Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 

PRAWN - Run (Top Shelf Records www.topshelfrecords.com)

Despite being in existence since 2008, Run is my introduction to Prawn and I am continuously delighted by what I hear. From the opening seconds of “Hunter”, Run is an audibly dynamic display of controlled intensity and heartfelt emotion. One could certainly lump Prawn into an “emo” category after a listen to the lush intro, but that is selling this band terribly short, as the four New Jersey natives wield their instruments with a deft precision. The rugged “Snake Oil Salesman” injects greater guitar force offset by interludes of deliberate quiet, while the hazy embrace of “North Lynx” features an infectious energy. Prawn has an uncanny skill to adroitly balance the delicate with the aggressive without simply parroting a well-worn loud/quiet dynamic. “Empty hands” is the epitome of this methodology as a massive wall of sound exists but the song is structured so that each member is allowed to individually shine brightly. While “Short Stem” slows the tempo a bit, the song loses none of its intended power as the intimacy of the playing envelopes the listener. “Rooftops” is an emphatic celebration of guitar bite in the style of Dinosaur Jr.’s best moments. The juxtaposition of angular and tender guitar on “greyhounds” is another sterling example of the vast talent possessed by this band. Run took two years to write, and the painstaking attention to detail makes this a celebration of intelligent and soulful songwriting.

THE 65's - Wolves and Men (Pyrrhic Victory Recordings www.pyrrhicvictoryrecordings.com)

The 65s bring traditional, gritty rock n’ roll back into vogue through stripped down guitar crunch and the scotch and gravel voice of Joe Pugsley. “Wolves and Men” hammers away at the listener for four rumbling minutes, driven by the rumbling bass of Ryan Struck and deafening drumming of John Steele. When Pugsley pleads, “please don’t leave me behind”, he is boldly baring his soul for all to consume. “As My Body Numbs” is another straightforward slab of bare bones rock that embraces the grittiness of New Jersey. The 65s do not want to be fancy or a fad; they write tight, powerful songs that will remind those who may have forgotten what rock’s true mission is.



GRAND HEAD - Melting the Fuse EP (Gorbie International Records https://gorbieinternationalrecords. bandcamp.com)

Darker and more menacing, Grand Head return with a record dripping in feedback, reverb, and a general disdain for the world. The punishing “Melting the Fuse” is an immovable slab of guitar sludge and thunderous drumming. This is a band whose self-titled full length left me speechless, and the same sense of awe returns instantly with this release. The track shifts gears like a self-medicating bi-polar patient, abandoning the dirge tempo for a punk-infused blast of speed, only to return again to the curb-stomp groove that truly defines the song. Borrowing from My War-era Black Flag, the B-side “B.I.R.D.S.” has a slightly more bluesy-inspired swing, meshing classic metal styles with a jazz-like freedom. Those fortunate enough to download the EP are also treated to the skull-crushing “The Crossing”, available on the band’s website and Bandcamp pages. Barry Brusseau and Tim Ward make a devastating pair; they embrace rock’s finest excesses in terms of sonic volatility and dynamic range, while also utilizing a solid grasp of harmony to construct a powerful and instantly recognizable sound. Gran Head is an assault upon mediocrity and complacency, reveling in bombast and indulging in fury. I also strongly suggest the fourteen-minute “Genocide”. A mind-altering din of noise, this home recording uses silence as a weapon and avant-garde experimentalism to expose yet another aspect of this band’s talent.

THE HANGED MAN’S CURSE - 3 Song EP (Terranodon Media www.facebook.com/Terranodonmedia)

The Hanged Man’s Curse is a perfect embodiment of the struggles so many bands currently face. Forming in late 2011, THMC have only been able to properly release one record, and that was done on a shoestring budget and not truly to the band’s liking. Now trying to raise money through Kickstarter and other crowd-funding sites, these “Tex-Mex Western Death Doom Thrash” players have great talent, and I hope more people have an opportunity to check this out, for it is something quite rare in today’s world: It is original! “Say Goodbye Amigo” is a sprawling, haunting effort that is largely acoustic, but still resonates with a doom metal vibe. Almost excruciatingly methodical, the song intentionally emphasizes fading notes of fleeting guitar noise, as if providing the soundtrack for an Old West showdown. “Tales Without End” opens with another riff that could easily nestle within the credits of a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western, as one can envision Josey Wales meandering across the dusty terrain before heavier more menacing guitar inject themselves into the mix. While the “thrash” may not take center stage on this EP, the band’s other listed traits certainly do and I am greatly impressed with the vocals of Lobo Sangre. The live recording of “Scent of Prey” may be a bit rough around the edges, but it too is another menacing, tightly wound ball of force. I feel that THMC is holding back a bit on these efforts, or that may solely be a result of the quality of the recoding, but there is a great deal of talent and potential bubbling under the surface. I absolutely hope these guys can scrape together the funds for something more representative in the near future.

PROTAGONIST - Jean Jackets in June LP(Smartpunk Records www.smartpunk.com)

Produced by Pete Steinkopf, Florida’s Protagonist play bellicose, yet richly melodic hardcore on Jean Jackets in June. The five songs here reveal various tempos, styles, and skills of the band, but ultimately they coalesce together to honor an act that only continues to improve with each release. The opening “Oklahoma” is both a road journal and also a testament to perseverance as vocalist Peter Marullo declares, “We are the stray dogs/Exploited mutilated and beat/There’s no surrender/There’s no retreat”. The mixture of frustration and hope in these words reflects Protagonist’s ability to craft songs that are powerful and personal, making this EP a perfect next step in a career that somehow began in 1999. The mid-tempo “Hideaway” is a celebration of having someone in which a person can find peace before the blazing “Titan” and “Let’s Get It” demonstrates the band’s more aggressive nature. “Titan” is a furious two minutes of force as guitarists Brian Forst and John Marullo lay waste to the listeners as Peter declares “Our youth has been wasted/We are all titans/Drenched in blood/Side by Side/We won’t expire without a fight/We are bastards of lions/Our bloody battle of attrition”. Raw in its intensity and compelling in its honesty, the song is my favorite of the five. However, the melody of “Jean Jackets in June” and the poignant self-examination of “Let’s Get It” (“Please just give me your hand/We’re gonna find a way out of here/It’s not giving in, it’s not giving up/We’re gonna find a way out of here”) are equally compelling. In short, Protagonist is skilled in every area (rounded out expertly by bassist Marcus Kora and drummer Kyle Macdougall) and needs to be a more prominent name. The frustration vented on this EP is hopefully not a harbinger of a band ready to quit but instead, a band ready to benefit from years of sacrifice and commitment to a craft.

HERETIC’S FORK - Blasphemy (https://hereticsfork666.bandcamp.com)

The world of grindcore and power-electronics can be a lonely one, but being a one-man act does not limit the destructive force of Heretic’s Fork. Emerging from Edinburgh, Scotland, Travis Lee blends elements of down-tuned grind with a blackened atmosphere over the course of five fleeting tracks. The appropriately titled “You Call That a Microsong? This is a Microsong!” is a rousing one second in length, obviously throwing down the gauntlet and challenging the godfathers of grind Napalm Death and their infamous “You Suffer”. While the opening “Intro” is fourteen seconds of spoken word horror, leaving only three other songs clocking in at less than four minutes combined, Blasphemy is not a disposable collection of comedic anti-music. Rather, Lee has a full command of his chaos on “100 Corpses Litter My Floor”, a scathing assault of swirling noise with percussion that is, dare I say, highly rhythmic. Finally offering his voice to the world on the title track, Lee unleashes an unholy incursion of fury that will scare any demon out of your house. The mixture of powerviolence and ethereal terror is skillfully delivered, layering waves of force around a devastating wave of looping aggression. The concluding “Equations” picks up immediate where “Blasphemy” departs and features additional synth tricks to provide a unique personality for the song. It is this ability to generate both a recognizable sound without simply spewing forth a redundant monolith that makes Heretic’s Fork so engaging-yes, the record may be over far too quickly, but all this does is lure the listener to hear what else Travis Lee is concocting. To do that, check out his primary outlet, Bitter Lake, but do so after fully immersing one’s self in the churning Dante-esque nightmare of Blasphemy.

RAINER MARIA (Polyvinyl Records www.polyvinylrecords.com)

The return of Rainer Maria is akin to having coffee with a long-lost friend; regardless of the years of separation, the conversation is easy, the laughs frequent, and the connection is instantaneous. S/T (short for “self-titled” but this is not a self-titled record), Rainer Maria’s first release since 2006, sounds instantly familiar but is also enhanced by the diverse life paths and personal growth experienced by the band’s three members. Kaia Fischer engaged in an intensive study of Buddhism and William Kuehn spent time in Yemen and Syria, while Caithlin De Marrais enjoyed a more traditional route, releasing two beautiful solo albums. The myriad of events encountered by these three come together to form a record of superior intellect and delivery. The opening “Broke Open Love” is a pristine slice of shoe-gaze pop that instantly returns to the listener to the band’s mid-90s origins, but as S/T continues, the songs become increasingly more compelling and intricate. “Lower Worlds” soars with De Marrais’ voice prominently commanding a track brimming with low-end rumbling, while “Suicides and Lazy Eyes” has a buoyant energy fueled by a tightly wound ball of bass-driven riffs. “Forest Mattress” is both deliberate and delicate, perfectly meshing the varied skills of the trio, and the haunting beauty of “Possession” is a torrent of sensuality and passion with a throbbing bass surge and fuzzy guitar embedded deeply within its expansive walls. The atmospheric, esoteric splendor of “Ornaments of Empty” emerges as the record’s climax; subtle in its darkness and relentless in its controlled fury, the song is a masterstroke of flawless song crafting. The plodding “Hellebore” strikes me initially as a disappointment, but after repeated listens, the power of De Marrais’ voice is given ample room to roam, although the preceding “Communicator” may have made for a more fitting conclusion with its thunderous dynamic range. However, that peccadillo side, I am thrilled to have Rainer Maria back.

THE CAPITALIST KIDS – Brand Damage (Eccentric Pop Records www.eccentricpop.com)

The Capitalist Kids may hail from Austin Texas, but they unabashedly embrace the California sound made famous by the legions of bands that made up the Lookout Records stable. In a style inspired by Mr. T Experience, among many others, the Capitalist Kids rip through their songs as if they were paying for the studio time by the second, but verbose stories and massive riffs are compacted into limited spaces. “Decent Proposal” is a modern love song in which even the simplest detail is not omitted, creating a rich tale that becomes instantly relatable as a couple stumbles through an increasingly awkward marriage proposal. (“You can’t do this here, Jeff; you know I just peed on that tree.”) Capitalist Kids make no effort to hide the fact that these tracks are love songs of the purest form, even having the guts to sound a bit sappy on “No.472” (You’re in my hopes/my memories/my minor notes in major keys, and I wouldn’t do without you”), but the playing is so focused and furious that the songs explode with raw intensity. “Brute Force” and the Trump-smashing “Anti-Immigrant Song” are two bruising pieces of political commentary, but the band truly excels on the biting “Standing Still.” With lyrics referencing fifty thousand dollar Kickstarter campaigns for potato salad and luxurious “whoa-oh” backing vocals, the song is a soaring gem of pop-punk beauty. “Alternative Facts” is thirty seconds of dissident noise reflective of the topic for which the song is named, while the sun-kissed “Bye” clocks in at 2:40 and sounds like an epic in comparison to earlier efforts, but the song is rightfully given room to breathe and expresses profound sorrow juxtaposed with a bouncy exterior. This is a celebration of impressive modern punk with a nod to a classic approach.

THE SLOW DEATH - Punishers (Rad Girlfriend Records www.radgirlfreindrecords.com)

The Slow Death deliver grimy rock n’ roll played with swagger and angst. Punishers features a controlled fury and these Minnesota gents can handle their instruments. While some of this can be intimidating upon introduction, a more refined listen reveals a sense of fun that flows throughout the record. “Picking You Up” pumps up New Wave energy and injects domineering muscle, while “Overrated” and “For All We Know” smash and batter their way through three minutes of searing guitar and howled vocals. “Classic Dilemma” and “Rick James Dilemma” both deliver knock-out blows in under thirty seconds and contrast perfectly with ‘The Ballad of Amy From Esco”, a work with daring vulnerability and sweetness. The aggression of “Voice 47” and “Bored to Death” sweat blood and are stellar tracks. Talented and raw, yet still refined, The Slow Death decimates my expectations on Punishers.

EXIT EDEN - Rhapsodies in Black (Napalm Records www.napalmrecords.com)

This is a fascinating release, both in terms of the scope of talent and the power of the performances, but one cannot help but feel a bit cheated by Rhapsodies in Black. Exit Eden features four stunning female voices, as Amanda Somerville, Clementine Develay-Thieux, Marina La Torraca, and Anna Bruner sound majestic both together and solo, but each song here is a cover. There are no true failures on Rhapsodies in Black, and frankly, these dazzling singers only enhance the quality of each track they attempt, but I am eager to hear original material. It is a tricky proposition to take sugary pop and make it sound convincing as power metal, and that is what one hears on Rhapsodies, but there are moments when the songs become nearly caricatures of themselves. This is particularly true with Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi”, for despite her recent performance with Metallica, Gaga is largely tween pop and dance floor saccharine. With four lush vocalists each offering their own unique interpretation of the song, “Paparazzi” takes on the qualities of an overblown and self-indulgent Broadway show gone wrong. The musicians playing behind the women of Exit Eden are a tightly wound machine, but I dare people to not smirk sarcastically when the chorus of Katy Perry’s cringe-worthy “Firework” kicks in under a barrage of legitimate drumming and orchestral vocals. Perhaps this is more of a struggle than it should be due to my lack of fandom of the originals here-I had not previously heard Rhianna’s “Unfaithful” in its entirety until Exit Eden’s version, for example-but I continuously sat hoping to hear the limitless talent used in a more meaningful manner. This is akin to the Three Tenors performing Justin Bieber-yes, they will certainly the increase the magnitude of the original, but why is this being done? I cannot find a favorite voice here, and the remarkable talent is matched by equally stunning beauty, so Exit Eden has much with which to work and the future for this band is extraordinarily bright once they separate themselves from the label of a “cover band”. Oh, and did I mention there is a version of Bryan Adams’ “Heaven”? Yes, that Bryan Adams-now an answer to game “Dead or Canadian?” (Just Canadian for right now) As the sweeping refrain of Bonnie Tyler’s mammoth MTV-era hit “Total Eclipse” washes over me, I hear elements of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Evanescence, all bands that have thrived with strong female vocals and melodic, driving musicianship; therefore, there is a model upon Exit Eden can build, for if one wildly skilled vocalist is great, then four is exponentially better. One cannot find a complaint about any of the performances one hears on Rhapsodies in Black, and I am in awe of four of these women. However, the material that they have been given to perform detracts from their overall presence and make them feel like a concocted novelty act instead of what they truly are, which is a brash new interpretation of melodic metal. Imagine mid-80s Doro singing simultaneously with three clones and one begins to slightly scratch the tip of the talent possessed by Exit Eden. Cannot wait for the sophomore release, but hopefully this band can sing their own words next time.

CLUB NIGHT -Hell Ya (Tiny Engines Records http://tinyengines.limitedrun.com)

Growing organically out of the Oakland, California's DIY scene, Club Night is a swirling, blissfully chaotic mass of noisy keys, obtuse guitars, and exuberant vocals equally delivered with a laissez-faire approach that is both rebellious and celebratory. “Shear” is a jarring ball of kinetic excitement that introduces the band’s fearless commitment to individuality and self-expression. Much of the vocals have a childlike quality that incorporates a sense of desperation and raw, visceral humanity. “Hair” is a wormhole of synth din compliments of Rebecca Lukens, introduced by an innocuous phone message that quickly dissipates after barely ninety seconds. “Rally” should be the theme song of the summer party that is talked about until Christmas, as it’s reckless refusal of traditional song structure makes the track a glorious example of daring writing. Josh Bertram and Ian Tatum’s guitar work exist in a form of bi-polar symbiosis in which each man is playing what is in his own head, but the divergent ideas mesh perfectly together. The low end of Devin Trainer on bass and drummer Josiah Majetich propel each song rather than anchor them, so to the credit of Club Night, this exploratory invention is alluring. The closing eight minutes of “Work” flies by effortless and the song is an amalgamation of the finest qualities of the band’s four previous efforts on the EP. Frenzied but not without constraint, the song clamors and clatters with piercing guitar riffs and scorching polyrhythmic audacity. The members of Club Night are not here to please you or placate listeners with easily digestible playing-this consistent juxtaposition between complexity and minimalism only happens in the hands of the few trained enough to master it. This is a wonderful surprise to my summer.



 

M.O.D.- Busted, Broke, and American (Megaforce Records www.megaforcerecords.com)

The legendary Billy Milano returns to resurrect the mighty Method of Destruction, and it is not a moment too soon. Busted, Broke, and American is an immediate and furious assault of crossover thrash that retains the purity of the past without sounding dated. Milano first made an impression on me thirty years ago when I picked up the cassette "USA for MOD" and was utterly blown away by the fury and the unapologetic nature of the work. I worry that far too many people today will not get the sarcasm of Milano’s writing, but for them, he does have a new anthem in the form of “You’re Fucking Dick”. Busted, Broke, and American certainly broaches political concerns but not nearly as many as I expected in the age of Trump. Rather, Milano speaks poignantly about his own experiences on “Shattered Dreams and Broken Glass” as he reflects upon the early days of New York hardcore, certainly delivering his lyrics with Agnostic Front, Cro-Mags, and the legions of others in mind that paved the way for one of America’s most recognizable sounds. The record opens with a segment from Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell address to the nation in which he warned of the rising threat of an “industrial military complex” - words that were not instantly recorded as precautionary or even significant at the time of their delivery, but just as the owl of Minerva flies at dusk, history has proven the General to be tragically correct. This is bookended with a five-minute segment of a speech from John F. Kennedy railing against governmental secrecy and the potential abuse that emerges from a closed society. Ironically, in Donald J. Trump’s (and Ivanka’s) America, Kennedy’s message would be viewed as potentially treasonous as the legendary leader called upon newspapers to inform people, challenge the administration, inspire their readers about international events, and “even anger” public opinion. Billy Milano, the man who created firestorms with songs such as ”Aren’t You Hungry”, and “Speak English or Die” is today honoring the great liberal voice of JFK and his call for true freedom through the vital protection of the press. I do not know if M.O.D. will be labeled “fake news”, but I would love to see someone try and challenge Milano on that. These esoteric moments are surrounded by wild, thrashing blasts like “Fight”, “Hooligan”, and the “Rowdy” Roddy Piper-inspired instrumental “All Out of Bubblegum” (If you do not know the reference, go look it up, my young readers). The title track celebrates what matters to most to Milano, namely his family and his dog, as the song erupts into a classic dirge against frappachino sipping losers who should “get outside and enjoy your life”. The album’s high point arrives early for me in the form of “The Final Declaration,” a raging call to arms of primal hardcore aggression led by the lungs of a grandfather who can still destroy those more than three decades his junior. Milano’s Fox News leanings aside, I have long respected his fight and his commitment to maintaining a style and never cowering to fads. Busted, Broke, and American is another M.O.D. classic; I certainly hope that the rumors are not true about it being the band’s last release.

SUNSHINE AND THE RAIN - In the Darkness of My Night (https://sunshineandtherain.bandcamp.com)

The husband and wife team of Justin and Ashley Morey have an unparalleled ability to seamlessly mesh 80s new pop with gritty punk. In the Darkness of My Night opens with “Let’s Go”, a sprawling anthem of blasting drum machine generated beats and Ashley’s fuzzed-kissed bass throb that perfectly sets the stage for ten masterful efforts. It is the grime along the edges of each pristine track that makes Sunshine and the Rain so captivating, as Ashley’s soaring voice and energized bass playing are prominently featured in the mix, courtesy of the legendary Jon Spencer. “Little Rag Doll” and “I’m Not Your Girl” incorporate rock’s primal foundations into a swirling panoramic accented by girl-group harmonies in the same vain as the Ronettes or the Shangri-Las, while “Come On Baby” rattles with effervescent excitement. The kinetic “Merchandise” is a Ramones-style performance combined with Fear Factory’s drum machine and Justin’s brilliantly noisy guitar to ultimately construct the most abrasive and alluring of pop. “Going the Wrong Way” invokes Echo and the Bunnymen style moodiness as Justin’s backing vocals and rugged guitar playing scaffolds his wife’s beautifully melodic voice as Ashley delivers a sardonic farewell. There is a consistent balance between sweet pop sensibility and angular blasts of intensity, as one hears perfectly on “Can’t Stop Thinking about You”, a lush love story slashed by piercing guitar riffs and feedback. In the Darkness of My Night is a nearly flawless release from two Jersey natives with extensive and impressive histories who are making newly brilliant work.

TUNABUNNY PCP Presents Alice in Wonderland (HHBTM Records www.hhbtm.com)

This is truly among the most bizarre, fascinating, and delightfully perplexing records to which one can ever treat one’s self. Tunabunny is a wildly creative act that demonstrates a vast breadth of influences and talents across the scope of PCP Presents Alice in Wonderland Jr. The opening “Cartesian Theater” is barely more than minute of swirling noise as the words “There’s someone inside my head looking at someone inside my head” is off-putting, disconcerting, and instantly intriguing. Tunabunny invokes delightful pop on “Incinerate” and equally raucous riot grrl force on “Noise Problems”. The fact that Tunabunny rejects any level of predictability makes the collection-released on vinyl as a majestically packaged double album-a ride of beauty, chaos, and limitless experimentalism. “Seek Consequence” has lyrics that ominously reflect, sadly, what some may feel about contemporary American politics (“Careful what you do and say/For some it’s a police state”), while “Blackwater Homes” is anchored by a gorgeous chorus, and “It Could be Something” is peppered by bursts of searing synth noise. “Start It” and “Winter’s Mind” come across as a twenty-first century Bratmobile and “Boundless Informant” is perhaps the must hauntingly beauty songs of the sprawling twenty-six song release. Tunabunny subtly injects political critiques throughout the record, as “Nevermind the Cobblestones” revolves around a biting refrain of “anywhere is better than here”, and “The World the World Works” includes this shrewd diatribe: “You cling to a victim status/Justify your apparatus/lament your existence in pop culture/Fail to see the real torture”. This is intelligent, sophisticated musicianship from a band fearlessly displaying a deliciously reckless appreciation for anything traditional, as one hears on “Shiftchanger”, a lengthier track that repeats solely the title phrase. Even when the band attempts some form of a traditional relationship anthem, Tunabunny travels down a unique path, for “Me and Nancy” tells a tale in which the protagonist says “When I come home/I come home to you/ When I go out, I go out its’ with Nancy”. “Julia” and “NRC” are barely more than a minute combined, but the fleeting noise is memorable. “Pretending to Bend” integrates more aggressive guitar playing accompanied by a powerful bass line, while “Images of Future” revels in a 1960s style psychedelic vibe. The eight and a half minute closer “I Thought I Caught it With You” follows an almost shockingly brief blast of clatter on “Pitocin Enduction Hour” and the longer din of “Revolution None”. There is no other band quite like that of Tunabunny, for what they do is not a mass coagulation of directionless chaos, but rather, a cunningly construction array of limitless imagination. This is a challenge, but it is worth each second.

 

BEST EX - Ice Cream Anti-Social (Alcopop!; https://bestexnj.bandcamp.com)

I love the name of this EP but the music of Best EX, the work of Mariel Loveland, formerly the curator of Candy Hearts, is far too bubbly and poppy for my liking. Granted, this is the type of collection that screams summer romance, particularly when Loveland says “Baby I’m bad news/But I am good for you” on “Girlfriend”. While her delivery is alluring, Best Ex ultimately sounds like what would happen if someone gave Taylor Swift an imagination and Selena Gomez’s producer. The buoyant “Lonely Life” is another anthem for the lovelorn teen, but the morose tempo of “February 4th” is a struggle to complete. Perhaps I am getting, or am official old, but the refrain of “Someday we’re gonna get it/Someday we’re gonna get it right” (from “Someday”) does not move me; in fact it just angered me. “See You Again” has a sturdier bass line that drives the song in a Go-Gos direction, making it the strongest of the six on display, but “Jellyfish” closes the release with a song that is sadly neither inspirational nor memorable. Save this on for the kids having their first kiss or learning what beer tastes like-I already know how these stories end, and trust me, it is usually crushing.

NOT A PART OF IT - The Nine Lives of the Night Life (Act Out Records https://notapartofit.bandcamp.com)

Portland’s Not a Part of It blatantly flaunt classic late 70s punk style throughout The Nine Lives of the Night Life, and the guys channel Stiff Little Fingers or Sham 69 on “Hostile Populace” and “Coast to Coast”. Both songs bounce with a loose, free-flowing groove. The latter celebrates the lost power of radio as Jason Burton snarls “Hey! Hey! Do you wanna be in radio/do you wanna hear a story?/Do you wanna talk to everyone?” , resurrecting ghostly images of Joey Ramone lamenting rock n’ roll radio all those decades ago. “We Have the Right (Not) to Work” honors the power of individuality and the choice to avoid the conventional, as Burton invokes the privilege “not to work, pursue, anything within in reason that we wanna do”. The song is an ode to self-fulfillment on one’s own terms, and this theme is heard on the aggressive “Fearless, Tearless, Peerless”. Not a Part of It
rejects mass conformity and materialism and do it all while also writing a great hook. However, within the raucous playing are warnings that need to be heeded, particularly the life lessons in the title track. “Nine Lives” is an abrasive track telling the stories of fictional characters like Cocaine Carl who “acts rich but can’t afford to eat” and Mary Eve who “majored in biology” but is just throwing her life away. Fittingly, “Stick ‘Em Up Rude Boys” injects a ska sensibility surrounded by a great bass line and a tale about a life of crime. “Bilateral” finishes the record with a blazing blast of guitar angst and a lesson for many living within our country: “Don’t ask me and don’t ask him-we’re all ignorant. Let’s take the time to learn about what’s going on outside America!” An excellent and timely collection of smart, invigorating punk that demands an immediate listen.

RAT FANCY - Suck a Lemon (HHBTM Records www.hhbtm.com)

Rat Fancy, in additional to being another wonderfully monikered act, play an infectious form of sweet, jangly, indie pop. “I Can’t Dance to the Smiths Anymore” is a heart-bursting tale of faded love. “Words lose their meaning, and they’ve lost their feeling” are lyrics of which Morrissey would certainly approve. Former member of the Sweater Girls Diana Barraza is at her best on “Five Fingers” when she asks “Remember when you told me all of your secrets?/I don’t know how you can carry on”, capturing the best of acts like Tiger Trap or The Softie as she dismisses a former love with a biting and painful tone. My one regret here is that Suck a Lemon is only six songs, but the title anthem brings me back to the cuddle-core sarcasm of cub when Diana coos “I’d rather suck a lemon than talk to you”. The song is also delivered in a more meandering pace as “Suck a Lemon II”, and it is not a throwaway filler, but an intoxicating revision of the original. With four releases already in 2017, Rat Fancy is prolific and poised to become your new indie darlings. Each track scores perfectly, such as the a soaring slice of fragile pop honesty and airy dreamscape of “Beyond Belief”. The one blast of potential optimism is “About You”, certainly the least crystalline of the songs here, as Gregory Johnson’s guitar is much more crunchy and tangible, along with the drumming of Gavin Glidewell. As Barraza bellows “What I love about you” five separate times, this may be the “couples song” of the bunch here. What I love about Rat Fancy is everything and with their penchant for creating new material, I imagine their next work should be out in a few weeks.

LO TOM s/t (Barsuk Records https://www.barsuk.com)

With 125 years of musical experience flowing through their immensely talented, collected veins, the members of Lo Tom understand how to through a great set of songs together. That is largely the story of this debut collection, as eight songs were pieced together from fragments of ideas over the course of free moments and a couple of weekends. This will depress people who have worked for years on their music and continue to struggle to produce interesting material, for this was truly a compilation of friends bouncing ideas off of each other for the sheer joy of working together. Led by David Bazan of Pedro the Lion, the troupe gallops through eight pieces of smartly crafted indie rock that sounds both complimentary of the past and celebratory of the present. TW Walsh and Jason Martin, who contribute to Pedro and Starflyer 59 respectively, handle the guitar responsibilities and shine throughout, highlighted by the jubilant tone of the closer “Lower Down”. While “Covered Wagon” opens with a rugged groove, “Overboard” has a smooth, classic indie tone, rattling and shaking with excitement. “Bubblegum” is anything but lighthearted pop fare, as Wilson and Martin churn out a riff that coalesce perfectly with the low end thump of Trey Many (another Starflyer59 member). “Bad Luck Charm” has a fuzzy, mysterious quality also heard in the rollicking “Find the Shrine”. My favorite track is the swaggering, mid-tempo “Pretty Cool”. Aptly titled and supremely played, the song’s sultry demeanor reveals another aspect of the vast, chameleon-like qualities of the gifts on display here. The quality of this should not come as a surprise to anyone who knows the histories of the members, but the finished product is a celebration of shared musical visions.

RATBOYS - GN (Topshelf Records www.topshelfrecords.com)

With a name like Ratboys, one may be quite surprised with the sound of GN (short for “good night”). This Chicago outfit revolves around the stunningly exquisite vocals of Julia Steiner who channels Tonya Donelly’s most emotive tones. The songs address rather complex emotions, starting with the opening “Molly” in which Steiner says, “I just want to love my family”. “Elvis is in the Freezer” displays both Steiner’s ability to draw listeners into intimate moments of her own life as well as Dave Sagan’s limitless guitar talents. The song includes a half-shrouded country twang sitting parallel to unhinged, slashing riffs, as well as controlled melody, and each style only accents Steiner’s supreme gift for storytelling. Steiner will rightfully garner the lion’s share of praise when one hears GN, but Sagan is an understated anchor on each track. His playing can be as fragile as Steiner’s most exposed lyrical deliveries or as furious as a burst of machine gun fire, quite often within the same song. The meandering “Crying for the Planets” is a deliberate, methodical piece of musical construction, holding the listener’s hand as the song continually ascends to a dazzling explosion of controlled passion. To add to the band’s intellectual acumen, “Crying” is a first-person tale told by Douglas Mawson who explored the Antarctic. Cerebral without even becoming supercilious, Ratboys play music that demands numerous listens to capture the various nuances inserted so casually into each track. The closing “Peter the Wild Boy” continues this academic strain of songwriting by detailing the life of an abandoned child in Germany who was eventually adopted by the King of England-not your typical topic. “Dangerous Visions” features Steiner at her best as she alternates between momentarily vulnerable then instantly defiant; her voice is scintillating as Sagan adroitly unleashes waves of noisy guitar violence behind her. On “Wandered”, Steiner revels that “rock n’ roll is my escape”, and while this is a sentiment expressed by many throughout the music’s history, there is a depth to her words that make a potential cliché sound like an act of liberation and self-discovery. The acoustic-led title track harkens back to the style of the duo’s earliest days, but well-placed slide guitar and other elusive tricks provide a quirky imaginative quality to a poignant piece. The dreamy, jangly pop of “The Record” is a straight forward love song, and a nearly perfect one at that. Ratboys again play with tempo through this song, allowing the loud/soft structure to its fullest potential without ever sounding redundant. This is a triumphant declaration by a limitlessly talented duo.


 

GLENN MORROW’S CRY FOR HELP (Rhyme and Reason Records http://rhyme-reason.com)

Bar None Records owner and legendary Jersey scene presence Glenn Morrow may have heard the final wave of feedback fade from Maxwell’s in 2013, but that did not mark the demise of Morrow’s musical ambitions. Glenn Morrow’s Cry For Help plays sophisticated, refined, and superbly crafted rock with a bluesy aesthetic and a warmth that embraces the listener. “Comfort Zone” highlights Morrow’s charming vocal style, while he and fellow guitarist Ric Sherman’s playing wafts serenely about a solid backbeat. “Pony Express” revolves around a wave of rich backing vocals and an unavoidably sing-along chorus in addition to an increased guitar presence through Sherman’s solos. Mike Rosenberg and Ron Metz hold each song together on bass and drums respectively, and on efforts such as “Let the Kid Come Out” and “When Night Falls”, their talents are particularly noticeable. Morrow and his mates have an obvious affinity for the fundamentals of rock n’ roll and “Days to Come” and “Electricity” are two gems that reveal Morrow’s skills as a raconteur and his band’s penchant for driving riffs and propelling grooves. Even when the band slows the tempo down to an amble on “44”, Morrow’s haunting lyrics and understated delivery illuminates a tragic story with raw emotion (“In the end, my friends, I’ve got my 44”). Closing with “Return of the Wild One”, the band again intensifies their punch with a thick bass line and peppers the song with cheeky references (Morrow saying “excuse me while I kiss this guy” at one point). Glenn Morrow’s name is synonymous with the best of what the East Coast can offer, and it is inspiring to hear the musical fire burning with such continued intensity. In an interview with Jim Testa, Morrow lamented the current condition of rock n’ roll, and admitted that it “in many ways, it does feel like rock is dead;” but listen to this collection of songs and it is obvious that there are plenty of reasons to hope for its future. Veterans like Glenn Morrow should act as a call for rock’s next batch of leaders, reminding kids that electronics have their place, but there is no substitution for musicians with real instruments in their hands sweating out heartfelt, inspired songs.

THE COATHANGERS - Parasite (Suicide Squeeze Records

Julie Kugel of The Coathangers said that all she wanted to do was scream and curse during the recording of the band’s brilliant new five-song EP Parasite, and the world is better for this decision. While the title track is the only one of the bunch that truly utilizes screaming, The Coathangers put forth a collection of powerful and musically diverse songs just in time for your summer. The grimy, gritty riffs that permeate “Parasite” have a blistering quality matched only by the acidic nature of Kugel’s heartfelt frustration exorcised on the track. “Wipe Out” is a long way away from the Surfaries as bassist Meredith Franco takes lead and details stories about an acquaintance’s penchant for blacking out, drying out, and refusing to apologize for stupidity. The first single from the EP is the swinging power pop of “Captain’s Dead”, featuring a highly contagious chorus surrounded by a throbbing bass line and sultry vocals. Revisiting last year's Nosebleed Weekend, the band re-records “Down Down” and the result is an intoxicating blend of noisy guitar blasts, supremely controlled low-end force, and profoundly melodic vocals. The concluding “Drifter” introduces the delicate vocals of drummer Stephanie Luke, and the song is highlighted by an understated twang hovering through the beautiful closing ballad. Parasite is akin to hearing five different bands over the course of one listening experience, as The Coathangers are equally devastating when playing raw, raging garage punk angst or textured finesse.

ARMAN MAQAMI - No Life (https://www.arman.nyc)

So here is what I know about Arman Maqami: He lives with his parents in his native Manhattan, attends NYU, and makes music alone in his bedroom. I have no idea how old Maqami is, if his parents are pleased or horrified with this living situation, and if anyone outside of friends actually hears his music. That being said, the three songs on "No Life "are each a distinct universe unto themselves and reveal the early stages of a potentially engaging musician. The title track is a moody piece anchored by electronica elements that support the song without overwhelming it, and a buzzing guitar riff accents the chorus. The track is well constructed and musically adroit as Maqami works himself into an increasingly more frenzied lather. The fleeting, speedy “Bully” is an angry blast of punk force that hums with fury for roughly one hundred seconds before vanishing just a quickly. “The Future of Drone Warfare: China 2056” is an unsettling dreamscape of sentimentality that is clearly covering darker energy. There are a number of highlights here, and I hope Maqami continues to make music because he has an inventive mind and is not beholden to any one style. Go check this out.

HOLLOW EVERDAZE - Cartoons (Deaf Ambitions Records www.deafambitions.com)

With a name that encapsulates their dreamy sound, Australia’s Hollow Everdaze produce a vast tableau of psychedelic pop that harkens back decades. The title track of Cartoons bounces with a Beatles-esque lightheartedness as Dylan Young’s keys and Daniel Baulch’s ethereal vocals envelop the song. “Poisoned by Nostalgia” could perhaps be a criticism of the band itself, but the song does invoke images of Oasis with solid guitar playing and gently emotive vocals, while “Catastrophe” and “Still Ticking” saunter along at a mid-tempo pace, the latter accented by warm acoustic guitar. Throughout Cartoons, I hear nothing but lovely music, but the tracks seem to lack impact. As lush as “Never Going Back” is, it inherits too mush from its early 70s influences, ultimately acting as a track that is richly melodic but lacking in grit and sadly, staying power. The record floats by rather innocuously, briefly interrupted by the jarring opening of “Flat Battery”. However, even that song quickly fades into overly sentimental pop, leaving me struggling to focus by the time “Running Away” wafts serenely towards my ears. The genteel, overly sentimental delivery one hears on Cartoons hovers softly, and while majestic in intent, I find myself waiting for a significant impact that never arrives. “Same Old Story” is frankly, painfully slow, and “Warcry” sounds like Captain and Tennille rather than a fresh interpretation on psychedelic pop efficacy. For those seeking for carefree AM merriment, Hollow Evergaze’s time warp sound may intrigue and delight; I’ll skip the bubblegum escapism, however.


EROTIC NOVELS - Debut (http://weekendquality.com)

Erotic Novels is anchored by the luxurious and heartfelt vocals of Shannon Perez, a longtime New Jersey powerhouse known through her work in I Hope You Die and Side Bitch, among others. The cover of Debut features the bloodstained face of Fabio, and this glorious juxtaposition between pain and perceived beauty resonates across all five efforts. The gritty, driving style of “Hocus Pocus” celebrates Perez’s throbbing bass lines and snarling delivery, and when she declares, “you walked me into the dark/you taught me how to be cold”, there is a chillingly sexy appeal. Debut overflows a with a vast range of emotions, as Chris Tull’s guitar force churns and rages throughout “I’m Not Willing” (“I’m not willing to hurt myself anymore/After grandma asked me about the scars that are on my arm”). “Maiming Faces”, despite its ominous title, has a softer, more rounded edge to its delivery from Perez as she laments about her own insecurities (“when I fall, I fall hard”), but drummer Bobby C smashes with thunderous fury. “Out West on My Own” continues the themes of introspection and self-discovery as Tull and Perez hold a dialogue at times within the song, as the vocalist proclaims, “It was a weird year/Thought I was in love but I’m not”. Recorded by Chris Pierce, who skills have helped to illuminate the Night Birds’ finest qualities, Debut is a magnificent introduction to a band with limitless potential. The five blasts pass by quickly, but all that does is inspire repeated listens.

FAT DUKES OF FUCK - A Compendium of Desperation, Morality, and Dick Jokes (https://clownpenisdotfart.org)

Oh my god! Where has this band been all of my life, and where the hell have I been to miss this outfit until now?! In a world of political upheaval, domestic insecurity, and global strife, there is an increasingly frightening dearth of music to which one can truly escape-welcome, if you dare, the Fat Dukes of Fuck. Yes, the name is potentially unnerving, but the music is scintillating, and one examines the line-up, the chaos, brutality, and finite musicianship makes sense. With Dale Crover of the Melvins producing and contributing and David Yow of the equally legendary Jesus Lizard offering his distinctive voice, band leader Brent Lynch leads a dazzling gathering of talent across a sprawling collection of tracks. The opening title track is a brief instrumental which sounds like the theme from the most nightmarish and exhilarating circus on the planet-a schizophrenic, swirling coagulation of noise, loops, buried samples, and primal terror, I am instantly a lifelong devotee of this band after less then two minutes. “Whiskey and Bath Water” has a dark, pseudo-sensuality hat oozes out from each pore and leaves a permanent stain, as the song ebbs and flows through a series of climatic explosive choruses and subdued verses. The furious “Full Metal Jackoff” is a classic metal groove with equally aggressive vocals and hilariously off-color lyrics. “Side by Side” has a shockingly accessible blues riff, while “Where Assholes Come to Die” is a speedy piece of proto-thrash. “Tasteful Roy” is more expansive and experiments recklessly with tone and temperament, as it flirts with Zappa-like playfulness and a dynamic low-end swagger sans vocals. At nearly seven minutes, the fuzzed-out, meandering “No Single Men” has the listener waiting for a violent upheaval that finally occurs with roughly two minutes left before expiring breathlessly. The killer grind of “Kodiak Arrest” may level your neighborhood in only thirty seconds. While the majestically titled “The Monotonous Adventures of a Hopeaholic” (“your ironic tank-top just makes all the ladies drool”) is currently my favorite track of the thirteen, “Promise Keepers” is remarkably brilliant with its gospel-like refrain about “being ready Lord”. The concluding “I’ll Tell You When it Hurts” has a reference to Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” and is a plodding, pummeling, dirge of sludgy force with jazzy scatting concluding this extraordinary achievement.

ANN BERETTA - “Kill the Lights” b/w “Forever Family” (Say 10 Records www.say-10.com)

Richmond, Virginia’s Anne Beretta return after a fourteen year hiatus with a new single that will have fans waiting anxiously for the full-length. A fourteen-year break would render most bands obsolete and forgotten, but one listen to “Kill the Lights” instantly recaptures the band’s richly textured guitar work and mastery of pop-tinged punk. With a massive hook and an unapologetic appreciation of harmonies, “Kill the Lights” is the result of players with years of experience and tremendous confidence in their talents. The chorus latches itself to the listener, channeling a punk style that exists in that perfect realm between having fun and remaining impactful. “Forever Family” is the band’s ode to others like themselves; a loving yet stark celebration of life on the road, the track celebrates the authenticity and intimacy of life as a touring band. The track is nearly two decades old, but retains its original youthful buoyancy. This is a perfect teaser for what should be a big year for Ann Beretta.

NERVOUS TRIGGERS - Do the Drool (https://nervoustriggers.bandcamp.com)

This Jersey shore outfit play light-hearted punk about serious topics, specifically the state of the world under America’s current leader. Vocalist Jay Insult adopts Jello Biafra style snarls as he condemns those who allow themselves to bask in their own ignorance while fascist rule envelopes the nation in plain sight. “Do the Drool” may have simplistic lyrics (“So let your eyes glaze over/let your brain shut down/and start getting used to being kicked around”), but the message is significant. The warp speed tempo of “Zero State Solution” takes apart the disaster that is Middle Eastern relationships, drawing a comparison with the conflict that besieged Northern Ireland for decades. The song adroitly illustrates the hypocrisy of the use of violence inspired by organized religion without targeting any one specific group. The song also turns a mirror on the United States to demonstrate the moral and political failings of this nation (“We have no right to turn our backs on the refugees from the wars that we create”). Subtle keys add a 60s surf vibe to the somber messages of “The Final War” as Insult declares, “a natural death these days ain’t the worst because you have to survive this world first”. The closing “Brick and Mortar” introduces a country jangle as the song as the band finds lines of symmetry between Fallujah and Kabul with New York and Ferguson. These four guys may offer a first impression of a cheery little punk act just having a few laughs at the expense of the political quagmire in which the nation finds itself, but upon a more studious listen, there are a multitude of astute points raised and discussed. Do the Drool with briefly make people smile, but more importantly, it will make people think.

TRU S/T (Destroy All Monsters Records https://ohhhhtru.bandcamp.com)

Any band that bills their work as “sad music for sad people’ has fan in me, but there is much more to this Montclair, New Jersey four-piece than sorrow. The opening “Take a Peek” sounds like an artifact found in a 1993 time capsule for all the best of reasons; a swirling and surprisingly heavy track, the song borrows the finest elements of 90s grime, highlighted by the dual guitar presence of Pat Defranisci and Keith Williams. The four-song EP does borrow much from the decade of the World Wide Web and Lewinsky scandal, but nothing about Tru sounds recycled. “Trouble” matches the opener in terms of the breadth of talent, but the intensity to the song resides more subtlety within the waves of guitar and deeply harmonic vocals. Cindy Ward and Steve Cerri handle the bands low-end, and the opening pair of tracks are a promising demonstration of their abilities. I am most intrigued by “Kristi”, a song that begins rather innocuously but steadily builds upon a mountain of pristine guitar work and effusive lyrics that are both subversive and heartfelt. (“You’re sweet and tender under me/You’re the only one for me”). Closing with “Hand in Hand”, Tru again demonstrates a penchant for luminous hooks and ethereal experimentation. There is a complexity to the music of Tru but they do not overwhelm the listener with technical excess, for the four tracks cascade effortlessly at first, but one can hear the burgeoning greatness of this band.

WALK THE PLANK - Cemetery Vacation (Say-10 Records www.say-10.com)

DC hardcore makes a thunderous return on Cemetery Vacation from Walk the Plank, a band whose rage and ferocity matches the frustration felt by many in the country about the state of the nation’s capital. Everything about this record pummels the listener, dares the victim to get up, only to destroy the poor soul yet again. The vocals of Ian Crocker are spat out with a vitriolic mixture of nihilistic disgust and raw vehemence. This is heavy, abrasive punk that could easily come from the streets of New York’s Lower East Side as much as from the scene around K Street. “I Don’t Believe” and “Sea of Scenes” are awash in a thunderous grove, while the meaty breakdown on “Pity Party” breathes new life into that occasionally overdone hardcore element. Walk the Plank straddles a sound that is both frighteningly violent and yet melodic, a combination of styles few can truly master. “Dead Broke” is a bit longer in length (only one track, “Emptying My Head” gets past the three minute mark) and features more expansive playing from Alex Reimer and Aaron Keller. “Dying on the Vine” is classic, circle-pit, broken teeth inducing hardcore. The song is a brusque dirge of blunt force with an equally crippling riff. The blinding sixty seconds of “Scapegoat” and “Unaware” leaves a person breathless. Chris Faust and Tim Bean round out this impressive line-up on drums and bass, respectively, and their airtight camaraderie anchors the band’s sound. Sounding like both a tribute to the past and the voice of future, Walk the Plank will remind the cynical why hardcore is so important.


THE EX-OPTIMISTS/ECONOMY ISLAND – Split EP (Twistworthy Records www.twistworthy.com)

The opening “Take Heart” is a gritty, bass-driven track with a distinctly moody and provocative sound from College Station, Texans The Ex-Optimists. With vocals buried somewhat in a mix of droning feedback and waves of distortion, the song acts a blaring introduction to a band about which I want to learn much more. While their original has me hooked, two Guided By Voices covers seal the deal for me. “Drinker’s Peace “ is a bold choice to tackle and the band supremely captures the original’s jangly energy without simply re-recording it. The acoustic intro of “14 Cheerleader Confront” gives way to a steady stomp and demonstrates the vast talent found within The Ex-Optimists. Economy Island delivers the emotionally charged, atmospheric “The Jerk” complete with a massive, fuzzy hook and impassioned vocals. This Austin-based outfit offers its own Guided By Vices cover, an imposing take of “Pantherz” dominated by furious guitar playing. The band, like Ex-Optimists, does far more than recreate Guided’s work; rather, Economy Island rubs some dirt into the original to produce a cover that will delight Guided fans while also increasing the already rapidly growing reputation of EI. This split is five outstanding tracks from two of the best Twistworthy Records has to offer.

 

BOSS EYE - Plays Cottage Vortex (Twistworthy Records www.twistworthy.com)

Opening with a wild cacophony of sound, “More Than a Kiss”, Boss Eye unleashes a furious ride of loud, noisy, explosive force. This continues on the immediately intriguing “Albino Blood” as angular guitar and melodically aggressive energy dominates the opening salvos. Featuring four members who have been in over thirty bands combined throughout the years, Boss Eye is a gathering of well-tested, independently minded musicians who take aspects of punk and inject an artistic streak that challenges traditional song conventions. “La Quinta” features a meandering, punishing groove, while “You’ve Gone Too Far” is a more visceral attack. “Saucer Boy” takes Devo’s love of off kilter song structure and smashes it head-on with noise-rock bombast to produce my favorite track of the record. “Chalky Aderall” has a guitar tone as brilliantly twisted as the song title, while “They’re Coming (For You)” is a soaring, challenging gem. This is not an easy listen, but Boss Eye is simply awesome.

ECONOMY ISLAND s/t (Twistworthy Records www.twistworthy.com)

Economy Island play deeply melodic, 90s-inspired guitar rock. The heavy, plodding “The Mountain” is a thunderous barrage of low-end density and an instantly infectious riff. “White Liar” has an expansive sound and another expansive guitar hook compliments of Richi Fatheree and John Christoffel. “Flower” and “Nothing Left to say” are prime examples of emotionally charged songwriting with a sharp ear for harmonious structure. The sprawling “Typically Weak” is over seven minutes of guitar-soaked brilliance as the band plays with a controlled burn distinctly unique to this song; Economy Island clearly a has a distinctive sound, but within that larger construct, they are not afraid to experiment with tone and tempo. This is an intelligent and well-crafted record.

FLESH LIGHTS - “No Longer” b/w “You Don’t Know” (Twistworthy Records www.twistworthy.com)

The Flesh Lights offer two pieces of punk-tinged garage rock with just enough pop hooks. “No Longer” is a raw, unapologetically rock n’ roll song that worships at the altar of 70s guitar force. “You Don’t Know” is driven by Max’s guitar riff and vocals working in perfect tandem, while Jeremy’s bass and Elissa’s drumming solidify the song’s dense yet melodic nature.

 

 

GHOST KNIFE - Garrote Guarantee (Twistworthy Records www.twistworthy.com)

Ghost Knife is a gifted, bluesy, loud, grove-driven band that embraces rock in its purest sense. “The Haunted House Adjacent to the Cursed Cemetery” is a rollicking anthem, dripping in grime and distortion. With a knowing wink to their own campy qualities, Ghost Knife blast away on the opening “RC Cola”, a song as worthy of praise as the underappreciated beverage for which it is named. The Austin, Texas influence is obvious on the subtle twang of “City Titties”. “I Know, I Know” is the most streamlined assault and my favorite of the bunch. The band takes 60s beach rock exuberance an injects a punk aesthetic to create a wild, four song trip.

HEATER s/t (Twistworthy Records www.twistworthy.com)

This Fort Worth, Texas outfit sweaty, aggressive punk with a true DIY approach. The bombast is genuine and organic, with the band roaring through four blistering tracks. Opening with “Reaching for Things Unknown”, Heater crafts songs with lyrics that are reflective of the band’s sense of self-reflection (“We’ve looked into our mirrors/with nothing left inside/We’ve looked into our mirrors/With nothing left to hide”). “Take a Look Around” sums up the state of our world today with the observation “Take a look around and see what we’ve become/we segregate ourselves with ignorance and hate/ What is race? What is gay? What is straight? What is woman? What is man? Still we hate”. The appropriately titled “Rattled Walls” is a thunderous low-end assault that intensifies the hardcore elements of the band. Finishing with the equally powerful “Blur the Lines”, Heater is a promising band with a tightly wound fury, explosive musicianship, and shrewd lyrics.


MICHAELIRONSIDE - So Dynamic (80 West Records https://michaelironside8888.bandcamp.com)

So a talented, young, editor told me in an informative email this act that “Michael Ironside is not a person but a band”, and that is partially true. There is a Michael Ironside and his IMDb page is worth some exploring. However, Michaelironside is indeed a band, and an odd one at that. Jeff Wasserburger and Adam Lepkowski play music that varies from cartoonish to hard driving, and seem to do so with little interest in what others may think. “Fixin’ for a Yeti” has an oddly melodic groove amidst its ridiculous premise, while “Frosty Tunez” is uniquely quirky and fun. With challenging time schemes and a bizarrely pretty structure, the song defies any contemporary style. The same is true of “Ape Lord”, with lyrics “He was an ape/He was a lord/Didn’t carry a gun/He carried a sword”. Fittingly, “Deathrage” is more aggressive but is forgotten pretty quickly when “Da Boof” comes along; a slice of lo fi, noisy, childlike fun about a creature that can “eat your face”. It sounds a great as it seems, and my only complaint is that the song is far too brief. “Naked Girls” has a wonderful title, but its slow tempo and muffled vocals does not hold my attention. “Albany” has a traditional 80s hard rock riff and hushed vocals which is a winning combination and gets even better as the song deliciously breaks down into chaos as it concludes. “Fade” is a return to atmospheric chill, wile “Mr. Observer” has a subtle funk-jazz flavor before injecting a more rambunctious riff. The closing “In the Mind” starts gently but its driving chorus concludes the record on a soaring note. There are moments of brilliance on So Dynamic, but I leave feeling a bit unsure of what I am hearing. I applaud these two guys for boldly challenging the boring, but I will always take anger over bubbly goodness.

SEETHER - Poison the Parish (Canine Riot Music www.concordmusicgroup.com)

I had no idea that Seether has now released seven albums and I have no idea who buys them, but this South African outfit keeps chugging along and produces slick, well produced hard rock that the middle aged divorced dads play too loudly as they roll the mid-life crisis mobile into the Little League parking lot to impress all the ladies. If you enjoy predictable rock, boy howdy, you are in luck. Watering down late 70s rock riffs to the lowest common denominator, Seether gives the masses the opiate they deserve. Nothing on Poison the Parish is riveting, as the band scolds the modern generation for preferring instant fame over talent on “Stoke the Fire”, but I am not sure if Instagram-obsessed Kardashian fans will take Seether’s warnings to heart. There are theater sing-along anthems (“Something Else”, “Saviors”), the ubiquitous mid-tempo, emotionally charged tracks(“Up and Down”, “Feel Like Dying”), and the songs that start with acoustic riffs before really getting the fans hyped when the track switches to electric (“I’ll Survive”, “Sell My Soul”). There are fifteen (!) songs on Poison the Parish which is just more Seether than anyone needs.

7-Inch Singles

FITS OF HAIL - Belmore (Sound of the Sea Records www.soundofthesea.org

This Cleveland four-piece delivers a lush beauty on “Clutter”, a song that is anything but jumbled as a clean, mid-tempo pace accompanies Chris Anderson’s rustic vocals. “Came Through the Change” rattles a bit more than its’ predecessor, but again embraces a sense of heartfelt Americana and richly vivid lyrics. The song’s ascending chorus makes this effort the preferred of the two vinyl selections for my taste. The brief but endearing “Brandywine” is available through download only and is well worth the effort of paying these guys a few scant bucks on Bandcamp.

STINGER/MAULER- Split 7” (Serenity Now Tapes www.serenitynowtapes.bandcamp.com)

This single saved my weekend and it can make even the worst day better. Stinger plays relentless, metal-tinged hardcore at a breakneck pace with vicious, head-stomping intensity. There is nothing one cannot love about the simmering power of “Swine Churn”. Brutal, abrasive, and full of unresolved anger, this is one to put on repeat. The low-end bombardment of “The Scum Files” punches the listener with the fury of classic Warzone or Agnostic Front. In short-you need Stinger in your life. Very little information is given about Mauler, but with “Despot Desires” and “Power Snake”, there is no need for words. The grindcore fury of this band has me instantly hooked and all three songs-get the digital version-are punishing and unapologetically raw. Mauler is the band that plays a basement show and the house crumbles around them. Serenity Tapes has just jumped up to the top of my favorite young labels.

DEEP STATE -Thought Garden (Friendship Fever Records https://store.friendshipfever.com)

Deep State is a highly emotionally charged band that meshes numerous punk infused styles into a richly rewarding listen. An off-putting yet attention-grabbing instrumental opens Thought Garden before the more straightforward punk aesthetic of “No Idea, Pt. II” explodes out of one’s speakers. Vocalist/guitarist Taylor Chmura is clearly shaking with frustration, but not every syllable is blindly screamed into the void; instead, he incorporates sweetly harmonic vocals with a sweeping hook on “Mountains” and utilizes a dense riff on “Death Waltz”. Fellow guitarist Ryan Gray Moore holds a masters degree in guitar performance, and his skills shine throughout Thought Garden, even when the band takes on a minimalist approach for the title track. There is a subtly to Moore’s playing that reflects the larger theme of the band-the material here is intricate but not overwhelming. The songs have room to breathe even though there is a burning passion to get the thoughts out quickly and deliberately. Drummer Michael Gonzalez and bassist Christian Deroeck rumble together on “Heavy Lunch”, while sharp, jarring riffs rip through the heart of the song. The band is not afraid to show off their influences and penchant for varying styles, as “Nothing Speaking” swings with a mid-tempo, bluesy sound, while an infectious, jangly, indie-pop sensibility dominates “Infinitesimals”. Continuing to challenge and push themselves forward, Deep State introduces dark noise on “Eights” before quickly fleeing for the closing “Urn”. Starting with a nearly Beatles-esque attention to harmony, the song ebbs and flows seamlessly before a dust storm of choking guitar finishes off the record with a soaring climax. Inspired and progressive, Deep State is a deeply promising act.

FIRE IN THE RADIO - New Air (Wednesday Records http://www.wednesdayrecords.com)

Philly’s Fire in the Radio have fittingly titled their second release New Air, as the band takes far more chances here than their 2015 debut. The guitar playing is crisp and the songs are more sophisticated yet do not lose any of the harmonies that made Telemetry such a encouraging release. “Drug Life” is the centerpiece of the record and the song’s dreamy vocals, compliments of Rich Carbone, are tinged with darkness, a juxtaposition of pop melodies and peripheral sadness that carries much of New Air. While the title track and “Vacant States” have very clear 90s qualities, specifically Superchunk, Velocity Girl, and Jawbox; however, rather than hearing these songs as merely paying homage to influences, Fire in the Radio is inspired to take that blueprint and combine other spatial elements. “Adeline” is a lovely, haunting track that moves at a brisk pace without losing any sentimentality. And “Lionel Hampton Was Right” gets a blistering start out of the gate and features a soaring riff that anchors Carbone’s passionate delivery. The songs are tightly wound and the urgency is tangible. This record is the product of a band desperate to be heard and is committed to making music that is both significant and stirring. “I Don’t Know, I Don’t Remember” is my favorite type of aggressive indie pop-the song is aggressive, powerful, and overflowing with hooks. Philly has long been a city for bands that play with tenacity and little regard for trends; Fire in the Radio take all the finest elements of 90s indie rock and grinds them into an awesome new form.

MARK LANEGAN -Gargoyle (Heavenly Records http://www.heavenlyrecordings.com)

Mark Lanegan is an interesting tale of persistence and drive. At fifty-two, Lanegan is a long-term veteran, scarred and replete with legions of stories about trying to survive as a musician. Gargoyle is a record that could only be made by a man of this ilk; sweeping in musical scope, the songs are dense, majestic, and richly textured. The opening, six-minute opus “Death’s Head Tattoo” establishes a theme for Gargoyle, namely a mixture of swirling darkness and understated beauty. The warmth is, as is the uneasiness created by the steady backbeat and swaths of guitar. “Beehive” has a bassline that would be the envy of Peter Hook while Lanegan’s gruff voice adds an additional layer of earthy grittiness to the track. Other efforts borrow a similar structure, such as the impressive “Blue Blue Sea” and the haunting “Sister”. The latter has a meandering pace and ethereal keyboards that allow Lanegan to fill all empty space with his vocals that sound like John Hiatt taking on Leonard Cohen in a whiskey shot drinking contest. “Emperor” rattles along with a structure reminiscent of Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” while the brilliantly titled “Drunk on Destruction” features guitar playing the weaves powerfully from subtle to punishing. “First Day of Winter” is appropriately depressed in both tempo and spirit, as Lanegan sorrowfully takes listeners through an empty town and an equally desolate past. Compelling and spiritually engrossing, it is my favorite of the record despite (or perhaps due to) its melancholy nature. Gargoyle concludes with “Old Swan” as Lanegan gain blends a Sisters of Mercy atmosphere with poignant lyrics and a heartfelt vocal performance. Mark Lanegan has been, perhaps inexplicably, off my musical radar until this point, but gargoyle will certainly inspire more research on my part.

ROUND EYE - Monstervision (Sudden Death records www.suddendeath.com)

Described as the “loudest, sexiest, and hairiest” band in China, the avant-garde, sax-punk geniuses Round Eye announce their return with a viciously beautiful release. Joe Bob Briggs makes numerous appearances on Monstervision, bringing his late night cable access television persona to an already mind-altering record. At one point, Joe Bob simply asks, “what the hell was that?”, and that query about sums up the relentlessly original approach taken by this band. Once banned from touring in China and forced to truly play “bunker shows” (famously documented by VICE News), Round Eye is a fearless combination of punk audacity and noisy defiance. “Cosmic Blues” sounds like Black Flag jamming with the Flying Luttenbachers, but the band then applies a more Cramps-like sentiment on “Billy”, a song about a deliberately violent cop. “Sifter” is a touch more poppy, with the ubiquitous sax sounds increasingly reserved when coupled with a more traditional effort. However, this respite does not last long as “Troma” includes angular, jagged playing that pairs itself nicely with the lo-fi chaos of “Hey Dudes”. The debauchery of “Pink House” is my personal favorite among this vast collection of genre annihilating, confounding, and engaging musical visions. Round Eye defies any contemporary comparisons, as evidenced through “Cat” and “Richie”. While the former holds on to a subtly harmonious groove only kissed by a sax, the latter begins with a scream and unleashes a menacing explosion as the phrase “reality TV never looked so good” is repeatedly shrieked. The closing “Crinkle” has vocals buried in a casket of waves of suffocating sound, and the song is a churning mass of jittery energy that is the musical equivalent of being water boarded. It is a fitting finish to a record that is equally captivating and obtuse.

AYE NAKO - Silver Haze (Don Giovanni Records www.dongiovannirecords.com)

The term punk rock can rightfully be used to address a multitude of styles and Aye Nako continue to help redefine the phrase. Led by Mars Dixon and Jade Payne’s fearless aggression, Silver Haze is a showcase of deeply personal songs propelled by angst-driven energy. “Sissy” is a mass of guitar force and defiant lyrics (“Off world, shrill lisp/Hormonal bliss, spit in my face”), while Dixon and Jayde barrage the listener with both angular guitar work and highly charged singing on “Half Dome”. Rounded out by bassist Joe and drummer Sheena, the band excels on “Nightcrawler” with its noisy contained chaos, reminiscent of former touring mates Screaming Females. Noisy and abrasive, but always with a clear sense of parameters, “Muck” encapsulates the band’s ability to straddle a line between blunt force and refined beauty. Injecting more traditional pop sensibilities on “Particle Mace” does not in any way lessen the impact of the song, while the waves of distortion on “Arrow Island” and “Spare Me” infuse the tracks with a darker, more intimidating sensibility. The menacing nature of “Nothing Nice” roars with frustration that boils over into rage tinged with fear (“You detonate in the front room/They call it discipline/You detonate in the front room/I’m not safe at home/I do what I’m told/I do”). A suffocating wail of feedback opens “Tourmaline” as a brutish riff eventually gives way to a more subdued vocal style. Stunning in both breadth of force and intensity of delivery, Aye Nako is an astounding act.

THE PLANES - Wax Diamond (https://theplanesnyc.bandcamp.com)

I often find myself becoming overwhelmed by bands attempting to make their music as technically superior as humanly possible. Yes, the playing is dazzling at times, but there are occasions in which one simply wants a hook and a quick, smart song. The Planes deliver just that over the course of eight soaring anthems. Basking in the purity of simplicity, the band has a penchant for lush harmonies and fuzzed-out pop throughout Wax Diamond. The opening “Red Shift” bounces back and forth between the Feelings and Dinosaur Jr. with ease, with the latter sound dominate the chorus. With only two of the tracks crawling to the four-minute mark, The Planes pack quite a punch and never overstay their welcome. Lead vocalist Stephen Perry has a sly, self-deprecating humor on “Stick Around” when he admits “I learned a language just to speak to you/And I grew accustomed to the sound/But now I'm talking to myself/As if I don't need no one else/I kinda wish you'd stick around.” Blending heart-melting lyrics with buoyant guitar playing and a steady backbeat is not redefining rock n’ roll, but The Planes bring a timeless sound into a period of time that needs this sound. The unexpected body slam heard in the midst of “ATMs” is the band’s finest trait-one cannot simply press play and forget about Wax Diamond. The songs crackle with energy but can suddenly shift personalities and adopt a more aggressive nature before returning to their original personas. The support behind Perry’s guitar playing and emotionally charged vocals are bassist Jaclyn Perrone and drummer Jason Maksymillian, who carry the chugging “College Crush”, perhaps the best song ever penned about the topic. Perry bravely exposes himself as a love-struck frat guy who is “in the kitchen bartending”, begging and hoping for the object of his affection to come talk to him. The honesty of the song is immediately enduring, and is matched by the powerful “River” (The sun was out and I was flying/ I didn't know if this would last for long/ We have a love that's free and wild/ But I don't know if you and I belong”). Young and talented with a great sense of history, The Planes move indie rock forward by embracing the past.

EUREKA CALIFORNIA -“Wigwam” s/t “Only Birds No Feathers” (HHRTM Records www.hhbtm.com)

With a thick rogue wave of distortion opening “Wigwam”, I am immediately taken by the latest from Eureka California. The duo of Jake Ward and Marie Uhler blast away at a pair of garage-pop gems and a wildly entertaining cover of Superchunk’s ubiquitous college radio anthem “Slack Motherfucker” on a single that passes by far too quickly. The noisy, nervous “Wigwam” toys with pace and tempo; the track rises and fades, only to rise again with flawless precision, as these two find harmony within chaos. The song is two and half minutes of pure joy and gives way to the 90s vibe of “Only Birds No Feathers”. When Ward barks about “how simple of a life do you really deserve” and asks, “does it look like I care”, one does not know if he is smirking or snarling, and that embodies the band. Eureka California is defiant, dismissive, and entirely engaging. Go find this, as the band is selling it directly to fans for only three bucks in an effort to recapture a time when singles were affordable for all, but cost should not matter-pay the mark up price somewhere and support these kids.

GHOST OF A GENTLEMAN - Empty Room (https://ghostofagentleman.bandcamp.com)

This New Jersey outfit plays moody rock with introspective lyrics and an intrepid honesty. Stories of pain, loneliness, and failed relationships dominate the record, but the feelings the work elicits are not disparaging. Rather, one is captivated by the constant balancing act the band performs throughout he record. The guitars on the opening title track hover gently above scathing lyrics while the song fluctuates between fragility and bombast. This trend continues on “Front” as well, although it is a more traditionally structured track (“What I’m trying to say is it seems OK but its not OK”). The majority of the work is preoccupied with the massive struggles of relationships, describing even simple communication as a challenge in “Masquerade Ball” (“when I talk to you, I walk on rice paper”). Ghost of a Gentleman allow themselves to become a touch heavier and darker on “Can’t Take This Anymore”, and insert a vibrant, modern rock sensibility highlighted by aggressive guitar work on “Smothered”. (Every twisted truth you think I can’t untie begs for me to see right through your eyes”). “Street Signs” has a delicate introduction fitting for the song’s tale of fragile sanity, sleep deprivation, and a struggle to balance all of life’s pressures. The atmospheric “Nineteen Eighty-Five” with wraithlike lyrics buried deeply in the mix precedes a trio of songs dedicated to former band member James Kelly: “Just Breathe” channels the Foo Fighters while “Plastic Boy” is a genteel, largely an acoustic piece with a rich, heartfelt delivery. “Jersey State of Mind” concludes the triumvirate of dedication tracks as well as the record. Like “Plastic Boy”, it is also stripped down, but the song is brimming with hope rather then the pessimism and weariness that previously dominated Empty Room. Emotive and intelligent, Ghost of a Gentleman should certainly become more than just a local favorite.

KISSING IS A CRIME s/t (Don Giovanni Records http://dongiovannirecords.com)

Matt Molnar is the leader of his outfit that creates a beautiful record of airy, classic guitar pop. “Noise at Night”, with Liz Hogg on vocals, is unabashedly and unapologetically harmonious, with a chorus that is equally stirring and scintillating. “Kids” begins the second side with a massive, soaring hook, while the more subdued “Sheila’s Gone” is intoxicating in its directness. The opening “Nervous Condition” sets the tone with jiggling guitar work and lush vocals. Molnar spent his early years bouncing around in a string of punk bands, and his roots reemerge on the more aggressive “You Would Never Understand”, but his true gift is the ability to generate infectious pop with swirling musicianship and pristine refinement. “Crown Royal” bounces with a highly dynamic groove and highlights the drumming of Alex Feldman. The evocative “Bling Bruises” is another standout with a burst of rugged guitar coexisting within the broader expanse of the song’s pop sensibilities. Molnar is a visionary with a genuine appreciation for bands that place majestic harmonies and intriguing lyrics as priorities. Once again, Don Giovanni finds another gem.

MODERN ENGLISH - Take Me to the Trees (http://modernenglish.me)

I was roughly ten years old when MTV invaded my home and changed my life. One of the ubiquitous videos of that age was “I Melt with You” from Modern English. If you remember watching the clip, a primitive yet earnest effort, congratulations-you are old! I always remember the video clearly, as I was usually waiting for it to end in hopes that anything from Ozzy or Judas Priest might be next. At any rate, a full generation has come and gone since that massive hit, and the original members of Modern English return with their first full-length release in thirty years! Incredibly, rather than a pallid attempt at rehashing 80s pop, the band brazenly and adroitly constructs pop in a contemporary vein while also subtly paying homage to their heritage. The opening “You’re Corrupt” opens with a throbbing bass line and a clearly articulated social commentary about greed and excess. Conversely, “I Feel Small” is a mid-tempo churner of a track that wraps Robbie Grey’s instantly recognizable vocals around a stomping groove. “Dark Cloud” has a clean, crisp retro sound as one could imagine Gary Numan singing along to this one. One of my favorite moments is the effervescent pop goodness of “Moonbeam”- a sugary blast of rich harmonies that will make Martha Quinn smile. The meandering “Something’s Going On” is deceptively unnerving, and despite its plodding tempo still possesses a mystical, ethereal quality also heard on “Sweet Revenge”. The closing “It Don’t Seem Right” is a dreamy effort that again proves that Modern English have the chops to reintroduce themselves to the world of relevance.

THING ONE - Fair Weather Friends WP (www.thingonebandcamp.com)

Thing-One creates an uneasy atmosphere throughout the three-song Fair Weather Friends EP. The title track laments a now irreconcilable friendship with haunting lyrics (“my friend, you are dead/in my eyes you’re gone”) and an infectious dance beat. The closing “Far Too Bright” includes smoldering guitar woven into an ethereal tapestry of heartbreaking beauty (“Your face, your eyes, you’re far too bright”). “Nice Wife” is a stirring, powerfully emotional anthem in which Thing-One tells a stirring narrative through warm and gripping playing. A lullaby with a potentially explosive personality, the track attempts to pull the heart out of one’s chest with devastating honesty. I cannot believe that this latest release from Thing-One came with a flyer announcing their opening slot for Gin Blossoms, of all bands. I cannot image their fans appreciating this. Thing-One should out on the road carrying their own tour, not opening for relics from the 90s.



7” Singles

PETER HOLSAPPLE “Don’t Mention the War” (Hawthorne Curve Records http://peterholsapple.bigcartel.com)

I have long lamented the lack of a good protest song for contemporary issues, but Peter Holsapple may have solved the problem with “Don’t Mention the War”, an ode to the horrors of combat and PTSD. With gripping honesty and a delivery reminiscent of the finest 1960s storytellers, the song is a gut-wrenching tale of isolation, suffering, and struggling family members. When Holsapple says “don’t mention he war”, it is an ominous warning as much as it is a piece of advice. The B-side “Cinderella Style” is a beautiful, delicate tale that, while not as dramatically forceful as the A-side still demonstrates Holsapple’s innate sense of human emotion. This is a pair of soaring, vastly powerful songs and I am immensely taken with this.

SANTA ANA KNIGHTS - "Knight School" EP (Red Brontosaurus Records http://www.redbrontosaurus.com)

Santa Ana Knights play speedy guitar pop with a punk varnish that makes it tougher than your standard three chord posters. Sounding like a troubled troubadour on “”How’d I Get Home” and the title track, both featuring a touch of country-fried twang. “How’d I Get Home” includes the scathing lyrics “I don’t need hugs/ I Need Your Drugs!!” “The Bartender” kicks off the effort with the amazing advice of “Don’t Need Jesus/ Just be your own boss/ I’ll be the bartender when you need to drink”. I know nothing about this band, but this introduction is enough to make me seek out more.

SOMERSET MEADOWS - "We Will Rock" (Brain Genius Records https://somersetmeadows.bandcamp.com)

Somerset Meadows play 60s rock with a SoCal punk energy. “Hey Girl” bubbles with a hopeful enthusiasm as Richard Somerset hopes the girl of his dream will go away with him. This energy is matched on the early Green Day-inspired “She Makes It”. The record starts with “She is Waiting”, and while it never really hits a stride, “Time to Shine” is a rollicking burst of infectious pop guitar. As I write this, Long Island is in the midst of a mid-March snow squall and all I see when I hear Somerset Meadows is sunshine, girls, and summer. For that alone, I love this.

 


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