27. What Did You Expect From The Vaccines by The Vaccines
My knowledge in ‘60s and ‘70s underground English Rock isn’t extensive. However, I feel as if The Vaccines debut full-length, What Did You Expect From The Vaccines, showcases the sound of a group from that era riding the fence between British Invasion Pop-Rock and the Punk era ushered in by the likes of The Sex Pistols and The Clash, never quite committing to a classification, and finding a way to make it work. The multi-faceted outfit can be an expression of the old adage, “Don’t bore us, get to the chorus,” as a pair of the group’s best tunes hover about the 90-second mark (“Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra),” “Noorgard”), but doesn’t mind slowing the pace with more reflective numbers that call for companionship (“If you Wanna,” “A Lack Of Understanding”), a way to remedy the aging process (“Wetsuit”), and how to deal with, if not heal, fresh wounds left by a recent heartbreak (“Post Break Up Sex”). What was once old is new again, and it can be found on this compilation of sex, drugs, and hope for the future.
26. The Little Ones by Jon Caspi & The First Gun
Jon Caspi has been a revered solo artist, in Asbury Park and beyond, for a good portion of this last decade, performing alongside various national and international touring acts including our most famous Boardwalker, The Boss. Yet on Caspi’s latest release, The Little Ones, he opted for a more abrasive sound, placing Jimmie Mizzell at the drums, Doug Lane on Bass, and Pete Steinkopf of The Bouncing Souls at the controls to better shed light on a matter dear to the Indie-Punk’s heart: The use of children as soldiers in foreign lands. Caspi utilizes this whiplashed collection to its fullest extent, conveying his message through album art, a gun toting, adolescent, blurred so the mind can draw its own conclusions as to his whereabouts; the title track, a fiery number riddled with imagery of these atrocities; surrounded by an abrasive collection of charred Punk-Rock wrapped in melodious verses and huge refrains (“Drill A Hole,” “Fading Into Gray,” “Round,” “Got It Good”). Toss in a two and a half minute rage-tune featuring fret work by “The Pete” and what’s left is one of the best Punk albums to emerge in recent years. All proceeds made from direct sales of this record will be donated to Hope North, a school in Uganda that works to spread the word of these evils.
25. New York Rivals by New York Rivals
New York Rivals is an assault on the senses, and the newly formed outfit’s self-titled debut full-length captures the offensive in all its sonic fury and glory. The axe-play of Freehold, NJ’s own Erik Rudic (Scott Liss & The 66, The New Volume) is an expression of sexual intensity dabbling in a sound that recalls such contemporaries as Alex Turner an Nick Velensi, only more grandiose and impressive, accenting front-man Josh Moran’s reverberant wail, backed by a rhythm section featuring the jagged snarl of Gianni Scalise’s bass. Tunes like “Alcohol” and “Innocent Eyes” recall a sound akin to that of Turner’s Arctic Monkeys, while such numbers as “Black And Blue,” a monster of a song discussing the emotional brutalization one can take from a tease, and the cream of this crop, “I’m Not Ready Yet,” that brings to mind Valensi’s Strokes. One of the best albums to emerge this year was released by a group that’s been together for less than eight months…I can’t wait to hear what’s next.
24. Octopus LP by Big Wilson River
The North Jersey Thrash-Folk collective that is Big Wilson River introduces itself as advertised with “Eighty Dead Armadillos,” the opening salvo of the group’s untitled debut, which has come to be known as the Octopus LP, an upbeat Rockabilly-type tune, with dueling lead vocal parts by leading lady Emma McLaughlin and front-man Darrin Bradbury, that wouldn’t be out of place on 126.96.36.199’s record. And with that, a left turn is taken toward the Gypsy-Punk stylings of Modest Mouse or Man Man, as manic musical and vocal arrangements house lyrics about the slicing out of one’s heart and an addiction to pain killers (“Gypsy Song”), the personification of a steamboat on a rocky voyage (“River Boat”), a four-minute number that rules out Ernest Hemingway’s cat as the reason for the novelist’s untimely suicide (“Hemingway Had A Cat”), and a thought provoking tune (“Noah Goldstein”) that begs the questions: upon being deserted in Texas, “What if my lungs adapt and yours don’t/and I’m sitting here just chirping while you choke.” This the type of soundscape the listener enters when swimming with the Octopus LP…and I recommend diving in.
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23. Alexander by Alex Ebert
Much like the bohemian bluesman, Jack White, every project Alex Ebert touches turns to gold. Whether he’s lending vocals to the Elctronic Dance-Punk outfit Ima Robot, leading a Folk-Pop collective under his alter ego, Edward Sharpe, or practicing that same type of song writing style as a solo artist, such as the work found on the self-titled Alexander, Ebert has reached audiences and found nothing but success. The lead off track, “Let’s Win!,” is far from Charlie Sheen’s anthemic battle cry, instead, this tune is used as unification tool, calling out to folks in Vietnam, Iran, Uganda, and nobody in particular to stop the fighting and opt to dance, while “Awake My Body” is an ode to the human form, and “Truth,” a more self-reflective piece, continues to narrow the scope as Ebert, attempting to convince himself of his own successes, repels battles with his own shadow and sea of critics. With a release of this caliber, inquiries about his achievements should be the last questions raised by Ebert’s own mind.
22. Magic Stuffing by Mad Feather Group
The Jackson, N.J. collective’s eight-track debut includes such singles as “Reprise,” “She Mouths The Psalm,” and “That’s Too Much,“ a set of songs with a sort of magical air to them, which is, in fact, the musical classification Mad Feather Group operates within. Cavernous mysticism, hazy funkified nostalgia, a front-man in swami hat, and a stick wielder with a taxidermied bird affixed to his head…this is the style these fowl of a similar wing use to engage the listener, painting detailed soundscapes with selections from an average day in the life (“In A Day”), personalized moments to come (“[On My] Wedding Day”), and character studies played out before a watchful eye (“The Art Collector”). Fill up on Magic Stuffing, it’s much more than a side dish at this feast of musical proportions.
21. Space Jesus by Space Jesus
The Phildaelphia-based Electronic Dance Musician used to rattle the New Brunswick, NJ underground before heading West, but Jasha Tull, better known by his star gazing pseudonym, Space Jesus, dropped his impressive self-titled debut before the migration, leaving a mark on Summertime playlists with such Dub Step funk mortars as “Hawaii 2012,” “Christbomb,” and “Moon Rock,” featuring Planet Cognac members Mikey Likes It, Break Bomb, and DJ Shengai, respectively, but none more danceable the explosive head banger “Fear Not, The Nite Ate Me,” a piece of messianic napalm dropped out of the sky by a Tull-piloted cosmos cruiser. Blessed are we for receiving this bass bumping collection.
20. David Comes To Life by Fucked Up
Fucked up begs the question what is mainstream success, because its calculated differently these days. What an outfit has achieved in a given year is no longer tallied by radio plays and request line solicitations, as much as its internet buzz, and presence on the tongues of the hipster elite. And based upon the rumblings made by the Canadian collective, on the back of the group’s revered third full-length release, one could say the group had the most successful year a Hardcore Indie-Punk act could have. This is not a genre of music readily accepted by the underground, let alone the general public, thus, the celebration and reverence connected with David Comes To Life, is all well deserved, for Fucked Up is offering new ideas, a fresh take on charred Punk tunes, trading the 90-seconds or less paradigm for what seem like anthems at five-plus minutes in this field of creation. And did I mention this record is conceptual, a four-act, almost operatic, tale of love between the title character and woman named Veronica set in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s England spread over 18 scorched tracks, a path less traveled by Fucked Up’s contemporaries past and present. These songs don’t stand out from one another as the collection is meant to be listened to in order, however, “Queen Of Hearts” is favorite of this writer.
19. w h o k i l l by tUnE-yArDs
Merrill Garbus, better known by her stage name tUnE-yArDs, performs with an artist’s palette not usually clenched, successfully weaving two musical ideologies thought difficult to marry, in turn churning out w h o k i l l, a collection of Experimental tunes led by rounded Pop beats, crafted on the spot at live performances, by creatively layering drum, ukulele, and vocal loops, accompanied by an R&B vocal styling and lyrical content touching on varied subject matter including the feeling of alienation from one’s own nation (“My Country”), a testimonial on the stupidity of obsessing over one’s figure (“Es-so”), and a series of rebellious numbers, not in sound but theme, including “RiotRiot,” “Doorstep,” and “Bizness” a track upon which Garbus briefly riffs on some Bob Marley proclaiming “I say, get up, stand up, get up, stand up, get on it,” before pleading repetitively “Don’t take my life away.” However, it’s “Gangsta,” a number calling out the fashionable revolutionaries who fail to act, that is the foundation of this wonderful assortment.