Before I begin, I just want to say that New Jersey has a great music scene. Seriously, if you took the time to go to some local shows, I guarantee you’d be really impressed by the range of sounds and unique styles of the various bands playing on any given night.
If you like music and live in New Jersey, please start paying attention and get involved.
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Mark Kozelek has been creating music for nearly two decades with different bands and under different guises, most notably with Red House Painters in the ‘90s and Sun Kil Moon, his solo project throughout the Aughts.
I’d never listened to any of his music prior to this year but when the rave reviews of his new album Benji started coming out, it seemed too interesting of an album not to check out. I’m definitely glad I did.
This is a gut-wrenching album with a really interesting lyrical take. The songs are narratives of various events in his life, talking about the mundane in a very straightforward way, and yet poetic way.
This face-value lyrical delivery may turn off certain people but I find it to be a brilliant new take on an old form of Folk music, going all the way back to a song like Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”.
The album is, in my opinion, brilliant and a perfect listen when you’re looking for something that’s going to strike you deep down in your soul. I’ve yet to be able to get through “I Can’t Live Without My Mother’s Love” without getting a little misty-eyed (even in public).
If you haven’t heard this album yet, I highly recommend checking it out.
Ty Segall – Manipulator
2014 was the year Ty Segall went total glam rock and it was even more awesome than you could possibly imagine. While he’s always carried some glam rock genes in his garage rock DNA, this year he brought it to the fore-front, donning make-up for live performances and releasing his most meticulously produced album yet.
The songs are more a bit more complex than on some of his more straightforward past albums and thus the album isn’t as immediate as past albums like his 2011 classic Goodbye Bread. However, upon multiple listens, the songs truly begin to unfold and reveal the gems held therein. “Feel” might be the grooviest song of all time.
Ty also might be the best guitarist around these days. I saw him live a few months ago at Webster Hall and it was one of the greatest, most fun shows I’ve ever been to. The crowd was going wild in a fun, safe way that kind of reminded me of the kindred spirit and harrowing release that crowds must have felt at early Nirvana shows.
Get this album and get in to Ty Segall immediately. He’s been a favorite of mine for a few years now.
Lake Effect – Lake Effect
Full Disclosure: Max Rauch, one of the co-guitarists/co-singers in Lake Effect also plays drums in my band NGHTCRWLRS. However, I’ve been a fan of Max and Keith, the other guitarist/singer in the band, for a few years now, since there days as Washington Square Park, and have always had been impressed with their songwriting ability.
What I love about Lake Effect is that they channel the reckless abandon of their old band in to a style of indie rock that is more becoming of them. This is high-caliber ‘90s indie rock-influenced music and the closest comparisons I can come up with are Guided By Voices and Sebadoh but that doesn’t seem to quite fit.
The band has a unique style because their strong personalities shine through. Most importantly, they simply write great songs and you don’t have to be a music nerd to acknowledge that.
Life Eaters – Life Eaters
I’ve been waiting for this release for a while now and am psyched that it is finally out. The band is fronted by Mike Sylvia, the co-owner of one of NJ’s finest indie rock labels, Killing Horse Records.
The music reminds me of a cross between early Iron Maiden, the Stooges, and Scratch Acid. The band lays down rawk riff after convincing rawk riff and serves as a vehicle for Sylvia to unleash his inner wild man.
The hooks hit just as hard as the riffs, and makes for an extremely enjoyable listen when you’re looking to listen to something that’ll get the heart-pumping and you’re burned out on listening to Appetite for Destruction.
Check these guys out and absolutely go see their unhinged live show.
The War On Drugs – Lost In the Dream
I actually had the privilege of reviewing this album for the website Popmatters earlier in the year. Lost In the Dream, in my opinion, is the best War On Drugs album yet, carrying the dense soundscapes of 2011’s Slave Ambient and combining it with some of the great songwriting from their debut, Wagonwheel Blues.
The album approximates an alternate universe where Born In the U.S.A.-era Bruce Springsteen used synthesizers to approximate dreamscapes to accompany his anthems. It is a dense, glorious, and deeply rewarding album that goes to show just how incredible Adam Granduciel’s layered instrumentation is and how it can serve to augment his powerful songwriting.
They’re a band I’ve seen about five or six times over the years and every time I do, they get become a more powerful live unit.
Sink Tapes – Touchdown Buffalo
These guys are based out of New Brunswick, NJ and release music in rapid succession. Their style has a jangle and romanticism that to it that recalls ‘80s college rock without invoking any single band.
Influences I hear include The Clean, R.E.M., the Cure, and the Replacements with a singer that recalls Ian Curtis of Joy Division.
This band is great and I highly recommend checking this album out.
EMA – The Future’s Void
In 2011 Erika M. Anderson released Past Life Martyred Saints, an album that was kind of under the radar when it first came out but by the end of the year most publications had caught on to just how great it was.
It was the type of album that sounded like the artist had just hit record and spilled their guts right then and there on to tape. That album had a very unique stripped down vibe and this year she put out the follow-up, The Future’s Void.
Rather than extricating personal demons like she had on Past Life Martyred Saints she mostly concentrates on the dystopian visions of our increasing reliance on technology as a society. Anderson channels industrial, grunge, and noise to augment these ideas and the album is a great listen for anyone looking for something different. “So Blonde” is probably one of the most bad ass songs this side of Hole.
Yob – Clearing the Path to Ascend
If you like doom metal, this album simply transcends it. I saw Yob live last year at St. Vitus and they’re absolutely the best doom metal band around.
Pyrrhon – The Mother of Virtues
Full Disclosure: My roommate is the guitarist in this band. I’m very new to extreme metal and have never been a big death metal fan but this album is a very different take on the genre. The music is full genuine weirdness, free jazz improvisation, noisy guitar outbursts and poetic lyrics (You’ll have to read the lyrics sheet).
If you’re in to extreme metal, this album is a must-listen, taking death metal to newer, more artistic places.
Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
Mac is on the Brooklyn label Captured Tracks which is one of my favorite indie labels. Although they’ve started to branch out more and more, the label specializes in chill, tape warped pop rock.
Mac is the first wild man to make soft rock. His notorious live performances are augmented by songs with truly unique, warped guitar playing. It’s as if a jam band decided to stop ripping off Phish and started being influenced by bands like the Clean, the Cleaners from Venus, and Lou Reed.
Seriously, his guitar sound is really unique. The chords sound like they waiver in and out of tune. I fucking love it.
Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
Parquet Courts are one of my favorite bands out right now. They recall a more post-punk Pavement with strains of 1970s Lower East Side NYC running through.
While I don’t love Sunbathing Animal as much as 2012’s Light Up Gold, it’s still a great album and one of the best released of 2014. “Instant Disassembly” could be their best song yet and is worth the admission price alone.
This is smart, sophisticated slacker indie rock done oh so right.