Jersey Beat Music Fanzine


THE EARLY NOVEMBER - Self-titled (Pure Noise;

The Early November were quite the big deal back in the heyday of 2000's emo, but 20 years later, the band's been reduced to frontman Ace Enders and drummer Jeff Kummer. I was surprised to hear that, except for a four-year hiatus between 2007 and 2011 (following their catastrophic triple-album debacle,)the band has been steadily releasing new albums. On The Early November (the group's 7th album, which they've chosen to self-titl,) 42-year old Ace Enders proves he can write radio-ready alt-rock tunes ("About Me,") but also the kind of clunky woe-is-me nihilism that was the soul of emo ("I don't fear the end of my time/ I'm hardly holding on / My spirit's all that shows / I'm already a ghost" or "Stop you're crying/ I'm such a mess / I've given everything / and I'm still worthless.") Expect huge crescendoing choruses and a goodly amount of angsty screaming, and the Early November inadvertently proves that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

KAREN HAGLOF - One Hand Up (

From her roots in the Minneapolis punk scene to a long career as a NYC oncologist and hospital administrator, Karen Haglof has lived an amazing life. She's making records at this point in her life with zero fucks given as to commercial appeal or careerist agendas; these are the songs she hears in her head and share with us. On "One Hand Up," that ranges from cosmic cowboy folk songs (or as John Prine once said, "country-eastern music") to light jazz to blues-driven garage-rock and ethereal psychedelia. It's a very mixed bag, the common denominator being Haglof's melodic alto vocals. For the adventurous fan of unclassifiable singer-songwriters.

THE PUTZ - "On And Up And Out" EP (

From Milan's I Buy Records comes this four-song EP from Indiana's The Putz, playing Ramonescore in the style of the Queers and Screeching Weasel. It's a formula, all right, but these mooks have nailed it;' The songs are fun, catchy, and clever, with tight vocal harmonies and just the right amount of whoa-oh-oh choruses. Gabba gabba, we accept you, one of us, one of us.

THE MEDIOCRE FRIENDS - "So, this is it?" EP (

Self-deprecating name to the contrary, these four tracks by four middle-aged friends (including Gay Elvis, of Kid With Man Head and Readymade Breakup fame, on lead vocals and guitar) redeem the idea of Dad Rock with the basic: taut songwriting, melody, rhythm, and sincerity. The guys has that brassy, trebley, explosive sound I always associate with the New Brunswick scene in the late Nineties and early '00's, and absolutely amazing time for indie rock like this. "I Adore" rocks upliftingly, "This Old House" and "Be All Right" blend an R.E.M. vibe with nostalgia and optimism, respectively, and GE's "That'll Be Me" muses on growing older. "We didn’t set out to have a cohesive theme to these songs, but there is a word that appears in all four songs: Time," writes bassist Bill Cederroth in the liner notes. "The songs speak about how quickly life can change, pausing for self-reflection, and the inevitability of the future." Unspoken is the message that while we can't slow the passage of time, it's a lot easier to get through it all with friends and music.


BOBBY MAHONEY - Another Deadbeat Summer (Wicked Cool)

For their first album for Wicked Cool, veteran Jersey shore rockeres Bobby Mahoney have trimmed the band's name from Bobby Mahoney & the Seventh Son and basically constructed an overview to introduce their burly rock 'n' roll to a wider audience. The title track dates back to 2014, and the rest has been previously released on EP's, remixed and repackaged by the folks at Wicked Cool. Whether rocking out with muscular guitar solos and rampaging melodies or shifting down to singer-songwriter mode, you can definitely hear echoes of Springsteen, Brian Fallon, and the Bouncing Souls, all huge influences on the still-cherubic Mahoney, who's yet to hit 30 but has been gigging at the Stone Pony for 15 years. Everything here sounds confident and well-polished but not slick or commercial, and there's an undercurrent of Mahoney's acoustic singer-songwriter roots - think Chuck Ragan or Frank Turner - in the well-crafted melodies and thought-provoking lyrics. The title track stands out, as does "Roaring Twenties," a well-crafted meditation on post-adolescence,and the inevitable tour song, "No Amens In This Van (Miami 2019.)" The Jersey shore sound is in good hands, folks, because tramps like these guys, baby, they were born to run.


JEM Records loves these tribute compilations, letting its current roster tackle the songs of Baby Boomer hitmakers including Brian Wilson, Ray Davies, John Lennon, and Pete Townsend. By saluting songwriters as opposed to bands, song selections can theoretically expand to solo albums and whatnot, although the Jagger/Richards disc sticks to the Stones, with a mix of familiar hits and a few deep album cuts performed by the label's roster of power-pop stalwarts. For me, the difference between tribute acts and bands doing covers depends on whether the artists choose to perform songs as faithfully as possible - the tributes - or add their own spin to familiar material (ideally, the whole point of doing a cover.) Pretty much everyone on these Jem comps splits the difference; very little radical reinvention, but not note for note carbon copies either. The Midnight Callers stick to the template on "Jumpin' Jack Flash" but add a groovy sax solo; the trippy, psychdelic side of the Stones comes to the fore on the Anderson Council's "Citadel," the Gripweeds' "Dandelion," and Nick Piunti's "Ruby Tuesday." I like how the Gold Needles add garage-rock overtones to "Let's Spend The Night Together, and the Cynz' twee power-pop delivery almost makes "Starfucker (Star Star)" sound G-Rates. The most radical (and successful) overhaul comes from the High Frequencies's trebly, synth-soaked take on "You Can't Always Get What You Want." My gripe: I am a Stones fan but not a completist or fanatic, but I don't remember several choices here: Paul Collins' "Tell Me," The Airport 77s' "Too Tight," the Grip Weeds' "We Love You," the Anderson Council's "Connection," and Johnathan Pushkar's "Don't Stop." I went back and listened to the originals and the cover versions, and frankly, I don't get the point; with so many far, far better songs in the catalog, why choose these, especially since none do anything to compensate for the originials' weaknesses.

UNCLE SKUNK - II (Cropsey Records;

You don't see a lot of three-guitar indie bands these days, but the heavily-gigging NYC quintet Uncle Skunk put all of theirs to good use on its new six-song EP "II." These songs either stretch out in languorous shoegazey psychedelia or hit you with pop song brevity; regardless of length, Uncle Skunk delivers dense layered sounds that buzz around your head like a hit of Lester Bangs' Romilar. "Old Violence" and "Found A Way" add a dollop of country twang to tracks that still swell into a shoegazey swirl, "December 18" invokes noisy Velvets clangor, and "Drone Song" unspools in a Feeliesque (or Yo La Tengo-ish) haze, with voices and guitar lines mysteriously fading into and out of the mix. "My Sweet Wife" and "On The Hill" bookend the album with droning, psychedelic, intriguing four-minute+ reveries, mercifully avoiding any hint of Grateful Dead noodling. Who needs THC when you have three talented guitarists piloting your flight into the cosmos?

FREEDOM - Stay Free! (Sound Pollution/Wild Kingdom)

What does working-class American rock from the Seventies and Eighties sound like when filtered through the ears of Swedish musicians? Enter Freedom, whose sophomore release "Stay Free!" absorbs and regurgitates those influences, combined with a heavy dose of the Who and the 70's power-pop of the Raspberries. Unsurprisingly these guys worship at the altar of Bruce Springsteen, but there's some Bon Jovi and John Mellencamp too. With English lyrics, Freedom has a "Love Reaction," walks into the "Eye Of The Storm," warns "This Is Gonna Hurt," fires up a Clarence Clemons sax solo on "Freedom Song," and salutes their doomed no-future generation in "Generation," but it's on "Johnny, You're Electric" that Freedom really lets it fly: "Don’t blame it on rock & roll, blame it on rebel music and pompadours, starting fires inside their souls.” I'm not sure exactly which generation wore pompadours and rocked to Springsteen in suburban parking lots, but if that sounds like you, climb aboard the bus.

LOVELETTER - Testament (

To paraphrase Mike Watt, a trio should be like a triangle, three equal sides supporting the whole, and the three women in Loveletter nail it. Because guitarist Gabriella Zappia's voice bears a kinship to Kim Gordon's, Sonic Youth comparisons will prove inevitable, and sometimes warranted. But it's Dennie Gray's bass that shines on these four tracks, especially the clever call-and-response interplay of "Riffage" the throbbing pulse of "Bully," and the subtle Clash homage on "Burn Up On Reentry." Melissa Houston's drums more than hold their own as well, solidly punctuating and propelling the melodies without ever getting in the way. There is a great deal to be excited about here for fans of NYC post-punk.

BEN VAUGHN - "Interpretations" EP (

Ben Vaughn is an American singer/songwriter with a strong sense of humor who, over a 40 year career, has built a signature sound around Duane Eddy reverb, Farfisa organs, and throwback arrangements. Best known for witty, ironic, and sarcastic tunes like "I'm Sorry (But So Is Brenda Lee)" and "Wayne Fontana Was Wrong," Vaughn plays it straight on this EP, showing reverence to five obscure covers that to his mind should've been hits. "Crying, Laughing, Loving, Lying" may sound like Buddy Holly goes to Nashville, but it's actually by a gay black British poet and songwriter, Labi Siffre. Vaughn's version adds an electric guitar solo and delivers the lyrics with sincerity, not snark (given the track's huge debt to "Crying, Waiting, Hoping," it definitely could have been played for pastiche.) "My Reservation's Been Confirmed" was originally written for Herman's Hermits by some shlock Tin Pan Alley types as album filler, delivering near novelty-song level Fifties rock 'n' roll tropes with a lot of boogie woogie piano. Vaughn goes for a bluesier, more Chuck Berry direction, replacing the Fat Domino keys with electric guitar. "Gotta See Jane" originally appeared on a `68 TAMLA/Motown single by Canadian R. Dean Taylor, co-written with Eddie Holland of Holland-Dozier-Holland and Motown's Ronald Miller. It's got a "Riders On The Storm" vibe with a spooky organ as the singer hurries through a dark, rainy night with great urgency, although we never learn why. "Hook And Ladder" sounds like a Cajun song from the bayou with its mandolins and Zydeco rhythm, but it was actually penned and recorded by Norman Greenbaum, whose one moment of fame came with "Spirits In The Sky." For the final track, Vaughn unearths "I Remember," a track that only became available on the reissue of the first Suicide album. Vaughn retains the spooky, minimalist electronic feel of the original but his warmer vocal adds a touch of humanity that the robotic original lacked. Given how obscure these songs are, I suspect Ben Vaughn fans will enjoy this as much as a collection of new originals (it was certainly the first time I'd heard any of these songs) and the production definitely brings Vaughn's signature sound to the project.


Jem Records 2.0 specializes in music by an international array of AARP-eligible retro-Sixties bands (the Gripweeds, New Brunswick's Anderson Council, Glen Burtnik's Weeklings, the UK's Gold Needles) as well as tribute compilations to the gods of classic rock (Pete Townshend, John Lennon.) This "Salute to Ray Davies" doesn't include any Ray Davies solo songs, so the title's a bit confusing; why isn't it "Jem Salutes The Kinks?" For listeners looking for the hits, you get Nick Piunti's "Till The End Of The Day" (of course) and Johnathan Pushkar's spirited "David Watts;" The Midnight Callers do "Come Dancing" from the Eighties, The Weeklings faithfully cover "Lola" from the Seventies, and the rest dates from the Sixties, with a surprising number of deep album cuts, singles, and B-sides. Maybe the idea was to salute Ray Davies' depth as a songwriter. Perhaps, but some of the choices here leave me scratching my head. I love the Anderson Council, but why cover "Do You Remember Walter" and "This Is Where I Belong?" There are reasons why some songs are beloved and others all-but-forgotten. Pushkar, one of Jem's younger artists, attacks his tracks admirably, and the female vocals of Lysa Mychols & Super 8 ("Days") and the Cynz ("I Need You") add a refreshing new perspective. But as these things go, this one's a mixed bag.

WHIMSYLAND ( Kat Records/Waterslide Records/Worst Idea Records)

From the infinite wellspring of childlike wonder that is the mind of Chadd Derkins comes the best pop-punk album of... the decade? Chadd assembled an all-star pop-punk lineup to record this tribute to an imaginary amusement park, where every ride has a theme song and every moment is filled with joy. The core band includes several people you probably know if you're a regular reader of this column, including Mikey Erg, Grath Madden, Chris Grivet, Charles Vorkas and Andy Conway, along with a small army of guest contributors (Dan Paquin, Adam Rabuck, Azeem Sajid, Erin Hays, Jonnie Whoa-Oh, Kelly Sullivan, Adam Fletcher, Kait Eldridge, and lots lots more. ) The tone of the songs change along with the attraction they're celebrating: “Nautilus To Neptune” and “Volcano Valley Rally” promise high-speed adventure and fun, “Frankenstein's Silver Mine” is appropriately spooky, “Oatmeal Cookies: The Ride” feeds your sweet-tooth craving for power-pop, “The Keurig Dr. Pepper Hall Of Tomorrow” rings with hope and promise, and “Burglary On The Orient Express Starring Hercule Parrot” features a rascally character with a Belgian accent and musically recalls The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The basic 15-track album concludes (of course) with a fireworks spectacular as we leave the park, but there are nine more tr/acks available including demos, remixes, and alternate versions.


There's two ways to approach covers (or in this case, a tribute album:) Play it straight and faithfully recreate the original, or try to add your own spin to a classic song. This is the third Jem tribute LP (following salutes to John Lennon and Brian Wilson) and the artists here - all from Jem's catalog of mostly local power-pop acts -take both tacks. The Gripweeds' "I'm Free," the Anderson Council's "Mary Anne With The Shaky Hand," and the Weeklings' version of "I Can See For Miles" stick to the script, while Lysa Mychols & Super 8 bring their own style to chestnuts like "Baba O'Riley" and "I Can't Explain," infusing power-pop harmonies and slowing the tempo. Other bands do mashups, like The Airport 77's version of "Substitute" that includes a bit of "Won't Get Fooled Again," Mychols' "Baba O'Riley" bleeds into a bit of "Who Are You" (a possible salute to CBS' "CSI" franchise using Who tracks as their theme songs.) What's most fun for me are the tracks that unearth Townshend tracks I've either never heard or don't remember: The Anderson Council plucks "Glow Girl" from The Who Sell Out, Richard Barone brings a breezy, folkie approach to "Let's See Action," a non-LP Who single later redone on a Townshend solo album, and the Gold Needles unearth "The Goods Gone," a rare Who B-side. With the exception of "Let Me Love Open The Door" from 1980, almost all of these tracks date from Townshend's glory years in the mid-60's to 1971, and you really can't go wrong with that.

DAVID HEATLEY - Life Our Own Way ( David Heatley is best known as a cartoonist (for The New Yorker among other outlets) and an animator, but he's also a songwriter with some history in the NYC anti-folk scene of the Nineties. His latest solo album is an eclectic affair, to say the least. Much of it falls into the category that used to be known as Adult Alternative Album rock - easygoing, tuneful, pretty even, a slightly hipper but no less accessible variation of the shlock you hear over supermarket and department store PA's. A couple of tunes ape cracked country or New Orleans party music, and then there's a bunch of stuff that's just plain weird, the kind of thing you might have heard on Avenue A back in 1999 from the likes of Jeffrey Lewis, the Moldy Peaches, or R. Stevie Moore. "I Love You (Duh)" is a disco novelty tune with female voices, "Meme" (as in "I don't wanna be a meme") goes very Moldy Peaches with angular scifi guitars, a Devo-esque beat, and tongue in cheek lyrics. The opening track, "Blowing Off The World" channels Velvet Underground drone and "Pissin White Light" takes the conceit even further, to the point of VU pastiche (with a bit of Moldy Peaches scatology.) At 15 tunes, I wonder if this might have worked better as one album of the straightforward light-pop stuff and an EP of the kooky tunes, but it's certainly an interesting (if uneven) listen.

KEVIN DEVINE - Nothing's Real, So Nothing's Wrong (

Kevin Devine calls this "a grown-up break-up (or break-ups, as it were) record, for strugglers by strugglers, a kitchen-sink 10th album pivot." Emotions - sadness, regret, weariness, and an occasional glimpse of hope - seep through the music, the arrangements, and the familiar sound of Kevin's voice, but I wish he had published the lyrics on his Bandcamp page, because I can't help feeling that I'm missing a good deal of what he's saying here. In conversation (yes, we're old friends,) Kevin can be one of the most erudite and thoughtful people I've ever met, and his lyrics often reflect that, but they're frequently muddied in the mix and indistinct, except for repeated choruses like "I need an override, I need an override" or "swan dive, swan dive, can't die, swan dive." The song titles provide plenty of clues though: "Albatross," "If I'm Going To Die Here," "Hell Is An Impression Of Myself," "It's A Trap!," and "I Tried To Fall In Love (My Head Got In The Way.)" This is Devine's first new album in six years - a long stretch for him - a period in which he experienced fatherhood and the pandemic (and it concomitant loss of touring and income, although Devine successfully nurtured a sustaining Patreon following with live-from-his-living-room concerts, giveaways, and other digital outreach. There's a psychedelic thread running through the album - disembodied voices, weird synth intros, and a dense, hazy mix - that makes it quite unlike his last release, the relatively straightforward Instigator. Above all else you can say about Kevin Devine, his has always been honest with his audience, and on Nothing's Real, So Nothing's Wrong, you can hear him struggling and coming out the other side, but never failing to deliver a compelling song.

LOVECHILD - "Desperation Blues"/"Trouble Down The Line" (

Leo Lovechild and his collaborators (twin brothers Aaron and Wyatt Mones) in the drummerless Lovechild follow up their excellent January, 2022 debut album with this two-song single. Leo is a true child of New York City, which perhaps explains the similarity to those other NYC kids, Paul and Artie, especially on this release's B-side "Trouble Down The Line," with its echoes of Ricky Nelson and the Everly Brothers. Despite its title, "Desperation Blues" (with its finger picked acoustic guitar and warm harmonies)also hews far more strongly to Paul Simon than Bob Dylan. If NYC still had a folk scene, Lovechild would be at its forefront.

NEW NORDE - "Whatever's Clever" EP (Trash Casual/Mint400)

Hailing from New Hampshire, the three members of New Norde used to be regular visitors to the Garden State club scene when they were in The Minus Scale a decade or so ago. This new music seems to purposely mimic the warm, engaging tones of Nineties alternative rock; think Soul Asylum, Better Than Ezra, Nada Surf, or The Promise Ring. "Bleeder" boasts a bold melody and sonic riffs, "Want Me" revisits the Lemonheads, and "Amy" could be an outtake from that oddest of Seventies artifacts, The Beach Boys Love You. "Just Yr Luck" represents a perfect example of a small band writing and playing a song that sounds like it should heard in arenas, while "Slack" has a more intimate feel, reminiscent of the Midwestern emo bands that were all the range back in The Minus Scale's day. This EP reminds me of those wonderful shows that Mint 400's Neil Sabatino used to put on in Bound Brook back at the turn of the 21st Century, not a bad era by any means.

DEFECTING GREY - Arc (Fake Chapter Records)

Defecting Grey's first album features three veteran faces from the NJ underground: Brothers C.J. and Vince Grogan (on lead vocals/guitar/keyboards and bass/backing voc respectively) and drummer Mike Polilli (Buzzkill, Atom Driver.) I met the Grogans back in the Eighties when they were part of the NJ mod/garage revival in The Phantom 5, while Mike's been a mainstay of New Brunswick Rock for almost as long. After several EP's, Defecting Grey has delivered an album of psychedelic garage punk that recalls the similar fusion pioneered by Husker Du (C.J. even sustains his vowels like Bob Mould.) But there's a lot more going here than mere Husker worship. Vince Grogan plays his bass like a lead guitar, Mike Polilli brings the thunder, "Post Modern Western" veers towards power pop, the 6 minute-plus "The Seven Hunters" emphasizes the band's psychedelic side, and album-closer "Citroen" borrows some Ramones chord changes, infuses them with a burst of blistering lead guitar, and winds up as the album's most memorable track.

ROY ORBITRON - "Post-Byronic" EP (

Conor Meara is the voice and songwriter behind Roy Orbitron, although this new EP pulls out all the stops and features 11 other musicians or vocalists. It doesn't ever sound fussy or overproduced though. Rather, a lovely violin line or a bit of tinkling piano subtly add nuance to Meara's baritone vocals and simple melodies. 2016's Girls' Boyfriends album ranged from the comedic to the spiritual, but "Post-Byronic" has a washed-out weariness running through it. Whether that's a reflection of the covid pandemic or simply a shift in Meara's style, it makes for a more cohesive listen. His singing here has a careless caterwauling quality, more Tom Waits than Johnny Cash this time out, and it works well whether it's on a weathered, modern sea chanty like "40 Years Overseas" or an uptempo alternative rocker like "Mama Zu." It's only on the EP ending "E Broadway" that Meara really feels his oats, with a bluesy barroom melody that erupts into a punk rock finale and bawdy lyrics that celebrate bragadaccio and booze. Wikipedia tells us that "the Byronic hero presents an idealised, but flawed character whose attributes include: great talent; great passion; a distaste for society and social institutions; a lack of respect for rank and privilege (although possessing both); being thwarted in love by social constraint or death; rebellion; exile; an unsavory secret past; arrogance; overconfidence or lack of foresight; and, ultimately, a self-destructive manner." Put that to music and you've got "E Broadway." Nice work, dude.


This bicoastal duo consists of Roberto "Blurry" Lurie and longtime Jersey Beat fave Crugie (Cycomotogoat, The Disturbed, and the crazy kid dancing behind John Popper in that Blues Traveler video in Washington Square Park.) Senor Gato is available as a double LP or 15 digital tracks, but either way, it's a lot to digest (and no surprise to fans of Hoboken's Cycomotogoat, who were known for going the extra mile in everything.) It's impossible to sum up 15 tracks in one sentence, but let's start with "weird modern lounge music" or maybe, "Urge Overkill Meets Zappa," with detours into instrumentals (Mariachi, Surf) and a few novelty tracks. Some of this is refreshingly entertaining and some of it misses the mark (double albums tend to do that.) I would suggest that, like certain hallucinogenic substances, Super User Friendly is best taken in small doses but can result in a pleasurable trip. RIYL Ween, Zappa, They Might Be Giants.

CURSE OF LONO - People In Cars (Submarine Cat Records)

The UK's Curse of Lono takes its name from Dr. Hunter S. Thompson and its musical inspiration from the gothic rock of the Deep American South, it's not surprising that frontman (and sole remaining band member) Felix Bechtolsheimer sings with no trace of a British accent. While there's some lovely singing here, Bechtolsheimer often speaks his lyrics in the style of Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, or Leonard Cohen, with a deep voice that scrapes along the bottom of his lower register. Stylistically, it provides Curse of Lono with a vibe that's oddly comforting and reassured, feelings we can all use at the tail end of a deadly pandemic, and it's refreshing to hear music that has undeniable country and Americana roots (think Lee Hazelwood) but never mentions pickup truckss, dogs, trains, or mama. Instead, these are quietly ruminative songs with echoes of the Velvets (the slinky "Ursula Andress") or Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell ("Alabaster Charlie,") music that compromises nothing in pursuit of commercial appeal and yet still sticks in your head like the hottest pop single.

ROCKSTAR RACECAR – Senior Citizen (

With frontman Troy Donahue graduating high school in the Spring, this may be the swan song from Bloomfield's favorite teen metalheads. If so, they're going out with a band. It's been fun watching them literally grow up (drummer Wolverine, Troy's brother, was 9 when I met the group) and Senior Citizen earns them straight A's as far as improvements in musicianship, songwriting, and Donahue's clever lyrics and increasingly nuanced vocals. Spend a few hours at any guitar store and you'll see ten mooks walk in off the street and shred like Yngwie. Ask them to write a song as solid as “Created A Monster” or “Girl For A Day” and you got another think coming. And hanging out with Murphy's Law has paid dividends too; check out the whoa-oh chorus and “Oi! Oi!”chants on “Punk Isn't Dead” (a much more original title than the generic “Punk's Not Dead,” no?) Always go that extra mile, Troy. It pays off in the long run.


Amanda Rose Riley has always turned the prosaic into a virtue, recording at home with her strummed acoustic guitar and voice. Her latest batch of songs, written and recorded during the pandemic, starts with “Coming Home,” one of her most powerful compositions to date, expressing her feelings about embracing friends and family again after being separated (in this case, by covid, but expressed universally.) The majority of the other tracks deal with Amanda's dreams for a career as a musician, even if she knows that stardom as eluded her; “I can be happy with the bronze, I can happy with so much,” she sings. “I'm lucky to be in this game at all, feeling like this song is my life purpose.” If humility is a virtue, this is the most virtuous performer in New Jersey. There are moments of self-doubt (“Running On Empty,”) and reflections on what might have been (“You Could Do Anything,”) and that devastating moment when you realize that what you're living now is going to be your life (“But I don’t love songs anymore/ I only like them now/ And I don’t dream of open doors/ Because I only wear them out.”) But somehow, she ekes joy out of heartbreak, and hope out of disappointment . Amanda Rose Riley's heart is an open book, and I like her type.


Trenton's Successful Failures have been so good for so long (over a decade and counting) that it's easy to take them for granted. But the muscular American guitar rock of James Cotton Mather finds the foursome at the top of their form, on a concept album of sorts that tells the life story of the title protagonist – born in Maine, scarred by his father's death at sea, eventually finding fulfillment as a lumberjack. But for my money, you can enjoy the album as a collection of singles, each song carrying its weight in terms of hooks, riffs, melodies, chord progressions, roiling rhythms, and Mike Chorba's capably suggestive vocals. The chugging Seventies boogie of “Let The Power Go Through You,” the Creedence Clearwater churn of “Hand Grenades,” the Beatles-meet-David Byrne sprawl of “Little Ivan,” and Hollies-esque “Cara (Can I Take Your Pain Away?)” all add up to a celebration of what Greil Marcus famously called “the old, weird America,” a place where ordinary people live lives worth singing about.


This September release by NYC's “gonzo anti-folk punk rock radical leftist hootenanny” fell through the cracks, but it's never too late to catch up with its joyously goofy virtues: Jesse Sternberg's nimble vocals and humorous lyrics, the old-timey vibe of its banjolele/guitar/keyboards arrangements, clattering tambourine and vibroslap percussion, and the band's signature secret weapon, trombonist Jon Good. Danielle Kolker adds banjole (a cross between a banjo and a uke, I assume,) percussion, but most importantly, duet vocals on some of the album's strongest tracks. Think a more rustic Too Much Joy or a less drug-addled Fugs, and just sit back and enjoy tracks like the satirical “Sad Young Socialists,” the anthemic “Showbiz,” or the plain out hilarious “Weird Old Man.”

BAT FANGS – Queen Of My World (Don Giovanni)

Reading Nothin' But A Good Time, Tom Beaujour's oral history of 80's hair metal, made me realize that the genre did have its strong points, it's just that the music was always played by preening narcissists, strung out drug addicts, or jerks. Betsy Wright (Ex Hex) on guitar and vocals, and drummer Laura King (Mac McCaughn Band and Speed Stick) bring different sensibilities and styles (the former from D.C., the latter from Carrboro, NC) but a common love of all the excesses of 80's Capital-R Rock. Bat Fangs deliver a non-stop barrage of memorable guitar hooks, catchy melodies, fist-pumping choruses, and muscular drumming, with a wink and nod that let's you know it's all quite over the top.

SID YIDDISH & HIS CANDY STORE HENCHMEN - Until Further Notice Everyday Feels Like Sunday (streaming)

Evanston' Illinois' Sid Yiddish describes himself as a multi-disciplinary, modern-day Renaissance man, one who supports himself as a performance artist, actor, throat singer, tap dancer, conductor (or rather, compductionist, cueing improvisational sound collages to accompany his stream of consciousness spoken word.) He is also, to be frank, a weirdo, which if you're a regular reader know that I regard as a good thing. He has sung on "America's Got Talent" (he got buzzed,) appeared on an episode of "Shameless" (as a rabbi,) and performed at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art. On this live album, Sid and his crew (which includes electric guitar, bass, sax, flute, violin, keyboards, and a wide variety of noisemaking doodads) create seven compositions ranging in length from nine of four-and-a-half minutes or so. Sid's "lyrics" range from the workaday to the inscrutable, while the music sometimes coalesces into freeeform bebop but more often than not sounds like musical instruments recreating a traffic jam (or what a bad acid trip at the dentist's might sound like.) Be forwared; this is for the adventurous, not the meek. But I've seen crazier stuff on some Top Albums lists this year too.


North Jersey dad-rockers Vigilante Cowboys mix covers and originals on their latest release, including fun versions of Camper Van Beethoven's "Take The Skinheads Bowling" and Wreckless Eric's "Whole Wide World." The band's originals reincarnate the Dictators on "All That Stuff," go surfy and poppy on "On The Beach," wax philosophical on the riff-driven "Names," and rock out like Motorhead on "Jump Back." But really, guys, does the world need yet another rendition of "Femme Fatale?")


Lord Baltimore is a trans artist, originally from Maryland but now based in NYC. After flirting with grunge and then industrial, the three-song "Angel" EP finds them flirting with electronic club music. A self-described "late bloomer," "Angel" is all about sexual awakening, tentative forays at coupling, and self-discovery (also, road trips.) "Ketamine Tea" is sensual and slinky, all restrained synths and minimal percussion. "Something Like Thirst" has more a rock beat but it's still sensual, like a Madonna or Lady Gaga number sung in a lower register. While the first two songs deal with exploring one's sexuality, "Gulf Of Mexico" deals with discovering a beautiful place, with a melody to match. Keep an eye on this one, they're going places.

THE JEFFREY LEWIS & PETER STAMPFEL BAND - Both Ways (The Great Lost 2017 Double-Album)

If you go back and read my 2016 interview with Peter Stampfel, he talks about putting the final touches on this album, which should have been released the following year. But, y'know, shit happens: Peter took a fall and was off his feet for a while, and then advancing dysphonia all but destroyed his voice. And then there was that pesky Covid thing. So with tongue at least partly in cheek, we now have Both Ways, sub-titled "The Great Lost 2017 Double Album."

While two generations apart, Stampfel (who'll soon turn 83) and Jeffrey Lewis (a spry 45) represent a long-gone Lower East Side weird-folk tradition that started with the Fugs and probably ended with the 2019 sale of the Sidewalk Cafe, the birthplace and longtime home of Anti-Folk. Happily, these two guys haven't lost a beat; Lewis with his adenoidal monotone and battered acoustic guitar, Stampfel with his gonzo shriek, screechy fiddle, and plucked mandolin. If you haven't heard the first two Stampfel/Lewis albums, you should find them, immediately, but in the meantime, here are the many joys of Both Ways: the title track, a musician's manifesto ("anyone can use self-pity, anyone can whine and mope/but it takes a go-getter or a heavy metal setter if you wanna be more than oke;") a folksy murder ballad about "The Tennessee Crud," two anti-Internet screeds (the catchy "Brand New Ways To Waste Your Life" and the threnodic "Internet;") a rocker about the "Black Leather Swamp Nazi" and the uplifitingly silly "Birdies In The Woods (Brilliancy Medley,)" a sprightly, wacky ode to our winged friends; and two folkie barn dance romps, "Sometimes I See" and "The New Old Georgia Stomp." Remembering that this was meant to come out in 2017, there's also "Song For The Women's March, January 20, 2017," which turns the old children's song "The Cat Came Back" into a screed about Trump's misogyny and sexual misconduct. The guys also turn their considerable wit to several other song parodies, transforming Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors" into a lament about Trump's unseen tax returns, updating "Auld Lang Syne" for a dysfunctional millennium, and reworking "Needles As Pins" as, yes, another anti-Internet rant, "Log-Ins And PINS." And then there are the covers, inspired gonzo tributes in the tradition of Stampfel's old band The Bottlecaps:  Television's "Marquee Moon" with fiddle playing the lead guitar parts,  obscure songs by Hawkwind and the Beach Nuts, and an e.e. cummings poem set to music -  all delivered with Stampfel & Lewis' trademark caterwauling vocals, folkie instrumentation, and offkilter humor.

THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL - Extremely Loud And Incredibly Online (

NYC millennials The Great American Novel return with a few new faces but, thanks to frontman and primary songwriter Layne Montgomery, another potent dose of their GBV-worshipping guitar rock. If Layne ever gets good with girls, his career may be over, but until then, we can enjoy the post-adolescent angst of "Do You Enjoy Being Depressed," "Coulda Fooled Me," "Man Of Tomorrow," "This Will Not Be Our Year," and...well, pretty much this whole album. I applaud GAN for posting lyrics on their Bandcamp page (please, bands, do this!) which make it clear that EL&IO is basically a concept album about failed relationships, but one infused with wonderful melodies and Layne's plaintive vocals and a terrific rhythm section. Can't wait to hear these songs live. Inspirational verse: "Hoisted by my own petard/ Running away when things get too hard/ I hope you’re still thinking of me/ When you see a box of Rice-a-Roni."


THE CAMPBELL APARTMENT – The Very Best Of Ari Vais & The Campbell Apartment (Mint 400 Records)

I've been a fan of San Franciscan Ari Vais and his band The Campbell Apartment since 2008's Insomniac's Almanac, which wound up on my year-end Best Of list. This compilation collects Mint 400's choice of his best songs from the band's four albums, as well as several “lost” tracks from his pre-CA bands, Northampton, MA's Humbert and the NYC-based Pelicans. If you're new to the band, what you'll find here is a power-pop sensibility that's brushed shoulders with Fountains of Wayne (Jody Porter was in the band for the IN! album) and shares an obvious kinship with Game Theory, Silver Jews, and Jeff Mangum. The mishmosh sequencing presents the songs in no particular order, and since this is a streaming-only release, there's no way to figure out a chronology (although the Humbert and Pelicans songs are identified.) To me, there's no larger compliment than to note my favorite song, “VP Of Snails,” appears on Campbell Apartment's latest album, 2020's Curmudgeon, suggesting that after 20 years, Vais' best may still be in front of him. But that's not to slight the “very best” here, from the pop-jangle of “Something In The Way” to the exuberant zing of “Wife” to the grungy “My Many Mini-Obsessions,” basically a list of his crushes. Vais may be a romantic at heart but long before his marriage ended in divorce, he's looked askance at love, as evidenced by “I Don't Believe In Love (Anymore,)” “Long Distance Relationship (Is A Four-Letter Word,)” the unrequited longing in “Season In The Sun,” or even the Pelicans' early “We Just Don't Get Along.” Still, he has his moments: How can you not love the very Fountains Of Wayne-y line “we met at Vintage Vinyl/but things were never final” in “St. Louis?” Humbert's “Greyhound” reveals some youthful Nirvana worship – nothing wrong with that – while the catchy, uptempo “Like A Flood” suggests I would have really liked the Pelicans if I had ever seen them. Lots of good stuff here if you're into any and all varieties of indie power-pop, stream it so you'll be ready for the Campbell Apartment's next album, which is in the works.

JUSTUS PROFITT – Speedstar (Bar-None)

L.A.'s Justus Profitt had the music media lauding him as the second coming on Eliot Smith with his debut lo-fi bedroom-pop album, but on his sophomore release, it's all jangly guitars and sultry vocals and self-aware, post-romantic songwriting. The self-awareness comes on a track like “Big Mistake,” in which Proffit recalls his rockstar lifestyle: “In a rose bush slip and fall/ Leaning drunk against the wall/ I made a big mistake/Entertainer lost inside of the maze.” Most of the music we'll hear in 2021 (that was written in 2020) will somehow reflect the isolation and despondency of our pandemic year, and there's certainly a sadness running throughout Speedstar. But there's also a sense of coming out the other side, an inherent optimism (call it poptimism.) On first listen, these 10 tracks reminded me of Chris Stamey and, in their best moments, Stamey's mentor Alex Chilton. There's a Big Star sense of yearning to go with a silky melody and lush harmony vocals on “There Goes The Fun,” while the acoustic ballad “Change” had me humming Paul McCartney's “Blackbird.” The album has a wonderful balance of sonics too, like the way a tambourine pairs perfectly with acoustic guitars on “Upside Down Entertainer,” or how the trebley, ringing guitars on “Spitting On The Sidewalk” set off Proffit's higher register vocal. There's not a song here that I don't want to hear again, and that's rare.

CHRIS ACKER – Odd, Ordinary & Otherwise (

New Orleans songsmith Chris Acker spent the pandemic holed up with pedal steel guitarist Nikolai Shveitser and came out of it with one damn fine album of low-key countryish songs with warmth, insight, and a welcomed sense of humor. Backed by a terrific combo called the Growing Boys, Acker can spin a compelling tune out of how much he likes “Walking” or craft a honky-tonk slow-dance tune like “Mahogany,” and when he writes a love song, man, the dude has a way with words: “I wanna feel you on the skin like Coppertone/ I wanna beg, wanna beg like a payday loan/ I'm gonna stand my ground like a traffic cone / honey, I'm gonna last like styrofoam.” John Prine hated being dubbed “the new Dylan” so I'm loathe to anoint Acker as the second coming of Prine, but they surely do have a lot in common, although there's a kinship with Kinky Friedman and Steve Goodman, Willie Nelson and Woody Guthrie. If any of that sounds appetizing, dig in to Chris Acker.

JACK SKULLER - “My Disappearing Act” (

The Skullers, Jack Skuller's modern rockabilly trio, proved to be one of the casualties of the covid pandemic, but on this solo EP, the 25-year old singer-songwriter forges a new path. Ever since debuting as a precocious 13-year old with the single “Love Is A Drum,” Skuller has infused his music with rockabilly and blues influences, but here, he skews towards a modern country sound. “Anyhow” starts us off with a pop-rock banger with an optmistic chorus, just the ticket coming out of this pandemic: “Straight ahead we will be found/ We will get to where we're goin', anyhow.” “Pride” boasts bright, modern production, but it's the kind of pure country song that George Jones might have written. Nashville, are you listening? “Only Getting Older” expresses a mid-twenties midlife crisis (“think I'm getting closer/ only getting older”) while “Antibodies (Buy You Time)” (written, Jack says, before the pandemic) uses spaghetti western guitars to flavor a downbeat, almost nihilistic lyric. Co-written with ageless NYC art-pop veteran George Usher, “My Disappearing Act” offers a moving account of a failed relationship, with orchestral production not only showcases Skuller's vocal prowess but also an abililty to communicate complicated emotions in a song. Bravo.

STEPHEN CHOPEK - Dweller (Declared Goods)

I got to know Stephen Chopek when he drummed in the Everymen, one of my favorite NJ bands at the time, but he also toured with the likes of John Mayer, Norah Jones, and Jesse Malin. After a sojourn in Memphis, he's now based in Atlanta, and clearly much more than just a drummer: Chopek wrote and recorded all of "Dweller" by himself, after a songwriting binge that hit him after returning from touring behind Soul Coughing's Mike Doughty just before Covid-19 locked down the world. Chopek's multi-tracked vocals oftimes sound like a choir sung this album, and the range of guitar sounds and synth fills impress as well. But what drives and informs this EP are the drums, evoking the polyrhythms of the Caribbean. Even when's a song in standard rock 4/4 time, it's filled with complicated fills and counter-rhythms, keeping the listener off balance even as the seductive melodies offer a familiar pop-rock template. This is a really cool listen that will keep you engaged and on your toes.

DIVINE HORSEMEN - Hot Rise Of An Ice Cream Phoenix (In The Red)

More than 30 years after the Divine Horsemen officially disbanded, the seminal voices of Chris Desjardins (better known as Chris D.) and Julie Christensen reunite, recorded with original guitarist Peter Andrus and X's DJ Bonebrake on drums. Having already successfully rebooted his 70's punk band The Flesh Eaters, a new Divine Horsemen album seemed inevitable; although at this point, Desjardins and Christensen seem more focused on shaping other people's material. The duo bring their inimitable style to songs by Tim Lee, Johnny Duke & Will Kimbrough, Patti Smith, Jefferson Airplane, and the lightheartedly outre "Can't You See," a rarity culled from an old Robert Downey Sr. flick, as well as reworked versions of two tracks from Chris D.'s 1995 solo album. Desjardsin and Christensen wrote or co-wrote a handful of originals as well, including the flamenco-inflected "Stoney Path" and the chugging, blues-based "Mystery Writers." But the songwriting's almost besides the point here; the joy lies in these well-worn and contrasting voices swapping verses and then coming together to recreate their own unique vision of what Greil Marcus called "the old weird America," a sleazy, in-your-face fusion of punk and Americana, Mickey Spillane and the Stooges, Sam Fuller and Johnny Cash.

DAN McLANE - The Birth Of Mr. Dirty (

I don't think anyone who knew and loved Dan McLane has completely gotten over his tragic demise, but after nearly five years of work, producer/musician Oliver Ignatius has managed to complete Dan's magnum opus, The Birth of Mr. Dirty. As Oliver explains in the 2nd issue of CHAOS Music Mag, at the time of his death, Dan was in the process of reinventing himself from the goofy rock 'n' roll caricature he portrayed in the Harmonica Lewinskies to a more serious singer/songwriter: "In the time that I knew Dan, as his producer, collaborator, and finally, friend, I was always urging him to follow his weirder instincts and forge a unique artistic path of daring. I sensed both in his hero worship of famously deep writers like John Lennon and Daniel Johnston, and from the scorched earth intensity of his performances, that there was an artist in there to be reckoned with, busting to get out." The birth of Mr. Dirty, Oliver continues, began that quest. "Fleshed out over the course of many late night stoner sessions, we concluded the following: Mister Dirty was a modern day cowboy, a sort of desperado character of uncertain moral character. He was a Robin Hood type, a Che Guevara, a symbol of the people. He had almost certainly killed before, perhaps even in cold blood. He may or may not have been slowly metamorphosing into a horrifying prawn creature. He was to be a Rock and Roll Superhero."

A lot of lost souls comes to mind listening to this: Harry Nilsson, Warren Zevon, Jim Carroll, John Lennon. That's probably the vestiges of my grief talking, but Dan did share with those artists the ability to pluck the best from pop music to brighten what might otherwise have been devastatingly sad songs. One thing's for sure: Dan McLane was a free spirit and that spirit runs rampant all over this album, borrowing from country, blues, Motown, jazz, and whatever else he needed to complete an idea. "What Have You Ever Done For Me" sounds like a typical guy-dissing-an-ex ballad until Dan decides to make it personal - and funny: "Nancy Reagan, what has she ever done for me?" Ray Liotta? Herman Hesse? Desmond Tutu? "Mr. Dirty? What has he ever done for me?"

"Sad All Over" might be my favorite song on the album; it's far more than a clever pun on the Dave Clark 5 hit. Musically, it's the track where Oliver's presence becomes most pronounced, and lyrically, it's the most cruelly ironic, Jim Carroll's "People Who Died" set to a Van Morrison melody with a Motown bridge.

With its nasty vocals, throbbing white-soul beat, and sassy horn section, "Mr. Dirty" might comes closest to the Harmonica Lewinskies' party vibe. In contrast, "No Powder" most powerfully lets Dan incarnate the Mr. Dirty character, with its creepy vocal, gloomy vibe, as well as some impressive lead guitar licks and a bassline that won't stop. The strutting bar room blues of "God Has No Time For Mr. Dirty" wraps things up with mocking "woe is me" self-pity, which in hindsight seems like a cry for help. That's the thing; we'll never know. I hope Dan just wanted to make me smile, something he could do better than almost anyone I've ever known.

DAN PAQUIN - The Incredible True Story (

Back when nobody paid any attention whatsoever to Jersey City (at least musically,) Dan Paquin was playing bass in the underrated and overlooked Dirt Bike Annie, who presaged the pop punk revival of the mid-00's (and included the young Mikey Erg.) Dan's kept a low-profile for quite a while, which may be why the songs on this album can be all over the place. Mostly, Dan's doing romantic ballads with heavily reverb'd guitars, like an updated Chris Isaak. But there's also a Fountains of Wayne-ish indie pop tune and a 94-second pop-punk rave-up that sounds like a Groovie Ghoulies cover. Welcome back, pal.

stillhungry - S/T (

From the stunning first single "Best Costume Wins" through nine more flawless tracks, stillhungry's self-titled debut delights with gossamer indie pop that spotlights Jeanna Murphy's lovely voice, clean and shimmering guitars, and restrained but steady drums. There's something a bit old-fashioned but never retro about the band's restraint and tasteful orchestrations, courtesy of production by bassist Erik Kase Romero along with guitarist Matteo DeBenedetti. The guys take winning lead vocal turns on the pastoral "Humboldt County" and the poppier "Sleep Light" and harmony vocals predominate on the delightful "Prized." Really glad I found this under the radar gem.

THE FLESHTONES - Face Of The Screaming Werewolf (Yep Roc;

Fortysomething years and 23 albums into one of the most durable careers in rock 'n' roll, the Fleshtones continue to impress (if not amaze) by knocking out quality albums every couple of years like clockwork. The thing is, if you liked them in 1979, you're going to like them now, because while the band has gotten a bit grayer and wrinkled over time, the music (which was considered retro when they formed back in '76) still exudes the same trashy sense of fun and that ineffable Sixties garage-rock vibe. The goofy horror-flick title track leads to a paean to "Alex Trebek" (which I'm guessing was written not only before his death, but before word of his cancer came out;)you get the requisite Stones and Beatles rips, as well as a barrage of groovy catchiness, which finishes up with a soulful instrumental that lets frontman Peter Zaremba flash his chops on the harmonica. With these mooks, when the bouncer shouts, "Move along, the show is over," you know the party's just getting started.

THE HOLD STEADY - Open Door Policy (Positive Jams/Thirty Tigers;

Craig Finn's songwriting comes as a given these days, especially if you've been paying attention to his excellent string of solo albums. We know the Hold Steady write story-songs about loser and misfits, women who laugh at the men in their lives and men who wonder if their lives have been wasted. Open Door Policy succeeds not because of the frontman but because of how his band brings these songs to life. With three guitarists and keyboardist Franz Nicolay back in the fold, the band reversed its string of lackluster albums with 2019's Thrashing Through The Passion and builds on that return to form here. This time around, the cast of characters includes wannabe actors ("Lanyards," a high point), a self-important software salesman, an addict struggling to survive rehab, . The album has its anthemic moments, to be sure; it wouldn't be a Hold Steady album without them. But the highlights of Open Door Policy often come in its quietest moments, when truths are faced and actions have consequences. Instead of relying on arena rock riffs, Nicolay's more complex arrangements and the use of piano and organ to add color and nuance expand the band's palette while losing none of its impact. Inspirational verse: "Happy Easter, you wanna go get some beers?"


CHEEKFACE - Emphatically, No.
(New Professor Records)

I've always had a soft spot for indie rock trios. Add to that list Cheekface, a quirky L.A. combo with a delightful sense of self-deprecating humor. Associations: Jonathan Richman, Weezer, British post-punk, the spazziness of the Minutemen, the intelligence of the dB's, Camper Von Beethoven. The band formed after the 2017 inauguration and there's a running sense of paranoia and anxiety we're all familiar with, without being overtly political. "Life itself is a pre-existing condition," the band notes on "Original Composition;" "no shirt, no shoes, no justice, I did not mean to offend" they proffer on "No Connection." And how do you not love a line like, "They say smiling is contagious. But you know, so is yawning." The rapid-fire spoke/sung lyrics often mirror the post-Beatnik poesy of Jeffrey Lewis, but with sunny L.A. boulevards replacing stinky Lower East Side sidestreets. All dozen tracks deliver a smile and something to think about. Inspirational verse: "Poetic/synthetic/they mean the same to me/I inspire pathos/among the faculty/A nine minute mile/a minor misery/they're gonna give me tenure/see you at Appleby's."

THE PLANES - "The Oracle Of Marcy" EP (

NYC's The Planes don't fool around much, they're a reliable source of pop-rock recorded on analog equipment with a warm, fuzzy, organic sound, highlighted by guitarist Stephen Perry's soft, shoegazy vocals. This COVID-lockdown EP was written, recorded, and mixed in one week for Cody Swanson's Weekly EP Podcast at "various non-studio locations in Brooklyn," although damn if I can tell the difference. The tracks are alternately spacey and sweet, bouncy and delicate; "The Gallows" rocks the hardest,"The Earthquake" sounds most like sleepy Yo La Tengo. If you buy the Bandcamp download, you'll get a bonus cover that I'm not supposed to mention, although Dagwood's wife is probably Dreaming of a song just like it.

SHAME - Drunk Tank Pink (Dead Oceans)

I stumbled across Londoners Shame at the 2018 SXSW Festival in love with their vigorous but blithely indifferent post-punk clamor and sweaty, in your face frontman Charlie Steen. The band, barely out of their teens at the time, were touring and partying hard to promote their debut album, Songs Of Praise. It took a worlwide epidemic to bring the lads back to earth, but when it happened, it happened hard. Steen painted a walk-in closet "drunk tank pink" (a color designed to sooth mental patients and prisoners) and cocooned in it for months, while Sean Coyle-Smith killed time by inventing new sounds on his guitar. The resulting album reflects what happens when rowdy post-adolescents are forced to define themselves as adults - it's more complex, less overtly comedic, and far more introspective than its predecessor. Like seemingly all modern UK bands, Shame ranks Wire and The Fall among its influences, especially in Steen's emphatic, talk/sung vocals, but there's more going on here as well: The motorik rhythms of Krautrock, African funk as filtered through the British New Wave, Siouxsie Sioux and Ari Up and John Lydon holding a summit and finding the world still sadly wanting.


Sam Taylor, a sonic scientist based in Union City, NJ, writes and records as Psychiatric Metaphors (although there’s a live lineup for shows.) This is his fourth album under that name, begun in late 2019 but mostly completed during COVID lockdown. “City Lights” kickstarts these ten tracks with churning post-punk reminiscent of The Fall, with spoken/sung vocals and a chugging barrage of guitars. Taylor’s palette expands to include insane psychedelic guitar sounds and spazzy solos, along with pummeling Goth, Industrial, and Punk influences. The cavernous vocals and wall-of-sound perfectly mesh with the six-minute Spacemen 3 cover, “Revolution,” which takes the track in the direction that Sonic Boom and J.Spaceman would pursue in Spiritualized. A good half of the tracks sound like the soundtrack to a nervous breakdown; I’m guessing those are the ones written during COVID. Best listened to with headphones, loudly.


Terry McCarthy breaks the mold of most folk, country, or blues-based singer-songwriters. His chords don't go where you expect them to, his melodies take unexpected turns, lyrics eschew moon/june/spoon rhyme schemes. A song might linger… or stop on a dime. His rough-edged, slightly hoarse voice contrasts nicely with his strummed acoustic guitar and the tasteful additions of sonorous strings on "Too Precious" and sweet female backing vocals on "Perfectly." McCarthy adds a Flamenco strum to "Jangly Guitar," which entreats, "all I've got is this jangly guitar and my life." "Most Sorry," my favorite track, is also the most band-forward, with rollicking Tex-Mex accordion, twangy electric guitar, gorgeous harmonies on the chorus, and a gently rocking country beat. The album ends with the elegiac "The Moment." A weeping violin provides a bittersweet counter-melody as McCarthy sings, "the moment was as pretty as the girl" with bittersweet regret over lost opportunities, as a horn section comes in to bring the album to a swelling climax.

LANGHORNE SLIM - Strawberry Mansion (Dualtone)

You remember the really great interviews and the really awful ones. Langhorne Slim was one of the bad ones. I was unprepared; he did not have much to say, and probably wanted to get back to soundcheck (he was playing Bowery Ballroom to support his self-titled 2008 album, following a short, disastrous stint on major label V2.) He was happy to be out of Langhorne, PA (the hometown that inspired his stage name,) happier still to be out from under V2's thumb. But other than that, we struggled to connect. Back then, Slim (real name: Sean Scolnick) dressed like a sexy hobo, in tight shirts or tanktops and skinny jeans, with a pork pie hat and a cherubic face that looked like it had seen more than its share of hard times. I wrote him off, embarassed as much by my own failure as an interviewer as my lack of interest in his music. (I skipped the Ballroom show that night and went to Maxwell's.) So here we are, all these years later, and I'm humbly pleased to admit that the hobo shtick has not only aged well but surprisingly gracefully. Strawberry Mansion - all 18 tracks, plus a demo - never wears out its welcome, seguing from old timey honky tonk to supple folk and bluegrass. Mellow analog instruments like banjo, fiddle, strings, and organ provide soothing, organic tones. There are tracks that deal with his problems with prescription drugs, depression, and anxiety, others that view the world with an unabating optimism born of love and the examples of his Jewish grandfathers (to whom the title track is dedicated.) A longtime resident of Nashville, Slim embraces country music's roots, including bluegrass and gospel, but not the commercial gloss of Modern Country, which might mean that Strawberry Mansion won't get played much on the radio. It's nice to meet a guy who'd rather make the music he loves than a buck.

LITTLE HAG - Whatever Happened To Avery Jane? (Bar-None)

Avery Jane Mandeville (with her band the Man Devils) made quite a splash down around Asbury with her 2017 debut EP and follow-up full-length a year later, with club gigs and Asbury Music Award nominations up the wazoo. Now Avery has signed to Bar-None using the name Little Hag and released a single, "Tetris." That track, along with a potpourri of earlier materal, comprise this album, an ironic COVID-era "best of" for an artist whose career is still beginning. Still, it's a nice introduction, from the silky, countryish "Tetris" and "A Quarter To Four," to poppy indie-rock to acoustic folk/rock. Mandeville has a lovely, sultry voice, but her enunciation and the mixes lend her lyrics an air of mystery. The song titles reflect a preoccupation with female vulnerability and social media ("Facebook," "No More Dick Pix," "Predator," "Walk Of Shame,") although my impression is that most of the songs are simply about dudes and relationships. The final track, "Encore," wryly comments on the sad plight of the live performer in today's world, made even more poignant now that we're living in a time when live performance feels like a thing of the past. It's worth noting that while I'm fondest of "The Woods," the new "Tetris" definitely strikes me as the second best track here, auguring well for the future of Ms. Mandeville as Little Hag.

BRIAN ERICKSON - Little Secrets (Mint 400)

Brian Erickson paid more than his share of local-scene dues with Paper Jets and The Extensions, although ironically I first met him in his capacity as co-host of the excellent (but sadly, discontinued) The Great Albums Podcast.

Now on his first solo album - doing a Todd Rungren, and writing/singing/playing/producing everything himself - Erickson more than acquits himself as a talented multi-instrumentalist, warm and ingratiating vocalist, and perhaps most of all, songwriter. The man's been doing this long enough that he knows who he is by now, so there's a graceful and much-appreciated continuity here. (How many solo albums have you heard that hopscotch from rock to metal to folk to punk?) This is soothing, tranquil, well-centered folk-rock, with roots in CSNY's blissful harmonies, informed by a bit of city swagger. While the first half of the album (Side One, if you will) leans toward elegant, formal compositions, the later tracks including two instrumentals in waltz time, and short takes that dip a toe into prog and confessional emo-pop ala' Kevin Devine. Lovely, just lovely.

E.R.I.E. - Don't Wanna Live, Don't Wanna Die (Mint 400)

TJ Foster, who hails from the Albany, NY area, is basically E.R.I.E., singing and playing and producing everything on this impressive debut full-length (save for some background vocals and synth.) Originally self-released just prior to the COVID lockdown, Mint 400 is giving the album a second life and hopefully will find this an audience. I like the music's positivity, broadly falling into the Americana bucket but reminiscent to me of those midwestern, blue-collar troubadours like Joe Grushecky, Ike Reilly, or even the young John Mellencamp; music redolent of denim, beer, and Saturday nights. I could see this taking off in Nashville or Asbury Park, where big clean twanty guitars, romantic piano, stalwart vocals, and emotional honesty still mean something.

THE CAMPBELL APARTMENT - Curmudgeon (Mint 400)

San Franciscan Ari Vais fronts The Campbell Apartment, joined by bassist Kevin Frank and drummer Jon Hand. I've been a fan for a while, but even I was taken aback at how good this album is. Reportedly these tracks sat around a few years; when Mint 400 signed the band, a deal was struck to remix the album with a rawer and more live sound. It worked. The opening track "VP Of Snails" explodes with a burst of power pop rock reminiscent of the Eels or Game Theory. Vais infuses strong elements of Americana bordering on Country for the stalwart melodies, major chords, and crisp, clean guitar parts on much of the album, from the twangy "Frustration Station" to the square dance stomp of "I Know What I Done" to the weepy "Since November" to the pungent irony of "Baby's Wedding Day." "Burning Bridges" injects a bit of pub rock glam to the proceedings, and "You Winsome, You Loathsome" wraps clever lyrics around an old-timey music hall ballad. RIYL Nick Lowe, Fountains Of Wayne, Elvis Costello

LOGAN X - "Lame Dystopia" EP (

Logan X - aka Sam Michael Braverman of Brooklyn, NY - has had these four tracks sitting on the shelf for a few years and decided to let the world hear them during the pandemic doldrums. "Yours Truly" kicks things off with a nice surprise, as Sam brings his yelpy post-emo style to a spirited if baldfaced homage to Bruce Springsteen's "Rosalita," though by the time the song gets to the tortured "you're tearing up my heart" bridge, it's all Sam. "She Said," a familiar lament from the live set, sets post-adolescent angst to a strummed electric guitar with grungy quiet-loud-quiet dynamics, slowly building to the inevitable self-excoriating clmax. "Flip It Over" emerges from a druggy haze into angular post-punk, while "Pining Again" sets millennial self-loathing to a dirgey melody and slogging beat. Here's hoping Logan X 2.0 injects a little Stuart Smiley self-affirmation into the proceedings before we all march off a dock into the East River together singing about how miserable life is.

MOD FUN - "Day After Day" EP (

Our old friends Mod Fun - who I've known almost since I started Jersey Beat back in 1982 - have reunited for a fun covers EP, with three songs that reflect the diversity of their sound and tastes: The band does a trippy cover of Badfinger's slinky "Day After Day," dives back into the garage for The Eyes' mod basher "I'm Rowed Out," and rekindles the Hoboken Eighties pop scene for a faithful version of the Bongos' "The Bulrushes." There are some lovely touches here - jangly tambourine and tinkling piano on "Day After Day," multi-tracked vocals on "Rowed Out," Chris Collins' crisp drumming on "Bullrushes." There's also an acoustic edit of "Day After Day" that spotlights Mick Hale's evocative vocal. Let's hope once this pandemic is behind us, the boys get together for another live reunion. And check Mark Hughson's column for a review of Mick Hale's other project, Croc Shop.

THE JUAN SOLO 7 - When We Are None

North Carolina's Jason Nunn caught my attention as a member of Breed 13, but these days he performs under the name Juan Solo 7, handling all the vocals, instruments, and recording himself. There are still traces of Breed 13's Nineties shoegaze vibe here, but Nunn takes this hearty guitar-based alt-rock in myriad directions, from dreamy and driving ("Emotional Support Demon") to motorik krautrock ("Roller Derby") to amelodic sonic assaults that border on metal ("When We Are None," "Fuck Your Jesu$," "Hum.") For me, the sweet spot comes with the more melodic tracks that synthesize elements of Sonic Youth and Husker Du into a roiling fuzzy dream-pop ("Qi," "My Place," "Suicide Machine.") Well worth checking out if you still fly a flag for guitar rock. (The Juan Solo 7 is available on Spotify, iTunes, Apple Music, and all major streaming services.)

PETER STAMPFEL & THE BOTTLE CAPS - Demo '84 (Don Giovanni Records)

The three albums that Peter Stampfel made with his '80's band the Bottle Caps have been out of print for decades, available only as used vinyl or CD's on the collector's market. Happily, Don Giovanni's Joe Steinhardt found this long-lost and all-but-forgotten demo tape while rummaging through a collection he bought from a well-respected and highly renowned rock critic (, actually.) So until Peter can wrangle back the rights to reissue the other stuff, we can rejoice in this gloriously skronky artifact of fractured folk punk, featuring Stampfel's yowling vocals, slippery fiddle, and one of the best bar bands of its era. Two Maxwell's regulars, drummer Peter Moser and bassist Al Greller (formerly of Coyote Records' Beat Rodeo) anchor the sound, which included precision guitars and backup vocals from the late W.T. Overgard and John Scherman. The songs range from jovial novelty folk-rock ("Random Violence," "Funny The First Time," "Drink American") to the hilarious "Surfer Angel" (the world's first - and only - surf/death song) to skronking Rounders-esque folk ("Everything Must Go," "Lonely Junkie") to the unlikely-but-shoulda-been-a-hit fusion of Robert Service poetry and 70's disco vibes, "Impossible Groove." All of these wound up on the Rounder's self-titled debut album, while the rousing "When It's Springtime In Alaska (It's Forty Below") would have to wait for the third Bottle Caps album to see the light of the day. But you can hear them all here, direct from 1984 to your digital player of choice. (You can read my interview with Peter Stampfel about the demo and other projects here.)

HARVEY GOLD - It's Messy, Vol I (Smog Veil)

"Founding member of Tin Huey" is only the first line of Harvey Gold's impressive resume', but it should be more than enough to give this irascible aging hippie a listen. The remaining members of Tin Huey reunite here for "Lemon Beazly," with Half Cleveland (the Hueys with Chris Butler of The Waitresses fame,) Harvey In The Hall, The Black Keys' Dan Auerbach, and the Byrds' Chris Hillman also lending a hand. But mostly this is Harvey Gold's record, more than living up to the title "It's Messy" with forays into power pop, electronica, orchestral pop, acoustic American folk, a protest song, a bit of music hall, and a weird instrumental. It's Messy, Vol. 1 revels in being mercurial and unpredictable, waxing formalist and orchestral on "Eidola," invoking traditional folk on "Allegheny Load," infusing Motown grooves into the hipster rant "In Consideration Of Joe Strummer" and then wigging out for the seven minutes of weirdness that is "Lemon Beazly." Gold slows the Beatles' "I've Just Seen A Face" down to quaalude tempo, throws in a Beefheartian 90-second instrumental, then wraps the show up with a silly novelty tune about breakfast foods. It's... messy. But fun.


San Francisco's Cocktails will delight any listener looking for an indie-pop band that's not afraid to sound happy, clever, and bright. The band gleefully transcends genres, from 70's Cheap Trick to 80's New Wave to Nineties indie rock, with echoes of Teenage Fanclub, the Replacements, and even Fountains of Wayne on cuts like their paean to "Bun E. Carlos," or the bittersweet pop-rock gem "Nobody's Going To The Movies." The band flashes its punkier side on "Janeland," gets twangy on "Washoe Country," and channels the Undertones on "Waiting On The Summer." The singer's unique voice comes across as one part Joe Strummer and two parts Joe Jack Talcum, a sweet mix of geeky abandon and the young Conor Oberst's earnestness. It's a winning combination.

SPECIAL MOVES - Little Help (Darla;

Special Moves is the project of Olympia, WA's Josh Hoey, and the title Little Help no doubt refers to the many friends who helped out with the recording of this "open- source DIY rock band" (over a dozen names are thanked on the CD cover.)

Given the free-form nature of the band (friends sit in on both recording sessions and live gigs when they feel like it,) it's not surprising that Little Help sounds like a guided tour through Josh Hoey's record collection, with fuzzed-out drones juxtaposing unabashed R.E.M. worship ("Something I Forgot To Du") or nods to Mac McCaughan's trippy side project Portastatic. I would love to be more enthusiastic about this record, but honestly, I found some of the song titles ("Thank U Pile of CDR's," "Based On A True Story") more beguiling than the actual songs. Special Moves' appeal comes not from the connections its lyrics make but from the textures, tones, rhythms, and drones it produces, not unlike Yo La Tengo's headier moments, or Guided By Voices' innumerable sonic experiments. Recommended for fans of lo-fi bedroom pop where getting lost in the white noise becomes the point.

VIGILANTE COWBOYS - "Five Easy Pieces" EP (

This Central Jersey quartet falls somewhere between classic rock and punk, with influences that range from Jersey ex-pats Dramarama to Sixties. Mark Donohue's leathery vocals remind me of a less buffonish Handsome Dick Manitoba or a cooler Randy Bachman. The two covers - Badfinger's "No Matter What" and the Stones' "Get Off My Cloud" - suit the band perfectly; they're a little ragged, garagey, and cozily familiar. "Crampin' (Summertime)" suggests Bob Stinson dueling with Ross The Boss, with both catchy riffs and technical rock solos, while "Perfect Moment" and "Get Me Out Of Here" capture the band's poppier side. Most importantly, Vigilante Cowboys sound like they're having fun, know how to play their instruments, and can deliver a good hook.


Steve Sabet played guitar in the fin de siecle Jersey indie band Darby Jones, Brian Doherty played drums for They Might Be Giants; both sing and harmonize beautifully. Together, they've recorded this eclectic 5-song EP that ranges from soft rock ala' America to a feisty indie-rock rager reminiscent of Rockpile. "Lakewood" is a meditative folk-prog instrumental spotlighting acoustic guitar and gentle percussion, while "Another World" channels the tight two-part harmonies of Simon & Garfunkel. I'm a bigger fan of the uptempo "Fire In A Trash Can" than of the mellower aspects of Sabet & Doherty, but I'd certainly like to hear more. The EP can be streamed on Spotify and Amazon Music.


Juniper is the 15 year old daughter of WFMU deejay Michael Shelley, who helped write and plays on this delightful collection of twee indie-pop with a heavy debt to Sixties girl group pop. While the arrangements here tend to be simple, playful, and twangy, an impressive collection of friends show up to add guitar, keyboards, and drums, including Yo La Tengo’s Ira Kaplan, Fountains of Wayne’s Chris Collingwood, Marshall Crenshaw, the Smithereens' Dennis Diken, and Steve Goulding of the Mekons and Nick Lowe’s band. So what does a 15-year-old girl write about? Boys, boys, and boys, of course. (But, pleasantly, not sex, sex, sex.) Juniper sings the praises of perfect boyfriends (“Everybody’s Got a Crush on Chad,” “Sticking With Henry,” and, yes, there’s even a song called “Boys, Boys, Boys”,) while “Kids on My Corner” channels Kim Wilde’s New Wave anthem, “Kids in America.” Juniper’s self-titled album is available on Spotify, Amazon’s Music Unlimited, and other streaming services.

THE ROADSIDE GRAVES - That's Why We're Running Away (Don Giovanni)

Over a 20 year career, the Roadside Graves - once based in Metuchen, now spread all over the state - have consistently delivered thoughtful, soul-stirring Americana that avoids traditional shibboleths like verse/chorus/verse song structures or a steady beat. Instead, songs ebb and flow with their own internal logic, speeding up or slowing down as needed, with John Gleason's soft-spoken, emotional vocals surrounded by orchestral guitars, restrained piano, and warm harmonies. The group has consistently released albums every four to five years, and has cut gigging down to a few shows a year, finding pleasure and reward instead in the intimate process of working out new material over time in rehearsal.

In the past, the band wrote from a literary tradition that linked it to American storytellers from Faulkner to S.E. Hinton, but on Acne/Ears, the lyrics started to become more introspective; for the first time, Gleason seemed to be singing about himself, not other characters. On That's Why We're Running Away, the band again looks inward, facing middle-age, accepting life even when it hasn't met your expectations. The album might have been written and recorded well before Covid-19 radically interrupted all our lives, but songs like "I Cried" ("we won't be afraid, it's the end of days") speak directly to current feelings of isolation and despair. This has always been a somber bunch but ...Running Away feels downright elegiac. "There Was A Way" laments the path not taken, "The Sea Is Empty" imagines ecological ruin, "Dead Kids" forecasts hopeless futures for ignored, disadvantaged youngsters, even the one uptempo track bears the gloomy title "I Wasted My Life." The penultimate track, with its finger-picked acoustic guitar and Johnny Piatowski's melancholy piano, offers no answers, just the counsel "Let's Get Lost." Writers from Elliott Smith to Leonard Cohen to Sylvia Plath have mined art from hopelessness and despair, and That's Why We're Running Away falls into that tradition. As Elton John once noted, sad songs say so much; while this album won't cheer you up, it may offer solace in embracing that we're all suffering together.


From her perch in Lincoln Park, NJ (nestled between Wayne and Pequannock,) Amanda Rose Riley and her acoustic guitar create fearless folk music that chronicles the observations and aspirations of, in her own words, "a middle range millennial." I say fearless because there's just a voice and a strum and a lot of ideas coming at you, so it's a bit bleak and monotone. But Riley's voice (and by that I mean her words, not just her vocals) is a commanding presence; she writes of suburban overdevelopment from the point of view of a squirrel on one song, and tells a prospective soulmate "this isn't like that hobby that you gave up, you're gonna have to give it your all" on another. Written and recorded just before everything turned to shit with the pandemic, Better could be speaking to us as we're sheltering in place and trying to figure out a future; of the joyless, selfish, and uncaring, she sings, "we can't let them win." On the title track, she counsels a friend in spiritual distress (or perhaps herself,) "every move you make is another chance to fuck up, but every day's another chance to get better." And it's nice to hear someone say, "it's gonna be fine, you're gonna be just fine."

HIGH WAISTED - Sick Of Saying Sorry (

On their sophomore album, singer/guitarist Jessica Louise Dye and drummer Jono Bernstein of High Waisted continue their torrid love affair with surf, doo wop, girl group pop, Serge Gainsbourg, and Angelo Badalamenti. Imagine Shellshag performing the Twin Peaks soundtrack, or what might have happened if Madonna had dated John Waters instead of Guy Ritchie. Dye has a voice that Lana Del Rey would kill for, silky and sultry. Oh, and did I mention their sense of humor? They have one, and that's always a plus, plus a plethora of friends come by to help fill out the sound. "Cereal" sounds like the love song from an Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon flick (or a lost outtake from "Grease,") while the ghost of Dick Dale hovers over the elegantly surfy "8th Amendment" (that's the one about cruel and unusual punishment, here transformed into a metaphor for love.) "I'm Fine" finishes up with a motorik New Wavey post-punk hybrid that might be the genre Blondie forgot to invent. Lots and lots of fun.

THE HI-END - Class Kicks (Rum Bar Records)

From Boston, the city that gave us the Real Kids and J. Geils Band, comes a rock 'n' roll combo that delivers a bit of both, along with a little Dictators and a whole lotta boogie and a truckload of road house vigor. Frontman Johnny Carnevale sounds like a guy who smokes too much, drinks cheap whiskey, and never buttons the top of his shirt, and his band rocks like the kids your mom told you to stay away from in high school. All jokes aside, this is down 'n' dirty rock 'n' roll, nothing fancy or ironic or reinvented, just three chords and an attitude. For my money, the shorter and faster these songs get, the better. "A Way Of Life" sounds a little like "Ace Of Spades, and if you think that's a bad thing, fight me.

THE CHALLENGED – Wallfighter (

These stalwarts from the remnants of NYC’s Pop Punk Message Bored scene have been banging away for close to 20 years with very little to show for it, other than the ability to consistently make records that blow you away. Rob Suss’ melodic, expressive vocals remind me of Dan Vapid’s, although the roiling emotions on this album – regret, sadness, disgust – transcend pop-punk, scaling the same heights as the best of Jawbreaker or Husker Du. The uplifting “For Hope’s Sake,” with its promise that things will get better, recalls the Bouncing Souls. This is an album that’s deeply disappointed with the state of the world, yet somehow makes this ungainly mess we’ve made of things seem beautiful and worth saving.


Simplicity and consistency can easily be overlooked and underrated, as NYC's Courtesy Tier can tell you. The band's been quiety releasing quality albums and EP's for nearly a decade, primarily featuring Omer Leibovitz and Layton Weedeman on vocals, guitar, and percussion. The new "Ithaca" EP moves from the band's usual electric blues-rock to softer, rounder tones, with electroniic organ and synths, acoustic guitars, and even weepy pedal steel giving these tracks a country-tinged vibe. Simplicity still remains the band's hallmark; never fussy, busy, or overproduced, the vocals unprocessed and sincere, the lyrics straightforward and sentimental. As befits our current circumstances, the EP has a melancholy tone overall, but as country music has known for a very long time, feeling bad can make for some good songs.


This musical busman's holiday lets Steve Wynn, Linda Pitmon, Mike Mills, and Scott McCaughey a chance to combine their love of baseball with rock 'n' roll, writing songs that range from nostalgic and sentimental to humorous to satiric. LIVE In Space chronicles a show from 2015 recorded at a small concert hall in Evanston, IL. Stage patter is included so you get a good feel for the band's good natured banter and obvious love for the subject, and the 19 tracks include a little taste of all three studio LP's. I love some of these songs, and not just the ones about the Yankees or the Mets; "The Day Dock Went Hunting Heads" recounts the epic no-hitter that Dock Ellis threw while high on LSD, there's a lament for poor World Series goat Bill Buckner, and songs about Pete Rose, Henry Aaron, and "Ted Fucking Williams." But some of the best tracks eschew the famous for the obscure, like "Larry Yount," a career minor leaguer who never threw a pitch in the Big Leagues, or my favorite, "Monument Park," about a player who realizes his career has run its course and it's time to go home. If you haven't heard the Baseball Project, here's a great way to experience what they were all about. And who knows, maybe there'll be another album someday, once we can all start going to ballgames again.

SHINER - Schadenfreude (

Singer/guitarist Allen Epley formed Kansas City, MO's Shiner in 1992 with a couple of friends, and after a decade of personnel changes and several excellent post-punk albums on labels like DeSoto and Sub-Pop, became the sole founding member. The band broke up following 2001's The Egg, but in the last decade, Epley - along with drummer Jason Gerken, bass player Paul Malinowski, and guitarist Josh Newton - started playing shows again, and now there's a new album. Shiner's style of heavy, gauzy post-punk has become so engrained into the DNA of today's indie rock that if you didn't know the backstory, you'd think this album came from four Brooklyn millennials instead of these midwestern fiftysomethings. Shiner's sound remains significantly the same, somewhere between post-punk drone, stoner rock, and bombastic grunge. Fans of Hum, Queens of the Stone Age, or Soundgarden will no doubt revel in the thick spacious grooves here. For me, it's like watching a friend eat sashimi; I admire the quality and skill involved, but would rather have something else.

HOLSAPPLE & STAMEY - Our Back Pages (

Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey both live in their native North Carolina these days; but back in the ’80s, their band the dB’s helped forge “The Hoboken Sound” that came out of Maxwell’s, as musicians from all over the country swarmed to the Mile Square City for cheap rent and a supportive arts community. The duo revisit some of their favorite dB’s songs on “Our Back Pages,” a digital release whose sales benefit the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund.

The original versions of these songs featured dueling lead guitars, Gene Holder’s throbbing bass, and Will Rigby’s crisp and precise drumming, but Holsapple and Stamey stripped the songs down to acoustic guitar and vocals, with the duo finessing exquisite harmonies throughout the album. The arrangements highlight the lyrics, which were always clever and quirky and quite wonderful, and the album works perfectly.

It’s hard to pick favorites – the dB’s, throughout a long career with several iterations and lineups, have always been a personal favorite – but it’s wonderful to hear “Black and White,” “Happenstance,” “Big Brown Eyes,” and “Molly Says” in these new arrangements. The guitar is sublime, the harmonies transcendent, and the songs more than hold up.

TALL JUAN - Atlantico (

Juan Zaballa, aka Tall Juan, was transplanted from his native Argentina to Rockaway Beach at a young age and, on his first spate of records, took inspiration from Queens natives the Ramones. He covered Dee Dee's "Chinese Rocks," and wrote & played Ramones-tempo punk and garage-rock songs on acoustic guitar. "Atlantico" brings him back to his South American roots, with a nod to the African rhythms that influenced much of that music. There's one song in English, five in Spanish, and two short instrumentals, ranging from sassy Cumbia (a Colombian style which combines indigenous folk music with European and African influences,) to Latin dance grooves to romantic ballads.

While Tall Juan decided to self-release this a while ago and not seek label support, he didn't skimp in the studio; the ensemble here includes guitar, bass, piano, organ, synths, a small army of percussionists, and even Kyle Forester (of Crystal Stilts and the Ladybugy Transistor) on sax. This really doesn't sound like what I usually listen to (unless I'm in an Uber or bus in Hudson County,) but I thoroughly enjoyed it.


You can tell that Troy Donohue, the charismatic and talented lead singer, guitarist, and principal songwriter of Rockstar Racecar, has been listening to a lot of metal. Hunk Oasis, the Bloomfield, NJ group's consistently enjoyable third album, genuflects to the gods of Ozzy, Dio, Maiden, and the White Stripes, while retaining a distinctive punky-power-chord sound of its own. Fist-pumping melodies and chugging riffs abound, as well as a bona fide power ballad and the occasional, tasty solo. Donohue - who, by the way, just turned 16 - never reaches beyond his grasp; his lyrics eschew heavy metal raunch for age-appropriate rock 'n' roll anthems about animals, pirates, rock 'em sock 'em robots, high-school crushes, and - duh - rock 'n' roll. Inspirational verse: "You got a problem with me? I got a problem with you."


Pop music has split into so many micro-genres that the idea of a plain ol' indie-rock band seems original again, as evidenced by this impressive outing by New Milford, NJ's Neverends. Friends since middle-school (and still sporting all-ages X's on their hands on stage,) the quartet takes the Strokes' millennial insouciance as a starting point and then infuses it with post-emo passion, math-rock time signatures, sparkling guitar-pop, jazzy pop, and reconfigured reggae. It's a bit like emptying six random cans from your pantry and discovering you've made a pretty good pot of soup. Myles Fabrizio Yambao (who reminds me of Harvey Danger's criminally underrated Sean Nelson) joins the ranks of the surprising number of extremently talented singers you'll find in New Jersey's underground these days, and his bandmates all impress as well. Keep an eye out for this band, they're going places.


I met this multi-racial alternative quintet at the 2019 JC Studios Battle of the Bands, where I was impressed by what I can best describe as their "soft grunge" sound, with Juliette Musungu's mellifluous vocals mixed on top of sonic guitars and thrashing drums. There are definitely hints of Nirvana and Pearl Jam here, as well as some metallic crunch, all delivered with insistent, repetitive rhythms. My biggest criticism comes from the samey-sounding deliberativeness of the first four tracks, only the EP closing "Daydreaming" adds some nice psychedelic guitars and a bit more melody. While it's pronounced "Sunset Children," look for the band on social media as #svnsetchildren.

THE WEEKLINGS - 3 (Jem Records)

I will be frank here: I don't get the Weeklings. Fronted by Asbury stalwarts Glen Burtnik and Bob Burger, the band writes and plays faux-Beatles pop tunes, all more pointedly "Please Please Me" pop fluff than, say, "Penny Lane." A straight up Beatles tribute band would pay better, but pointy-headed critics like me aren't going to extend any artistic cred for rewriting the Beatles songbook a dozen times. (Also, Burtnik toured with a version of Styx for a bit, so there's also a forgettable prog number, as well as a cover of the Easybeats' "Friday on My Mind" that's not as good as the one Earth Quake did on Beskerkely Record back in the Eighties.) So again I ask, why?

THE WARHAWKS - Stardust Disco (New Rivals Entertainment;

Greetings from Gloucester City. NJ, a down-on-its-heels bedroom community just across the Delaware from Philly and approximately a million miles from anything resembling a music scene, but home to the up-and-coming Warhawks. After making a splash with their 2019 album Never Felt So Good, these blue-collar rockers with a distinctly retro vibe deliver a strong follow up with the six-song "Stardust Disco." This one's a little more synth-driven and less reliant on the guitar-heavy Drive-By Truckers vibe that infused much of their previous joint, harking back to Eighties New Wave (and/or "Dancing In The Dark" era Springsteen.) I miss the Bouncing Souls, fist in the air bravado of the last album's "Don't Fuck With Me," but the dreamy, dancey, romantic vibe they strike here suits them just fine.

GOODMAN - The Era Of Buckets (

Still a birthday or two shy of 30, Michael Goodman's released a dozen albums and EP's since 2012, almost all of them recorded in tandem with producer/musician/guru Oliver Ignatius (first at Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen, and now at his Holy Fang Studio in Hopewell Junction, NY.) Goodman's prolific output has been remarkably consistent too, all of it enjoyable indie rock straddling the border of pure power-pop, and showing a steadily growing fascination with digital sounds. The Era Of Buckets doesn't stray far from that template, but more than ever, the multi-tracked production reflects a Pet Sounds-sized dedication to getting every second of every track sound just right. What's changed most is Goodman himself, or at least his songwriting. In the past, he could be snarky, glib, and - as might be expected from a randy millennial male - objectifying towards the women in his songs. On The Era Of Buckets, there's empathy, and respect; instead of songs about girls (or "Girls," as in "Modern Girl," "Telegram Girl," "Blue Eyed Girl," "The Girl With The Titanium Heart,") Goodman's singing about relationships. And when, on the album's most bubblegumlicious and infectious track, he sings, "Shallow, so shallow," he's looking at himself. If you liked Goodman before, you'll like this album more. And if he's new to you, now's the time to dive in.

THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL - "Committing To The Bit" EP, "Perpetual Emotion Motion," "Ready For Love Or Disappointment," "Whiff" (

Layne Montgomery's still wearing his heart on his sleeve. No news there. Still straining to sing a bit about his natural range. Aidan Shepherd still mans the drums, as savvy and subtle a stickslinger as there abides in New York City. Steve Shaw and Ian Grey have joined the band on bass and lead guitar on the "Committing To The Bit" EP. It followed the three digital singles that GAN released in 2019, with slightly different lineups. All of it was produced by Billy Aukstik at Hive Mind Recording. Taken together, you've got close to a damn fine album. Montgomery's songwriting more and more resembles his hero Bob Pollard, with strong riffs but even stronger lyrics. My favorite is "Whiff," in which Layne takes pity on a bully at work ("being you must get pretty rough.") "Committing To The Bit" sounds like something a horse does when it accepts its lot in life, and the song certainly has a fatalistic air (Layne, always post your lyrics on Bandcamp!). But given that the dude's mom is a standup comic, I suspect the song means sticking to your shtick through thick and thin. "Good Bad Company" kicks off with a killer Seventies rock riff (get it? it's good Bad Company,) while "It's A Living" has an awesome call and response chorus. Instead of mooning about girls who don't look at him, Layne's got more on his mind on these tracks. They're all about perseverance, commitment, endurance; turning the struggles of a musician (or a working stiff, or a boyfriend) into a metaphor for how fucked up life has become for all of us in 2019, and how the only answer is to keep plugging away. I like these songs more every time I listen to them. You will too.


When we met at an IPO event in NYC this fall, David Bash was nice enough to hand me a copy of this 3-disc compilation, commemorating the 2019 iteration of his annual paean to power-pop, International Pop Overthrow. If you're at all familiar with IPO, you already know what this sounds like: Electric guitar-driven, catchy rock and roll, with forays into psychedelia, garage, and new-wave. It was nice to hear old friends like Peter Holsapple, Michael Faherty, the Anderson Council, the Lilacs, and Kimberly Rew on here, although I'm most excited by Bash's ongoing excavation of forgotten one-hit wonders and underground garage combos - the loud and the weird and the underappreciated purveyors of power pop from every corner of the globe.

DEFECTING GREY - "Run Silent" EP (

Cadging their name from a Pretty Things song provides a clue to the proclivities of this Central Jersey trio, which features brothers C.J. and Vince Grogan on guitar and bass, and the mighty Mike Polilli (of NJ’s legendary Buzzkill) on drums. This is the band’s second EP (sadly, I missed the first,) with six high-powered tracks of buzzsaw pop rock with a psychedelic sparkle. Think Husker Du’s “Eight Miles High,” since both the grungy Minneapolitans (especially Grant Hart’s poppier compositions) and the Byrds loom large in Defecting Grey’s punchy sound. I don’t know what the title “AYR” means (I don’t think it’s about the jeans brand) but man, what a killer song, with a shouted chorus guaranteed to have you punching the air. The band knows how to write a hooky rock ‘n’ roll song, and with decades of experience between them, can deliver even the simplest three-chord progression with panache and distinctiveness. Both EP’s are available from the group’s Bandcamp page.

SAM SHERWIN - "Left In" EP (

Jersey transplant Sam Sherwin's traditional take on blues rock recalls the Van Morrison of "Moondance," Tom Waits, and early Springsteen, with standout contributions from Peter Vitalone on piano and the B3 organ, and the Spin Doctors' Aaron Comess on drums. Three tracks of roadhouse boogie and one ballad, well orchestrated. Jersey City notable Walter Parks contributes backing vocals, small world! RIYL: Joe Grushecky, Ike Reilly, Southside Johnny.


There are at least three other bands named Holy Smokes on Bandcamp, not to mention a couple of headshops and tobacco stores in NJ, so you're forgiven if you haven't heard of this West Orange quartet. (That's also why their Bandcamp page and website is confusingly named But their six-song debut Goldish delights, even if it is a bit hard to describe. The band describes itself as "alternative-folk-electric rock band," but there are also elements of power-pop, new wave, progressive rock, and jazz, all delivered with a verve and an indie earnestness that reminds me of fellow Garden Staters like The Happy Fits and the Front Bottoms. The musicianship is top notch, the arrangements veer from cheery polished pop to noisy spazz outs, the vocal harmonies impress, and the songwriting never falters through six catchy, insistent tracks. Don't take my word for it, check them out at FM Bar in Jersey City on Thursday, August 8..

Affordable Art
Artistic Hair
(Omnivore Records)

Steve Goodman, a singer, songwriter, and guitarist of enormous talent, died of leukemia in 1984 at age 36, a huge loss that affected me deeply. I had become a fan with 1972's Other People's Money, although most people knew Goodman from the covers of his songs by other artists, like Arlo Guthrie's "City Of New Orleans" or David Allan Coe's country hit with "You Never Even Call Me By My Name." Omnivore has launched a project to bring Goodman's catalog back into the public domain and it starts with the final two albums Goodman released before his death, the odds 'n' sods live collection Affordable Art and Goodman's final studio album, Artistic Hair. Both boast a plethora of delights, including most of Goodman's best known songs ("Chicken Cordon Blues," "I Don't KNow Where I'm Going But I'm Going Nowhere In A Hurry Blues," and "Go Cubs Go," which the Chicago Cubs play after every home win.) But thanks to the inclusion of ample bonus tracks on both albums, there's a treasure trove of material here that even diehard Goodman fans will never have heard, and new listeners will find enchanting. Goodman duets with his close friend John Prine on Prine's "Souvenirs," there are acoustic demos of the whimsical "Vegematic" and the witty "Don't Do Me Anymore Favors," and a gorgeous cover of Ralph McTell's "City Of London." Baseball fans (and especially Cub fans) will want to own not just "Go Cubs Go" but Goodman's nimble version of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame," and one of the greatest sports songs ever written, "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request.) (Ironically, the Cubs made the playoffs for the first time in 45 years in the fall after Goodman's death.) I remember and revere Goodman's humor, his songwriting (which, like his buddy Prine, could be tender or moving or laugh out loud funny,) and his wonderfully expressive voice. I had forgotten what a wicked guitarist he was; since Goodman usually played solo without a band, he wasn't afraid to show off on his acoustic guitar, and whether it's rapidfire chord changes or speedy finger-picked solos, his playing here dazzles and impresses. I love both of these records, and can't wait to see what Omnivore pulls from the vaults next.

RICK BARRY - A Sunk Cost Fallacy & The Enduring Mirage (

You almost need an economics degree to understand the title of Rick Barry's new album, but basically the sunk cost fallacy represents the idea that you've already invested too much in something to stop, even though there's little likelihood of future success or financial gain. And as Barry has said in interviews, a cynic might argue that the principle applies to Barry's entire career. Fortunately, artists don't think logicians, and hopefully Rick Barry knows how much his music has meant to those of us lucky enough to have heard it. This album presents an older, more mature, and if anything, even a more mordant Rick Barry than we've heard in the past (and the man already has the reputation as the saddest songwriter in Asbury Park.) The catchy pop rockers, the quirky country songs, all that shtick has been pushed aside; "Finish What You Started" might be the only track that will satisfy fans looking for another "Stupid American Song" or "All Of Your Mistakes Have Names." The tone here remains consistently elegiac and downcast, mature and aching, and everything sounds beautifully orchestrated and arranged. "My Heart Is Your Apple" might not be the most graceful metaphor ever written, but the track communicates a stunning sense of longing and regret, while the precision of Barry's lyrical gift manifests itself on the album closing "Signing Off." Rick Barry takes his time between albums, and once again, our patience has been rewarded handsomely.

BARK - Terminal Everything (Striped Light/Cool Dog Sound)

The AARP should hire Tim and Susan Bauer Lee, who perform and record as Bark, for all of their commercials. "This can't be as good as it gets/if you ask me, we haven't even gotten to the good part yet." How's that for an anthem, fellow sexagenarians? If you have a long memory and a big record collection, you might remember Tim Lee from his days in the Windbreakers, a twangaholic combo from the Eighties, or his time with the Tim Lee 3. Now he and his wife Susan play swampy blues and twangy country from their home in Knoxville, TN. Susan plays Emmylou Harris to Tim's Gram Parsons, as big fat reverb'd guitars swagger to solid simple drum beats, on songs that range from the downbeat to the whimsical. Death recurs as a frequent theme: "Walk Small" reminds us of how time can whittle even the biggest of us down to size. On "This World," a phone call brings the news that another old friend has passed away. But this album isn't about wallowing in grief, it's about taking life's best shots and getting back up to try and try again. And as we all do the "Apocalypse Shimmy" to the Great Beyond, there's power in the idea that we oughta throw a "Big Ol' Party" to celebrate our lives, and "do it before it's too late."


As an unabashed fan of power pop, it was a delight to come across this Wisconsin quintet fronted by Jason Lemke. Car City play the shimmery brand of Midwestern power pop trademarked by Shoes and Green and Material Issue, with a little Weezer. It's catchy and simple and heartfelt, with knockout harmonies and big catchy hooks. There are ten tracks and I can't pick a favorite, although the roller rink organ of "Challenger" and the ebullient, uplifting "Soul Jam" (batting ninth in the lineup!) come close. Click on the bandcamp link and check this out, you won't regret it.

CASTLE BLACK - "Dead In A Dream" EP (

Here's one of those unheralded NYC rock bands that work their butts off then and get to do their record release party on a Tuesday at Muchmore's. Yet this female-fronted trio offers three powerful tunes here, combining psychedelic garage-rock and grunge. It's loud, noisy, angry, and subversively, almost unexpectedly rocking, managing to sound dirty and dark and dangerous.

Frontwoman/guitarist Leigh Celent has a commanding presence on record; if she's anywhere near that good live, it would be a bloody shame if Castle Black's next record release show didn't make a lot more waves.

CHRIS STAMEY - New Songs For The 20th Century (Omnivore)

Like Bob Dylan, Rod Stewart, and Elvis Costello before him, pop-rocker/producer Chris Stamey has turned for inspiration to the Great America Songbook, that treasury of songs written by the likes of Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Henry Mancini, and Irving Berlin from the 30's through the early 60's, and popularized by generations of singers, from Bing Crosby to Frank Sinatra to Johnny Mathis. But this isn't a covers album, oh no; instead, Stamey has written a double-CD's worth of his own in the style of American standards, performed by his symphonic ModRec Orchestra and sung by a stellar lineup of guest vocalists, from contemporaries like Nels Cline and Marshall Crenshaw, to North Carolina musicans like Skylar Gudasz and Django Haskins, to jazz great NNeena Freelon. The 26-track collection also includes songs from Stamey's radio play about the jazz scene in Sixties Manhattan, "Occasional Shivers;" there are even a couple of older Stamey compositions given an orchestral makeover. The LP cover announces its intentions in large letters: "Written by Chris Stamey."

The critical reaction to this album can be summed up by Audiophile's review: "The new album by Chris Stamey is quite remarkable because it is unexpected." Indeed. And who knows, maybe today's jazz greats - Michael Buble, Harry Connick Jr., or even Tony Bennett, still going strong at 92 - will embrace and record these songs and transform them into new popular standards. But until then, it's hard not to look at this as a genre exercise. To wit, if Stamey wrote ten new songs that borrowed techniques and harmonies and chord changes from Pet Sounds, it would be fun to hear... once, maybe. But it wouldn't be Pet Sounds.

And that's how I feel about this album. Like Stamey, I grew up with the Great American Songbook. Sinatra and Ella and Basie and Broadway cast albums, that's the music I listened to and loved at home long before I heard the Beatles for the first time. These songs remind me of other songs, but they're not going to replace the originals. I can imagine "Manhattan Mystery" - which fuses "Moondance" with "New York, New York" - on the soundtrack of a Woody Allen movie, maybe. Nneela Freelon's vocal on "Occasional Shivers" reminds me of why I loved Ella Fitzgerald. "In-tox-i-cho-cli-fi-ca-tion" strives for the urbane wit of Cole Porter but misses the mark, with a clunky line like "a good cigar and a chocolate bar."

The orchestrations are lovely, the musicianship impressive, the vocal performances unassailable. This album is remarkable because it's so unexpected. I just don't see myself ever playing it again.

JOANNA STERNBERG - And Then I Try Some More (Team Love)

Joanna Sternberg is the granddaughter of a pioneering Yiddish theater legend, a NYC-based cartoonist and musician, a graduate of The New School For Jazz & Contemporary Music with a strong compositional background in jazz, blues, and ragtime, and currently on tour opening for Conor Oberst. Sternberg prefers the pronoun "they," and their debut album has already been reviewed by Pitchfork, Stereogum, The Fader and NPR. Clearly something is afoot. Like Kimya Dawson, Sternberg evinces a childlike innocence and openness, with themes that range from the despondent to the self-empowering. With songs about self-hate, bullying, and suicidal ideation, And Then I Try Some More unspools like a self-help guide for a gender-fluid generation that's been brutalized into submission before puberty. This is an album for a targeted listenership that seems to be finding universal appeal. "You've been singing sad songs every single day," Sternberg tells the listener in "You Have Something Special." "I've been singing sad songs too, I've been hurting just like you."


Funny, I used to review a ton of bands from Boston, but they've become something of a rarity. But here's Dan Webb & The Spiders, ten-year veterans of the Beantown band scene, blasting out reliably loud guitar rock like it was still 1986. Appropriately the album sounds like it was recorded live at the Rat (or somebody's basement.) Its good-naturedly lunkheaded tunes like "Acme Girls," "Jerk In Progress," and "Complicated" fall squarely into the tradition of the Dogmatics, Neighborhoods, Outlets, and Blackjacks from Boston's glory days, while still sure to please fans of contemporary garage-punk bands like the Dopamines and Copyrights.


Will Simpson, formerly of the Harmonica Lewinskies, makes his solo debut with this eclectic three song EP. "Feeling Better" channels REM jangle-pop with a sunny doo-doo-doo chorus, "Pendulum" goes all raga psychedelic, while "Outhouse Blues" seems most like something the Lewinskies might have tackled, with its Beatlesque chord changes, big vocal, clattering drums, and gang vocals. Three strong but diverse songs stoke anticipation for the full length follow up.

R. STEVIE MOORE - Afterlife (Bar/None;

The King of DIY Recording will surprise longtime fans and delight new ones with this 14-song opus, which is decidedly high fidelity in every regard. Recorded in professional studios (as opposed to a bedroom or basement) over a seven-year span, Afterlife cherrypicks tracks from Moore's prodigious discography and presents them with the sort of arrangements and production they always demanded. R. Stevie has always worn his influences on his sleeve and you can hear them all here, from Big Star to the Beatles to Beach Boys to Roy Wood's Move. Moore, in his late Sixties, has been plagued by health issues that have kept him off the road, and some songs here reflect encroaching mortality, like "Too Old (To Fall In Love,)" "Another Day Slips Away," and the existential "What Do I Do With The Rest Of My Life?" But pop music is in R. Stevie Moore's soul, so there's the delightfully chipper "Come My Way" (which could be a lost Housemartins track) and the Pet Sounds inspired "Here Comes Summer Again," both sure to rev your engines.

DEVO SPICE - The Anarchist's Cookbook (

I'm not sure anyone uses the term Nerdcore anymore, but Jersey-based comedy rapper Devo Spice (aka Tom Rockwell) certainly fits the bill. Over samples, beats, and homemade tracks, Devo Spice raps about the Hulk and Spiderman, Halloween and Black Friday, video games and "Stranger Things." There's a song about Cheetos and another in which a Gilbert Goffried impersonator yells about mayonnaise. In other words, nerd stuff. There's also a healthy serving of inspired nonsense and, on the version I received, several rap battles with fellow Dr. Demento alumni like Blythe Renay, The Great Luke Ski, and Insane Ian. Bottom line, this is a comedy album more than a rap album, rising to chuckle-inducing at its best, and amusing even when the jokes don't quite hit. RIYL Weird Al, MC Chris.

VAL EMMICH - Tizzy (

Singer/songwriter/actor/author Val Emmich wrote and recorded his latest album after dealing with a year-long battle with anxiety and depression. He says it's his most personal album yet, which is quite a statement for someone who's released nine albums and seven EP's, including two titled "Auto-Bio," Parts I and II. As a friend and fan of this guy for over 20 years, I find Tizzy more than lives to that promise, striking some seriously dark chords. Emmich has always been an emotional singer and songwriter; that's why his fans have bonded to him. His songs and the way he sings them engender feelings of trust and honesty, and Tizzy doubles down on those virtues, often reflecting a poisonous self-loathing that surely lay at the root of his emotional turmoil. But there are some beautiful love songs here too, including one sung with his young daughter about how much it hurts to leave her behind for tours. The ringer here though is "24 Hour Blues Cycle," a rare topical, political song from Val that invokes the spirit of Phil Ochs. Val Emmich qualifies as that rare performer who not only continues to impress me, but surprise me as well.

ALEX CHILTON - Memphis To New Orleans: The Best Of The 1980's Recordings (Bar/None)

I was lucky enough not only to be around but also be aware of Big Star back when those remarkable albums first came out. Later came the Ork singles and Like Flies On Sherbert, with songs like "Bangkok" and "My Rival." I was hooked. So I remember when, after a self-imposed hiatus, Alex Chilton returned to touring and showed up at Maxwell's for the first time. My friends and I were PSYCHED. We'd finally get to hear "Ballad Of El Goodo" and "In My Car" and "Take Me Home And Make Me Like It " done live. And then Alex Chilton came on stage and sang... "Volare." It would have been one thing if Chilton were clearly doing it ironically, or campily, or jokingly. But nope, he was just standing there, perfectly happy with himself, singing "Volare." I don't think I've ever been more crushed.

"Volare," happily, isn't on this collection, largely culled from the 80's "No Sex" EP and High Priest album. In fact, these songs are all fairly enjoyable, as long as you know in advance that you're getting Alex Chilton fucking around with novelty songs and pop standards, and not making any effort to live up to the pop genius he exhibited in the past.

In hindsight, I feel for the man; here he was in his mid-thirties, for all intents and purposes a has-been. The 90's CD reissue boom would eventually make Big Star accessible again; but in the Eighties, those albums and his early solo recordings were more myth than anything else. Alex must have figured, well, I gave making art a shot, nobody wanted it, now I'm going to do exactly what I feel like doing and nothing more.

And so we got catchy and quirky tracks like "Dalai Lama" and "Lost My Job," a genuinely fun cover of "Little GTO" and the tongue-in-cheek AIDS-era anthem "No Sex." The Motown/Stax arrangements on tracks like "Thank You John" and "Make A Little Love" recall the teenaged Alex's work with The Box Tops.

Thankfully, I can listen to these songs now and enjoy them, without the resentment I felt when Alex stood there and defiantly told us that "Volare" was as far as he was going to go to entertain us. The songs on From Memphis To New Orleans sound like Alex had a lot of funny singing them, and it's fun to hear them now. And think about how much we miss. And what might have been.

ALEX CHILTON - 987 Robin Hood Lane (Bar/None)

Alex Chilton's father played jazz trumpet and piano, and Chilton grew up (as did I) listening to the songs of The Great American Songbook in his family's home at 987 Robin Hood Lane, Memphis. In 1990, Chilton recorded this little-heard paean to these pop classics, which Bar/None finally managed to procure. (This collection includes four previously unreleased and three incredibly rare tracks.) While I was always an enthusiastic Chilton fan, tracking down rare singles and albums from the Seventies through the Nineties, I had never heard this material, and not surprisingly, it's great. You can tell Chilton had enormous affection for these songs, and he's not just doing Sinatra here (like, say, Rod Stewart's soulless Great American Songbook albums;) he's bringing his own heartfelt interpretations to the material. Alex Chilton the songwriter so beguiled and impressed us in the man's prime that his vocals were all but overlooked, but man, the guy could croon. On familiar tracks like "My Baby Just Cares For Me" or "Time After Time" or "There Will Never Be Another You," his versions stand up to any I've heard, and that includes Frank's. The instrumentation and arrangements sparkle too, with orchestral flute, swinging sax, and thumping bass augmenting Chilton's jazzy guitar.

Chilton even whips up a few surprises, like a loungey take on the Ray Charles hit "Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying." First rate... assuming you like this genre.

NO WIN - downey (Dangerbird Records)

Danny Nogueiras travels in good company. An ex-member of FIDLAR, Nogueiras recorded downey with current or former members of Kind Of Like Spitting and Joyce Manor, has produced records for Together Pangea and Mean Jeans, and toured in a another project with members of SWMRS. Whatever genre you want to lump those groups in, add No Win to the list. Distorted guitars, big riffs, thrashy drums, and an overall sense of both post-adolescent dissatisfaction and millennial optimism. I hate to compare bands to the Replacements or Jawbreaker, but No Win has elements of what made those bands great; if the songwriting here doesn't quite soar to those heights, it's certainly on the right track. (And "Being Teen" and "From The Back Of A Rolling Rock" come damn close.) There are some luscious gang harmonies that ameliorate the band's harsher punk rock elements, making this a compelling listen and an impressive first outing.

URBAN OUTFIELDERS - "Out Of This World" EP (Hidden Home)

Baseball and punk rock both make me happy; put them together and I'm very happy. So here's a spunky trio from Boise, of all places, who play choppy gang-vocal catchy-chorus whoa-oh-oh pop punk songs, themed about the national pasttime. I have to say though, as just a regular Ramonescore band, they're pretty good; "Do It With You" and "Where Did He Go (Tito)" (about a friend) will both satisfy fans of, say, the Copyrights or Teenage Bottlerocket. The other two songs pay tribute to the great Ichiro ("The Wizard of Japan") and bubblegum ("Big League Chew,") and that's fine with me. There are two albums of this stuff on their Bandcamp page also worth checking out.

EZRA CASPI - The Best Is Yet To Come (

At only 17, Ezra Caspi certainly has a point when he sings "the best is yet to come." The son of veteran Jersey shore rocker Jon Caspi, Ezra has clearly picked up a few things from his dad, along with influences that range from Brian Wilson to Gram Parsons. And if Jeff Tweedy had written a song about his four years in high school for Uncle Tupelo, it might have sounded a lot like this album's title track, pleasantly jangly and introspective and just a bit Dylanesque. Ezra has a pleasant yet powerful voice, a natural gift for lyrics, and the production here - with horns and strings and keyboards and layers of vocal harmonies - remains consistently impressive. "Follow You" reminds me a little of Hootie's "Only Wanna Be With You," which - whatever you think of that band - was catchy as anything on the radio in the Nineties. I love how Ezra's songs reference growing up on the Jersey shore, the love songs don't come across as precocious or forced, and "Say Whatever" rules as my favorite new pop song of 2019 so far. I understand Ezra released a debut EP as a 15 year old which I haven't heard, but The Best Is Yet To Come more than suggests he's going to be a force on the local music scene for a long time to come.

EXPERIMENT 34 - What Dying Feels Like (

In a recent interview, Experiment 34 joked that the band's name stems from the fact that "the first 33 experiments failed." What Dying Feels Like, the group's second album (after replacing its rhythm section) suggests that the experimentation continues, since the album segues from rap to reggae to classic rock and back again. Like Ezra Caspi and Jack Skuller, Experiment 34 falls into the growing category of second generation Jersey rockers; founding guitarist/vocalist Matthew Makin's father is none other than longtime Jersey rock scribe Bob Makin. Matthew started the group with guitarist Kevin Nenichka in New Brunswick (presumably at Rutgers;) they've since been joined by drummer Keith Leming and bassist Bryan Viegas and now call Asbury Park home. That makes sense, since as a longtime attendee of the Asbury Music Awards, I know firsthand that the Jersey shore has always boasted a strong (if unheralded) metal scene, and Experiment 34 fits comfortably into that niche with forays into hard rock, rap, screamo, reggae, and Zeppelin-esque acoustic folk-rock (sometimes mixing and matching three or four styles into one track.) The straight-up metal title track even reminds me of my old friends, Reading, PA hard-rockers Anthrophobia. Fans of RHCP, Tool, Rage Against The Machine, and System Of A Down should all find something to like here.

CYCLONE STATIC - From Scratch (Mint 400;

Call it "Dad Rock" if you will, but Cyclone Static - guitarist James Salerno, bassist Danny Patieno (of Aminal,) and drummer Jon LeVine - fly the flannel of Nineties alternative rock proudly and with an unbridled sense of fun on their debut album. From Scratch's ten tracks bring the kind of ageless energy that you might expect from the Descendents, from the exhuberant title track to the Teen Spirit smell that's been smeared all over "Company Man." I'd like to think that if Joe Strummer were still with us, he'd be writing songs as enthused and forceful as "Runaway"or "Walk This Line." Three longer tracks - "Sacred Island," "Ordinary Days," and "Too Many Roads" fuse White Stripes minimalism with jammy drones with psychedelic effect, and the album closes with In Utero inspired "Unstoppable," which seems both a promise and a threat. In other words, don't write these mooks off. They are coming for your children's ears (and souls.)

J HACHA DE ZOLA - Syn Illusion (

J Hacha De Zola usually breaths fire on his records, a garage-rockin' Latin bluesman in the style of Screamin' Jay Hawkins. On "Syn Illusion'" ("without illusion,") Hacha de Zola reinvents himself, trading in his trademark accoutrements (electric guitar, blues harp, and sax) for a bank of synthesizers. Sung entirely in Spanish, the four tracks here suggest what might have happened if Julio Iglesias had teamed up with Joy Division, or if Bryan Ferry had been raised in Barcelona. My pidgin Spanish can't decipher the lyrics but Hacha De Zola's emotions couldn't be clearer. These are aching songs of love, loss, and regret, with hauntingly ethereal backing vocals and lush layers of melody. Not what I'd listen to jogging, but a lovely accompaniment to a romantic dinner for two, perhaps?

ROCKSTAR RACECAR - The Real Housewives Of Pyongyang (

Roll over, Ted Leo, and tell Johnny Dirt the news: Bloomfield, NJ is rockin' again thanks to Rockstar Racecar, whose sophomore album delivers a thoroughly entertaining romp complete with memorable youth anthems ("A Hundred Miles An Hour," "Open The Door,") some choice punk-rock bangers ("Jean," "Freeze Your Brain,") catchy power-pop rockers ("Real Housewives Of Pyongyang,") a heartfelt power ballad ("Drink 'Til The End,") and even a thoughtful political protest song ("Dear Mr. President.") I love this band's sense of humor and the way they don't let their influences (from Ozzy to the Ramones) define them. There's a little Cheap Trick here, some Green Day there, but it always comes out sounding like Rockstar Racecar. Kudos to producer Gerry Griffin at his Temple of Tuneage studio for capturing the band's live energy and never dampening the group's exuberant sense of fun. And I should probably mention that singer/lead guitarist/principal songwriter Troy Donohue, bassist Violet, and guitarist Stanton are all of 15, while their drummer (known only as "the Wolverine") is 11. As I once said of another band from Bloomfield: Today puberty, tomorrow the world.

SUNSHINE & THE RAIN - Beneath The Stars (Ernest Jenning Record Co.;

Ashley and Justin Morey, the John and Yoko (or maybe the Richard and Linda Thompson?) of Jersey City indie rock, return as Sunshine & The Rain with their second album, this time with a much brighter, ginchier, go-go sound thanks to exquisite production by Hoboken's Tom Beaujour. It's a little unnerving at first to hear a diehard guitar rocker like Justin (who literally grew up in front of me playing in the heavy-as-fuck Rye Coalition and psyche-rockers Black Hollies) having so much fun with synthesizers and drum machines. Ashley's yummy, reverb'd vocals and keyboards dominate these tracks; they get a little oomph from Justin's guitars but really float on tinkly keyboards and dreamy melodies and an absolutely airy sense of playfulness. There's a lot of bouncy Eighties new wave (think Go Go's, Bangles) and the drama of Phil Spector's girl-group pop here, and I love the way the couple uses their marriage as grist for their songwriting ("We'll Figure It Out," "Thank You For Believing In Me," "Just Stay," "All We Need.") Highly recommended: The frantic danceable synth-pop of "Just The Way It Goes," the romantic, piano-driven "Just Say," and the hand-clapping opener "It's All In Your Mind," in which Taylor Swift takes the dB's to the prom and they dance to Bananarama all night.

BROOK PRIDEMORE - Metal Is My Only Friend (

He's not actually that old, but it seems like Brook Pridemore has been around forever. He was part of the original anti-folk scene that rose out of the Sidewalk Cafe, became part of the folk-punk movement that revolved around Plan-It X Records, was embraced by the mid-00's NYC pop-punk scene, and Brook was one of the first local rockers I can remember who boasted he was from Brooklyn and not Manhattan. He's a guy you can mention in the same conversation as Jeffrey Lewis, the Ergs!, or They Might Be Giants. Which brings us to Metal Is My Only Friend, a collection of both fast and slow songs in which Pridemore's well-honed pop instincts constantly collide with the nihilism and jaded wit of a native New Yorker. Trying to sum up Metal Is My Only Friend recalls the story of the five blind men trying to describe an elephant; there are fast songs, slow songs, acoustic tracks, and big rock arrangements (with Pridemore playing all the instruments.) Metal (as in the title) is more a metaphor here than a sound. Death is a recurring theme, as is Jesus. (Again, more metaphor than fact.) "Who's Gonna Build My Deathray" is Bowie's "Five Years" by way of Philip K. Dick. "Name Four Things" is Jawbreaker's "Boxcar" gone anti-folk. "Pocket Scheme" recalls the Moldy Peaches without the dirty words, or NRBQ with a drum machine and an attitude. The album's bounciest and most romantic song includes the refrain, "I'm filled with love and I will drink your blood." Brook Pridemore can be upbeat and catchy or moody and morose, but always intelligent and perceptive (except maybe when he goes off on one of his dada tangents.) Don't listen to me, just listen to this album.

DEFEND THE RHINO - Fabricated (Mint 400)

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

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

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

POSTER CHILDREN - Grand Bargain! (

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

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

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

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

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


THE PORCHISTAS - Porch Drive (

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


FORGET THE WHALE - "Take To The Skies" EP (

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHRIS BUTLER - Got It Together (

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

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

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

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

MADAM WEST - "Warm Bodies" EP (

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

GUY CAPECELATRO III - "July" (Two Ton Santa;

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


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

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

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

WRECKLESS ERIC - Construction Time And Demolition (Southern Domestic)

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

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

ACID DAD s/t (Greenway Records)

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

ANDREW WHOLF - Forever Is So (

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

BIG NEIL - Never A Full Moment (Something Wicked;

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

CONFIDENCE MAN - Confident Music For Confident People (Heavenly)

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


TUFFY - Lighting Things On Fire (

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

AMY RIGBY - The Old Guys (Southern Domestic;

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

STARDUST ONE - "Lonely Station " EP (

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

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

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


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

PAINTED DOLL - Painted Doll (Tee Pee)

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

MARYBETH D'AMICO - Great & Solemn Wild (

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

POTATO ROCKET - Grown Ass Adults (Rhodehouse Records;

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

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

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

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

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


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

THE VICE RAGS - "The Vice Rags" EP (

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

SHILPA RAY - Door Girl (Northern Spy)

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

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



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

ATOM DRIVER – “In The West” EP (

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

THE CRYPTKEEPER 5 – The Stronghold (

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

DEBRA DEVI – “Wild Little Girl” EP (

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

JIGSAW YOUTH – America’s Sweethearts (

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

JOHNNY ANGEL WENDELL – “Smut And Politics” EP (

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

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

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

JULIAN FULTON – “Battered Receptions” EP (

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


by Jim Testa

It all started with a pun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WYLDLIFE - Out On Your Block (

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


THE CATHOLIC GIRLS - Somebody Better Get A Room (

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

JAIME ROSE - "Nowhere" EP (CD

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

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

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

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

LILAH LARSON - Pentimento (

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

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

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

THE CONNECTION - Just For Fun (Rum Bar Records)

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


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

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

THE PORCHISTAS - "Axis And Allies" EP (

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

SEASIDE CAVES - Hope (Chunksaah)

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

MAGIC MOUNTAIN - Magic Mountain (Powerbunny 4x4)

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

TONY LOW - Rendezvousing (

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

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

UNCLE EINAR - Get Thee To Nod (

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

RICHARD BARONE - SORROWS & PROMISES: Greenwich Village In The 1960's (

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

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

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

QUICHENIGHT - "Camille's Market" cassette (

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



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

NOFX - First Ditch Effort (Fat Wreck)

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

OVERLORD - The Well-Tempered Overlord (

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

PANSY DIVISION - Quite Contrary (Alternative Tentacles)

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

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

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

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

GLUEBOY - Yikes (

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

BIG CHEESE - Supersonic Nothing (

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


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

ERIC AMBEL - Lakeside (Last Chance Records)

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

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

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

KANDEL - O Great Habit (

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

THE CUCUMBERS - The Fake Doom Years (1983-1986) (

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

EVAN O'DONNELL - Concrete Concrete AIN SVP AVR (

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

CONNECTIONS – Midnight Run (Anyway)

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

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

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

NO ICE - Come On Feel The NO ICE (

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

DIPLOPIA - A Season Atones (

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


EXPERIMENT 34 - "Charismanic" EP (

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

ROY ORBITRON - Girls' Boyfriends (

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

UNDERLINED PASSAGES - Fantastic Quest (Mint 400)

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


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


GOLDEN BLOOM - Searching For Sunlight (

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


SUN CLUB - The Dongo Dorango (ATO)

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

J HACHA DE ZOLA – Escape From Fat Kat City (

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

YOUNG CUM – Something To Eat (Say No Go)

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

BAY KEE – Wonder Wild (Human Sound)

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

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

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

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

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

Randy Now, now.

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

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

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

The City Gardens building today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ICED INK - "Willie Nelson Prince" EP (

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

JERSEY DRIVE - "Ludicrous Speed Go" (

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

SPEED THE PLOUGH - Now (Coyote Records)

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

STRINGER - "Dead Ass" EP (

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

Backlash, Baby ( album/backlash-baby)

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


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

THE BRAINSTEMS - No Place Else (Bad Diet Records)

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

JACOBUS - "Jacobus" EP (

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

ORQUESTRA RAIZ - As Americas (YB Records)

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

MAN NAMED PEARL - -Quietus Make - (

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



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

TEEN MEN - S/T (Bar None)

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

(Rum Bar Records)

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

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


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


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


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


JEFFREY LEWIS & LOS BOLTS - Manhattan (Rough Trade)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROADSIDE GRAVES - Acne/Ears (Don Giovanni Records)

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

CRAIG FINN - Faith In The Future (Partisan)

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

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

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

SLONK DONKERSON - The Lunar Martini Motorbike Club And Their Respective Destinies (

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


DOCTOR BARBER - "Sick Sad World" EP (

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

Carousel Season (

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

Where have these guys been hiding?

DAMFINO - "Disembodied Smile" EP (

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

YJY - "Couch Surfin' USA" EP (

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


MINIBOONE - Bad Sports (Ernest Jenning)

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

THE PLANES - "Evacuation Kit" EP (

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

THE ANTICS - "Emily Jones" EP (

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

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

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

THE DAN McLANE FAMILY BAND - "Passion Of The Christ/Love Me" EP (

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

THE HOLYDRUG COUPLE - Moonlust (Sacred Bones)

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

DIRTY FENCES - Full Tramp (Slovenly)

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

DAMFINO - Crossed Eyes And Mixed Motives (

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

ISHMAEL - "Mention" EP (

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

THE GRAVEYARD KIDS - It's Been A Wonderful Evening (

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

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