Jersey Beat Music Fanzine

REVIEWS by Jim Testa


While New Brunswick's ageless Anderson Council readies it's fourth full-length, they've treated fans to this EP, with three originals and three obscure (to me, at least) covers. If you've somehow missed this band over the last 15 years or so, Anderson Council creates rock 'n' roll influenced by the Mods, early psychedelia, and American garage rock. If, like me, you think Sell Out was the last good Who album and you prefer the Jam over Style Council, or if Syd Barrett burns brighter in your personal Pantheon than Sid Vicious, then you'll love these six tracks. My personal favorite is guitarist David Whitehead's Jam-my "Almost Anything," with its soulful power chords and hooky chorus. The covers (of the Smoke, Peter Gabriel, and Jellyfish) let Anderson Council put their personal stamp on these songs, with the trippy "Joining A Fan Club" standing out for its catchiness and wit. You can never go wrong with this band, and be sure to watch for their upcoming full-length, the first with new bassist Chris Rousseau.

ADULT DUDE - Adult Moods (Animal Style)

If you're in the mood for Nineties nostalgia, look no further than Brooklyn's Adult Dude, whose worship of Dinosaur Jr. and Soul Asylum couldn't be any less unabashed. While these songs tread familiar ground, right down to J Mascis' drawling vocal style, Adult Dude does have a flair for sonic riffage as well as an affection for punk-rock brevity. The short/fast/loud songs balance the six-and-a-half-minute Neil Young acid trip of "Hev Dog," keeping Adult Moods from overstaying its welcome. Speedy Ortiz does the same thing with a lot more originality, but if you're still flying the flannel, you could do a lot worse.

ADULT MOM - Momentary Lapse of Happily (Tiny Engines)

Adult Mom is the folk/pop project of Steph Knipe, although throughout Momentary Lapse of Happily, we're reminded this is a band with snippets of banter as well as tracks that expand on Knipe's warmly intimate vocals and strummed guitar with bursts of rock guitar and drumming. If you don't listen closely, Adult Mom has a cuddly warmth, like a less lo-fi Waxahatchee or a less strident Liz Phair. But parse the lyrics and you'll discover that Knipe is struggling throughout the album with questions of sexual identity as well as all the other vagaries of life that bedevil millennials. This isn't a sad album by any means, although it's quite a serious one, but it's also quietly endearing and purposeful. This is the sound of a young woman staking out her place in the world, with music that's beauitful even as it seriously questions whether its singer is pretty inside. The answer, resoundingly, is yes.

GODDESS - Paradise EP(

Tamalyn Miller's unique one-string violin and Andy Newman's multi-hued keyboards combine with Fran Prado's otherworldly vocals and exquisite harmonies to make Goddess one of the standout bands in NYC's tumultuous underground scene. In turns as creepy as a John Cale threnody and as warmly comforting as a Simon & Garfunkle ballad, the songs on "Paradise" run the gamut from a 7-minute mini-symphony to concise three-minute pop songs. Perfect soundtrack music for your next Wiccan get-together or midnight cemetery idyll.

LEAFPILE - Bring The Ocean (

I remember seeing Jersey City's Leafpile perform at the Harsimus Cemetery quite a while ago. "What's that song with the whistling?" I asked. "It's killer." Turns out it's called "I'll Be Fine" and it's the leadoff track on Leafpile's gorgeous album, full of pastoral folk/rock that intermixes Yeon Jee and Kyle Ebner's entrancing lead vocals, glorious acoustic guitar, sonorous violin, glockenspiel, banjo, keyboards, and percussion. There are a dozen flawless tracks here, each more lovelier than the last; seguing effortlessly from lively, joyous rhythms and earwig melodies to the melancholy and ethereal. Leafpile is one of Jersey City's best kept secrets and one of its most underutilized resources. This band should be playing everywhere, all the time. That would make me and an awful lot of listeners very happy.

EZRA FURMAN - Perpetual Motion People (Bella Union)

Through two lovably oddball albums with the Harpoons and two even quirkier solo albums on Bar None, Ezra Furman introduced himself as a twitchy, articulate misfit in the mold of Jonathan Richman or NYC's Jeffrey Lewis, with a voice that suggested the Violent Femmes' yelping Gordon Gano on Adderol.And all that was before he started cross-dressing. On Perpetual Motion People, Furman's singing about feeling alone and confused, stressing out about gender identity ("“Your body is yours at the end of the day, and don’t let the hateful try to take it away.” ) On "Pot Holes," which percolates like a goofy Weird Al tune (complete with yakkety sax and doo wop backup singers,) Furman takes aim at the unquestioned segreation in his hometown of Chicago ("I admit it's inconvenient to get robbed in a combat zone/I had to cancel my credit card and find me a brand new home.") But Furman's got more on his mind than catchy novelty tunes; "Can I Sleep In Your Brain" is a plaintive ballad about a weary mind looking for comfort, and "One Day I Will Sleep No More" ends the album with an acoustic ballad that could have come out of a Sunday hymnal. I've always liked Ezra Furman and I like him even more for getting a little weirder every time he threatens to become a little more popular. When you never know what to expect from an artist, you often get art.

FOX AND THE LAW - The Trouble With People (FunkFarm)

Fox And The Law hearkens back to the era when Seattle kids smoked pot and listened to Sabbath, then grew their hair and started bands just for the heck of it. The Trouble With People has a monstrous hard rock sound that emphasizes the funky bottom that Soundgarden captured in its best moments, with histrionic head-rattling vocals and big bluesy riffs. With nods to Sabbath, Motorhead, and AC/DC, Wayne and Garth would surely approve.You won't hear anything you haven't heard before, but man, this would sound great blasted a full volume on a car stereo on a crazy Saturday night.

KIWI - A Room With A View (

Jersey City's Kiwi specializes in sexy reggae grooves infused with R&B, jazz, and funk. Frontman Alex Tea's soulful vocals provide the canvas on which a talented horn section and slinky percussion paint bright vivid colors. On A Room With A View, the band sashays through a variety of Caribbean rhythms, from reggae to rocksteady to ska, all with an almost effortless vibe. It's smooth and tasty and very danceable, and while Kiwi's really earned its reputation as an incredibly fun live band, this album offers a refreshing and enlightening sojourn that will brighten your day and warm your soul.


THE ANDERSON COUNCIL - Looking At The Stars (Sinclair Recording Co.

The Anderson Council may be as Jersey as you can get - lead singer Pete Horvath has been playing in New Brunswick bands for almost as long as I can remember - but the uninitiated listener would be forgiven for thinking they're as British as a pair of knickers. Horvath, bassist Rob Farrell, drummer Joe Chyb (since replaced by Christopher Ryan), and guitarist David Whitehead launch a one-band British invasion with this disc, gleefully pillaging from decades of UK pop, from 60's Beatlemania and early psychedelia to the 70's Mods to 00's Britpop. Oh, and don't forget the Kinks, lots of Kinks, including the uber-catchy leadoff track, "Don't You Think." There are echoes of the Jam, Beatlesque music-hall pop, and on big, bold pop numbers like "First of November" and "Watch You Sleeping," the Anderson Council even sound a bit like their Jersey forebears, the Smithereens. Farrell's "Gardening Man" could be an outtake from the Syd Barrett Floyd. Kurt Reil's production keeps the guitars shimmering, the bass peppery and insistent, the drums booming; everything sounds big and bright in a way you don't hear much anymore. There's certainly an element of nostalgia in what the Anderson Council do so well, but mostly this is a band that's embracing old tropes and making them sound new again.


Decades before Britney Spears turned school girl uniforms into a scandalous pop sensation, the Catholic Girls were ripping up Jersey dives like the Dirt Club and playing coquettish punk-pop. They were on the cover of Jersey Beat #5 back in 1982, and at the time, I wrote, "Belinda Carlisle of the Go Go's may have the beat, but Catholic Girl Gail Petersen has more: Better songs, a more distinctive voice, a greater sense of herself in her lyrics, talent, and style." Now here we are 30 years later, but much can still be said of the modern-day Catholic Girls: Petersen still has that distinctive plaintive yearning in her vocals, more womanly than girlish now but nonetheless affecting. Roxy Andersen's new-wavy guitar still shimmers and glows, the harmonies still send a shivery down your spine, , and the songwriting still communicates female longing, dreams, and heartbreak. "Airplay" even captures the frustration of making music you believe in that can't get on the radio. Doreen Holmes still delivers a pounding backbeat for the more powerful songs, while current bassist Steve Berger adds a roiling bottom to the mix. The dreamy "Sleepwalking" connects the dots that link the Catholic Girls to the Ronettes, while "Heartbreak 101" recalls the harmony-soaked new-wavey pop of the Bangles and Go Go's. That three-quarters of the Catholic Girls have come back to bring us more music 30 years after charming audiences in clubs that have since been leveled is a bit of a miracle; if I ran the Vatican, these Catholic Girls would be candidates for sainthood.

BOXED WINE – “Cheap, Fun.” EP (

After a debut 5-song EP and a charming, quirky collection of 70’s cover tunes, NJ’s Boxed Wine give us three new songs that show a new energy and direction. Imagine a crunchier, noisier Vampire Weekend on a steady diet of energy drinks and candy bars and you might begin to get a handle on the giddily syncopated enthusiasm the band shows on these three tracks. I don’t think that wayward period in the EP’s title is just a coincidence either; while neither synthy nor as radio-ready as fun., Boxed Wine’s definitely going for the same confetti-cannon party anthems here, only with more basement-friendly singalong choruses. Boxed Wine’s scruffy, unkempt persona also makes for a vast improvement over fun.’s hipster-dork affectations, at least as far as I’m concerned. Keep an eye on these boys, they’re going to become major players in the Jersey scene in 2013 and beyond.

HOLY CITY ZOO - "Everybody Sells For More" (

Frantic tempos, vitriolic caterwauling, vaguely bluesy chord progressions, thrashing drums... it's a formula that worked for Jersey City hard-rock heroes Rye Coalition and continued by Holy City Zoo on this six song EP. Trouble is, all that hyperspeed screaming is a bit like drowning your dinner in hot sauce; yes, it adds a powerful kick, but individual flavors disappear and everything starts to taste the same. That's true for most of these tracks including the pounding instrumental, but "Hello, I'm Awful" offers a welcome respite, injecting melody into the melee and hopefully point to a direction Holy City Zoo can pursue in the future.


As an old geezer, I sometimes have to remind myself that there’s an entire generation for whom the Strokes and Vampire Weekend already classify as “Classic Rock.” You can hear that influence filtering down in the jittery, upbeat indie-pop of “Kiss The Sun,” the most Strokesian track on the debut EP from young Asbury Park songsmith and bandleader Julian Fulton. But there’s also a reverence here for Britpop and Syd Barrett, echoes of the trashy, ironic irreverence of the Dandy Warhols, 60’s piano pop, and even a little Beatles on spacey psychedelic of tracks like “Lie,” “And Now,” and “Wishing Well (A Fool’s Waltz.)” Unlike most young rockers, Fulton favors waltz time (or a faster 6/8 version of it) over the 4/4 beat of most contemporary rock, which adds a subtle hint of nostalgia to these tracks. Fulton also likes to bathe his boyish vocals in distortion, as if you’re hearing him through the crackle of 60’s AM radio. The effect isn’t retro so much as timeless; it’s as if Fulton and his band (who are neither zombies, as far as I know, nor an actual gospel choir) were making music in several different eras simultaneously. The band doesn’t seem to play out much though, and this six song EP (including a short instrumental intro track) came out over a year after I first discovered the group performing at the 2011 Bamboozle. So talented? Definitely. Prolific? Not so much. I hope to hear much more of Mr. Fulton reimagining pop music’s past in the near future.


SINK TAPES – “Please Touch” (

These twentysomethings from New Brunswick (by way of Red Bank, since they play the Brighton Bar quite a bit) channel influences like the Velvet Underground and Jesus & Mary Chain into a wonderfully dreamy fusion of chugging guitars and airy soundscapes. “Real Eyes (with backups)” sounds like something out of the Eighties college-rock (i.e. pre-alternative) era, with its chiming guitars and ethereal vocals, “same strange dream.inward bed” adds Sonic Youth-y distortion and clangorous chimes to the mix, and “The Soul Is In The Kitchen” suggests early Mission of Burma. These kids are either taking a lot of good drugs or listening to a lot of awesome old records, but whatever they’re doing, it works.


Adam from Those Mockingbirds turned me on to this New Jersey foursome, whose website describes the band’s music as “fun fuzzy dancey indie rock.” That works, although when they start singing about werewolves in the skittering uptempo “Feral,” I couldn’t help but think of Vampire Weekend’s appropriation of South African polyrhythms and Ezra Koenig’s playfully boyish vocals. I’ve also seen the band compared to everything from They Might Be Giants to Fountains of Wayne to the Strokes (and I’d add the Spinto Band,) but what you really need to know is that these young gentlemen are turning out extremely likable power-pop with terrific melodies and interesting beats – sweet, fizzy, and as intoxicating as a 5-liter box of Franzia’s best swill.

“My Only Company” EP

Originally the bedroom project of singer/songwriter Chadbourne Oliver, the Graveyard Kids slowly morphed into a real live band which - after two catastrophic missteps – wound up recording this impressive debut 7-song EP at Mama Coco’s Funky Kitchen in Brooklyn. The songs vary from the grungy blues shuffle “Staircase Blues” to the dream-pop ballad “The Fountain” to the flat-out awesome garage-rocker “Raft Of The Medusa” (which has the best pop riff, hands down, of the year). “Clint Eastwood Teddy Bear” offers an elegiac, instrumental time out before the EP resumes with its presumptive “side two,” two downbeat ballads soaked in beer and regret followed by a fuzzy spastic uptempo garage rocker. Forget that the name sounds like a Misfits cover band and get with the idea that the Graveyard Kids are yet another addition to the fine young roster of talented musicians and songwriters coming out of the Mama Coco’s collective.

RUN ON THE SUN - "New Empire" EP (

This teen band from Greenwich, CT impresses with five tracks of romantic pop-rock, inspired by classic album artists like U2 and Coldplay. The musicianship and production remain excellent through, from the lovely piano intro to "My Name" to the strummed acoustic guitar that brings us into "Midnight." It's actually refreshing to hear a band that embraces the lushness of vintage studio production and straightforward romantic balladeering without a hint of post-modern tweaking; nothing here sounds washed out, over-reverb'd, chill, witchy, autotuned, or ironic. The vocals are pitch perfect and elegant, the guitars swell and soar on the choruses; clearly, this band made the best record it could and poured every once of their heart and soul into every note. I wouldn't suggest they move to Bushwick anytime soon, where music needs to be deliberately scruffy to be considered "authentic." But I wouldn't be at all surprised if I'm hearing them on the radio sometime very soon.


MATT CRANSTOUN - The Last Drop of Color





NEIL NATHAN – The Distance Calls (

The showpiece on Neil Nathan’s debut album is his cover of ELO’s “Do Ya,” which captures the fuzzy glam of the original while investing the lyrics with a singer/songwriter sensibility. But Nathan’s a talented songwriter in his own right; there’s a bit of Cat Stevens in his spiritual, breathy ballads, and a little Elton John in his pop-rock tunes. “Get On” adds a little boogie to the mix; it’s somewhere between J. Roddy Walston and something Ringo might have done on one of his old solo albums. The roadhouse jangle of “Never Enough” updates L.A. country-rock for the new millennium, while “So Much More” adds a dollop of white soul. Apparently his recent CMJ appearance at Maxwell’s was something of a disaster, but I hope he’s back in the area soon, I’d definitely like to check out these tunes live.

THE VINYLS – “Extended Play” EP (

This new group whose membership spans the Garden State features former members of Throwing Color, Racing Kites, and The Call Out. The five tracks here are all romantic pop songs that make good use of lead singer Drew Duddy’s melodic vocals. Duddy’s got a first-class voice, which immediately sets the Vinyls apart from the throngs of Jersey emo and power-pop acts with singers who can’t hit a high note without autotune or, even worse, deliberately sing offkey as if there’s some sort of artistic payoff there. (There isn’t.) And it probably doesn’t hurt that Duddy’s quite the hunk, too. The Vinyls like soaring choruses and harmony vocals, and songs about girls who break your heart; the EP boasts a very full, lush sound that might even win over a few fans of orchestral indie-rock in hipster Brooklyn. In the meantime, expect lots of Jersey shows full of swooning teenage girls.

SPiN – Believe (

Philadelphia’s SPiN are on their third release, although this is the first I’m hearing. The band melds a very 70’s power-pop sound (the lead singer sounds quite a bit like Eric Carmen) and lots of power balladry with very modern-sounding synthesizer. It’s a unique combination, but the melodicism of the songs and some nice hooks keep these songs in your head. Fans of the Raspberries should definitely check them out.


FUTURE IDIOTS – Lost (Pacific Ridge)

It’s nice to know that England has its share of cookie-cutter pop-punk bands too. If the highlight of your adolescence was Blink-182 or Sum 41, then by all means check these guys out. “Keyra Augustina” sounds like the Steinways filtered through an MTV /mainstream sensibility, “Sympathy Symphony” proves emo isn’t dead, “The Basement” starts out with a cool surfy riff but goes downhill the second the whiney vocal kicks in, and “Confessions To A Bartender” adds a bit of country twang to the basic formula. This is certainly not awful but rarely rises much above generic, although it’d probably go down swell over the p.a. at suburban Hot Topics and Urban Outfitters.

REALITY SUITE – Blueprints For Building A Better _____ (

Reality Suite is a bit of a NJ supergroup, with members who have long careers in the local music scene. Their debut 6-song EP (released last May, we’re behind the curve on this one) starts off with the dance track “Evolution Queen,” with new-wavey synthesizers and Melissa Cicchelli’s snarling vocals. She’s got a bit of Pat Benatar or the Wilson sisters in her voice; she definitely sounds like somebody you don’t want to mess around with on this track. “Wingman” stresses an electric guitar attack and heavy bottom; it reminds me a bit of “Barracuda.” “Manchester” switches gears from a dance vibe to power ballad. The final two tracks continue with this fusion of classic rock and modern dance music, a fairly compelling mix since it really doesn’t sound like any other indie band I can think of.

TODD PARKER & THE WITCHES – Greetings From The Star Chamber (toddparkerandthewitches.

Todd Parker’s aural alchemy beguiled Hoboken and NYC audiences throughout the Nineties in The Tadpoles, a band I was lucky enough to see at the first Terrastock music festival back in ’97. Todd disappeared for most of the 00’s but has re-emerged with this new album, a digital-only release that picks up where the Tadpoles left off – somewhere in the murky purple haze of 60’s psychedelia. Part early Velvets, part early Pink Floyd, most of Greetings From The Chamber sinuously unravels at fairly slow tempos, building swirling textures around Parker’s guitar, synths, and lethargic (lysergic?) vocals. “Rodeo Clown Blues ‘66” picks up the tempo for a bit of garage-rock chug, “Tingler” has a menacing, monster-movie feel, and “Give It To The Elf” transports us straight to Oz (or maybe Middle Earth) via magic mushrooms and wah wah. The Tadpoles were always so out of their own time that taking a decade off really doesn’t matter; this album could easily have come out in ’99, and I would have enjoyed its slinky grooves then as much as I do today. While the Tadpoles virtually lived in their own analog studio in a Hoboken warehouse, I’m guessing most of Star Chamber was conjured up digitally (and that’s how it’s being released;) but a psychedelic drone is a drone is a drone, and if you liked the Tadpoles way back when, you’ll be eagerly transported back to the same sonic Neverneverland by Todd and the Witches.

TOMMY STRAZZA – The Model Citizen LP (

New Brunswick/Asbury Park singer/songwriter and frequent sideman Tommy Strazza starts his new album off with an old-timey novelty song and ends it with a classic rock ballad that sounds like it’s being sung in an arena in front of 50,000 cigarette lighters held aloft and waving in time to the track’s anthemic whoa-oh-oh chorus. It’s what’s in the middle that’ll really win you over, though – gritty, tuneful FM Radio rock reminiscent of 70’s posters like Tom Petty and Nick Lowe. Strazza has an ingratiating, Everyman voice – I don’t think he’d last many rounds on American Idol, but he hits all the high notes and enunciates his witty wordplay with casual confidence and brio. Songs like “Sensory Overload” and “Shark In The Water” swing along on playful guitar leads and inventive rhyming couplets that swing from verse to verse with cleverness and precision. Strazza’s song can be somberly introspective but I like him better when he’s happy and bouncing off the walls, like on the slyly self-promoting “So Much More,” where he’s trying to sell himself to a girl. “Dinnerall’s Song,” a story song about a Katrina survivor, engages like one of Dylan’s classic character songs while celebrating New Orleans music in all of its colorful glory. And sonically, the album showcases both crunchy electric guitar (the opening chords of “So Much More” chime like church bells – or an old Flamin’ Groovies record) and nimble acoustic picking, along with beautifully arranged, vibrant background harmonies. Overall, Tommy Strazza’s produced a fine showcase for his talents, but let’s also not forget that – like Arlan Feiles or Rick Barry – he’s been a real lynchpin of New Jersey’s indie music scene for years now. Tommy Strazza and band will celebrate the release of The Model Citizen on Friday, October 8 with The Sunday Blues, The Amboys, and WUPA at Asbury Lanes, 209 4th Ave. Asbury Park.

WAKING LIGHTS – “The Rabbit Hole” EP (

Why isn’t everyone in New Jersey talking about this band? The orchestral pop group from North Jersey dropped a vinyl EP earlier in the year but will be releasing an expanded digital version in September, with a release show at Maxwell’s on September 17. You should be there, seriously. “Where It All Began” starts this record with some gently strummed guitars, a mix of male and female voices, sonorous violin, and jangly banjo, but then it’s like Gaslight Anthem bursts into the room and sings the backup vocals on the chorus – you get a little Springsteen jolt amid this languorous and lovely folkie melody. “Only The Sex” adds sinuous electric organ and a Latin rhythm; the song really is sexy. “We All Die Alone” is a folk-punk campfire singalong – “we get pissed on the weekends to forget the feeling, there’ll be sex, drugs and rap beats to keep us both laughing” - and my only criticism of the song is that it should go on a lot longer. “Never Meant To Hurt You” introduces xylophone to the mix, with a cuddly pop chorus that could have ruled AM radio back in the Seventies.

AIRPLANE NOISE – “Getting Down” EP (

If Conor Oberst could sing in tune, he might sound a little like Warren Miller, the voice of NJ’s Airplane Noise. Originally a solo project, this EP introduces AP as a full band, mixing acoustic instrumentation with zippy synthesizer fills and lots of layered harmony vocals. “Last Night” has up upbeat, uptempo vibe that reminds me a bit of the Tattle Tales, with the boy/girl vocals and especially the synth. “One Cup Of Coffee” slows things down and showcases piano, harmonica, and glockenspiel. The simple, straightforward, light-hearted emo plaint “I Will Always Win” has a lovely melody accentuated by strummed acoustic guitar and, again, nicely arranged harmony vocals. Miller’s songwriting has an innocence and openness that recalls Jonathan Richman, especially on the closing ballad, “Goodbye,” which swells into luxurious orchestral pop. It’s a showstopper, and a good sign that Airplane Noise will soon a band that the Garden State’s buzzing about excitedly.

BERN & THE BRIGHTS – “Swing Shift Maisies” EP (

Bernadette “Bern” Malavarca could probably earn a living on Broadway; she and fellow vocalist/guitarist Catherine McGowan both have the kind of pipes that can belt out big brassy melodies to the back of the balcony. But on this eclectic, engaging four-song EP, they also deftly handle softer acoustic folk, twangy country rock, and even a bit of flamenco-flavored Spanish pop. The real secret weapon here though is Nicole Scorsese’s violin – bowed, plucked, sonorous and staccato – which adds depth and shading to the group’s songs. From the Fleetwood Mac gypsy folk of “Boo” to the shit-kickin’ country stomp of “It Goes Like That,” to the lively “Sangria Peaches” with its snapping castenets and ballroom grace, “Swing Shift Maisies” enchants, entrances, and engages.

BANQUETS – “This Is Our Concern, Dude” EP (

Updating Springsteen for the emo era, this Jersey City, NJ combo works a lot of whooping whoa-oh singalongs into their energetic if somewhat derivative pop-rock. At least they’ve got a knack for song titles (“Lyndon B. Magic Johnson,” “What A Bunch of Aaron Burrs,” “I Wish I Was A Little More Lou Diamond Phillips.”) But if you’ve heard Gaslight Anthem, you’ve already heard all these “run all night” tropes recycled once, and that’s probably enough. “What A Bunch of Aaron Burrs” does add a little R.E.M. jangle to the proceedings, but once the vocals kick in, we’re right back on Thunder Road, headed for that darkness on the edge of town. Tramps like us, baby we were born to rerun.

Slow Dance To Soft Rock

You hear this post-adolescent voice, and it’s straining to get the words out, an urgent and earnest mix of Jonathan Richman and every emo band on the planet. And yet there’s something there that is utterly, completely original too: “And I’ll remember that summer… as the summer I was takin’ steroids… because you like a man with muscles…and I like you.” And that sums up The Front Bottoms, Saddlebrook NJ’s contribution to the cadre of uber-ironic post-millienial pop-punk bands. File next to Weezer, Bishop Allen, They Might Be Giants, or maybe Say Anything if Max Bemis had a wickedly self-deprecating sense of humor, the band flirts with images of everything from suicide (“there’s comfort in the bottom of a swimming pool”) to patricide to panic attacks in its bright acoustic pop and makes it all seem okay.

WRECKLESS ERIC AND AMY RIGBY – Two-Way Family Favourites (Southern Domestic)

This unlikely pair of middle-aged newlyweds – he a curmudgeonly, semi-legendary British pub rocker, she a witty mainstay of New York City’s folk-pop circuit – combine their talents on a collection of covers for their second album together, providing all the instrumentation and lots of cozy harmony vocals. A few of these tracks are nothing short of revelatory – Rigby’s reading of ABBA’s “Fernando” uncovers a moving lyric once you strip away all the pop gloss and disco beats – while others showcase worthwhile songs overlooked on their first go around. There are songs by Tom Petty, the Turtles, and the Who that you probably won’t recognize, a Byrds song that no one remembers, and a complete reinvention of Brian Wilson’s “In My Room” that expands the song from teenage loneliness to a more universal existential angst. Jackie DeShannon’s “Put A Little Love In Your Heart” rekindles fond memories of 60’s AM radio pop in a way that’s quite unlike what either Eric or Amy would do on their own records. Only the cover of the Flaming Groovies’ “You Tore Me Down” disappoints a bit, but it serves its purpose in that it sent me scurrying to play the original for the first time in years. What’s interesting is that this really doesn’t sound anything like an Amy Rigby or a Wreckless Eric record; by coming together, this duo has really created their own sound, stripped of the irony, sarcasm, and pathos of their solo efforts. Love does indeed work in mysterious ways.

THE QUARANTINES – “Robot Girl” EP (Insubordination Records)

Even though three out of four songs have a scifi theme (robots or outer space,) the Quarantines don’t really get silly about it. What you get here are four very solid and catchy tastes of power-pop with very likable melodies. “What Have I Done Now” adds some boy/girl vocals that remind me a bit of the Tattle Tales (and that’s always a good thing.) Recommended for fans of the Guts, Leftovers, or Impulse International.

EGGHEAD – Would Like A Few Words With You (Knock Knock Records)

A dozen years after they first called it a day (bravely championing pop-punk back in the days when almost no one in New York City cared,) Egghead reunite and it’s as if they never left. Johnny Reno still sounds as adolescent and snotty as ever, rocker-turned-movie-and-TV-star John Ross Bowie still had that Uber-nerd edge, and Mike Faloon’s there keeping a steady beat, all to songs that will have you singing along as you bob your head. Bowie’s brush with stardom may have inspired “Slow News Day,” a savage jab at our paparazzi/gossip-obsessed culture, just as his role as a real-life dad no doubt inspired “My Daughter Can Fuck Up Your Daughter,” a song so good it appears twice (the second time as what we used to call a “radio edit” with the nasty words euphemized.) The album starts off spoofing opera and Broadway with an “Overture” that quickly reprises all of the album’s melodies, and then it’s off to the races: Songs about weird girls, fucked up friends, odd celebrity encounters (“Stuck Inside A Stuckey’s with Leonard From The Dickies,”) a psycho on a luge… in other words, the usual Egghead lunacy. Welcome back, guys. Now if we can just get that Trixie Belden reunion to work out…

ANTHONY WALKER – “The Sea Goes On Forever” EP (

If you missed our interview, Anthony Walker is the artist formerly known as Anthony Fiumano, a mainstay of Asbury Park’s indie scene along with the very talented Rick Barry, Tommy Strazza, and Arlan Feiles. I don’t really understand the name change, but this EP suggests that this might be an attempt for Anthony to most past his reputation as “that talented teenager with the big ears” and establish himself as a more mature singer/songwriter. “Song For The Willing” has swelling orchestration (including strings) and an almost Radiohead-like sophistication. “Rosie,” with its country twang, pedal steel, and sounds more like the Anthony Fiumano of old with a traditional verse/chorus structure and warm major chord melody. The rainy day ballad “I Hope This Helps” places the spotlight squarely on the emotional resonance of Antony’s vocals, which I think is his biggest asset. A full-band full-length is promised for the fall.

BANQUETS – “This Is Our Concern, Dude” EP (Black Numbers)

Garden State reductionism continues with Banquets, a young Jersey City band that further distills Gaslight Anthem’s already obvious distillation of Springsteen. While I like the songs here, the band seems incapable of outrunning its influences – it’s Brian Fallon here and the Boss there, some R.E.M. twang to kick off one track and some Replacements chords to start another. Banquets lead singer Travis Omilian was the original singer for the Let Me Run, another New Brunswick band with a serious Springsteen jones. There’s a bit of post-modern playfulness in Banquets’ song titles (“Lyndon B. Magic Johnson,” “What A Bunch of Aaron Burrs,” “I Wish I Was A Little More Lou Diamond Phillips,”) but I wish they were a little less obviously ripping off Gaslight Anthem. This is available as a 7 inch or a digital download from Black Numbers.

THE GREAT EXPLAINER – “The Way Things Swell” EP (Chunksaah)

This young Trenton quartet has two vocalists, one who screams in a hoarse growl and the other who sings more melodically. Add some chugging riffage and very clean, concise production by the Bouncing Souls’ Pete Steinkopf and you get a pretty persuavive four-song EP (available on colored 10-inch vinyl) that moves beyond the obvious Jawbreaker influence. I’m not a big fan of the “just drank Drano” vocal thing but the second singer provides a nice balance and the playful guitars keep things interesting. And song titles like “Bourbon…Codeine” and “Michael Jordan 666” make you wonder what the hell they’re screaming about. If I ever see a lyric sheet, I’ll let you know.

JUNIP – “Rope And Summit” EP

Swedish singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez scared a few people (a writer at Pitchfork included) by stating his intentions to do a rock band project. Actually, revive a rock band project; Junip was born 10 years ago but got put on the back burner when Gonzalez’ solo career took off. But Junip is less “rock” than a pulsating mix of synths, nylon string guitar, and Feelies-esque rhythms. The songs emerge from shadows, percolate a while, then recede again. Gonzalez’ tuneful vocals remind me a bit of Glenn Tillbrook on the poppier “Far Away,” but each of these songs has a distinct personality and feel that suggests the much-anticipated Junip full-length coming later this year will be an eclectic and richly rewarding affair.

THE LIGHTS – Failed Graves (Wantage USA)

Effective post-punk from this Seattle trio (their third album) which suggests a natural evolution of the Pacific Northwest’s grunge fixation of the Nineties. Much of the bombast has been pared back to sinewy guitars, snarling vocals, and pert percussion. “Deathless Distances”’ opening line “Because of a lack of funds… there will be no more fun” certain resonates in this economy, as does the eerie, sinuous groove of “The Fixer,” which suggests that a false sense of financial security is the new opiate of the masses. “Puerto Escondito” adds an alluring Mexican groove to the proceedings – Dylan’s “Heaven’s Door” as interpreted by The Fall, perhaps? – and the album ends with a (presumably) tongue-in-cheek stoner reworking of Black Flag’s “Nervous Breakdown.” Worth checking out if you find it in the bargain bins.

LESSER KNOWNS – Get Famous (

When this band emailed me with a link to their record, I had high hopes when I saw song titles like “Drinking Schlitz With Jesus” and “We Killed Michael Jackson.” Turns out the titles are more clever than the songs, which are solid bar-band rock with a bit of a country twang and some jam band grooves ( the group actually hails from somewhere in Massachusetts,) but don’t actually get very funny. There’s enough energy to tracks like “Doom’s Day Clock” and “Life Of The Party” to suggest the band’s fun to see live, but don’t pick this up expecting John Prine or Hayes Carll.

MALL'D TO DEATH - Can't Make A Living (Geykido Comet)

Imagine if the guys in the Copyrights or Off With Their Heads got really drunk one night and recorded an album in their basement, and you get the vibe of this amiable and fairly goofy anthemcore band from Minneapolis. With song titles like “Bomb The Defense Industry,” “The Hymns Of J Crew,” and “Skateboards for Afghanistan,” they’re obviously playing to the pop-punk collector nerd crew, and you gotta love a line like “From DOA to RKL / DI to TSOL / He knows the letters well / But he don't know what they spell.”


Man, I tried really hard to get into this, which offers itself as true anti-folk. But it’s just unlistenable hippie dithering, like if the Fugs or David Peel had no sense of melody or sense of humor.

MILK SHAKES – “Ooh Mommy” Cassette (

Boston’s Milk Shakes call their music “garbage rock,” punning on garage rock with a reference to the band’s lo-fi sound (and the fact that they’re selling this baby on cassette, although you can download it for free from the band’s website.) And indeed it’s all throbbing, fuzzed-out fun, connecting to a Boston legacy that runs from DMZ and the Lyres to the new generation of Beantown garage-punks like TAB The Band. There’s both boy and girl lead vocals (“Nobody’s Girl” is an especially kitschy, girl-groupy treat) while “Memory Foam” lays on the distorto vocals and trashy beats like some mutant offspring of the Cramps and B-52’s. Then just to prove they not entirely stuck in the retro 60’s, they cover the Magnetic Fields’ “Underwear,” and follow that up by ripping off the riff to the 13th Floor Elevators’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” If you like noisy simple garage-rock, you’re gonna frug your buns off to this.

THUNDER POWER – “Hearts Intersect” 3-song EP (Slumber Party)

So what do you think a band like Thunder Power out of Omaha, Nebraska would sound like? Apparently the band began as an experimental neo-folk project for singer/songwriter Matthew Hutton heavy on woodwinds and glockenspiel, and then morphed into a very straight ahead twee-pop ensemble, with Hutton sharing lead vocal duties with Kacynna Tompsett. This three song EP entertains without exactly blowing you away; it’s a left-handed compliment at best but the word that best sums it up is probably “nice.” “Heartifact” (two extra points for the pun) sounds like typical indie twee pop with some nice vocal interplay from the two principal singers; “Home Office” adds a loungey bossa nova vibe; “Take A Hike” brings an almost Feelies-esque propulsion to the proceedings. In the context of a whole album, I’d have no gripe with any of these songs. Such a short EP, though, really cries out for a statement song. Granted, neither “thunder” nor “power” have much to do with what this band’s about, but at the very least, one of these songs should have sent me away humming for hours. And didn’t.

THE HOLD STEADY – Heaven Is Whenever (Vagrant)

I think it’s time for people to stop whining about how much Craig Finn supposedly sounds like Bruce Springsteen. The man had an entire career in Lifter Pull and now five albums with The Hold Steady; this is what he sounds like, so get over it already. Either you get Finn or you don’t. What sets Heaven Is Whenever apart is the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay, whose absence leaves a vacuum that guitarist Tad Kubler fills quite nicely, thank you. On big fat rockers like “The Smidge” and “Hurricane J,” Kubler’s guitar roars, farts, and chugs out chords that perfectly accentuate Finn’s garrulous, gratuitously name-dropping, self-deprecating vocals; again, you either get this guy, or you don’t. Me, I get it. In fact, I love this album; the later at night (or actually, the earlier in the morning) I play it, the better it sounds. This is what being a middle-aged loser with a huge record collection and a whole lot of regrets sounds like. Leave the Springsteen comparisons for Gaslight Anthem and Titus Andronicus; Craig Finn’s transcended his influences. Let him wallow in them all he wants, he’s earned it.


I discovered this band almost accidentally while covering The Bamboozle this year; it turns out these talented teenagers from the Millburn-Livingston area won a statewide battle of the bands to earn a spot at the festival. Imagine my surprise when they turned out to be not the latest flavor of hairspray emo, or even a typical Jersey basement hardcore band, but a talented and sophisticated funk/soul combo creating a suburban version of James Brown’s trademark grooves. The band’s demo shows an impressive range, from the dancey funk grooves of “Right Now” and “Follow Me, Baby” to soulful ballads like “Destination” and “By My Side.” Besides a tight rhythm section and some tasty guitar, frontman Alex Sugarman also plays a mean alto sax, adding an extra dimension to the band’s basic rock lineup.

THE WAILING WALL – The Low Hanging Fruit (Jdub Records)

Imagine Leonard Cohen reborn as a multi-instrumentalist hipster who infuses his tone-poems with the unworldly sounds of sitar, singing saw, and pipe organ. That’s an idea of this second album from Brooklyn’s Jesse Rifkin, who goes by the name The Wailing Wall. Rifkin teamed up with rapper/sound alchemist Tim Fite to record this album, which showcases Rifkin’s almost monotone vocals set against striking aural templates – sparse and stripped down instrumentation enforcing vibrant, soul-stirring melodies, with each song featuring a distinctive instrument, from banjo to organ to some you might have trouble identifying. Rifkin’s rich use of language wallows in organic metaphors - animals, fruit, and vegetables all play prominent roles in his lyrics, on tracks like “Pineapple/Clarinet/Buffalo” and “Fear No Apple, Fear No Flood.” Yet it all somehow makes sense, as Rifkin – raised from childhood in the Orthodox Jewish religion – searches for meaning and solace in the secular world. As Mr. Cohen might say, “hallelujah.” - Jim Testa

"No Symmetry” EP (LE/Sidecho)

Those Mockingbirds are a young indie band from suburban New Jersey (West Milford, I believe) with a silky pop-rock sound, not unlike Gay Blades but without any of the irony. The band subtly mixes violin and keyboards with guitar textures, although there’s nothing here that bands like Yellowcard and Quietdrive didn’t bring to commercial emo years ago. The production (by True Love’s Tom Beaujour) makes everything sound as crisp, bright, and commercial as humanly possible; this could almost pass for the boy-band pop you hear on Nickelodeon’s Big Time Rush. It’s almost funny to hear the tumult of drums and guitars that kick off “Poor Excuse” (oh boy, a real rock song!) only to have things quickly devolve into whiney emo pop with big calculated hooks. All of which will probably sound totally hot if you’re a 14 year old girl, but it’s a bit treacly and twee for a jaded old punk geezer like me.


Black Francis – aka the Pixies’ Frank Black, born as Charles Thompson – takes a break from the ongoing Pixies reunion for a weird little excursion in which he exercises (rather than exorcises) those peccadilloes that have made him a cult staple in the indie underground while preventing him from ever achieving the breakthrough mainstream acceptance that the Pixies briefly toyed with. So you think the guy’s a hipster who’d get his face punched in if he ever tried to play for a bar room full of rednecks? Check out the cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers “Wheels,” irony-free and as honky-tonkin’ as a Catholic boy from Boston’s ever gonna get. But then there’s “Corrina,” as quirky as anything in the Black Francis/Frank Black canon, with its fuzzed-out guitars and hooky backup vocals, or the goofy “Six Legged Man,” or the surfy/spy workout “Wild Son,” or the title track, which sounds like your weird Uncle Louie trying to play an Elton John song at your cousin’s bar mitzvah. If you dig Frank Black or Black Francis or whatever he wants to call himself, complete with creepy lyrics and big pop hooks that could be radio anthems if only he’d take himself a little more seriously, you should find plenty to like on NONSTOPEROTIK.

NO AIR GUITAR ALLOWED by Steve Weinberger (

Anyone who spends a good amount of time watching live music – from stadiums to basement shows – should get a chuckle out of this book, which pokes fun at all of the stereotypes and rituals of the American concert experience. From hipster fashionistas to the middle-aged dude who keeps screaming for “Whipping Post,” Weinberger nails the follies and foibles of finger-pointing, lighter-waving, air guitar-playing fans. Granted, Weinberger focuses far more on the mainstream heavy metal doofus than the underground hipster geek, but some of his entries show that he’s been to a few small clubs along the way. If there’s a gripe about the book, it’s that Weinberger too often finds himself shooting fish in the proverbial barrel; there’s really nothing terribly original about pointing out that the tallest dudes at a concert always stand in front, or that the drunkest assholes always wind up puking in the back. But there are definitely a couple of laughs to be had here, especially if you’re a diehard concertgoer who’s undoubtedly made many of these same observations yourself.

HOUSE BOAT – Processing Complaints (Traffic Street)

There’s a problem with being awesome: People expect you to keep being awesome. House Boat’s 2009 debut The Delaware Octopus not only ranked as arguably the best pop-punk album of the year, but it wound up perched near the top of my all-around Top 10 list. So it’s hard not to look at this EP as a bit of a disappointment. Singer/songwriter Grath Madden’s still stuck in that turning-30 midlife crisis that inspired Delaware Octopus’ unique take on pop-punk angst, but the songs just seem less interesting this time out, the arrangements not as fully evolved; even the production (at least on the digital download I’m playing) sounds compressed and noisy. There are clever moments – this is Grath Madden, folks, clever is a given – but it’s almost as if he spent more energy on the song titles than the lyrics or melodies. And while the backing vocals (from bandmates Zack Rivethead, Ace Sajid, and Mike Yannich) have their moments, nothing really smacks you in the face and makes you want to hear it again and again and again. (And while I’m quibbling, an Ace song would have been nice.) This sounds more like that first 7-inch a new band rushes to get out so they’ll have vinyl to sell on tour, rather than the follow-up to one of my favorite albums . Tough love, House Boat: I still love ya, but I expect more.

DAN LOVGREN - Self-titled (

Fans of sad-core will adore this DIY project from singer/songwriter Dan Lovgren. Home-recorded with hand-screened CD sleeves, the CD features six tracks (and one reprise) of downbeat balladry. Lovgren doesn’t wallow in self-pity, but with a rich, evocative voice and simple, stripped down instrumentation (just an acoustic guitar and organ), his songs conjure up images of isolation and despair, from the metaphorical refrain “these dogs don’t bark anymore” to the more literal “Death Bed Blues.” “Blue Navigator” sounds a bit like mid-period John Prine (albeit a very depressed John Prine, mourning for a lost love.) I wouldn’t recommend these songs for everyone, but if you enjoy Mark Kozelek and Elliot Smith, then you should hear Dan Lovgren.

DEAD GAZE – End Of Days, Why Not You? (Mirror Universe Tapes)

Part of the reborn cassette culture flooding the indie underground, Mississippian Ransom Cole Furlow presents 10 tracks of super-lo fi pop: Tons of reverb, heavy distortion, and floating among the murk, melodic vocals. Fans of Princeton’s Kurt Vile or early Jay Reatard who like their music as muddy as possible might dig this, and I do think there are some lovely soundscapes buried under the production here, but I’m just not a fan of this lo-fi approach.

THE SCHOOL – Loveless Unbeliever (Minty Fresh)

Retro is a fickle thing; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This works. The School, featuring the vocals of Liz Hunt, recreate the 60’s girl-pop sound of Phil Spector and the hit songwriting of Brill Building greats like Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry and Lieber & Stoller. But the production is fresh and modern, infused with colorful bits like piano, horns, and glockenspiel, and lots of rich vocal harmonies. Winsome, innocent, and irrepressibly bouncy, these dozen songs are a treacly delight. “Can’t Understand” even adds a Motown groove to the mix, and there are other moments that suggest Dusty Springfield and even the Shangri-Las. This is a wonderfully fresh retake on classic Sixties pop, and highly recommended.

THE DEPRECIATION GUILD – Spirit Youth (Kanine Records)

Depreciation Guild’s core members, singer Kurt Feldman and guitarist Christop Hochheim, may have found more success with their other band, Pains Of Being Of Heart, but I’m certainly glad they persevered to release this second DG album. The band mixes modern electronic-pop (real drums processed to the point where they sound like drum machines), layers of synths, and delicate, breathy vocals that clearly reference the British shoegazer bands of the Eighties and Nineties. But Depreciation Guild doesn’t just want to build sonic soundcapes; there are very real songs here, with urgent vocals and concise melodies. While the band does “ethereal” and “dream-like” very well, I actually prefer their uptempo tracks like “Crucify You,” “November,” and “Through The Snow,” which skitter long with the energy of early R.E.M. “White Moth” even conjures up echoes of late period Beach Boys with its layered vocals and post-teen, Pet Sounds-ish yearning. This is a thoroughly delightful release that should appeal to both Brooklyn hipsters and old-school indie-pop fans alike.

THE TATTLE TALES – “Moon Glasses” EP (

Christian Stefos is a mess. “I shake when I’m awake so I just sleep,” he moans on “Anymore Amen.” On “Dave Mustane,” he’s fucked up in his room, feeling the pain, singing the love songs he used to share with the girl who dumped him. And on “No Pills,” he’s eschewing medication so he can wallow in his misery. Lucky for us that heartbreak makes for great songwriting; the more miserable Christian gets, the more infectiously winsome and catchy and irresistible the Tattle Tales become. He even pulls off an acoustic power ballad that manages to make you think of Guns N Roses and Wings in the same four minutes. It’s been way too long since the last Tattle Tales record, but all the hallmarks of their signature power-pop sound are here – zippy synth riffs, harmony background vocals, scintillating melodies. Keyboardist Anya takes the lead vocal on the breathlessly uptempo “A New One,” providing a much needed spoonful of sugar to the vinegary woe-is-me mix, but let’s face it: Feeling bad hasn’t felt this good since the Archies.

Killer Records in Finland is putting out a 10-inch vinyl version, SP Records and Hang Up records are pressing CD's, and
PopJinx Records is putting it out digitally in the UK, so the record should be widely available.

PATCHES AND GRETCHEN – Sugar Head Pie (Sandpaper Tongue Records,

Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not Minneapolitan Gretchen Seichrist’s. The comparison to Patti Smith hits first, with Seichrist’s disconcertingly deadpan alto vocals coming at you like an outtake from Waves on the scintillating “Time Of The Lilacs.” But with her crack backing band of Minneapolis folkies (Terry Eason, Derek Rolando, David Loy, and producer Rich Mattson,) Seichrist soon establishes herself as a very distinct personality, mixing bar-room rock ‘n’ roll, country skronk, John Wesley Harding-era Dylan, backporch folk, husky ballads, and sinuous lounge-punk. And when she mixes punk with poetry – as on the captivating “Ghosts I Love” – she’ll have you, well, dancing barefoot.

PROJECT 27 – Missing One (

The 27 tells you that Ben Weasel’s going to figure in this band’s sound, but on their second full-length, Long Island’s Project 27 manage to both embrace and outgrow their influences. The buoyant melodies and expressive vocals, rock-solid drumming and beefy guitars provide a consistently driving sound, without ever locking into generic Weaselcore. In fact these guys are pretty damn clever, as evidenced by the witty wordplay of “Family, Genus, Species” and the almost Delay-like uplifting message of “Don’t Pull Up Lame.” Other strong tracks include “Word Gets Out” and “Abby.” The opening riff of “Losing My Mind” echoes the Ramones but the song quickly establishes that Project 27 sound – fast, loud, and snotty, three things this band does very well.

GLINT – EP (Rely Records

Part of NYC’s new-shoegazer movement, Glint may meld familiar elements from bands like Muse and Animal Collective, but the parts here add up to a disarmingly attractive whole. Jase Blankfort’s keening vocals and a 3-D mix of synths, drums, and bass create swirling post-psychedelic maelstrom of sound – call it art rock, synth pop, or dance music, the lush production and percolating rhythms just work. Since the songs all run around 5 minutes, a 5-song EP keeps the ideas fresh before your head starts spinning and your finger reaches for the Menu button on your iPod.

MOD FUN - Futurepresent

The reborn Mod Fun - who helped lead a mod/garage revival in New Jersey back in the early and mid-Eighties, disappeared for a decade, and then reformed a few years ago - give us an entire album's worth of new material, and it's been well worth the wait. As teenagers, the band wore their influences all too clearly on the sleeves of their bullseye t-shirts, recycling the records they loved (Jam, Who, The Creation.) As the band matured, its songwriting expanded to included influences like Nuggets-era garage, psychedelia, and the L.A. paisley underground bands; and now, as adults, all of those influences combine to create a distinctive and less derivative sound. The blueprint remains the same: Mick Hale's still boyish vocals and yrebley guitar, Bob Strete's melodic and propulsive basslines, and Chris Collins' crisp and efficient drumming. But the band's musical palette has expanded to include the richly harmonic "Fade To Mirror" (with echoes of the Hollies and Zombies,) the near-metal throb of "Titantic" and "The Jettison," the Kinks-like exposition of "Patrick Bishop," and the sinewy third-world rhythms of "Communication Gap." Also of note, bassist Bob Strete sings lead on two tracks of intricate, XTC-ish pop. No longer just a travel brochure for Carnaby Street, Mod Fun 2.0 invites you to a world of groovy sounds.

THE HEXTALLS - Get Smashed (

Even if you don’t get all the Pop-Punk Message Board in-jokes, the musical shout-outs to the Copyrights and Steinways, or the references to Dateless, Rally Records, and Dear Landlord, you’ll get a smile out of the latest from Vancouver’s Hextalls. The band writes ultra-catchy singalong pop tunes about video games, Tina Turner, baby poo, Bryan Adams, dead grandma’s, and horny dads, all set to ultra-catchy pop-punk with singalong choruses, gleefully cadging riffs from Screeching Weasel, Teenage Bottlerocket, and the Ramones. “I Don’t Wanna Be A New York Ranger” ranks as the best pop song about hockey since the Hanson Brothers, and there’s even a “Generic Mid-Record Power Ballad.” This is hands down my favorite punk record of the year so far. Pardon me while I crack another beer and listen to it again.

IT’S A KING THING – Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo (

Despite the annoying title, you won’t feel buffalo’d if you visit this Philly combo’s website and download their new album. It’s A King Thing play pleasant low-key indie pop with sparse instrumentation, just a little guitar, keyboards, and quiet drums. The songs have the ingratiating charm of Ben Kweller’s early demos, the relaxed slacker pace of Pavement, and the catchiness of early Weezer; these sound like songs a teenager might sign to his girlfriend on the front porch, but in fact, the members of It’s A King Thing seem to be a bit older than that. And yet, every song seems to ask “what am I doing with my life?” or “what am I going to do with my life?,” and there’s a universality to those themes that’s hard to deny. Nothing here will blow you away, but that’s not the point; more importantly, every song on this album leaves you eager to hear the next one. The band offers its entire catalog for free download, so there’s plenty to catch up on.

HUNTERS AND RUNNERS – Of Classic Renown (

New York City’s Hunters And Runners bite off a bit more than they can stylistically chew on their debut album, seguing from ska punk to reggae to alt-Americana; these stabs at genre-hopping too often come off like bad karaoke or worse, like the downright hokey “Father’s Porsche.” Emo-lite ala’ All Time Low (poppy and non-threateningly romantic) seems to be their most natural fit, on tracks like “The Sims,” “Sociology,” and “Soon.” Hopefully they all own tight jeans and at least one of them looks good shirtless.

ADAM’S DAGGER - Self-titled

If at first you don’t succeed: Adam’s Dagger formed in Florida, moved to Southern California, and called themselves The Shanks and Zero To Kill before settling on their current moniker. The trio keeps things fast and simple, channeling familiar punk rock icons like the Misfits, Black Flag, early Bad Religion, and even NJ’s hardcore pioneers Adrenalin OD. The band recently toured the entire country, from Long Beach to NYC and back again, booking all their own shows, and self-released this 14-song album. The songs reflect their dogged DIY ethic, with titles like “The Will To Survive” and “End Of Suffering,” although they’ve also got a sense of humor (“Hot Dog Down A Hallway.”) This sounds like something I could have reviewed in 1982; nearly 30 years later, the formula still works. Rise above, guys, rise above.

MAY OR WEST – We, The End (

They don't have basement shows in Hoboken, but there's no doubt this young Hoboken quartet comes from the same basement-show ethic that spawned the likes of Thursday. MayOrWest combines technical metal guitars with fist-pumping punk melodies. There’s certainly no shortage of ambition or potential here; the band even recruited producer Tim Gilles (Bouncing Souls, Thursday,) who brings his signature gang vocals to help imbue the band’s impassioned songwriting with an anthemic largeness. With that in mind, the self-released “We, The End” sounds as booming as anything you’d hear from a major label (on radio-ready tracks like “Devil’s In The Details” and “Scream Therapy,”) with the deftness to scale things back for a more intimate ballad (“Sevier.”) If there’s a criticism, the band just has to kick its songwriting up a notch or two and they’ll be ready for national attention.

BONES HOWELL – “Is Your New Best Friend” EP

Bones Howell is a howling lo-fi madman, equal parts Jay Reatard, Jack White, and Nick Cave. This 5-song EP doesn’t significantly reinvent the sound this guy patented with the Volunteers – growling, bluesy rock ‘n’ roll delivered with a sexy snarl. Guitarist John Cave adds some tasty licks and Paul Cigolini’s drumming is nicely crisp and taut, but mostly this is about Bones Howell leaning back and letting it go, wailing through uptempo rockers like “BBQ,” “Love In The Trenches,” and then toning it down a bit for sensual, insinuating ballads like “Modern Whirl” and “Nephritis.”

BOY GENIUS – “Staggering” (

“Recorded on tape, mixed on tape, and mastered directly from tape…The result is an album that has all the warmth and charm of a classic vinyl pop record,” states Brooklyn’s Boy Genius, and for that reason, they’re releasing their sophomore album on vinyl only (although a digital download code is available for the phonographically-impaired.) And indeed, these bright, somewhat twee, inspiringly upbeat pop songs sound like something that might have been appeared on an LP back in the Eighties, perhaps on the fledgling K Records or from one of Boston’s innumerable jangle-pop combos like Big Dipper or Dumptruck. Critics used to call this kind of music “college rock” and Boy Genius hired one of the masters of the genre, Mitch Easter, to produce this bubbly pop confection. The music’s lost none of its charm over the last few decades, even if its irony-free sensibility doesn’t exactly jibe with Park Slope hipsterdom. But who can argue with the sunny effects of harmonies and horn sections? Certainly not me.

CHOKE UP – “Choke Up” EP

No one buys CD’s anymore, and vinyl’s got a nasty carbon footprint, so it’s probably not all that surprising that cassettes are making a comeback in the punk underground. Boston hardcore band Choke Up new 5-song EP - released on cassette - should appeal to fans of the late, lamented Hot Water Music. Despite frantic tempos and screamed vocals, the band’s retains a firm grasp of melody, especially on the catchy gang-vocal choruses, and the guitars, bass, and drums never get too metal. The surprisingly thoughtful (and intelligible) lyrics help this release stand out from the usual sweaty thrash ‘n’ burn crew. See you in Gainesville!

DAVE PATTEN – Boomerang (

At the ripe old age of 21, Philadelphian Dave Patten has already released five albums, and his homemade videos have a viral following in the hundreds of thousands on YouTube. His engagingly boyish American Idol-caliber vocals deliver classic pop with a little John Mayer funk, hip-hop beats, and a big radio-ready sound. The piano ballad “Stop” sounds like a hit single, while the more intimate “Back” showcases beautiful finger-picked guitar and a lovely falsetto. Although he’s barely old enough to get into bars, Patten should be giving seminars on how to do-it-yourself; the kid is all right.


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