383 Stroker
You Keep Yours
383 Stroker. It sounds like a metal band right? Maybe its just the numbers. Every band's got numbers these days. It's funny, band names are like phone numbers. Think about it…New Jersey's had to add like 3 or 4 area codes in the last 10 years, simply because we were running out of combinations. That's a lot of fucking phone numbers. Same with band names, we're just running out. But I digress. Anyway, once you get past the band name and the bland mc-photo in the press kit, you might find You Keep Yours, this North Jersey band's third CD, a pleasant surprise. The worst you could say is that these guys suffer from a slight identity crisis (there's not much here you haven't heard before) but 383 Stroker have a BIG-rock, commercial sound that's made for the mainstream's airwaves. There's quite a few potential hits here ("Novacaine", "Picture Yourself", "Someday", "Late Night Fade"). In fact, the whole first half of this album is quite excellent, the second half not as much but you will still find it interesting if you dig the first half. Bottom line? A 383 Stroker song would be be a wonderful addition to your next mix CD. (Mike Doktorski, 11/03)

Open The Sound
After logging many years as guitarist for New Brunswick quirk-rock ensemble A Halo Called Fred, Gerry Perlinski started his own band Akasa in the late 90s, and Open The Sound is their debut. The disc runs the gamut from straightahead rock ("Quicksand") to acoustic grooves ("Company of Lions") to the Kid A-esque, instrumental title track. An array of studio effects and middle-eastern instrumentation gives the album an ambient, otherworldly quality at times (though I don't know about you, but any time there's a sitar, I just start hearing "Norwegian Wood" in my head), and Perlinski's soulful, very un-indie rock vocals are pleasing throughout. Overall, real nice job.
(Mike Doktorski, 7/01)

The Anderson Council
Pop music has a long tradition of ripping itself off, but in Brit-pop, especially, the crossroad of imitation and flattery often represents the real or imagined threshold of greatness. That said, The Anderson Council could really be onto something (and they're not even British!). On Coloursound, singer/songwriter Pete Horvath (ex-Seething Grey) shamelessly indulges his inner Lennon, but the band's competent musicianship and convincing mod schtick nevertheless lend these ten songs a surprising degree of originality. Extras like vintage gear, analog tracking, and Revolver-esque studio tricks courtesy of producers Rick and Kurt Reil (aka The Grip Weeds) only make for further mood-enhancement. Watch out, though, standouts "Sitting On A Cloud" and "Mind Meld Mud" will take you right back to swinging London Towne circa summer 1967, so be sure that's where you wanna go.
(Mike Doktorski, 4/01)

The Atomic Missiles
Are Real
Either this Brooklyn-by-way-of-New Brunswick quartet learned how to play their instruments yesterday, or they just want us to think so…most of the songs on this nine track effort are little more than three chords and the truth. Then again, sometimes that's all it takes. A closer listen to tunes like "The War Is Over" and "Brok'n" puts the Atomic Missiles into a small cadre of local acts who actually have the wherewithal to draw artistic inspiration from the events of the larger world….a rare thing these days. For decades, rock n roll was a presumed vehicle for political action and a catalyst of social change. Don't get me wrong…MC5 these guys are not. But lyrics like "I watch FOX news it's all I can do I sit around pretending it's freedom they're defending" give pause to reflect. And that's what ultimately makes Are Real more than worth a listen. Plus, it kinda rocks! (Mike Doktorski, 7/04)

Bastards of Melody
Fun Machine
The official bio of Bastards of Melody describes their sound as "a dash of melodic power pop, a blast of garage-y rock 'n' roll." A less informative tag line could not be had, but one listen to the Hoboken quartet's debut and you see the problem with one-line descriptions. Its just too difficult to nail down these guys' sound from the beginning to the end of one song, let alone track to track. From the London Calling-meets-Weezer-ish punk rave-up of "My Latest Obsession" to the southern-fried retro blues of "Billy on Guitar" to the brit-inflected "Fascination" (in which Bastards sound eerily similar to fellow Hoboken-ites Cropduster for at least one middle eight) Fun Machine never fails to deliver…and pleasantly surprise. Ex-Bongo and scene svenghali James Mastro's tasteful production gives the album a real organic vibe, with organs, percussion, and backing vocals spicing things up tastefully and unobtrusively.
(Mike Doktorski, 4/01)

Billionaire Boys Club
Career Opportunities EP
Facing an identity crisis after the departure of founding bassist/vocalist Eddie Yoo, power popsters Evelyn Forever re-cast themselves as an 'edgier' act no longer tempered by the shiny/happy tendencies of Yoo's creative vision. This evolution was evidenced on E4E's final release EP (2001), and continues on Career Opportunities, the debut offering from successors-in-interest Billionaire Boys Club. While BBC is perhaps not as multi-dimensional as the old E4E (there's certainly no "Magic of the Moment" here), in the end they're probably more commercially relevant. Opener "Don't You Wanna" has an old-school, Motley Crue/Vines-styled guitar riff that would sound right at home on K-Rock, while "Quittin Drinkin" has an indelible chorus (that may or may not bear an uncanny resemblance to Soul Asylum's "Misery" but who's counting?). "Good Girls" and "Super OK" are actually remakes of cool, latter day E4E tunes that don't depart too much from the originals. Overall, a welcome debut from some talented NJ vets.
(Mike Doktorski, 11/03)

Bionic Rhoda
The inexplicably-titled "EP" is actually a 12-track set of rarities and outtakes from the vaults of one of New Brunswick's most celebrated bands of the mid to late nineties. Half-finished and kinda rough demos of songs the band had been working on prior to their demise (including a studio version of "She Blinded Me With Science"…always a live fave) have been dusted off and spruced up, but one can't help but wonder what these songs would've sounded like if they'd been completed by a band with a future. Still, it's a killer collection for Hub City scenesters, especially the live versions of Rhoda classics "Charm" and "Cowboy." The album closes with the achingly beautiful acoustic number "Laid," a brand new song and a fitting coda to the BR legacy, recorded in June 2001 by singer Todd Starlin and guitarist Anthony Ilczuk.
(Mike Doktorski, 10/01)

The Pigeon Club
It may or may not seem like yesterday that Bunt released their debut (She Happens, Childlike 1996) to an adoring fanbase of Rutgers co-eds and Melody regulars, but as Indiana Jones once said, it's not the years…it's the mileage. Four albums, three producers, and two lineup changes have witnessed the band's evolution from an earnest, jangly college act to a seasoned rock powerhouse. Written and recorded over the course of two years at the Hoboken studio for which it was named, The Pigeon Club runs the gamut from the experimental ("Persimmon," "Carnis Loft") to the layered, anthemic power pop ("Stephanie," "Desperation Drunk") that recalls the strongest offerings from 1998's In The Belly of A Whale. Singer/lyricist Chris Martine explores a range of themes including spiritual crises ("Heavenly") and cultural ennui ("The Modern Life") with a versitile tenor that casts a soothing pop sheen over the band's often intricate arrangements, while producer Wayne Dorell injects the recording with a pro-audio sparkle that will make these tracks pop like Rice Crispies. While other graduates of the indie rock class of '92 often seem consumed with re-writing every song that Pavement never did, The Pigeon Club challenges and exhilerates on another level entirely.
(Mike Doktorski, 7/01)

(4 song demo)
A lot of times, one or two tracks from a band's initial demo will find themselves re-made and prettied up for future release, while others are never heard from again (until said band indulges themselves in one of those 'rarities and b-sides' ten years down the road). Here, the keepers are "Healthy Choice" and "Taste and Forget" (and no, this is not a concept album about food), which find the duo of Mike Ferraro (guitar & lead vox) and Jonathan Andrew (bass, drums, & harmonies) working up some pretty interesting grooves and catchy melodies in the vein of Archers-styled indie lo-key, overlaid with Ferraro's Ozzy-esque singing. However, unless Andrew plans on growing a few more arms, Ciampi will need to add at least one more member to get this launched as a live act, and a discriminating choice in that department could be the spark that leads these guys to bigger and better things.
(Mike Doktorski, 11/03)

Copper Dalton
Copper Dalton
Hailing from Sparkill NY (which for those keeping track is just over the border from the extreme northeast corner of NJ), Copper Dalton present a more or less inoffensive potpouri of moody modern rock on their self-titled debut. Throughout the bulk of these 11 tracks, the consistent highlights are the throaty, bluesy vocals of singer/guitarist Joe Tristano, whose soulful delivery (which evokes Joe Cocker and Jakob Dylan just off the top of my head) does real justice to the band's bittersweet songs of love, loss, and lonliness. There's not much room for acts like Copper Dalton on the radio these days, and that's a real shame, because given the right setting these guys could probably shine. Highlights "Ariana" and "Late Marie" are custom made for romantic comedy movie soundtracks or maybe even the next Joey-Pacey breakup scene on Dawson's Creek.
(Mike Doktorski, 2/02)

Drunk Uncle
Cropduster have been wowing NJ's rock intelligensia for half a decade now, one of many bands far too talented to be sloshing it out in the dingy nightclubs of the Garden State. But their sophomore album might just position this Hoboken quartet for the national attention they very much deserve. For one, it doesn't hurt that Drunk Uncle is the first ever release by We Put Out Records, a division of college radio music pluggers The Syndicate. And then there's the music. Singer Marc Maurizi (sounding not unlike Dave Pirner throughout) snarls his way through nine mostly acoustic-based, country-twanged, blues-inflected tracks that nevertheless retain the punk urgency of the club scene from which Cropduster arose. Think Soul Asylum meets The Stones meets Old 97's meets Matthew Sweet meets Ween meets the Violent Femmes. Disjointed? Sure, it could be, but somehow these guys make it all okay.
(Mike Doktorski, 4/01)

(3 song demo)
Not only have you heard it before, but you'll hear it again and you may even be hearing it right now. Not that there's anything wrong with that…these songs are not half bad, and this power trio from Long Island does a decent job of rocking 'em out. On the other hand, when a band feels compelled to include actual genre descriptions with their demo, they're telling people to put their band in a category, and they're even telling people what category they belong in. I mean, does anybody expect anyone to think about anything anymore? To their credit, Devia's descriptions are right on the money. We're conveniently informed that opening track "When I'm Gone" is 'aggressive accessible vocal/guitar-driven pop-rock' and that's pretty much accurate and the tune is pretty good. But you be the judge..how many songs would theoretically fit that description?
(Mike Doktorski, 11/03)

Dewey Defeated
Global Warming Gone Haywire
New Bruns power trio Dewey Defeated provide a sneak peak of their forthcoming full-length with this brief 3-song sampler. Sonically, these tracks portend a huge leap for the band's sophomore effort (and follow-up to 1999's Fire Wants Some Too EP) in terms of pro sound (rumor hazzit they've been working with NJ indie rock uber-producer Wayne Dorell). But audio wizardry aside, DD's material seems to have evolved in tandem with their budget. The title track mixes tempos, minor key theatrics, and carefully measured aggression -- think an uneasy alliance of the Pixies and early Rush -- while "Springtime In America," an otherwise forgettable tune that insipidly begins "It's all right / it's okay / that I got nothing to say"…(insert Butthead imitation here…"actually dude, hehe, it's NOT okay, hehehe") is partially redeemed by a super-catchy/cheesy keyboard riff. However, the coolest tune here (even as an instrumental) is the cryptically titled "A'" which finds DD toning down the volume knobs to craft a mid-tempo tour de force over a insinuatingly melodic bass line. I'd go back and write some words to that one guys…could be the money track. (Mike Doktorski 6/02)

Dirty Johnny
Happy F*n New Year: Live At The Brighton Bar
Back in the 'ole days, no self-respecting band would go very long without releasing their "live album," a vicarious yet oddly compelling method of experiencing the most primal, communal essence of rock fandom (e.g. Frampton Comes Alive, Live at Budakan, Exit: Stage Left). Dirty Johnny picks up this tradition without missing a beat (well…more or less), as the band runs through an energetic set of Stooges-meets-Kiss-meets-Sabbath-inspired originals, and the crowd audibly erupts from time to time in enthusiastic revelry. Obviously, this seven song set is intended as more of a commemorative souvenir of a killer show than as a proper introduction to Dirty Johnny's music. The recording is kinda rough, but hell, it was New Year's Eve, the band played loud, and the crowd got drunk. Now that, my friends, is rock n roll. (Mike Doktorski 3/01)

A Life To Be Defined
Stalwarts on NJ's club circuit for the past several years, Elemae follows up 1999's Beautiful Things EP with this twelve-track set. The album is a sonic leap for the quartet, and lyricist/vocalist Craig Cirinelli's clever, introspective wordplay is an added dimension throughout. However, with trippy, noisy numbers ("Audio Landscape") juxstaposed against SDRE-meets-Pixes geek emo ("Fret Echo"), A Life To Be Defined is clearly the work of artists who are both the willing victims and proud results of their influences. The band finds its own voice most convincingly on standout track "Something Synthetic," a deft blend of power chords and soaring melodies that finds Cirinelli metaphorically lamenting the transient disposability of it all. On the cryptically titled "Odemo," Cirinelli sings, "We listen, when chord progressions mean so much." It would be easy to slam…if only we didn't agree completely. (Mike Doktorski 3/01)

Val Emmich
The Fifteen Minute Relationship
Ex-Ben Trovato/Awake Asleep frontman Val Emmich's debut solo effort is nothing if not ambitious: a five-song concept EP that documents the progressive stages of a doomed relationship. You have to admit that's a great starting point for a record, and when good ideas are cultivated by wordy, brainy songsmiths like 22-year old Emmich, music is sometimes made that can move you and shape you (that is, if you want to be moved and/or shaped…but I digress). Now I'm not sure The Fifteen Minute Relationship does this exactly, but it's a huge step forward for a young singer/songwriter who's just beginning to hit his stride. From the hopeful, titillating "Try Me" to the somber resignation of "No More," Emmich's lyrics (optimally augmented by subdued arrangements and sparse instrumentation) convincingly weave the story of an experience shared by all of us at one time or another.
(Mike Doktorski, 2/02)

Val Emmich

Slow Down Kid (2003)
It's hard to imagine that just a few short years ago American pop music was stalled in a thorny thicket of boy bands and nu metal. But, in the words of the late George Harrison, all things must pass, and you could make the case that here in late '02 we are witnessing a bona fide rennaisance of rock-inflected acts exploring subject matter arguably deeper than booty calls and bad crushes. That said, singer-songwriter Val Emmich still has to do the legwork necessary to find an audience for his excellent new album Slow Down Kid…but with songs as fine as these, he may find that his job just got a little easier. Relative to last year's delicate, acoustic-based The Fifteen Minute Relationship, this time out Emmich and co-producer Wayne Dorell utilize a comprehensive array of instruments and production techniques that allow the music and arrangements to operate in tandem with the superbly executed lyrical themes that weave throughout Emmich's compositions. For example, a frantic bass line underscores the narrator's failing sanity in "Unstable," while the stark, electric piano whole note chords of the title track introduce Emmich's thinly veiled self-admonishment to "Slow Down Kid / I know it's hard for you." Other standouts include the oxymoronic rocker "Privacy Attracts," the narrator-as-the-other-man slow burner "Selfish Blues," and the punk-inflected reflection on cultural ennui "Rat Race." Overall, Slow Down Kid is an extremely strong effort from an artist that NBU predicts you will continue to hear from (in some way, shape, or form) for a very long time. (Mike Doktorski, 10/02)

Val Emmich
Slow Down Kid (2004)
The reluctant rock star is in quite a pickle these days, his practiced apathy eclipsed by the blinding glare of hard rock swagga and hip hop flava. Or maybe its just the times -- the fuck-the-weak undercurrent of the George W generation has little use for unchecked introspection. But in the long run, no artist that ever really mattered did so by pretending to be something else, and make no mistake, Val Emmich does want to matter. For his major label debut, Emmich and producer Mark Trombino (best known for his work with Jimmy Eat World) re-vamp and upgrade Emmich's original Slow Down Kid for Childlike Records and, unwittingly or not, craft one of the year's unqualified rock gems. Trombino's touch is most evident on the four new songs recorded specifically for this re-release. In particular, his decision to utilize studio aces (the powerhouse drumming of Rocket From The Crypt's Atom Willard propels the strongest selections here) instead of Emmich's own band pays off in spades on numbers like "Medical Display" and "The Patient Patient." Let's just say that if this wasn't the sound that Emmich was going for, it really should've been. Lyrically, Emmich's wistful, moody reflections juxtapose nicely against clever wordplay and soaring choruses. Standout "Separate Things," which chronicles a relationship soured by divergent expectations, could be "Thunder Road" for Generation Y (on a personal note, its not often that a song lodges in my head like "Separate Things" did for a two week stretch there). The remainder of the tunes were produced by Hoboken's Wayne Dorrell (no slouch himself) and while you could question the decision to axe SDK v1 standouts "Selfish Blues" and "Rat Race," that's really just a nit…the new songs more than compensate.
Key Tracks "Separate Things" "Privacy Attracts A Crowd"
(Mike Doktorski, 2/05)

Evelyn Forever

Good To Be Alive

Jersey shore power popsters' third album finds the boys branching out and experimenting with rhythms and arrangements, but retaining the vocal harmonies and lovelorn characters of past efforts. E4E nip from several styles here…the acoustic guitars and drum machines of "Indecision" recall several Sugar Ray hits, while "Maybe" churns out Beach Boys harmonies and "Good To Be Alive" borrows some guitar licks straight outta Bon Jovi's "Never Say Goodbye." But E4E juggle their influences expertly, keeping the listener engaged and interested, and always entertained. (Mike Doktorski, 1/01)

Evelyn Forever

Believe it or not, it's been half a decade since Evelyn Forever first burst onto NJ's music scene, armed with a deceptively simple set of three minute, three chord, fuzz-guitar anthems that had every jittery rock 'n roll girl (and quite a few boys) singing along by the end of the second chorus. On EP, their fourth release overall and their first for Childlike Records after breaking with longtime home The Airplay Label, E4E tinker just a wee bit with their signature formula for sunny day power pop. Sure, you still have the melodies, the harmonies, the girls, and the crushes, but you also have arena rock-worthy production quality, a new band member (bassist/vocalist Chris Lucas), and lyrical content that for better or worse looks past prom night. The one-two punch of opener "Super OK" and track two "Good Girls" introduces a grungier and more jaded E4E, though you get the nagging sense that their life-as-a-rock-star schtick would be slightly more convincing if, well, they actually were rock stars. Minor inconsistencies aside, the boys return to familiar territory on the ever-so-bouncy "Air Guitar," and by the time closer "Get Up, Get On" rolls around, the E4E that we've come to know and love is very much in evidence. (Mike Doktorski, 6/02)

Green To Think
Fireworks On The Grass (EP)
"Can I get some happy with your pain?" asks lead singer Steve Piperno on "Hugga," track 4 of his band Green To Think's wonderfully eclectic debut EP Fireworks On The Grass. Now I don't know what the hell that means, but it sure sounds cool…and there's more where that came from. Piperno and company crash through an agreeable batch of slightly generic yet extremely well-crafted could-be-hits that bounce around in that netherdom of alternative rock bordered by Phish, TtWS, and Travis. Genre jumping is evident, as the band goes hippy-dippy on the Luna-esque "In The Stars," while "Lounge Song" could be an outtake from Santana's Supernatural. Standout track "Worlds Come To Me" gets the ubiquitous string treatment, but it could still be the best song that Coldplay never wrote.
(Mike Doktorski, 7/01)

Green To Think

Sundays Were Made For This
For everyone except for maybe bookies during football season, Sundays really were made for the kind of dreamy, contemplative pop offered up by Jersey quartet Green To Think on their latest EP Sundays Were Made For This. Evoking lite FM and adult top 40 influences (ergo Van Morrison, Ben Folds, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Counting Crows), the band's real strength lies in the emotive, heart-on-sleeve songwriting of lead Thinker Steve Piperno, whose wobegone tales of lost loves and broken dreams bestow an added (and needed) second dimension to a well-executed but otherwise fairly conventional musical palette. For 'better' or worse, standout track "Better" is also this EP's sole uptempo number. But with a catchy hook, a Van Morrison-esque horn lead-in, and lyrics like "..I still can remember when you would call / before James came along..", any upwardly mobile, middle-class, lovelorn, angst-ridden twenty-something looking for a soundtrack-like anthem to a lonely Friday night need look no further than here. (Mike Doktorski, 10/02)

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