Jersey Beat Music Fanzine
 


REVIEWS BY JIM TESTA

November, 2019

REBECCA TURNER - The New Wrong Way (rebeccaturner.bandcamp.com) Blues, folk, country, and even a heartfelt cover of the old chestnut "Tenderly" inform the latest from this Montclair songstress, who frequently shares stages with the likes of Jon Deena, Speed The Plough, Thousand Pines, Campfire Flies, and other mature purveyors of indie folk-rock. RIYL Kate Jacobs, Jill Sobule, the Cucumbers. A-

THE SUCCESSFUL FAILURES - Saratoga (FDR Records) Consistency isn't always a virtue; it fosters complacency and undervaluing commodities as precious as solid songcraft, exquisite musicianship, effortless groove, and impeccable taste, as well as the odd novelty tune that invariably brightens my day. It's meaningless to say Saratoga is a fine album because the Successful Failures have never released anything else; consider them the spiritual stepchildren of the Smithereens and Fountains of Wayne, and as irreplaceable a part of the Jersey landscape as Hammonton blueberries or the Princeton Record Exchange. Inspirational Verse: "Can't keep myself from the anger, my employment place full of rancor, we sit here like disgruntled bankers, pulled down like we got weighted anchors attached to our legs." Welcome to America, 2020. A

DALTON ROOTS WILSON - Tartu Jamm (jamesdalton.bandcamp.com) Captured live on stage in Tartu, Estonia last September, Asbury stalwart James Dalton fronts an ad hoc trio on this four song EP, which includes several originals, some Springsteenian storytelling, and a gorgeous cover of "Stand By Me" that manages to capture the soul of the original while also imprinting Dalton's own country-blues signature. Estonian bluesman Andres Roots and drummer Les Wilson complete Dalton Roots Wilson, who bring a Jersey roadhouse vibe to an exotic locale that most of us wouldn't be able to find on a map. B

ANAMANAGUCHI - [USA] (anamanaguchi.bandcamp.com) This Brooklyn electronic trio was a big deal half a decade ago, based on the enthusiastic reaction to their pioneering use of 8bit and 16bit video sounds, their Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World videogame soundtrack and incredible live shows. They've laid low for a while (six years since the ambitiously intense, 76-minute Endless Fantasy) but return in a big way, expoiting the endless possibilities of chiptune and bitpop with sprawling symphonies of sound that range from the ambient to the thrilling. Less a psychedelic dance party and more an exploration of the possibilities of sound, Anamanaguchi push the envelope on what pop music can be through the use of human and samples vocals and humanized robotic sounds they coax out of their video game chips. A+

THE CLYDES - Old Time Monarchy (Mint 400) Reliable Jersey dad-rock from brothers Brent and Brian Johnson on vocals and guitar, bassist Andrew Cougar Orlando and new drummer Pete Gambino, in the style of Garden State stalwarts like Footstone or labelmates Fairmont. Synths and keyboards brighten and update vibe; this is more modern rock, less Nineties guitar worship, and Brent Johnson's dramatic vocals lend the band what to me always seems like an 80's goth vibe. B

TALL DAYS - No Disguise (talldays.bandcamp.com)
Tall Days sound more like the White Stripes than any other NJ guitar/drums duo I can think of, which is not necessarily a band thing. The songwriting's solid, with rockabilly licks and Fifties beats driving Buzzcockian vocals. B+

GARCIA PEOPLES - One Step Behind (Beyond Beyond Is Beyond)
Two tracks, forty minutes; and while in theory I could praise the 32-minute "One Step Behind," in practice I completely lost interest less than 10 minutes into it. "Heart And Soul," a languid, lugubrious piano ballad with vocals, clocks in at a mere 8:08. C

GEOWULF - My Resignation (PIAS)
A London duo originally from Australia, Geowulf play dreamy synthy pop with nods to Lana Del Rey, Beach House, Beach Day, Beach Fossils (but not the Beach Boys.) B

AMANDA ROSE RILEY - "Millennials Are Going Gray " EP (amandaroseriley.bandcamp.com)
If there was still a Sidewalk Cafe and an anti-folk movement, Jersey's Amanda Rose Riley would have a home. Quirky, sincere, self-referential, funny, and stripped down to voice and acoustic guitar, this collection of bedroom folk has an immediate likability. The title track recalls watching the Twin Towers burn on 9/11, and how that early memory has shaped a generation. Inspirational verse: "This is the era of one click friendships, and one click falling outs at the first sign of difference." B+

AMY O - Shell (amyo.bandcamp.com)
Amy Oelsner started performing as Amy O in 2004 and eventually recruited Justin Vollmar on bass/backing vocals and Nathan Vollmar on drums in their hometown of Bloomington, IN, a town better known for bicycle races than its music scene. It's not like Amy O will change that, but this, her third band album (there are seven earlier homemade solo releases too,) it's well worth checking out for its sprightly pop songwriting, infectious energy, and delightful melodies. Check out "Planet Blue," "Synethesia," and the old timey "Rest Stop." A

SLOW BUILDINGS - "The Ecstasy Of Winning" EP (slowbuildings.bandcamp.com)
Jason Legacy out of Englewood, NJ fronts Slow Buildings, an indie-pop outfit of appreciable lo-fi charm. He writes the sort of millennial confessionals more often associated with female singer/songwriters or whiny emo dudes, but Legacy manages to translate the vicissitudes of twentysomethingism into infectious and entertaining pop tunes, including invigorating forays into tango and ska. But really guys, you need to work on your social media presence . When your Facebook page includes gigs from 2017 and Jersey City's long-defunct Dopeness, and a link to your MySpace page, somebody ain't taking care of business. B+

TONY LOW - To New York (tonylow.bandcamp.com) Tony Low, late of NYC's Cheepskates and now residing in Greensboro, NC, revisits his power-pop roots with nine bursts of jangling, pensive pop-rock. Uptempo "Murder Beach" memorializes a Myrtle Beach killing spree, "The Abomination" revives protest-folk, while moodier tracks chronicle his sense of displacement and loneliness in his new home. A psychedelic instrumental and the hopeful "This Old World" ends the album on an uplifting note. B


OLDER REVIEWS

JOSEPH LEDOUX - A River Of Hope And Love Flows Through A Dark Abyss (CD Baby)

I met NYC Joseph LeDoux when he invited me to perform at a benefit just before the mid-terms at the Sidewalk Cafe, where LeDoux and his bands the Amygdaloids and So We Are perform regularly. This is LeDoux's first solo album though, and as its subtitle - "Songs For These Troubled Times" - suggests, it's a collection of ballads that reaffirm faith in America and its values. The first "side" is delivered in a hearty folk/Americana style that suits the compositions well; the flipside offers electronic remixes that frankly I found unnecessary. While the Amygdaloids dabble in a psychedelic style dubbed "heavy mental," LeDoux's solo songs mostly present straightforward, old-fashioned themes about patriotism or nature that would be suitable at an elementary school assembly or a political fundraiser. "I Wanna Be With You" ups the tempo for more of a power pop vibe. LeDoux has a craggy, inflective voice; he's what they used to call a personality singer as opposed to a crooner, a style that certainly fits in with the anti-folk ethos at the Sidewalk. I appreciate the sentiments and craftsmanship here, but the remixes just don't work for me.

ART BRUT - Wham! Bang! Pow! (Alcopop! Records)

Like most novelty acts, the UK's Art Brut suffered mightilyfrom the Law of Diminishing Returns. When we first heard Eddie Argos' talk/sing bravado in 2005, going on about "forming a band" and the little brother "who just discovered rock 'n' roll," bands could still have a hit record just by getting a good review in NME or Melody Maker. Argos was funny and clever in a way no one had really heard since the glory days of Wreckless Eric and Ian Dury (and a little Jonathan Richman;) and his band could rock too. As one album followed another though, the punchlines grew more and more desperate, and Argos' lovable exuberance soured as the band's fortunes declined. It all fell apart when Eddie actually started trying to sing instead of barking out his lyrics in that demented accent of his. Happily, after a six year hiatus, Art Brut returns with a stunning return to form. In fact, this album very nearly made my year-end Best of List. Argos seems like focused on conquering the world now and simply tries to make us like him again; he succeeds, in large part, because he's actually funny again. And the band's gotten better too, with the Wedding Present's Charlie Layton coming on board on drums along with guitarist Andy Macfarlaine. Now instead of just punchlines, Art Brut has hooks, harmonies, and melodies. A wiggy theramin brightens "Hospital!," written about Argos' near-fatal bout with diverticulitis and his resolution to change his ways and live healthier. And while Argos used to sing inspired nonsense about other people, he's learned (as on "Too Clever,") that these days, his best material comes from writing about himself.

ALEXANDER PAUL TAKES OVER THE WORLD - "Soulmates... Unfortunately For You" EP (Bandcamp)

The solo project of Alexander Paul Grippo from Montclair, there's almost nothing online about this release or its creator (and for the record, our James Damion hated it.) But these songs do remind me a bit of the Ergs, earnest DIY punk rock sung with an urgent earnestness and strained vocals. For want of a better term, it's mid-tempo pop punk, with nods to the Descendents, Weezer, and classic rock. "Running Away" gets a bit too emo for me, but "American Friends" and "Darren's Song" deliver a solid basement show, fist-in-the-air exuberance, and you gotta love "Self Reflection At 155 Beats A Minute" if only for the title. (It's got a nice bouncy Casio synth and a Joe Jack Talcum to it too.)

 

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