.
McLANE - The Birth Of Mr. Dirty (misterdirty.bandcamp.com)
I don't think anyone who knew and loved Dan
McLane has completely gotten over his tragic
demise, but after nearly five years of work, producer/musician
Oliver Ignatius has managed to complete Dan's magnum
opus, The Birth of Mr. Dirty. As Oliver
explains in the 2nd issue of CHAOS
Music Mag, at the time of his death, Dan was
in the process of reinventing himself from the goofy
rock 'n' roll caricature he portrayed in the Harmonica
Lewinskies to a more serious singer/songwriter:
"In the time that I knew Dan, as his producer,
collaborator, and finally, friend, I was always
urging him to follow his weirder instincts and forge
a unique artistic path of daring. I sensed both
in his hero worship of famously deep writers like
John Lennon and Daniel Johnston, and from the scorched
earth intensity of his performances, that there
was an artist in there to be reckoned with, busting
to get out." The birth of Mr. Dirty, Oliver
continues, began that quest. "Fleshed out over
the course of many late night stoner sessions, we
concluded the following: Mister Dirty was a modern
day cowboy, a sort of desperado character of uncertain
moral character. He was a Robin Hood type, a Che
Guevara, a symbol of the people. He had almost certainly
killed before, perhaps even in cold blood. He may
or may not have been slowly metamorphosing into
a horrifying prawn creature. He was to be a Rock
and Roll Superhero."
A lot of lost souls comes to mind listening to
this: Harry Nilsson, Warren Zevon, Jim Carroll,
John Lennon. That's probably the vestiges of my
grief talking, but Dan did share with those artists
the ability to pluck the best from pop music to
brighten what might otherwise have been devastatingly
sad songs. One thing's for sure: Dan McLane was
a free spirit and that spirit runs rampant all over
this album, borrowing from country, blues, Motown,
jazz, and whatever else he needed to complete an
idea. "What Have You Ever Done For Me"
sounds like a typical guy-dissing-an-ex ballad until
Dan decides to make it personal - and funny: "Nancy
Reagan, what has she ever done for me?" Ray
Liotta? Herman Hesse? Desmond Tutu? "Mr. Dirty?
What has he ever done for me?"
"Sad All Over" might be my favorite song
on the album; it's far more than a clever pun on
the Dave Clark 5 hit. Musically, it's the track
where Oliver's presence becomes most pronounced,
and lyrically, it's the most cruelly ironic, Jim
Carroll's "People Who Died" set to a Van
Morrison melody with a Motown bridge.
With its nasty vocals, throbbing white-soul beat,
and sassy horn section, "Mr. Dirty" might
comes closest to the Harmonica Lewinskies' party
vibe. In contrast, "No Powder" most powerfully
lets Dan incarnate the Mr. Dirty character, with
its creepy vocal, gloomy vibe, as well as some impressive
lead guitar licks and a bassline that won't stop.
The strutting bar room blues of "God Has No
Time For Mr. Dirty" wraps things up with mocking
"woe is me" self-pity, which in hindsight
seems like a cry for help. That's the thing; we'll
never know. I hope Dan just wanted to make me smile,
something he could do better than almost anyone
I've ever known.
PAQUIN - The Incredible True Story (danpaquin.bandcamp.com)
Back when nobody paid any attention whatsoever
to Jersey City (at least musically,) Dan Paquin
was playing bass in the underrated and overlooked
Dirt Bike Annie, who presaged the pop punk revival
of the mid-00's (and included the young Mikey Erg.)
Dan's kept a low-profile for quite a while, which
may be why the songs on this album can be all over
the place. Mostly, Dan's doing romantic ballads
with heavily reverb'd guitars, like an updated Chris
Isaak. But there's also a Fountains of Wayne-ish
indie pop tune and a 94-second pop-punk rave-up
that sounds like a Groovie Ghoulies cover.
Welcome back, pal.
- S/T (selfhungryband.bandcamp.com)
From the stunning first single "Best Costume
Wins" through nine more flawless tracks, stillhungry's
self-titled debut delights with gossamer indie pop
that spotlights Jeanna Murphy's lovely voice, clean
and shimmering guitars, and restrained but steady
drums. There's something a bit old-fashioned but never
retro about the band's restraint and tasteful orchestrations,
courtesy of production by bassist Erik Kase Romero
along with guitarist Matteo DeBenedetti. The guys
take winning lead vocal turns on the pastoral "Humboldt
County" and the poppier "Sleep Light"
and harmony vocals predominate on the delightful "Prized."
Really glad I found this under the radar gem.
FLESHTONES - Face Of The Screaming Werewolf (Yep
Fortysomething years and 23 albums into one of the
most durable careers in rock 'n' roll, the Fleshtones
continue to impress (if not amaze) by knocking out
quality albums every couple of years like clockwork.
The thing is, if you liked them in 1979, you're going
to like them now, because while the band has gotten
a bit grayer and wrinkled over time, the music (which
was considered retro when they formed back in '76)
still exudes the same trashy sense of fun and that
ineffable Sixties garage-rock vibe. The goofy horror-flick
title track leads to a paean to "Alex Trebek"
(which I'm guessing was written not only before his
death, but before word of his cancer came out;)you
get the requisite Stones and Beatles rips, as well
as a barrage of groovy catchiness, which finishes
up with a soulful instrumental that lets frontman
Peter Zaremba flash his chops on the harmonica. With
these mooks, when the bouncer shouts, "Move along,
the show is over," you know the party's just
HOLD STEADY - Open Door Policy (Positive Jams/Thirty
Craig Finn's songwriting comes as a given these days,
especially if you've been paying attention to his
excellent string of solo albums. We know the Hold
Steady write story-songs about loser and misfits,
women who laugh at the men in their lives and men
who wonder if their lives have been wasted. Open
Door Policy succeeds not because of the frontman
but because of how his band brings these songs to
life. With three guitarists and keyboardist Franz
Nicolay back in the fold, the band reversed its string
of lackluster albums with 2019's Thrashing Through
The Passion and builds on that return to form
here. This time around, the cast of characters includes
wannabe actors ("Lanyards," a high point),
a self-important software salesman, an addict struggling
to survive rehab, . The album has its anthemic moments,
to be sure; it wouldn't be a Hold Steady album without
them. But the highlights of Open Door Policy
often come in its quietest moments, when truths are
faced and actions have consequences. Instead of relying
on arena rock riffs, Nicolay's more complex arrangements
and the use of piano and organ to add color and nuance
expand the band's palette while losing none of its
impact. Inspirational verse: "Happy Easter, you
wanna go get some beers?"
- Emphatically, No.
(New Professor Records)
I've always had a soft spot for indie rock trios.
Add to that list Cheekface, a quirky L.A. combo
with a delightful sense of self-deprecating humor.
Associations: Jonathan Richman, Weezer, British
post-punk, the spazziness of the Minutemen, the
intelligence of the dB's, Camper Von Beethoven.
The band formed after the 2017 inauguration and
there's a running sense of paranoia and anxiety
we're all familiar with, without being overtly political.
"Life itself is a pre-existing condition,"
the band notes on "Original Composition;"
"no shirt, no shoes, no justice, I did not
mean to offend" they proffer on "No Connection."
And how do you not love a line like, "They
say smiling is contagious. But you know, so is yawning."
The rapid-fire spoke/sung lyrics often mirror the
post-Beatnik poesy of Jeffrey Lewis, but with sunny
L.A. boulevards replacing stinky Lower East Side
sidestreets. All dozen tracks deliver a smile and
something to think about. Inspirational verse: "Poetic/synthetic/they
mean the same to me/I inspire pathos/among the faculty/A
nine minute mile/a minor misery/they're gonna give
me tenure/see you at Appleby's."
PLANES - "The Oracle Of Marcy" EP (theplanesnyc.bandcamp.com)
NYC's The Planes don't fool around much, they're a
reliable source of pop-rock recorded on analog equipment
with a warm, fuzzy, organic sound, highlighted by
guitarist Stephen Perry's soft, shoegazy vocals. This
COVID-lockdown EP was written, recorded, and mixed
in one week for Cody Swanson's Weekly EP Podcast at
"various non-studio locations in Brooklyn,"
although damn if I can tell the difference. The tracks
are alternately spacey and sweet, bouncy and delicate;
"The Gallows" rocks the hardest,"The
Earthquake" sounds most like sleepy Yo La Tengo.
If you buy the Bandcamp download, you'll get a bonus
cover that I'm not supposed to mention, although Dagwood's
wife is probably Dreaming of a song just like it.
- Drunk Tank Pink (Dead Oceans)
I stumbled across Londoners Shame at the 2018 SXSW
Festival in love with their vigorous but blithely
indifferent post-punk clamor and sweaty, in your face
frontman Charlie Steen. The band, barely out of their
teens at the time, were touring and partying hard
to promote their debut album, Songs Of Praise.
It took a worlwide epidemic to bring the lads back
to earth, but when it happened, it happened hard.
Steen painted a walk-in closet "drunk tank pink"
(a color designed to sooth mental patients and prisoners)
and cocooned in it for months, while Sean Coyle-Smith
killed time by inventing new sounds on his guitar.
The resulting album reflects what happens when rowdy
post-adolescents are forced to define themselves as
adults - it's more complex, less overtly comedic,
and far more introspective than its predecessor. Like
seemingly all modern UK bands, Shame ranks Wire and
The Fall among its influences, especially in Steen's
emphatic, talk/sung vocals, but there's more going
on here as well: The motorik rhythms of Krautrock,
African funk as filtered through the British New Wave,
Siouxsie Sioux and Ari Up and John Lydon holding a
summit and finding the world still sadly wanting.
METAPHORS – Body Snatchers (psychiatricmetaphors.bandcamp.com)
Sam Taylor, a sonic scientist based in Union City,
NJ, writes and records as Psychiatric Metaphors
(although there’s a live lineup for shows.)
This is his fourth album under that name, begun
in late 2019 but mostly completed during COVID lockdown.
“City Lights” kickstarts these ten tracks
with churning post-punk reminiscent of The Fall,
with spoken/sung vocals and a chugging barrage of
guitars. Taylor’s palette expands to include
insane psychedelic guitar sounds and spazzy solos,
along with pummeling Goth, Industrial, and Punk
influences. The cavernous vocals and wall-of-sound
perfectly mesh with the six-minute Spacemen 3 cover,
“Revolution,” which takes the track
in the direction that Sonic Boom and J.Spaceman
would pursue in Spiritualized. A good half of the
tracks sound like the soundtrack to a nervous breakdown;
I’m guessing those are the ones written during
COVID. Best listened to with headphones, loudly.
McCARTHY - Home (terrymccarthymusic.com)
Terry McCarthy breaks the mold of most folk, country,
or blues-based singer-songwriters. His chords don't
go where you expect them to, his melodies take unexpected
turns, lyrics eschew moon/june/spoon rhyme schemes.
A song might linger… or stop on a dime. His rough-edged,
slightly hoarse voice contrasts nicely with his strummed
acoustic guitar and the tasteful additions of sonorous
strings on "Too Precious" and sweet female backing
vocals on "Perfectly." McCarthy adds a Flamenco strum
to "Jangly Guitar," which entreats, "all I've got
is this jangly guitar and my life." "Most Sorry,"
my favorite track, is also the most band-forward,
with rollicking Tex-Mex accordion, twangy electric
guitar, gorgeous harmonies on the chorus, and a gently
rocking country beat. The album ends with the elegiac
"The Moment." A weeping violin provides a bittersweet
counter-melody as McCarthy sings, "the moment was
as pretty as the girl" with bittersweet regret over
lost opportunities, as a horn section comes in to
bring the album to a swelling climax.
SLIM - Strawberry Mansion (Dualtone)
You remember the really great interviews and the
really awful ones. Langhorne Slim was one of the
bad ones. I was unprepared; he did not have much
to say, and probably wanted to get back to soundcheck
(he was playing Bowery Ballroom to support his self-titled
2008 album, following a short, disastrous stint
on major label V2.) He was happy to be out of Langhorne,
PA (the hometown that inspired his stage name,)
happier still to be out from under V2's thumb. But
other than that, we struggled to connect. Back then,
Slim (real name: Sean Scolnick) dressed like a sexy
hobo, in tight shirts or tanktops and skinny jeans,
with a pork pie hat and a cherubic face that looked
like it had seen more than its share of hard times.
I wrote him off, embarassed as much by my own failure
as an interviewer as my lack of interest in his
music. (I skipped the Ballroom show that night and
went to Maxwell's.) So here we are, all these years
later, and I'm humbly pleased to admit that the
hobo shtick has not only aged well but surprisingly
gracefully. Strawberry Mansion - all 18
tracks, plus a demo - never wears out its welcome,
seguing from old timey honky tonk to supple folk
and bluegrass. Mellow analog instruments like banjo,
fiddle, strings, and organ provide soothing, organic
tones. There are tracks that deal with his problems
with prescription drugs, depression, and anxiety,
others that view the world with an unabating optimism
born of love and the examples of his Jewish grandfathers
(to whom the title track is dedicated.) A longtime
resident of Nashville, Slim embraces country music's
roots, including bluegrass and gospel, but not the
commercial gloss of Modern Country, which might
mean that Strawberry Mansion won't get
played much on the radio. It's nice to meet a guy
who'd rather make the music he loves than a buck.
HAG - Whatever Happened To Avery Jane? (Bar-None)
Avery Jane Mandeville (with her band the Man Devils)
made quite a splash down around Asbury with her 2017
debut EP and follow-up full-length a year later, with
club gigs and Asbury Music Award nominations up the
wazoo. Now Avery has signed to Bar-None using the
name Little Hag and released a single, "Tetris."
That track, along with a potpourri of earlier materal,
comprise this album, an ironic COVID-era "best
of" for an artist whose career is still beginning.
Still, it's a nice introduction, from the silky, countryish
"Tetris" and "A Quarter To Four,"
to poppy indie-rock to acoustic folk/rock. Mandeville
has a lovely, sultry voice, but her enunciation and
the mixes lend her lyrics an air of mystery. The song
titles reflect a preoccupation with female vulnerability
and social media ("Facebook," "No More
Dick Pix," "Predator," "Walk Of
Shame,") although my impression is that most
of the songs are simply about dudes and relationships.
The final track, "Encore," wryly comments
on the sad plight of the live performer in today's
world, made even more poignant now that we're living
in a time when live performance feels like a thing
of the past. It's worth noting that while I'm fondest
of "The Woods," the new "Tetris"
definitely strikes me as the second best track here,
auguring well for the future of Ms. Mandeville as
ERICKSON - Little Secrets (Mint 400)
Brian Erickson paid more than his share of local-scene
dues with Paper Jets and The Extensions, although
ironically I first met him in his capacity as co-host
of the excellent (but sadly, discontinued) The Great
Albums Podcast. Now on his first solo album -
doing a Todd Rungren, and writing/singing/playing/producing
everything himself - Erickson more than acquits himself
as a talented multi-instrumentalist, warm and ingratiating
vocalist, and perhaps most of all, songwriter. The
man's been doing this long enough that he knows who
he is by now, so there's a graceful and much-appreciated
continuity here. (How many solo albums have you heard
that hopscotch from rock to metal to folk to punk?)
This is soothing, tranquil, well-centered folk-rock,
with roots in CSNY's blissful harmonies, informed
by a bit of city swagger. While the first half of
the album (Side One, if you will) leans toward elegant,
formal compositions, the later tracks including two
instrumentals in waltz time, and short takes that
dip a toe into prog and confessional emo-pop ala'
Kevin Devine. Lovely, just lovely.
- Don't Wanna Live, Don't Wanna Die (Mint 400)
TJ Foster, who hails from the Albany, NY area, is
basically E.R.I.E., singing and playing and producing
everything on this impressive debut full-length (save
for some background vocals and synth.) Originally
self-released just prior to the COVID lockdown, Mint
400 is giving the album a second life and hopefully
will find this an audience. I like the music's positivity,
broadly falling into the Americana bucket but reminiscent
to me of those midwestern, blue-collar troubadours
like Joe Grushecky, Ike Reilly, or even the young
John Mellencamp; music redolent of denim, beer, and
Saturday nights. I could see this taking off in Nashville
or Asbury Park, where big clean twanty guitars, romantic
piano, stalwart vocals, and emotional honesty still
CAMPBELL APARTMENT - Curmudgeon (Mint 400)
San Franciscan Ari Vais fronts The Campbell Apartment,
joined by bassist Kevin Frank and drummer Jon Hand.
I've been a fan for a while, but even I was taken
aback at how good this album is. Reportedly these
tracks sat around a few years; when Mint 400 signed
the band, a deal was struck to remix the album with
a rawer and more live sound. It worked. The opening
track "VP Of Snails" explodes with a burst
of power pop rock reminiscent of the Eels or Game
Theory. Vais infuses strong elements of Americana
bordering on Country for the stalwart melodies,
major chords, and crisp, clean guitar parts on much
of the album, from the twangy "Frustration
Station" to the square dance stomp of "I
Know What I Done" to the weepy "Since
November" to the pungent irony of "Baby's
Wedding Day." "Burning Bridges" injects
a bit of pub rock glam to the proceedings, and "You
Winsome, You Loathsome" wraps clever lyrics
around an old-timey music hall ballad. RIYL Nick
Lowe, Fountains Of Wayne, Elvis Costello
X - "Lame Dystopia" EP (loganxnyc.bandcamp.com)
Logan X - aka Sam Michael Braverman of Brooklyn, NY
- has had these four tracks sitting on the shelf for
a few years and decided to let the world hear them
during the pandemic doldrums. "Yours Truly"
kicks things off with a nice surprise, as Sam brings
his yelpy post-emo style to a spirited if baldfaced
homage to Bruce Springsteen's "Rosalita,"
though by the time the song gets to the tortured "you're
tearing up my heart" bridge, it's all Sam. "She
Said," a familiar lament from the live set, sets
post-adolescent angst to a strummed electric guitar
with grungy quiet-loud-quiet dynamics, slowly building
to the inevitable self-excoriating clmax. "Flip
It Over" emerges from a druggy haze into angular
post-punk, while "Pining Again" sets millennial
self-loathing to a dirgey melody and slogging beat.
Here's hoping Logan X 2.0 injects a little Stuart
Smiley self-affirmation into the proceedings before
we all march off a dock into the East River together
singing about how miserable life is.
FUN - "Day After Day" EP (modfun.com)
Our old friends Mod Fun - who I've known almost since
I started Jersey Beat back in 1982 - have reunited
for a fun covers EP, with three songs that reflect
the diversity of their sound and tastes: The band
does a trippy cover of Badfinger's slinky "Day
After Day," dives back into the garage for The
Eyes' mod basher "I'm Rowed Out," and rekindles
the Hoboken Eighties pop scene for a faithful version
of the Bongos' "The Bulrushes." There are
some lovely touches here - jangly tambourine and tinkling
piano on "Day After Day," multi-tracked
vocals on "Rowed Out," Chris Collins' crisp
drumming on "Bullrushes." There's also an
acoustic edit of "Day After Day" that spotlights
Mick Hale's evocative vocal. Let's hope once this
pandemic is behind us, the boys get together for another
live reunion. And check Mark Hughson's column for
a review of Mick Hale's other project, Croc Shop.
JUAN SOLO 7 - When We Are None
North Carolina's Jason Nunn caught my attention as
a member of Breed 13, but these days he performs under
the name Juan Solo 7, handling all the vocals, instruments,
and recording himself. There are still traces of Breed
13's Nineties shoegaze vibe here, but Nunn takes this
hearty guitar-based alt-rock in myriad directions,
from dreamy and driving ("Emotional Support Demon")
to motorik krautrock ("Roller Derby") to
amelodic sonic assaults that border on metal ("When
We Are None," "Fuck Your Jesu$," "Hum.")
For me, the sweet spot comes with the more melodic
tracks that synthesize elements of Sonic Youth and
Husker Du into a roiling fuzzy dream-pop ("Qi,"
"My Place," "Suicide Machine.")
Well worth checking out if you still fly a flag for
guitar rock. (The Juan Solo 7 is available on
Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, and all major streaming
STAMPFEL & THE BOTTLE CAPS - Demo '84 (Don Giovanni
The three albums that Peter Stampfel made with
his '80's band the Bottle Caps have been out of
print for decades, available only as used vinyl
or CD's on the collector's market. Happily, Don
Giovanni's Joe Steinhardt found this long-lost and
all-but-forgotten demo tape while rummaging through
a collection he bought from a well-respected and
highly renowned rock critic (well...me, actually.)
So until Peter can wrangle back the rights to reissue
the other stuff, we can rejoice in this gloriously
skronky artifact of fractured folk punk, featuring
Stampfel's yowling vocals, slippery fiddle, and
one of the best bar bands of its era. Two Maxwell's
regulars, drummer Peter Moser and bassist Al Greller
(formerly of Coyote Records' Beat Rodeo) anchor
the sound, which included precision guitars and
backup vocals from the late W.T. Overgard and John
Scherman. The songs range from jovial novelty folk-rock
("Random Violence," "Funny The First
Time," "Drink American") to the hilarious
"Surfer Angel" (the world's first - and
only - surf/death song) to skronking Rounders-esque
folk ("Everything Must Go," "Lonely
Junkie") to the unlikely-but-shoulda-been-a-hit
fusion of Robert Service poetry and 70's disco vibes,
"Impossible Groove." All of these wound
up on the Rounder's self-titled debut album, while
the rousing "When It's Springtime In Alaska
(It's Forty Below") would have to wait for
the third Bottle Caps album to see the light of
the day. But you can hear them all here, direct
from 1984 to your digital player of choice. (You
can read my interview with Peter Stampfel about
the demo and other projects here.)
"Founding member of Tin Huey" is only
the first line of Harvey Gold's impressive resume',
but it should be more than enough to give this irascible
aging hippie a listen. The remaining members of
Tin Huey reunite here for "Lemon Beazly,"
with Half Cleveland (the Hueys with Chris Butler
of The Waitresses fame,) Harvey In The Hall, The
Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, and the Byrds' Chris Hillman
also lending a hand. But mostly this is Harvey Gold's
record, more than living up to the title "It's
Messy" with forays into power pop, electronica,
orchestral pop, acoustic American folk, a protest
song, a bit of music hall, and a weird instrumental.
It's Messy, Vol. 1 revels in being mercurial
and unpredictable, waxing formalist and orchestral
on "Eidola," invoking traditional folk
on "Allegheny Load," infusing Motown grooves
into the hipster rant "In Consideration Of
Joe Strummer" and then wigging out for the
seven minutes of weirdness that is "Lemon Beazly."
Gold slows the Beatles' "I've Just Seen A Face"
down to quaalude tempo, throws in a Beefheartian
90-second instrumental, then wraps the show up with
a silly novelty tune about breakfast foods. It's...
messy. But fun.
- CASTROPHIC ENTERTAINMENT (cocktails.bandcamp.com)
San Francisco's Cocktails will delight any listener
looking for an indie-pop band that's not afraid
to sound happy, clever, and bright. The band gleefully
transcends genres, from 70's Cheap Trick to 80's
New Wave to Nineties indie rock, with echoes of
Teenage Fanclub, the Replacements, and even Fountains
of Wayne on cuts like their paean to "Bun E.
Carlos," or the bittersweet pop-rock gem "Nobody's
Going To The Movies." The band flashes its
punkier side on "Janeland," gets twangy
on "Washoe Country," and channels the
Undertones on "Waiting On The Summer."
The singer's unique voice comes across as one part
Joe Strummer and two parts Joe Jack Talcum, a sweet
mix of geeky abandon and the young Conor Oberst's
earnestness. It's a winning combination.
MOVES - Little Help (Darla; jigsaw-records.com)
Special Moves is the project of Olympia, WA's Josh
Hoey, and the title Little Help no doubt
refers to the many friends who helped out with the
recording of this "open- source DIY rock band"
(over a dozen names are thanked on the CD cover.)
Given the free-form nature of the band (friends sit
in on both recording sessions and live gigs when they
feel like it,) it's not surprising that Little Help
sounds like a guided tour through Josh Hoey's record
collection, with fuzzed-out drones juxtaposing unabashed
R.E.M. worship ("Something I Forgot To Du")
or nods to Mac McCaughan's trippy side project Portastatic.
I would love to be more enthusiastic about this record,
but honestly, I found some of the song titles ("Thank
U Pile of CDR's," "Based On A True Story")
more beguiling than the actual songs. Special Moves'
appeal comes not from the connections its lyrics make
but from the textures, tones, rhythms, and drones
it produces, not unlike Yo La Tengo's headier moments,
or Guided By Voices' innumerable sonic experiments.
Recommended for fans of lo-fi bedroom pop where getting
lost in the white noise becomes the point.
COWBOYS - "Five Easy Pieces" EP (facebook.com/TheVigilanteCowboys)
This Central Jersey quartet falls somewhere between
classic rock and punk, with influences that range
from Jersey ex-pats Dramarama to Sixties. Mark Donohue's
leathery vocals remind me of a less buffonish Handsome
Dick Manitoba or a cooler Randy Bachman. The two
covers - Badfinger's "No Matter What"
and the Stones' "Get Off My Cloud" - suit
the band perfectly; they're a little ragged, garagey,
and cozily familiar. "Crampin' (Summertime)"
suggests Bob Stinson dueling with Ross The Boss,
with both catchy riffs and technical rock solos,
while "Perfect Moment" and "Get Me
Out Of Here" capture the band's poppier side.
Most importantly, Vigilante Cowboys sound like they're
having fun, know how to play their instruments,
and can deliver a good hook.
& DOHERTY - S/T EP
Steve Sabet played guitar in the fin de siecle
Jersey indie band Darby Jones, Brian Doherty played
drums for They Might Be Giants; both sing and harmonize
beautifully. Together, they've recorded this eclectic
5-song EP that ranges from soft rock ala' America
to a feisty indie-rock rager reminiscent of Rockpile.
"Lakewood" is a meditative folk-prog instrumental
spotlighting acoustic guitar and gentle percussion,
while "Another World" channels the tight
two-part harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel. I'm
a bigger fan of the uptempo "Fire In A Trash
Can" than of the mellower aspects of Sabet
& Doherty, but I'd certainly like to hear more.
The EP can be streamed on Spotify and Amazon Music.
Juniper is the 15 year old daughter of WFMU deejay
Michael Shelley, who helped write and plays on this
delightful collection of twee indie-pop with a heavy
debt to Sixties girl group pop. While the arrangements
here tend to be simple, playful, and twangy, an impressive
collection of friends show up to add guitar, keyboards,
and drums, including Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan,
Fountains of Wayne’s Chris Collingwood, Marshall
Crenshaw, the Smithereens' Dennis Diken, and Steve
Goulding of the Mekons and Nick Lowe’s band.
So what does a 15-year-old girl write about? Boys,
boys, and boys, of course. (But, pleasantly, not sex,
sex, sex.) Juniper sings the praises of perfect boyfriends
(“Everybody’s Got a Crush on Chad,”
“Sticking With Henry,” and, yes, there’s
even a song called “Boys, Boys, Boys”,)
while “Kids on My Corner” channels Kim
Wilde’s New Wave anthem, “Kids in America.”
Juniper’s self-titled album is available on
Spotify, Amazon’s Music Unlimited, and other
Over a 20 year career, the Roadside Graves - once
based in Metuchen, now spread all over the state -
have consistently delivered thoughtful, soul-stirring
Americana that avoids traditional shibboleths like
verse/chorus/verse song structures or a steady beat.
Instead, songs ebb and flow with their own internal
logic, speeding up or slowing down as needed, with
John Gleason's soft-spoken, emotional vocals surrounded
by orchestral guitars, restrained piano, and warm
harmonies. The group has consistently released albums
every four to five years, and has cut gigging down
to a few shows a year, finding pleasure and reward
instead in the intimate process of working out new
material over time in rehearsal.
In the past, the band wrote from a literary tradition
that linked it to American storytellers from Faulkner
to S.E. Hinton, but on Acne/Ears, the lyrics
started to become more introspective; for the first
time, Gleason seemed to be singing about himself,
not other characters.On That's Why We're
Running Away, the band again looks inward, facing
middle-age, accepting life even when it hasn't met
your expectations. The album might have been written
and recorded well before Covid-19 radically interrupted
all our lives, but songs like "I Cried"
("we won't be afraid, it's the end of days")
speak directly to current feelings of isolation and
despair. This has always been a somber bunch but ...Running
Away feels downright elegiac. "There Was
A Way" laments the path not taken, "The
Sea Is Empty" imagines ecological ruin, "Dead
Kids" forecasts hopeless futures for ignored,
disadvantaged youngsters, even the one uptempo track
bears the gloomy title "I Wasted My Life."
The penultimate track, with its finger-picked acoustic
guitar and Johnny Piatowski's melancholy piano, offers
no answers, just the counsel "Let's Get Lost."
Writers from Elliott Smith to Leonard Cohen to Sylvia
Plath have mined art from hopelessness and despair,
and That's Why We're Running Away falls into
that tradition. As Elton John once noted, sad songs
say so much; while this album won't cheer you up,
it may offer solace in embracing that we're all suffering
ROSE RILEY - Better (amandaroseriley.com)
From her perch in Lincoln Park, NJ (nestled between
Wayne and Pequannock,) Amanda Rose Riley and her
acoustic guitar create fearless folk music that
chronicles the observations and aspirations of,
in her own words, "a middle range millennial."
I say fearless because there's just a voice and
a strum and a lot of ideas coming at you, so it's
a bit bleak and monotone. But Riley's voice (and
by that I mean her words, not just her vocals) is
a commanding presence; she writes of suburban overdevelopment
from the point of view of a squirrel on one song,
and tells a prospective soulmate "this isn't
like that hobby that you gave up, you're gonna have
to give it your all" on another. Written and
recorded just before everything turned to shit with
the pandemic, Better could be speaking to us as
we're sheltering in place and trying to figure out
a future; of the joyless, selfish, and uncaring,
she sings, "we can't let them win." On
the title track, she counsels a friend in spiritual
distress (or perhaps herself,) "every move
you make is another chance to fuck up, but every
day's another chance to get better." And it's
nice to hear someone say, "it's gonna be fine,
you're gonna be just fine."
WAISTED - Sick Of Saying Sorry (highwaisted.party)
On their sophomore album, singer/guitarist Jessica
Louise Dye and drummer Jono Bernstein of High Waisted
continue their torrid love affair with surf, doo wop,
girl group pop, Serge Gainsbourg, and Angelo Badalamenti.
Imagine Shellshag performing the Twin Peaks soundtrack,
or what might have happened if Madonna had dated John
Waters instead of Guy Ritchie. Dye has a voice that
Lana Del Rey would kill for, silky and sultry. Oh,
and did I mention their sense of humor? They have
one, and that's always a plus, plus a plethora of
friends come by to help fill out the sound. "Cereal"
sounds like the love song from an Annette Funicello
and Frankie Avalon flick (or a lost outtake from "Grease,")
while the ghost of Dick Dale hovers over the elegantly
surfy "8th Amendment" (that's the one about
cruel and unusual punishment, here transformed into
a metaphor for love.) "I'm Fine" finishes
up with a motorik New Wavey post-punk hybrid that
might be the genre Blondie forgot to invent. Lots
and lots of fun.
HI-END - Class Kicks (Rum Bar Records)
From Boston, the city that gave us the Real Kids
and J. Geils Band, comes a rock 'n' roll combo that
delivers a bit of both, along with a little Dictators
and a whole lotta boogie and a truckload of road
house vigor. Frontman Johnny Carnevale sounds like
a guy who smokes too much, drinks cheap whiskey,
and never buttons the top of his shirt, and his
band rocks like the kids your mom told you to stay
away from in high school. All jokes aside, this
is down 'n' dirty rock 'n' roll, nothing fancy or
ironic or reinvented, just three chords and an attitude.
For my money, the shorter and faster these songs
get, the better. "A Way Of Life" sounds
a little like "Ace Of Spades, and if you think
that's a bad thing, fight me.
CHALLENGED – Wallfighter (thechallenged.bandcamp.com)
These stalwarts from the remnants of NYC’s
Pop Punk Message Bored scene have been banging away
for close to 20 years with very little to show for
it, other than the ability to consistently make
records that blow you away. Rob Suss’ melodic,
expressive vocals remind me of Dan Vapid’s,
although the roiling emotions on this album –
regret, sadness, disgust – transcend pop-punk,
scaling the same heights as the best of Jawbreaker
or Husker Du. The uplifting “For Hope’s
Sake,” with its promise that things will get
better, recalls the Bouncing Souls. This is an album
that’s deeply disappointed with the state
of the world, yet somehow makes this ungainly mess
we’ve made of things seem beautiful and worth
TIER - "Ithaca" EP (courtesytier.bandcamp.com)
Simplicity and consistency can easily be overlooked
and underrated, as NYC's Courtesy Tier can tell you.
The band's been quiety releasing quality albums and
EP's for nearly a decade, primarily featuring Omer
Leibovitz and Layton Weedeman on vocals, guitar, and
percussion. The new "Ithaca" EP moves from
the band's usual electric blues-rock to softer, rounder
tones, with electroniic organ and synths, acoustic
guitars, and even weepy pedal steel giving these tracks
a country-tinged vibe. Simplicity still remains the
band's hallmark; never fussy, busy, or overproduced,
the vocals unprocessed and sincere, the lyrics straightforward
and sentimental. As befits our current circumstances,
the EP has a melancholy tone overall, but as country
music has known for a very long time, feeling bad
can make for some good songs.
BASEBALL PROJECT - LIVE In Space (thebaseballproject.bandcamp.com)
This musical busman's holiday lets Steve Wynn,
Linda Pitmon, Mike Mills, and Scott McCaughey a
chance to combine their love of baseball with rock
'n' roll, writing songs that range from nostalgic
and sentimental to humorous to satiric. LIVE
In Space chronicles a show from 2015 recorded
at a small concert hall in Evanston, IL. Stage patter
is included so you get a good feel for the band's
good natured banter and obvious love for the subject,
and the 19 tracks include a little taste of all
three studio LP's. I love some of these songs, and
not just the ones about the Yankees or the Mets;
"The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads" recounts
the epic no-hitter that Dock Ellis threw while high
on LSD, there's a lament for poor World Series goat
Bill Buckner, and songs about Pete Rose, Henry Aaron,
and "Ted Fucking Williams." But some of
the best tracks eschew the famous for the obscure,
like "Larry Yount," a career minor leaguer
who never threw a pitch in the Big Leagues, or my
favorite, "Monument Park," about a player
who realizes his career has run its course and it's
time to go home. If you haven't heard the Baseball
Project, here's a great way to experience what they
were all about. And who knows, maybe there'll be
another album someday, once we can all start going
to ballgames again.
- Schadenfreude (shinerkc.bandcamp.com)
Singer/guitarist Allen Epley formed Kansas City,
MO's Shiner in 1992 with a couple of friends, and
after a decade of personnel changes and several
excellent post-punk albums on labels like DeSoto
and Sub-Pop, became the sole founding member. The
band broke up following 2001's The Egg,
but in the last decade, Epley - along with drummer
Jason Gerken, bass player Paul Malinowski, and guitarist
Josh Newton - started playing shows again, and now
there's a new album. Shiner's style of heavy, gauzy
post-punk has become so engrained into the DNA of
today's indie rock that if you didn't know the backstory,
you'd think this album came from four Brooklyn millennials
instead of these midwestern fiftysomethings. Shiner's
sound remains significantly the same, somewhere
between post-punk drone, stoner rock, and bombastic
grunge. Fans of Hum, Queens of the Stone Age, or
Soundgarden will no doubt revel in the thick spacious
grooves here. For me, it's like watching a friend
eat sashimi; I admire the quality and skill involved,
but would rather have something else.
& STAMEY - Our Back Pages (omnivorerecordings.com)
Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey both live in their
native North Carolina these days; but back in the
’80s, their band the dB’s helped forge
“The Hoboken Sound” that came out of Maxwell’s,
as musicians from all over the country swarmed to
the Mile Square City for cheap rent and a supportive
arts community. The duo revisit some of their favorite
dB’s songs on “Our Back Pages,”
a digital release whose sales benefit the MusiCares
COVID-19 Relief Fund.
The original versions of these songs featured dueling
lead guitars, Gene Holder’s throbbing bass,
and Will Rigby’s crisp and precise drumming,
but Holsapple and Stamey stripped the songs down
to acoustic guitar and vocals, with the duo finessing
exquisite harmonies throughout the album. The arrangements
highlight the lyrics, which were always clever and
quirky and quite wonderful, and the album works
It’s hard to pick favorites – the dB’s,
throughout a long career with several iterations
and lineups, have always been a personal favorite
– but it’s wonderful to hear “Black
and White,” “Happenstance,” “Big
Brown Eyes,” and “Molly Says”
in these new arrangements. The guitar is sublime,
the harmonies transcendent, and the songs more than
JUAN - Atlantico (talljuan.bandcamp.com)
Juan Zaballa, aka Tall Juan, was transplanted from
his native Argentina to Rockaway Beach at a young
age and, on his first spate of records, took inspiration
from Queens natives the Ramones. He covered Dee
Dee's "Chinese Rocks," and wrote &
played Ramones-tempo punk and garage-rock songs
on acoustic guitar. "Atlantico" brings
him back to his South American roots, with a nod
to the African rhythms that influenced much of that
music. There's one song in English, five in Spanish,
and two short instrumentals, ranging from sassy
Cumbia (a Colombian style which combines indigenous
folk music with European and African influences,)
to Latin dance grooves to romantic ballads.
While Tall Juan decided to self-release this a while
ago and not seek label support, he didn't skimp
in the studio; the ensemble here includes guitar,
bass, piano, organ, synths, a small army of percussionists,
and even Kyle Forester (of Crystal Stilts and the
Ladybugy Transistor) on sax. This really doesn't
sound like what I usually listen to (unless I'm
in an Uber or bus in Hudson County,) but I thoroughly
You can tell that Troy Donohue, the charismatic and
talented lead singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter
of Rockstar Racecar, has been listening to a lot of
metal. Hunk Oasis, the Bloomfield, NJ group's
consistently enjoyable third album, genuflects to
the gods of Ozzy, Dio, Maiden, and the White Stripes,
while retaining a distinctive punky-power-chord sound
of its own. Fist-pumping melodies and chugging riffs
abound, as well as a bona fide power ballad and the
occasional, tasty solo. Donohue - who, by the way,
just turned 16 - never reaches beyond his grasp; his
lyrics eschew heavy metal raunch for age-appropriate
rock 'n' roll anthems about animals, pirates, rock
'em sock 'em robots, high-school crushes, and - duh
- rock 'n' roll. Inspirational verse: "You got
a problem with me? I got a problem with you."
NEVERENDS - Party Boi facebook.com/theneverendsband)
Pop music has split into so many micro-genres that
the idea of a plain ol' indie-rock band seems original
again, as evidenced by this impressive outing by New
Milford, NJ's Neverends. Friends since middle-school
(and still sporting all-ages X's on their hands on
stage,) the quartet takes the Strokes' millennial
insouciance as a starting point and then infuses it
with post-emo passion, math-rock time signatures,
sparkling guitar-pop, jazzy pop, and reconfigured
reggae. It's a bit like emptying six random cans from
your pantry and discovering you've made a pretty good
pot of soup. Myles Fabrizio Yambao (who reminds me
of Harvey Danger's criminally underrated Sean Nelson)
joins the ranks of the surprising number of extremently
talented singers you'll find in New Jersey's underground
these days, and his bandmates all impress as well.
Keep an eye out for this band, they're going places.
CHILDREN - Ignite (svnsetchildrenband.com)
I met this multi-racial alternative quintet at
the 2019 JC Studios Battle of the Bands, where I
was impressed by what I can best describe as their
"soft grunge" sound, with Juliette Musungu's
mellifluous vocals mixed on top of sonic guitars
and thrashing drums. There are definitely hints
of Nirvana and Pearl Jam here, as well as some metallic
crunch, all delivered with insistent, repetitive
rhythms. My biggest criticism comes from the samey-sounding
deliberativeness of the first four tracks, only
the EP closing "Daydreaming" adds some
nice psychedelic guitars and a bit more melody.
While it's pronounced "Sunset Children,"
look for the band on social media as #svnsetchildren.
WEEKLINGS - 3 (Jem Records)
I will be frank here: I don't get the Weeklings.
Fronted by Asbury stalwarts Glen Burtnik and Bob
Burger, the band writes and plays faux-Beatles pop
tunes, all more pointedly "Please Please Me"
pop fluff than, say, "Penny Lane." A straight
up Beatles tribute band would pay better, but pointy-headed
critics like me aren't going to extend any artistic
cred for rewriting the Beatles songbook a dozen
times. (Also, Burtnik toured with a version of Styx
for a bit, so there's also a forgettable prog number,
as well as a cover of the Easybeats' "Friday
on My Mind" that's not as good as the one Earth
Quake did on Beskerkely Record back in the Eighties.)
So again I ask, why?
WARHAWKS - Stardust Disco (New Rivals Entertainment;
Greetings from Gloucester City. NJ, a down-on-its-heels
bedroom community just across the Delaware from Philly
and approximately a million miles from anything resembling
a music scene, but home to the up-and-coming Warhawks.
After making a splash with their 2019 album Never
Felt So Good, these blue-collar rockers with
a distinctly retro vibe deliver a strong follow up
with the six-song "Stardust Disco." This
one's a little more synth-driven and less reliant
on the guitar-heavy Drive-By Truckers vibe that infused
much of their previous joint, harking back to Eighties
New Wave (and/or "Dancing In The Dark" era
Springsteen.) I miss the Bouncing Souls, fist in the
air bravado of the last album's "Don't Fuck With
Me," but the dreamy, dancey, romantic vibe they
strike here suits them just fine.
- The Era Of Buckets (goodmanmusic.bandcamp.com)
Still a birthday or two shy of 30, Michael Goodman's
released a dozen albums and EP's since 2012, almost
all of them recorded in tandem with producer/musician/guru
Oliver Ignatius (first at Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen,
and now at his Holy Fang Studio in Hopewell Junction,
NY.) Goodman's prolific output has been remarkably
consistent too, all of it enjoyable indie rock straddling
the border of pure power-pop, and showing a steadily
growing fascination with digital sounds. The Era
Of Buckets doesn't stray far from that template,
but more than ever, the multi-tracked production reflects
a Pet Sounds-sized dedication to getting
every second of every track sound just right.
What's changed most is Goodman himself, or at least
his songwriting. In the past, he could be snarky,
glib, and - as might be expected from a randy millennial
male - objectifying towards the women in his songs.
On The Era Of Buckets, there's empathy, and
respect; instead of songs about girls (or "Girls,"
as in "Modern Girl," "Telegram Girl,"
"Blue Eyed Girl," "The Girl With The
Titanium Heart,") Goodman's singing about relationships.
And when, on the album's most bubblegumlicious and
infectious track, he sings, "Shallow, so shallow,"
he's looking at himself. If you liked Goodman before,
you'll like this album more. And if he's new to you,
now's the time to dive in.
GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL - "Committing To The Bit"
EP, "Perpetual Emotion Motion," "Ready
For Love Or Disappointment," "Whiff"
Layne Montgomery's still wearing his heart on his
sleeve. No news there. Still straining to sing a
bit about his natural range. Aidan Shepherd still
mans the drums, as savvy and subtle a stickslinger
as there abides in New York City. Steve Shaw and
Ian Grey have joined the band on bass and lead guitar
on the "Committing To The Bit" EP. It
followed the three digital singles that GAN released
in 2019, with slightly different lineups. All of
it was produced by Billy Aukstik at Hive Mind Recording.
Taken together, you've got close to a damn fine
album. Montgomery's songwriting more and more resembles
his hero Bob Pollard, with strong riffs but even
stronger lyrics. My favorite is "Whiff,"
in which Layne takes pity on a bully at work ("being
you must get pretty rough.") "Committing
To The Bit" sounds like something a horse does
when it accepts its lot in life, and the song certainly
has a fatalistic air (Layne, always post
your lyrics on Bandcamp!). But given that the dude's
mom is a standup comic, I suspect the song means
sticking to your shtick through thick and thin.
"Good Bad Company" kicks off with a killer
Seventies rock riff (get it? it's good
Bad Company,) while "It's A Living" has
an awesome call and response chorus. Instead of
mooning about girls who don't look at him, Layne's
got more on his mind on these tracks. They're all
about perseverance, commitment, endurance; turning
the struggles of a musician (or a working stiff,
or a boyfriend) into a metaphor for how fucked up
life has become for all of us in 2019, and how the
only answer is to keep plugging away. I like these
songs more every time I listen to them. You will
POP OVERTHROW: THE COMPACT DISC VOL. 22 (Omnivore
When we met at an IPO event in NYC this fall, David
Bash was nice enough to hand me a copy of this 3-disc
compilation, commemorating the 2019 iteration of his
annual paean to power-pop, International Pop Overthrow.
If you're at all familiar with IPO, you already know
what this sounds like: Electric guitar-driven, catchy
rock and roll, with forays into psychedelia, garage,
and new-wave. It was nice to hear old friends like
Peter Holsapple, Michael Faherty, the Anderson Council,
the Lilacs, and Kimberly Rew on here, although I'm
most excited by Bash's ongoing excavation of forgotten
one-hit wonders and underground garage combos - the
loud and the weird and the underappreciated purveyors
of power pop from every corner of the globe.
GREY - "Run Silent" EP (defectinggrey.bandcamp.com)
Cadging their name from a Pretty Things song provides
a clue to the proclivities of this Central Jersey
trio, which features brothers C.J. and Vince Grogan
on guitar and bass, and the mighty Mike Polilli
(of NJ’s legendary Buzzkill) on drums. This
is the band’s second EP (sadly, I missed the
first,) with six high-powered tracks of buzzsaw
pop rock with a psychedelic sparkle. Think Husker
Du’s “Eight Miles High,” since
both the grungy Minneapolitans (especially Grant
Hart’s poppier compositions) and the Byrds
loom large in Defecting Grey’s punchy sound.
I don’t know what the title “AYR”
means (I don’t think it’s about the
jeans brand) but man, what a killer song, with a
shouted chorus guaranteed to have you punching the
air. The band knows how to write a hooky rock ‘n’
roll song, and with decades of experience between
them, can deliver even the simplest three-chord
progression with panache and distinctiveness. Both
EP’s are available from the group’s
SHERWIN - "Left In" EP (samsherwin.net)
Jersey transplant Sam Sherwin's traditional take
on blues rock recalls the Van Morrison of "Moondance,"
Tom Waits, and early Springsteen, with standout
contributions from Peter Vitalone on piano and the
B3 organ, and the Spin Doctors' Aaron Comess on
drums. Three tracks of roadhouse boogie and one
ballad, well orchestrated. Jersey City notable Walter
Parks contributes backing vocals, small world! RIYL:
Joe Grushecky, Ike Reilly, Southside Johnny.
HOLY SMOKES - Goldish (smokestheholy.bandcamp.com)
There are at least three other bands named Holy Smokes
on Bandcamp, not to mention a couple of headshops
and tobacco stores in NJ, so you're forgiven if you
haven't heard of this West Orange quartet. (That's
also why their Bandcamp page and website is confusingly
named smokestheholy.com.) But their six-song debut
Goldish delights, even if it is a bit hard
to describe. The band describes itself as "alternative-folk-electric
rock band," but there are also elements of power-pop,
new wave, progressive rock, and jazz, all delivered
with a verve and an indie earnestness that reminds
me of fellow Garden Staters like The Happy Fits and
the Front Bottoms. The musicianship is top notch,
the arrangements veer from cheery polished pop to
noisy spazz outs, the vocal harmonies impress, and
the songwriting never falters through six catchy,
insistent tracks. Don't take my word for it, check
them out at FM Bar in Jersey City on Thursday, August
Steve Goodman, a singer, songwriter, and guitarist
of enormous talent, died of leukemia in 1984 at
age 36, a huge loss that affected me deeply. I had
become a fan with 1972's Other People's Money,
although most people knew Goodman from the covers
of his songs by other artists, like Arlo Guthrie's
"City Of New Orleans" or David Allan Coe's
country hit with "You Never Even Call Me By
My Name." Omnivore has launched a project to
bring Goodman's catalog back into the public domain
and it starts with the final two albums Goodman
released before his death, the odds 'n' sods live
collection Affordable Art and Goodman's
final studio album, Artistic Hair. Both
boast a plethora of delights, including most of
Goodman's best known songs ("Chicken Cordon
Blues," "I Don't KNow Where I'm Going
But I'm Going Nowhere In A Hurry Blues," and
"Go Cubs Go," which the Chicago Cubs play
after every home win.) But thanks to the inclusion
of ample bonus tracks on both albums, there's a
treasure trove of material here that even diehard
Goodman fans will never have heard, and new listeners
will find enchanting. Goodman duets with his close
friend John Prine on Prine's "Souvenirs,"
there are acoustic demos of the whimsical "Vegematic"
and the witty "Don't Do Me Anymore Favors,"
and a gorgeous cover of Ralph McTell's "City
Of London." Baseball fans (and especially Cub
fans) will want to own not just "Go Cubs Go"
but Goodman's nimble version of "Take Me Out
To The Ballgame," and one of the greatest sports
songs ever written, "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last
Request.) (Ironically, the Cubs made the playoffs
for the first time in 45 years in the fall after
Goodman's death.) I remember and revere Goodman's
humor, his songwriting (which, like his buddy Prine,
could be tender or moving or laugh out loud funny,)and his wonderfully expressive voice. I had
forgotten what a wicked guitarist he was; since
Goodman usually played solo without a band, he wasn't
afraid to show off on his acoustic guitar, and whether
it's rapidfire chord changes or speedy finger-picked
solos, his playing here dazzles and impresses. I
love both of these records, and can't wait to see
what Omnivore pulls from the vaults next.
You almost need an economics degree to understand
the title of Rick Barry's new album, but basically
the sunk cost fallacy represents the idea that you've
already invested too much in something to stop, even
though there's little likelihood of future success
or financial gain. And as Barry has said in interviews,
a cynic might argue that the principle applies to
Barry's entire career. Fortunately, artists don't
think logicians, and hopefully Rick Barry knows how
much his music has meant to those of us lucky enough
to have heard it. This album presents an older, more
mature, and if anything, even a more mordant Rick
Barry than we've heard in the past (and the man already
has the reputation as the saddest songwriter in Asbury
Park.) The catchy pop rockers, the quirky country
songs, all that shtick has been pushed aside; "Finish
What You Started" might be the only track that
will satisfy fans looking for another "Stupid
American Song" or "All Of Your Mistakes
Have Names." The tone here remains consistently
elegiac and downcast, mature and aching, and everything
sounds beautifully orchestrated and arranged. "My
Heart Is Your Apple" might not be the most graceful
metaphor ever written, but the track communicates
a stunning sense of longing and regret, while the
precision of Barry's lyrical gift manifests itself
on the album closing "Signing Off." Rick
Barry takes his time between albums, and once again,
our patience has been rewarded handsomely.
- Terminal Everything (Striped Light/Cool Dog Sound)
The AARP should hire Tim and Susan Bauer Lee, who
perform and record as Bark, for all of their commercials.
"This can't be as good as it gets/if you ask
me, we haven't even gotten to the good part yet."
How's that for an anthem, fellow sexagenarians?
If you have a long memory and a big record collection,
you might remember Tim Lee from his days in the
Windbreakers, a twangaholic combo from the Eighties,
or his time with the Tim Lee 3. Now he and his wife
Susan play swampy blues and twangy country from
their home in Knoxville, TN. Susan plays Emmylou
Harris to Tim's Gram Parsons, as big fat reverb'd
guitars swagger to solid simple drum beats, on songs
that range from the downbeat to the whimsical. Death
recurs as a frequent theme: "Walk Small"
reminds us of how time can whittle even the biggest
of us down to size. On "This World," a
phone call brings the news that another old friend
has passed away. But this album isn't about wallowing
in grief, it's about taking life's best shots and
getting back up to try and try again. And as we
all do the "Apocalypse Shimmy" to the
Great Beyond, there's power in the idea that we
oughta throw a "Big Ol' Party" to celebrate
our lives, and "do it before it's too late."
As an unabashed fan of power pop, it was a delight
to come across this Wisconsin quintet fronted by
Jason Lemke. Car City play the shimmery brand of
Midwestern power pop trademarked by Shoes and Green
and Material Issue, with a little Weezer. It's catchy
and simple and heartfelt, with knockout harmonies
and big catchy hooks. There are ten tracks and I
can't pick a favorite, although the roller rink
organ of "Challenger" and the ebullient,
uplifting "Soul Jam" (batting ninth in
the lineup!) come close. Click on the bandcamp link
and check this out, you won't regret it.
Here's one of those unheralded NYC rock bands that
work their butts off then and get to do their record
release party on a Tuesday at Muchmore's. Yet this
female-fronted trio offers three powerful tunes here,
combining psychedelic garage-rock and grunge. It's
loud, noisy, angry, and subversively, almost unexpectedly
rocking, managing to sound dirty and dark and dangerous.
Frontwoman/guitarist Leigh Celent has a commanding
presence on record; if she's anywhere near that good
live, it would be a bloody shame if Castle Black's
next record release show didn't make a lot more waves.
STAMEY - New Songs For The 20th Century (Omnivore)
Like Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, and Elvis Costello before him, pop-rocker/producer
Chris Stamey has turned for inspiration to the Great
America Songbook, that treasury of songs written
by the likes of Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Henry
Mancini, and Irving Berlin from the 30's through
the early 60's, and popularized by generations of
singers, from Bing Crosby to Frank Sinatra to Johnny
Mathis. But this isn't a covers album, oh no; instead,
Stamey has written a double-CD's worth of his own
in the style of American standards, performed by
his symphonic ModRec Orchestra and sung by a stellar
lineup of guest vocalists, from contemporaries like
Nels Cline and Marshall Crenshaw, to North Carolina
musicans like Skylar Gudasz and Django Haskins,
to jazz great NNeena Freelon. The 26-track collection
also includes songs from Stamey's radio play about
the jazz scene in Sixties Manhattan, "Occasional
Shivers;" there are even a couple of older
Stamey compositions given an orchestral makeover.
The LP cover announces its intentions in large letters:
"Written by Chris Stamey."
The critical reaction to this album can be summed
up by Audiophile's review: "The new album by
Chris Stamey is quite remarkable because it is unexpected."
Indeed. And who knows, maybe today's jazz greats
- Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr., or even Tony
Bennett, still going strong at 92 - will embrace
and record these songs and transform them into new
popular standards. But until then, it's hard not
to look at this as a genre exercise. To wit, if
Stamey wrote ten new songs that borrowed techniques
and harmonies and chord changes from Pet Sounds,
it would be fun to hear... once, maybe. But it wouldn't
be Pet Sounds.
And that's how I feel about this album. Like Stamey,
I grew up with the Great American Songbook. Sinatra
and Ella and Basie and Broadway cast albums, that's
the music I listened to and loved at home long before
I heard the Beatles for the first time. These songs
remind me of other songs, but they're not going
to replace the originals. I can imagine "Manhattan
Mystery" - which fuses "Moondance"
with "New York, New York" - on the soundtrack
of a Woody Allen movie, maybe. Nneela Freelon's
vocal on "Occasional Shivers" reminds
me of why I loved Ella Fitzgerald. "In-tox-i-cho-cli-fi-ca-tion"
strives for the urbane wit of Cole Porter but misses
the mark, with a clunky line like "a good cigar
and a chocolate bar."
The orchestrations are lovely, the musicianship
impressive, the vocal performances unassailable.
This album is remarkable because it's so unexpected.
I just don't see myself ever playing it again.
STERNBERG - And Then I Try Some More (Team Love)
Joanna Sternberg is the granddaughter of a pioneering
Yiddish theater legend, a NYC-based cartoonist and
musician, a graduate of The New School For Jazz &
Contemporary Music with a strong compositional background
in jazz, blues, and ragtime, and currently on tour
opening for Conor Oberst. Sternberg prefers the pronoun
"they," and their debut album has already
been reviewed by Pitchfork, Stereogum, The Fader and
NPR. Clearly something is afoot. Like Kimya Dawson,
Sternberg evinces a childlike innocence and openness,
with themes that range from the despondent to the
self-empowering. With songs about self-hate, bullying,
and suicidal ideation, And Then I Try Some More
unspools like a self-help guide for a gender-fluid
generation that's been brutalized into submission
before puberty. This is an album for a targeted listenership
that seems to be finding universal appeal. "You've
been singing sad songs every single day," Sternberg
tells the listener in "You Have Something Special."
"I've been singing sad songs too, I've been hurting
just like you."
Funny, I used to review a ton of bands from Boston,
but they've become something of a rarity. But here's
Dan Webb & The Spiders, ten-year veterans of
the Beantown band scene, blasting out reliably loud
guitar rock like it was still 1986. Appropriately
the album sounds like it was recorded live at the
Rat (or somebody's basement.) Its good-naturedly
lunkheaded tunes like "Acme Girls," "Jerk
In Progress," and "Complicated" fall
squarely into the tradition of the Dogmatics, Neighborhoods,
Outlets, and Blackjacks from Boston's glory days,
while still sure to please fans of contemporary
garage-punk bands like the Dopamines and Copyrights.
B. SIMPSON- "Tender Boy" EP (williambsimpson.bandcamp.com)
Will Simpson, formerly of the Harmonica Lewinskies,
makes his solo debut with this eclectic three song
EP. "Feeling Better" channels REM jangle-pop
with a sunny doo-doo-doo chorus, "Pendulum"
goes all raga psychedelic, while "Outhouse
Blues" seems most like something the Lewinskies
might have tackled, with its Beatlesque chord changes,
big vocal, clattering drums, and gang vocals. Three
strong but diverse songs stoke anticipation for
the full length follow up.
STEVIE MOORE - Afterlife (Bar/None; rsteviemoore.com)
The King of DIY Recording will surprise longtime
fans and delight new ones with this 14-song opus,
which is decidedly high fidelity in every regard.
Recorded in professional studios (as opposed to
a bedroom or basement) over a seven-year span, Afterlife
cherrypicks tracks from Moore's prodigious discography
and presents them with the sort of arrangements
and production they always demanded. R. Stevie has
always worn his influences on his sleeve and you
can hear them all here, from Big Star to the Beatles
to Beach Boys to Roy Wood's Move. Moore, in his
late Sixties, has been plagued by health issues
that have kept him off the road, and some songs
here reflect encroaching mortality, like "Too
Old (To Fall In Love,)" "Another Day Slips
Away," and the existential "What Do I
Do With The Rest Of My Life?" But pop music
is in R. Stevie Moore's soul, so there's the delightfully
chipper "Come My Way" (which could be
a lost Housemartins track) and the Pet Sounds
inspired "Here Comes Summer Again," both
sure to rev your engines.
SPICE - The Anarchist's Cookbook (devospice.com)
I'm not sure anyone uses the term Nerdcore anymore,
but Jersey-based comedy rapper Devo Spice (aka Tom
Rockwell) certainly fits the bill. Over samples,
beats, and homemade tracks, Devo Spice raps about
the Hulk and Spiderman, Halloween and Black Friday,
video games and "Stranger Things." There's
a song about Cheetos and another in which a Gilbert
Goffried impersonator yells about mayonnaise. In
other words, nerd stuff. There's also a healthy
serving of inspired nonsense and, on the version
I received, several rap battles with fellow Dr.
Demento alumni like Blythe Renay, The Great Luke
Ski, and Insane Ian. Bottom line, this is a comedy
album more than a rap album, rising to chuckle-inducing
at its best, and amusing even when the jokes don't
quite hit. RIYL Weird Al, MC Chris.
EMMICH - Tizzy (valemmich.com)
Singer/songwriter/actor/author Val Emmich wrote and
recorded his latest album after dealing with a year-long
battle with anxiety and depression. He says it's his
most personal album yet, which is quite a statement
for someone who's released nine albums and seven EP's,
including two titled "Auto-Bio," Parts I
and II. As a friend and fan of this guy for over 20
years, I find Tizzy more than lives to that
promise, striking some seriously dark chords. Emmich
has always been an emotional singer and songwriter;
that's why his fans have bonded to him. His songs
and the way he sings them engender feelings of trust
and honesty, and Tizzy doubles down on those
virtues, often reflecting a poisonous self-loathing
that surely lay at the root of his emotional turmoil.
But there are some beautiful love songs here too,
including one sung with his young daughter about how
much it hurts to leave her behind for tours. The ringer
here though is "24 Hour Blues Cycle," a
rare topical, political song from Val that invokes
the spirit of Phil Ochs. Val Emmich qualifies as that
rare performer who not only continues to impress me,
but surprise me as well.
CHILTON - Memphis To New Orleans: The Best Of The
1980's Recordings (Bar/None)
I was lucky enough not only to be around but also
be aware of Big Star back when those remarkable
albums first came out. Later came the Ork singles
and Like Flies On Sherbert, with songs
like "Bangkok" and "My Rival."
I was hooked. So I remember when, after a self-imposed
hiatus, Alex Chilton returned to touring and showed
up at Maxwell's for the first time. My friends and
I were PSYCHED. We'd finally get to hear "Ballad
Of El Goodo" and "In My Car" and
"Take Me Home And Make Me Like It " done
live. And then Alex Chilton came on stage and sang...
"Volare." It would have been one thing
if Chilton were clearly doing it ironically, or
campily, or jokingly. But nope, he was just standing
there, perfectly happy with himself, singing "Volare."
I don't think I've ever been more crushed.
"Volare," happily, isn't on this collection,
largely culled from the 80's "No Sex"
EP and High Priest album. In fact, these
songs are all fairly enjoyable, as long as you know
in advance that you're getting Alex Chilton fucking
around with novelty songs and pop standards, and
not making any effort to live up to the pop genius
he exhibited in the past.
In hindsight, I feel for the man; here he was in
his mid-thirties, for all intents and purposes a
has-been. The 90's CD reissue boom would eventually
make Big Star accessible again; but in the Eighties,
those albums and his early solo recordings were
more myth than anything else. Alex must have figured,
well, I gave making art a shot, nobody wanted it,
now I'm going to do exactly what I feel like doing
and nothing more.
And so we got catchy and quirky tracks like "Dalai
Lama" and "Lost My Job," a genuinely
fun cover of "Little GTO" and the tongue-in-cheek
AIDS-era anthem "No Sex." The Motown/Stax
arrangements on tracks like "Thank You John"
and "Make A Little Love" recall the teenaged
Alex's work with The Box Tops.
Thankfully, I can listen to these songs now and
enjoy them, without the resentment I felt when Alex
stood there and defiantly told us that "Volare"
was as far as he was going to go to entertain us.
The songs on From Memphis To New Orleans sound
like Alex had a lot of funny singing them, and it's
fun to hear them now. And think about how much we
miss. And what might have been.
CHILTON - 987 Robin Hood Lane (Bar/None)
Alex Chilton's father played jazz trumpet and piano,
and Chilton grew up (as did I) listening to the songs
of The Great American Songbook in his family's home
at 987 Robin Hood Lane, Memphis. In 1990, Chilton
recorded this little-heard paean to these pop classics,
which Bar/None finally managed to procure. (This collection
includes four previously unreleased and three incredibly
rare tracks.) While I was always an enthusiastic Chilton
fan, tracking down rare singles and albums from the
Seventies through the Nineties, I had never heard
this material, and not surprisingly, it's great. You
can tell Chilton had enormous affection for these
songs, and he's not just doing Sinatra here (like,
say, Rod Stewart's soulless Great American Songbook
albums;) he's bringing his own heartfelt interpretations
to the material. Alex Chilton the songwriter so beguiled
and impressed us in the man's prime that his vocals
were all but overlooked, but man, the guy could croon.
On familiar tracks like "My Baby Just Cares For
Me" or "Time After Time" or "There
Will Never Be Another You," his versions stand
up to any I've heard, and that includes Frank's. The
instrumentation and arrangements sparkle too, with
orchestral flute, swinging sax, and thumping bass
augmenting Chilton's jazzy guitar. Chilton even
whips up a few surprises, like a loungey take on the
Ray Charles hit "Don't Let The Sun Catch You
Crying." First rate... assuming you like this
WIN - downey (Dangerbird Records)
Danny Nogueiras travels in good company. An ex-member
of FIDLAR, Nogueiras recorded downey with
current or former members of Kind Of Like Spitting
and Joyce Manor, has produced records for Together
Pangea and Mean Jeans, and toured in a another project
with members of SWMRS. Whatever genre you want to
lump those groups in, add No Win to the list. Distorted
guitars, big riffs, thrashy drums, and an overall
sense of both post-adolescent dissatisfaction and
millennial optimism. I hate to compare bands to the
Replacements or Jawbreaker, but No Win has elements
of what made those bands great; if the songwriting
here doesn't quite soar to those heights, it's certainly
on the right track. (And "Being Teen" and
"From The Back Of A Rolling Rock" come damn
close.) There are some luscious gang harmonies that
ameliorate the band's harsher punk rock elements,
making this a compelling listen and an impressive
OUTFIELDERS - "Out Of This World" EP (Hidden
Baseball and punk rock both make me happy; put them
together and I'm very happy. So here's a spunky trio
from Boise, of all places, who play choppy gang-vocal
catchy-chorus whoa-oh-oh pop punk songs, themed about
the national pasttime. I have to say though, as just
a regular Ramonescore band, they're pretty good; "Do
It With You" and "Where Did He Go (Tito)"
(about a friend) will both satisfy fans of, say, the
Copyrights or Teenage Bottlerocket. The other two
songs pay tribute to the great Ichiro ("The Wizard
of Japan") and bubblegum ("Big League Chew,")
and that's fine with me. There are two albums of this
stuff on their
Bandcamp page also worth checking out.
CASPI - The Best Is Yet To Come (ezracaspi.bandcamp.com)
At only 17, Ezra Caspi certainly has a point when
he sings "the best is yet to come." The
son of veteran Jersey shore rocker Jon Caspi, Ezra
has clearly picked up a few things from his dad,
along with influences that range from Brian Wilson
to Gram Parsons. And if Jeff Tweedy had written
a song about his four years in high school for Uncle
Tupelo, it might have sounded a lot like this album's
title track, pleasantly jangly and introspective
and just a bit Dylanesque. Ezra has a pleasant yet
powerful voice, a natural gift for lyrics, and the
production here - with horns and strings and keyboards
and layers of vocal harmonies - remains consistently
impressive. "Follow You" reminds me a
little of Hootie's "Only Wanna Be With You,"
which - whatever you think of that band - was catchy
as anything on the radio in the Nineties. I love
how Ezra's songs reference growing up on the Jersey
shore, the love songs don't come across as precocious
or forced, and "Say Whatever" rules as
my favorite new pop song of 2019 so far. I understand
Ezra released a debut EP as a 15 year old which
I haven't heard, but The Best Is Yet To Come
more than suggests he's going to be a force
on the local music scene for a long time to come.
34 - What Dying Feels Like (experiment34music.bandcamp.com)
In a recent interview, Experiment 34 joked that the
band's name stems from the fact that "the first
33 experiments failed." What Dying Feels
Like, the group's second album (after replacing
its rhythm section) suggests that the experimentation
continues, since the album segues from rap to reggae
to classic rock and back again. Like Ezra Caspi and
Jack Skuller, Experiment 34 falls into the growing
category of second generation Jersey rockers; founding
guitarist/vocalist Matthew Makin's father is none
other than longtime Jersey rock scribe Bob Makin.
Matthew started the group with guitarist Kevin Nenichka
in New Brunswick (presumably at Rutgers;) they've
since been joined by drummer Keith Leming and bassist
Bryan Viegas and now call Asbury Park home. That makes
sense, since as a longtime attendee of the Asbury
Music Awards, I know firsthand that the Jersey shore
has always boasted a strong (if unheralded) metal
scene, and Experiment 34 fits comfortably into that
niche with forays into hard rock, rap, screamo, reggae,
and Zeppelin-esque acoustic folk-rock (sometimes mixing
and matching three or four styles into one track.)
The straight-up metal title track even reminds me
of my old friends, Reading, PA hard-rockers Anthrophobia.
Fans of RHCP, Tool, Rage Against The Machine, and
System Of A Down should all find something to like
STATIC - From Scratch (Mint 400; cyclonestatic.bandcamp.com)
Call it "Dad Rock" if you will, but Cyclone
Static - guitarist James Salerno, bassist Danny
Patieno (of Aminal,) and drummer Jon LeVine - fly
the flannel of Nineties alternative rock proudly
and with an unbridled sense of fun on their debut
album. From Scratch's ten tracks bring
the kind of ageless energy that you might expect
from the Descendents, from the exhuberant title
track to the Teen Spirit smell that's been smeared
all over "Company Man." I'd like to think
that if Joe Strummer were still with us, he'd be
writing songs as enthused and forceful as "Runaway"or
"Walk This Line." Three longer tracks
- "Sacred Island," "Ordinary Days,"
and "Too Many Roads" fuse White Stripes
minimalism with jammy drones with psychedelic effect,
and the album closes with In Utero inspired
"Unstoppable," which seems both a promise
and a threat. In other words, don't write these
mooks off. They are coming for your children's ears
HACHA DE ZOLA - Syn Illusion (jhachadezola.bandcamp.com)
J Hacha De Zola usually breaths fire on his records,
a garage-rockin' Latin bluesman in the style of Screamin'
Jay Hawkins. On "Syn Illusion'" ("without
illusion,") Hacha de Zola reinvents himself,
trading in his trademark accoutrements (electric guitar,
blues harp, and sax) for a bank of synthesizers. Sung
entirely in Spanish, the four tracks here suggest
what might have happened if Julio Iglesias had teamed
up with Joy Division, or if Bryan Ferry had been raised
in Barcelona. My pidgin Spanish can't decipher the
lyrics but Hacha De Zola's emotions couldn't be clearer.
These are aching songs of love, loss, and regret,
with hauntingly ethereal backing vocals and lush layers
of melody. Not what I'd listen to jogging, but a lovely
accompaniment to a romantic dinner for two, perhaps?
RACECAR - The Real Housewives Of Pyongyang (rockstarracecar.bandcamp.com)
Roll over, Ted Leo, and tell Johnny Dirt the news:
Bloomfield, NJ is rockin' again thanks to Rockstar
Racecar, whose sophomore album delivers a thoroughly
entertaining romp complete with memorable youth
anthems ("A Hundred Miles An Hour," "Open
The Door,") some choice punk-rock bangers ("Jean,"
"Freeze Your Brain,") catchy power-pop
rockers ("Real Housewives Of Pyongyang,")
a heartfelt power ballad ("Drink 'Til The End,")
and even a thoughtful political protest song ("Dear
Mr. President.") I love this band's sense of
humor and the way they don't let their influences
(from Ozzy to the Ramones) define them. There's
a little Cheap Trick here, some Green Day there,
but it always comes out sounding like Rockstar Racecar.
Kudos to producer Gerry Griffin at his Temple of
Tuneage studio for capturing the band's live energy
and never dampening the group's exuberant sense
of fun. And I should probably mention that singer/lead
guitarist/principal songwriter Troy Donohue, bassist
Violet, and guitarist Stanton are all of 15, while
their drummer (known only as "the Wolverine")
is 11. As I once said of another band from Bloomfield:
Today puberty, tomorrow the world.
& THE RAIN - Beneath The Stars (Ernest Jenning
Record Co.; sunshineandtherain.bandcamp.com)
Ashley and Justin Morey, the John and Yoko (or
maybe the Richard and Linda Thompson?) of Jersey
City indie rock, return as Sunshine & The Rain
with their second album, this time with a much brighter,
ginchier, go-go sound thanks to exquisite production
by Hoboken's Tom Beaujour. It's a little unnerving
at first to hear a diehard guitar rocker like Justin
(who literally grew up in front of me playing in
the heavy-as-fuck Rye Coalition and psyche-rockers
Black Hollies) having so much fun with synthesizers
and drum machines. Ashley's yummy, reverb'd vocals
and keyboards dominate these tracks; they get a
little oomph from Justin's guitars but really float
on tinkly keyboards and dreamy melodies and an absolutely
airy sense of playfulness. There's a lot of bouncy
Eighties new wave (think Go Go's, Bangles) and the
drama of Phil Spector's girl-group pop here, and
I love the way the couple uses their marriage as
grist for their songwriting ("We'll Figure
It Out," "Thank You For Believing In Me,"
"Just Stay," "All We Need.")
Highly recommended: The frantic danceable synth-pop
of "Just The Way It Goes," the romantic,
piano-driven "Just Say," and the hand-clapping
opener "It's All In Your Mind," in which
Taylor Swift takes the dB's to the prom and they
dance to Bananarama all night.
PRIDEMORE - Metal Is My Only Friend (brookpridemore.bandcamp.com)
He's not actually that old, but it seems like Brook
Pridemore has been around forever. He was part of
the original anti-folk scene that rose out of the
Sidewalk Cafe, became part of the folk-punk movement
that revolved around Plan-It X Records, was embraced
by the mid-00's NYC pop-punk scene, and Brook was
one of the first local rockers I can remember who
boasted he was from Brooklyn and not Manhattan. He's
a guy you can mention in the same conversation as
Jeffrey Lewis, the Ergs!, or They Might Be Giants.
Which brings us to Metal Is My Only Friend, a
collection of both fast and slow songs in which Pridemore's
well-honed pop instincts constantly collide with the
nihilism and jaded wit of a native New Yorker. Trying
to sum up Metal Is My Only Friend recalls
the story of the five blind men trying to describe
an elephant; there are fast songs, slow songs, acoustic
tracks, and big rock arrangements (with Pridemore
playing all the instruments.) Metal (as in the title)
is more a metaphor here than a sound. Death is a recurring
theme, as is Jesus. (Again, more metaphor than fact.)
"Who's Gonna Build My Deathray" is Bowie's
"Five Years" by way of Philip K. Dick. "Name
Four Things" is Jawbreaker's "Boxcar"
gone anti-folk. "Pocket Scheme" recalls
the Moldy Peaches without the dirty words, or NRBQ
with a drum machine and an attitude. The album's bounciest
and most romantic song includes the refrain, "I'm
filled with love and I will drink your blood."
Brook Pridemore can be upbeat and catchy or moody
and morose, but always intelligent and perceptive
(except maybe when he goes off on one of his dada
tangents.) Don't listen to me, just listen to this
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.
MOWER - "Could Eat, Would Sleep" EP (Mint
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.
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
"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,
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.
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
Live In The Park series at Leonard Gordon Park
in Jersey City.
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
I want "FAG" tattooed in red on my
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
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.
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
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
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.
TURONIS (Gene D. Plumber) - All The Pretty Girls
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.
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.
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 ."
LEWIS - Works By Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010) (Don
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.
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 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."
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.
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.
ERIC - Construction Time And Demolition (Southern
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
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.
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.
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.")
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
- 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.
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
TheOld 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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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.
ROCKET - Grown Ass Adults (Rhodehouse Records;
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.
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.
DEVINE - We Are Who We've Always Been (Procrastinate!
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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
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.
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
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.
ANGEL WENDELL – “Smut And Politics”
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.
MOMS – “Songs From The Road” EP
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.
FULTON – “Battered Receptions”
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.
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
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.
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
Advance tickets are $10 and available
here. Proceeds will benefit The Project Matters,
a local NJ charity that mentors and supports young
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.
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 -
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
BITTER CHILLS - Feel Good Songs For Bad People (Mint
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.
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."
- 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.
FUZZTONE (RAISIN’ A RUCKUS) by Rudi Protrudi
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.
FUZZTONE (LIFE AT PSYCHEDELIC VELOCITY) by Rudi
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.
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.
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.
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."
- 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.
- The Well-Tempered Overlord (overlordusa.com)
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.
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.
- "The Same Noise" EP (Sniffling Indie
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
- 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
– 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.
– 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.
- A Season Atones (diplopia.bandcamp.com)
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.
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
ORBITRON - Girls' Boyfriends (royorbitron.org)
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.
PASSAGES - Fantastic Quest (Mint 400)
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.
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
BLOOM - Searching For Sunlight (goldenbloommusic.com)
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
CLUB - The Dongo Dorango (ATO)
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.
HACHA DE ZOLA – Escape From Fat Kat City (jhachadezola.bandcamp.com)
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.
CUM – Something To Eat (Say No Go)
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.
KEE – Wonder Wild (Human Sound)
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.
ON THE DANCE FLOOR: The Story of Randy Now &
City Gardens (DVD) (www.citygardenfilm.com)
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
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.
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
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
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.
MOICY 2: The Hoodoo Bash (Red Newt Records)
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.
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.
INK - "Willie Nelson Prince" EP (icedink.bandcamp.com)
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.
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.
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.
- "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
MAX LEVINE ENSEMBLE -
Backlash, Baby (themaxlevineensemble.bandcamp.com/
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.
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.
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" 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
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.
NAMED PEARL - -Quietus Make - (mannamedpearl.bandcamp.com)
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.
UNLOVABLES / DIRT BIKE ANNIE - REUNION SHOW (Whoa
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.
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
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.)
- WHY’D I HAVE TO GET SO HIGH? (Don Giovanni)
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.
FIGMENT - CHIMAERICS (Bigfigment.bandcamp.com)
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.
STEVENSON - COCKSURE (Don Giovanni)
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.
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.
FRIENDMAN - The Loneliest Man I Ever Met (Avenue
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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,
BARBER - "Sick Sad World" EP (edonway.wix.com)
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)
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?
- "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
- "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.
- Bad Sports (Ernest Jenning)
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.
PLANES - "Evacuation Kit" EP (theplanesnyc.bancamp.com)
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.
ANTICS - "Emily Jones" EP (wearetheantics.com)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- "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
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.