Jersey Beat Music Fanzine


MEGASPARKLE - Swirling Glitter (
Here's another group that found the time and inspiration to write and record an EP during the COVID lockdown. Thea Kearney and Nancy Cook found they had a shared interest in both music and visual art when they first met walking their children to school in Maplewood. They recruited drummer CJ Jeiven and then added bassist Kristy Ranieri. Megasparkle's decidedly retro sound melds lots of layered harmony vocals with big chiming guitars, 70's styled solos, and New Wave melodies. Although I doubt they've ever heard them, Megasparkle reminds me most of NJ's New Wave darlings The Catholic Girls, especially on the uptempo rockers like "Pretty Dresses" and "Everybody Wants To Be A Rock Star." I'm less enamored with "Swirling Rose Hips Tea," a sluggish stab at psychedelia or the heavy-handed metaphorical "Piece Of Cake." RIYL: The Runaways, Go Go's. B

WIZARD BRAIN - In The Morning Of The Sun (
Every once in a while, someone will send me an email asking me to listen to their band, and I will, and I will remember why I've been doing this for almost 40 years. Wizard Brain is the nom de rock of Bobby Kirner, an extraordinarily talented young man flying under the radar somewhere in Essex County. (His Bandcamp page has links to several other acts he plays with, all worth hearing.) As Wizard Brain, Kirner writes, plays, and sings lovely folk-pop that's part Laurel Canyon, part Donovan, part chamber pop, all with buoyant, optimistic, almost androgynous vocals. While most of the album is guitar driven, the piano-forward "On The Boards Near The Bay" ends the album with a sad but beautiful ballad that devolves into a mesmerizing, elegiac loop that will take your breath away. A+

PAUL LEARY - Born Stupid (Joyful Noise/ShimmyDisc)
Best known as a seminal member of the Butthole Surfers, Paul Leary released his first solo album 30 years ago. This is his second and, as might be expected, it's weird. Eschewing the gonzo psyche metal of the Surfers, Leary's created an eclectic collection of cracked country, fractured folk songs, psychedelic strangeness, a Spaghetti Western murder ballad about skinheads, and disquieting, profanity-laced children's music. Leary's voice these days sounds like Popeye after a few too many pipes of tobacky, although he gets fairly mellow on the acoustic tribute to his boyhood hero, Gary Floyd of The Dicks. Zappa fans will no doubt be delighted by most of this, especially Leary's rewrite of "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" as "The Adventures Of Pee Pee The Sailor;" but mostly, Born Stupid confirms my conviction that writing songs on drugs isn't always a great idea. Notably, this album marks the first release on Kramer's reborn ShimmyDisc Records, always a purveyor of quality eccentricity. Inspirational verse: "With so much strife and peril in this world, I’d like to help make things better. But, instead, I had to be born stupid.” B

CHIBA NEKO - Greatest Hits (
I've been told the members of Chiba Neko remain anonymous because of their day jobs, so while I can't tell you much, I can report that they're from somewhere in NJ, the lead singer's name is Jenny, and while they call themselves "lo-fi" and "garage-rock," I'd say they're perfectly Hi-Fi (in the 60's sense of the term) and draw much of their inspiration from the female teen idols of the Fifties and Sixties, from Lesley Gore and Nancy Sinatra to the Shangri-La's . Lots of reverb on Jenny's inviting, kittenish vocals, with analog warmth on the guitar and organ tones. "Psychedelic Room" evokes both the Supremes and early Pink Floyd, while "Built For Speed" starts with sounds approximating a car engine revving up, then breaks into a riff echoing Blondie's "Dreaming," with a catchy melody that suggests vintage Nick Lowe. The trippy "Horoscope Machine" cagily drops a Springsteen reference in its psychedelic power-pop brew, while the closing instrumental, "Tropical Depression," melds spooky sci-fi sound effects with surf-rock guitars. There's a lot to like here if you're in the mood for some yummy throwback power-pop (and who isn't these days?) A

JUSTIN COURTNEY PIERRE - "An Anthropologist On Mars" EP (Epitaph)
I'm just going to be honest here and admit that I never had much use for Motion City Soundtrack or that whole generation of Warped Tour arena-emo rock, so I was hardly predisposed to like this second solo album from MCT's main songwriter and lead singer.
I do have a bit of a problem (generational, I admit) about a guy in his forties still writing songs about teenage infatuation ("Dying To Know,") adolescent self-loathing ("I Hate Myself,") retarded adolescence ("Never Grow Up,") and romantic curiosity ("Footsteps,") I'll give Pierre credit for writing five really catchy tunes that take me right back to steaming, tarmacked parking lots and hordes of sweaty, slamdancing teenagers in 1997. It's just that I thought that the whole point of high school was that you eventually moved on and life got better. Besides, Saves The Day did that whole "used to be cool" thing back in '99 and here's Pierre writing about it in "Illuminations" in 2021. Emo means never having to say you're a grownup, said the grumpy old curmudgeon. B-

TRI-STATE - "Doom Loop" EP (
Essex County, NJ rock lifers Tri-State return with an impressive 3-song EP that combines shoegazey rock with pleasing indie-pop. Co-produced by the band and Elk City's Ray Ketchem at Ketchem's Montclair studio, "Doom Loop" (the title refers to a situation where every decision and action makes things worse) offers a pleasant respite from the spate of gloomy COVID-times releases. It's not that lyrics don't recognize that the world sucks; it does, and they do. But the band finds a way to live through it all with humor and grace that's quite appealing. "In a way, we could not die," begins the softly throbbing, motorik "Drones (Over Paterson,)" "but in a way, we did." This is Eighties indie rock (where every other band sounded a bit like REM) fused with krautrock and Fountains of Wayne's ironic distance (I hardly think the reference to Paterson is a coincidence.) That musical kinship comes to the fore on "Aggressive Chapeaux," practically a homage to the late Adam Schlesinger's gently musing and oh-so-melodic songcraft. A+

After the last Bodies of Water album, three-fifths of the band decamped Los Angeles for parts unknown, leaving founding members Meredith and David Metcalf to corral some old friends and start over. It wasn't the first time that's happened and it probably won't be the last; the Metcalfs have been at this since 2003 with ever-changing lineups. The couple's early recordings rocked the house like the gospel choir in Whoopi's Sister Act but Is This What It's Like? definitely reflects a more mature, less exuberant, and thoughtful dynamic. David's sonorous baritone alternates with Meredith's sepia-toned soprano, as the music continues to cut-and-paste from a host of non-rock sources, from disco and gospel to Europop and Middle Eastern folk melodies to Ennio Morricone film scores. This is an intriguing album, one where every song introduces new ideas and soundscapes, but it's not one I'll probably listen to again. Jazzbos and aficionados of World Music may find it more compelling. B

NRCSSST - S/T (Slimstyle)
Atlanta's Stephanie Luke (The Coathangers) and Dan Dixon (PLS PLS/Dropsonic) know a thing or two about captivating listeners. With NRCSSST, formed in 2019 before the pandemic shut the world down, they punch the ticket for moody post-punk that retains punchy melodies and hooks. Undulating somewhere between Garbage and Nine Inch Nails, Luke and Dixon alternate lead vocals, with throbbing bass lines, scratching guitar riffs, and solid, unflashy drumming. There's something very Nineties MTV about the vibe here - dark, brooding, shoegazey, but also propulsive and - dare I say? - danceable. What you've got here are two experienced and talented veterans combining forces and having fun to create enjoyable pop that also checks off enough buzz words to keep critics happy. A

OLIVER IGNATIUS - "Season Of The Fly" EP/B-Sides Of The Fly (
This combination of an EP and 12-track album come from Oliver Ignatius, whom you might know from Ghost Pal and his work as producer/engineer/guru at Holy Fang Studios (and before that, Mama Coco's Funky Kitchen.) Taken together, the two records represent his 2020 output - a combination of Ghost Pal leftovers, collaborations with other artists, nostalgic covers, and new originals. Ignatius writes distinctive psychedelic soul and much of his work has a familiarity, from vocals that range from an attention-grabbing lower register to impeccable falsetto (which he shows off on a sincere, stripped-down cover of "I Don't KNow How To Love Him," from "Jesus Christ, Superstar.") There are separate collaborations with Ezra Miller and Lilah Larson, both of Sons Of An Illustrious Father; the former a forboding, dirgey ballad, the latter an entrancing psychedelic fantasy with echoes of Jefferson Airplane. There's a tender lullaby to Ignatius' daughter ("Weezi,") a stomping garage-rocker ("Psycho,") even a nod to hip hop ("To Hell With Good Intentions," with Larson, Sandpaperqueen, and Fawn Response.) But the meat and potatoes here are those psyche-soul originals with the Oliver Ignatius stamp, which he calls "sad songs sung happily, or happy songs, sung sadly:" "Right Off The Dirt" (with Arsun Sorrenti,) "No Way Home" (with Flower Face,) the bouncy 60's inflected "So Sad" (with L.U.N.A.), "Citys A Hell," the funky dance-pop "The Stroll," and even a track recycled from Ignatius' high-school band Hysterics, "Radical Chic" (with Smashing Pumpkins' Jimmy Chamberlin on drums.) Guitarist Jacob Sunshine, drummer Carson Moody, and multi-instrumentalist Henry Munson, all from Ghost Pal, show up throughout the two recordings. Lots to enjoy here, lots to soak in, lots to look forward to. A+

LESS THAN JAKE - Silver Linings (Pure Noise)
Less Than Jake in 2020 seems almost more of an anomaly than a reality, what with the departure of founding drummer/lyricist Vinnie Fiorello and a seven-year hiatus between full-lengths. But the ageless Florida ska/punks' have been touring and knocking out EP's regularly, and now Silver Linings establishes that the horn-fueled collective remains as punchy and fun as their 1995 debut or early-2000's heyday. Lyrically, the songs have shifted from the perils of adolescence to the travails of adulthood, even dipping into topics like depression, lethargy, and self-destructive behavior. A few slower tracks like "Lost At Home" and "So Much Less" provide a respite from the breakneck tempos, but mostly this is Less Than Jake eversomuchmoreso: The horn arrangements fit seamlessly into the tracks, the guitars still provide gusto, the vocal harmonies entwine effortlessly. It's rare that I'd recommend a band's ninth album as a starting point, but whether you're an old fan or completely new to Less Than Jake, Silver Llinings won't disappoint. A+

Airport Dreaming is the project of Park Ridge, NJ's Joel Bachrach & friends. Bachrach, a talented pianist and songwriter, also plays with sometime-Jersey Beat contributor Joe Merklee in Damfino; unfortunately, this record isn't online anywhere, which is a shame. It's absolutely gorgeous, and hard to describe except to describe it as soothing and graceful classic rock that blends elements of Simon & Garfunkle, Fleetwood Mac, CSNY, and prog rock. The melodies are sublime, the rhythms gently rocking, the occasional guitar solos absolutely lovely. It even has that rarest of all indie rock commodities, a sense of humor. Hopefully Joel will add this to his Bandcamp page because it needs to be more widely heard. A+

Mother and daughter duets have never sounded richer, sweeter, or more fulfulling. This third album by Suzzy Roche and her daughter (by Loudon Wainwright III) Lucy had to be finished in separate homes after initial sessions in Nashville, after COVID shut down the world. But the finished product, which finds both women taking solo vocal turns along with abundant, gorgeous harmonies, couldn't sound more complete. The album's most poignant songs were written by Suzzy following the death of her sister Maggie and their mother, and reflect not just that loss but also the isolation and despair of the pandemic. "Jane," written by Maggie, tells the tale of a womn who never received her due while she lived, and the album concludes with a jazzy version of Kermit The Frog's evergreen, "Bein' Green," a song that never fails to choke me up. Mission accomplished, ladies. A+

BITE ME BAMBI - Hurry Up & Wait (streaming)
This Orange County, CA ska/punk band includes former members of Save Ferris, My Superhero, and Starpool, although the big ticket item is the voice of Tahlena Chikami, who is by turns sassy, girlish, endearing, and charismatic. Good ska/punk needs horns, of course (check,) galloping dancey rhythms (check,) and enough songwriting chops to keep every song from sounding the same (also, check.) There are obvious debts to British 2Tone and Nineties (third wave, I guess?) ska, but BMB proves (as if there were any doubt) that solid chops, a big voice, and a big beat are timeless. A

LIFE IN A BLENDER - "Satsuma" EP (Fang Recs;
The ageless Poughkeepsie art-rockers return with five new songs, four of which were inspired by novels singer/songwriter Don Rauf read for the Bushwick Book Club. LIAB has always been erudite, literate, and witty anyway, appealing to fans of quirky indie bands like NRBQ or TMBG (with a little Zappa.) "Satsuma" holds nothing back, augmented with horns, synths, and strings. Sometimes this works quite well ("Vacancy For A Bluebird," "Party In The Drunken Forest;") other tracks go off the rails, getting a little too ricky-ticky tacky for my tastes. B

RYAN CHATELAIN - The Shoestring Sessions (
Sixteen years after his first release, Roselle Park, NJ-based singer-songwriter Ryan Chatelain's The Shoestring Sessions collects 11 tracks that date from his earliest forays into songwriting through songs penned during the pandemic. Chatelain cycles through a number of genres, faring best with modern country tracks like "My Luck" and "One Step From The Asylum." The straight out rocker "Cold-Hearted Woman" sounds dated and some of the confessional folkie stuff can be a bit overwrought. B-

JEFFREY LEWIS - 2020 Tapes (Shelter-at-Homerecordings & Pandemos) (
Stuck home like the rest of us by the pandemic, Jeffrey Lewis used his time to craft and record an album of acoustic track in his usual rambling story-song style chronicling his loneliness, frustration, and anger with his usual humor and a heightened sense of his own mortality. "Mama Nature Says You're Grounded" and "Locked Down Lunatic" and "Keeping It Chill (In The East Vil.)" let you laugh at COVID-19, and who among us won't identify with "Washing My Hands Again" or "Too Many Groceries." And yes, there's light at the end of tunnel; some day, both the virus and Donald Trump will be gone, and as Lewis predicts, "What A Party We're Gonna Have." A+

RICK BARRY - "Ruminations From Barrydise During An Apocalypse" EP (
Around my house, we call this guy "the Bard of Asbury Park," and these home recordings, recorded by Rick Barry and friends during the COVID lockdown, just cement that reputation. Multi-instrumentalist and producer Andy Bova magically transforms "Curtain Call," about the loneliness of isolation, into the Pet Shop Boys, with a subtle, insinuating dance-pop sound that's unlike anything I've heard from Barry. "A Sincere Critique Of 45," a devastating anti-Trump diatribe, comes closer to Barry classics like "Stupid American Song" and "All Your Mistakes Have Names" (and if you haven't heard those, for god's sake, go to Rick's Bandcamp and listen.) The acoustic ballad "Ruminations" finds Barry reflecting on the horrors of COVID: "There’s a ship on the TV/ They say that the crews getting sick/ Turned around and sent back to sea/
where they’ll stay until the end of it." "No Smoking," enhanced by violinist Nicole Scorsone and keyboardist Mark Masefield, casts a bleary pessimist's eye on this hapless, hopeless nation. Brother Love, Alex Haddad, and Sarah Tomek co-produced "New Song Regarding Old Problems," giving an austere, electric sound to a sobering realization that the pandemic has only amplified injustices and inequities that have persisted for generations. The EP concludes with "Five Weeks," a weary folk song that sums up the pandemic as well as anything I've heard: "We’re all used to pretending the weather is not changing/ As the sea walls collapse into the shore/ Now the storm that’s been impending is here, the deluge is descending, it’s clear/ that things just ain’t that way anymore." A+

FAIRMONT - Liminal Spaces (Mint 400)
On the 11th album of an impressive 20 year career, singer/songwriter/guitarist Neil Sabatino has never sounded more commanding, nor more miserable. With longtime collaborator Christian Kinsala, Sabatino - who's also an accomplished recording engineer/producer and records many of the bands on his prolific label - turns to Eighties British rock for much of his sonic inspiration here, with tones and melodies and rhythms that recall Modern English or Echo & The Bunnymen's greatest hits. Sabatino, who came of age during the emo wave of the early 2000's, has a natural sadness to his voice anyway, but the songs here seem a constant lament about betrayal, paranoia, broken hearts, and poisonous relationships. Metaphors like "House On Fire (Water Turned Off)" and "Love Like Razorblades" set the tone, and it's a bleak (albeit melodic) one. A

THE BLAKES - "Readymade Blakeup" EP (
Back in 2003, some friends of mine had a band called The Blakes, and one night I heard them play a new song called "New Tattoo," and I went home that night and wrote a completely different song called "Sally Has A New Tattoo." That story is about as relevant as the backstory to how the Blakes' unfinished 2003 demos wound up finished by Paul Rosevear and Gay Elvis' new band, Readymade Breakup, in 2020, and here we are. (Read the liner notes by GE on the Bandcamp page, they're terrific.) The Blakes were very much Nineties holdovers who did big romantic rock songs, which these definitely are: Paul's soaring, beautiful vocals over sweeping guitars, with lush melodies and gorgeous harmony vocals. They're as out of place now as they were 17 years ago, and still great. A

GEOFF & LUCY - Your Face Is Weird (Rum Bar/Stardumb)
Geoff Palmer of The Connection and Lucy Ellis of Lucy & The Rats thought it would be fun to cover John Prine's "In Spite Of Ourselves," from Prine's album of duets. Then Prine died from COVID and the single became a tribute and eventually, this delightful EP, with four originals and four covers. While Palmer and Ellis play garage-punk at their, um, day jobs, these songs skew towards twangy country arrangements, from Dionne Warwick's Sixties pop hit "I'll Never Fall In Love Again" to Sam Cooke's "Having A Party" to Kirsty MacColl's "They Don't Know About Us." Of the originals, "Crash of The Music" raises the roof with a happy power-pop Sixties vibe, and "SWIM" has a sweet bubblegum sound. You can hear Geoff and Lucy having a ball singing together, and I hope they do it again. "I Got You Babe," maybe, or "Don't Go Breaking My Heart?" The choices are endless. A

SPRINGWOOD - "Springwood's Electric Luau" EP (
When's the last time you heard a local Jersey band with an electric ukulele that reminded you of Alice Cooper? That's Springwood, whose 3-track "Electric Luau" comes as a pleasant surprise out of the 'burbs. Subtlety is not a strong point here, but who needs it? "Party With You" is, yes, a party anthem that had me bobbing my head and singing along, "I'm Free" could have been played by The Who at Woodstock, and "Point Of No Return" rocks the apocalypse. The electric uke's played through all kinds of crazy pedals, for lovers of unique guitar sounds, and the whole thing has a gonzo tongue-in-cheek edge that I found a real treat. B+

SAL CANNESTRA - Plenty of Music (
Repeated listens have won me over to this latest release from rock 'n' roll lifer Sal Cannestra, a onetime Jersey Beat contributor who's played in Serpico, the Gerunds, and Thirteen. Sal's first solo album went for the singer/songwriter thing; this one's a rocker. Produced by Pete Donnelly of The Figgs, Plenty Of Music lives up to its title, with a dozen hooky melodies and engaging lyrics, many of which are tinged with middle-aged ennui, regrets, and reflection. Cannestra makes no apology for being an old-fashioned rockist, but good taste and talent still go a long way, especially when you can write guitar parts as memorable as these. What's more, Sal has a poetic streak as big as his heart; listen to this album and you'll know the man, and be better for it. B+

JEFF DeVITO - Acceleration Due To Gravity (
If like me you have a long memory for NJ bands, you might remember Particle Zoo, a popular indie-rock outfit that fizzled out about a decade ago when its members got busy with careers and families. When singer/guitarist Jeff DeVito felt the music bug and started writing again, he reached out to some old bandmates; when COVID ruled out any idea of playing shows, they wound up recording this album. PZoo came from the generation when any indie band sounded at least a little bit like REM and you definitely hear that influence throughout; these songs come across as relaxed, self-reflective meditations on life. "Rolling By," a lovely slow-tempo ballad, epitomizes the theme: "Time before me, time behind, time is rolling by."Head In The Clouds" and "Red Lights Turning Blue" are more reminiscent of PZoo's Millennium jangle-pop, and if DeVito decides to swear off the band thing and work piano lounges, he's got a great start with "Bed Of Nails." B

Rudi Protrudi lives in Berlin these days, but he still fronts seminal LES garage-rockers The Fuzztones, who are back with an album of covers. The 'tones reinterpret 15 classic songs with chugging guitars, Farfisa organ, and Rudi's suave, insinuating vocals, sometimes simply garaging them up (Sinatra's "New York, New York," the Cramps' "New Kind Of Kick" and sometimes rendering them almost unrecognizable (Husker Du's "Flip Your Wig.") Most of these you'll recognize (including tracks by Dylan, Johnny Thunders, the Ramones, Patti Smith) and some you won't. But if you were a fan of the Fuzztones (or NYC garage back in its 80's revival,) there's nothing not to like here. B

RATS OF UNUSUAL SIZE - Country, Blue Grass, Blues (
Back in the Nineties, there was a scene on the Lower East Side called Scum Rock, and it sounded pretty much exactly as you'd think. Jim Fourniadis' Rats Of Unusual Size and his Vital Music record label were at the center, along with bands like Letch Patrol, Iron Prostate, and Furious George. And while he's now living in California, Jim's still making records, albeit a little less scummy these days. CBGB is split between covers and originals, and lives up to its title (and Hilly Kristal's old mantra) with versions of "Copperhead Road," Warren Zevon's "My Shit's Fucked Up," Lorne Green's "Ringo," and Elvis' "Riot In Cellblock #9." Jim's big hearty voice and meaty guitars rock all these tracks appropriately, but surprisingly, the original country ("Stoned Again," "The Gas N Gulp") and blues ("She's Just A Cute Little Thing") work well too. Note: There's no bluegrass on the album, but then, there never was at CBGB either. B+

BRENT BEAMER - Banshea Tea (
Brent Beamer is a self-described "alt/rock" musician from Columbia, MO who sent two CD's and a novel. He gets an A+ for industriousness and dedication and a B- for execution. Banshea Tea certainly sounds "alternative," with its nods to grunge, goth, and shoegaze. Like much of the alternative era, the album features a dense guitar sound that gobbles up all the mid-range, leading to a monochromatic monotony that I kept hoping would be broken by one good banger. Alas, maybe it's on the other album. B-

This is the more recent of Beamer's two 2020 releases. It's a little like switching Sirius Radio from the Neil Young station to the Nirvana station. This one has a cleaner guitar sound and more distinct lyrics, but the nine unrelentingly dreary, torpid tracks, all delivered in the same sluggish tempo, bummed me out. Sorry. C

LOOSE BUTTONS - Something Better (Moon Crawl Records)
These young New Yorkers remind me of the early 2000's, when you could stroll between the five or six clubs on Ludlow Street and environs and catch bands like the Strokes, Interpol, or Longwave on any given weekend. The Buttons' don't sound retro as much as classic, a warm reverby indie vibe that's consistently enjoyable and inviting, with Eric Nizgretsky's smooth vocals and gentle melodies. The motorik rhythms "You Always Look So Cool" or the more frantic ""Hell Is A Lonely Penthouse View" hearken back to hip new wave while the epic "6:17" reveal the band's sexy, romantic side. A-

FASCINATIONS GRAND CHORUS - Presentations Of Electrical Confectionary (
Singer/keyboardist Stephanie Cupo and drummer Andrew Pierce are Fascinations Grand Chorus, who bring a marvelous melange of 60's Girl Group pop, roller rink organ, new wavey tempos, and surf rock drum rolls. Cupo - equal parts Georgia Hubley, Brenda Lee, and Debbie Harry - brings both a bubblegum innocence and a punky sophistication to her vocals. Pierce's brother Dennis adds some lovely surf guitar on "Together, You And I," and I am especially fond of the sassy "Future World." A

GREEN AND GLASS - S/T (11A Records)
Mention another dreamy avant-pop band from Brooklyn and, yeah, ho-hum, right? But how about one where the principal instrumentation is harp and trumpet? Harpist and vocalist Lucia Stavros, multi-instrumentalist Sam Decker (Secret Sibling), trumpeter Andrew McGovern (High and Mighty Brass Band), drummer David Flaherty (Cuddle Magic), and bassist Ryan Dugre (Landlady) give Green And Glass a distinct sound that ranges from the pastoral to the otherworldly. While the harp is lovely, it's McGovern's trumpet that truly stands out. Unfortunately the album seems a bit like a watercolor that's too washed out and pastel; I would have liked to hear a few bright splashes of primary colors. Still, if you need something soothing, you can lose yourself in this for a bit. B

KYLE FORESTER - Hearts In Gardens (
Kyle Forester has an impressive resume', playing in Crystal Stilts, Ladybug Transistor, and most recently Woods, joining the latter as the backing band for David Berman's last project, the wonderful, heartbreaking Purple Mountains. On his second solo outing, this talented musician (who's been called "a musical Swiss Army knife" for a host of well-regarded Brooklyn bands) impresses with beautifully emotive vocals and strong songwriting chops. The album has a distinctive 70's vibe, in large part due to the warm analog-sounding production of Matt Boynton. Lush synths and horns punctuate but never overpower the strong melodies. As this year heats up and our nerves grow ever more frazzled by current events, this serenity and compassion on this album will be exactly the tonic we need. A

JIM HIGGINS - Yestermorrow (
This may be Higgins' first solo outing, but he's been around forever, playing with the likes of Chris Butler, the Gefkens, the Whatnots, and Skanatra. The lineup on this catchy and elegant collection of modern Americana reads like a Who's Who of Nineties Hoboken: Matt and Fran Azzarto, Chris Gefken, Stephanie Seymour, Dave Stengel, and Bob Perry. Some tunes amble, others rock; there's reverent humor ("Gene Hackman,") and dark humor ("Let's Put Him Back In The Womb," probably the best new-dad song since Loudon Wainwright's "Dilated To Meet You;") country-western twang ("Unrequited Something,") and the sort of simple, sincere, homespun songcraft you might expect from John Prine ("Drunk And Weepy," "You Make Growing Older So Much Fun.") Very nice. A

THE WEEKLINGS - 3 (Jem Records)
I have to be honest, I don't get the Weeklings. I can understand a Beatles tribute band; at least it pays well. But why write and record faux Beatles songs? The Rutles did it years ago, and better. And unlike, say, the Smithereens or Anderson Council, two Jersey bands heavily influenced by the Beatles and other Sixties bands, the Weeklings don't bring anything new to the party. You can recognize the riffs and chord changes being emulated here, but there's not a single original thought or conceit. Even more pointless: A faux Beatles band doing a Beatles cover, circles within circles within circles. The cover of "Friday On My Mind" isn't as good as the one Earth Quake did for Beskerkley Records in the Eighties. Plus there's a forgettable prog tune to remind us that bassist Glen Burtnik had a cup of coffee in Styx at one point, I guess. C-

REBECCA TURNER - The New Wrong Way (
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 ( 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] ( 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 (
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 (
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 (
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 (
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 ( 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


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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