New Jersey is dense, not just by population, but by the variety of musicians that build their craft and watch it grow here. 2018 has been a vibrant year for music in the garden state, transcending a single genre and impacting listeners state-wide and beyond. Here are the bands and artists that have made the most impact on our writers this past year, and will continue to do so for years to come.
I know I already wrote about it, but Foxanne’s Halfling has been a standout record for me this year. Foxanne technically resides in Brooklyn these days, but they are NJ born-and-raised so they still count. Halfling is a 6-song collection of indie-pop songs that range from quiet and thoughtful to in-your-face screw-you. The instrumentation is limited to Foxanne’s trio–one guitar, bass, and drums–but manages to stay interesting and full throughout. Foxanne’s voice is the main draw on the album, with a wildly impressive range both note-wise and dynamically. There’s even a song about climate change on it that comes across as a desperate love song to the Earth. Or perhaps from the perspective of the Earth. Either way, Foxanne’s songs are interesting, sonically pleasing, and very repeatable.
Favorite tracks: “Whiskey and Strawberries”, “Tell Me”
I actually learned of The Nectars after playing a show with them in North Jersey that was booked by none other than You Don’t Know Jersey. I gotta say, I don’t understand how more people in NJ don’t know about this band because they are freaking GOOD. After seeing their live set I decided to give their most recent release, Sci-Fi Television, a shot, and I was not disappointed at all. The album manages to be both pop and punk without ever feeling like pop punk. The songs are beautifully crafted with lead vocals to draw you in and high energy music to keep you moving. It reminds me a lot of the pop music of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but with a kick ass rock band behind it. Highly, highly recommend this album to anyone who’s a fan of seriously groovy tunes.
Favorite tracks: “We Will Run”, “Don’t Panic”
Ok, so this album actually came out a few years ago, but Jeff just added it to streaming services this year (and I also just discovered it this year) so I’m including it. This album is an incredibly impressive collection of folk rock songs, not only for the songwriting itself but for the way Jeff produces the songs as well. Starting off with “Liar’s Lullaby” and getting right into the ever-popular “Paradise Street,” this album gets you hooked and keeps you hooked throughout. All the songs have a great mix of intensity and introspection. Jeff’s arrangements for the songs are absolutely beautiful–simple, but with a depth of musical understanding that is hard to come by. Jeff’s lyrics are thoughtful and clever, touching on themes such as morality and hopefulness in the face of adversity.
Favorite Tracks: “Bread & Roses”, “Your Stone”
Ben Morss, the creative mind behind the band Ancient Babies, released Put Me Back in the Sunshine in March 2018 through Mint 400 Records. I had the pleasure of hearing some of the demos as the album was forming. Ben was able to make these zygotes explode to life. The album is epic and bouncy filled with clever lyrics, bleeps, blips, complex chord structures, blazing keys, and enough pop hooks that would catch enough fish to feed a very large colony of dolphins. I felt as if I was listening to the confessional of a robot stuck in a human world, being filled with complex feelings, and experiencing sensory overload. My favorite track is“Rolling like the River”. It reads as a modern-day resistance song that does exactly what the lyrics suggest, “Get on board or get out of the way. The train is leaving, and it’s leaving today.” Get on board and go buy Put Me Back in the Sunshine at https://ancientbabies.bandcamp.com/
From the opening yelp and aggressive strums of acoustic punker Joe Billy’s Don’t Mind Me you know you’re in for a jolt. It’s one person and one guitar (mostly). What draws me in is the positivity in Joe Billy’s music. In “Here Today…” he sings, “Find a total strangers life, And try to do something nice”. But make no mistake, JoeBilly can slay you with his impeccable rhythm and piercing observations. One of my favorite tracks, A Song About How I Piss Myself Off, Joe Billy confesses, “And I mumble quite consistently,Most people don’t understand me, Saying something meaningful won’t always get across, I hope to god that you heard me” The albums exit tune, i wont miss any of u, you hear a young man filled with determination as he departs from schooling, “Graduation goggles won’t have any effect on me, I’ll be moving on and moving up, farther than you can see”. It is exciting to see Joe Billy moving up. Go buy Don’t Mind Me at https://joebilly.bandcamp.com/
If you’re into spiraling guitars, beautiful production, and melodies that burrow into your brain, take a listen to Hit Like a Girl’s What Makes Love Last out on ChatterbotRecords. It’s an album I discovered later in the year and I’m glad I did. HitLike A Girl is a project by Nicolle Maroulis. They have a way of creating a very vivid environment with their lyrics that draws the listener in. In “Cold to be Alone” they sing, “The draft coming in my window reminds me how cold it is to be alone.” The strength in this album is the cohesiveness of the music -lead guitar and percussion by Levi Miller, bass guitar by Frederick Pruden, and violin on “Plan B” by Camille Faulkner – it feels like they know each other very well. What is amazing about Hit Like a Girl is they don’t sell their own merchandise at their shows. Instead, “…Nicolle (alongside Alex Dobrowolski oft he band Sunrot) runs a non profit organization called No More Dysphoria, and at their shows sell merch for this organization instead. All proceeds of sales go towards aiding transgender individuals pay for major aspects of the irtransitions.” Purchase What Makes LoveLast at https://hitlikeagirl.bandcamp.com/ and support great folks.
Larée H. Cisco’s mission with The Motown Chronicles, Vol. 1, “…was to find a top 100 Motown hits of all-time list, and reverse engineer all the songs. I’m only taking the rhythm, tempo, my version of the drum pattern, and sometimes the theme. The melodies, lyrics, and music are all mine.” A truly epic and inspiring feat. Larée is no stranger to challenges – he is a frequent participant in FebruaryAlbum Writing Month (https://fawm.org/) and 50/90 (http://fiftyninety.fawmers.org/).With The Motown Chronicles, Vol. 1, he has put an exciting sonic dent in the first 10 songs (plus a perfectly chosen mystery cover). On first listen I wondered, “What song inspired that?” ButI quickly let that go and began to enjoy his arrangements and mind-bending harmonies. Larée is never at a loss for an amazing turn of phrase. In “Don’tMean a Thang” he sings, “Oh the strings of our hearts should play melodies, Too many wrong notes it’s a felony,” or the sinister, “Every time I close my eyes, all I can hear is your laugh, The first thing that comes to mind, is cuttin’ you in half,” from the song “You Ain’t No Friend of Mine”. Larée created the whole album from his home in Nutley, New Jersey. What is so impressive is that it sounds closer to Hitsville USA than a bedroom recording. At a time when the news cycles make our heads spin, it’s albums like The MotownChronicles, Vol. 1 that help us forget the craziness in the world and get lost in amazing art. Head over to https://lareeciscomusic.bandcamp.com/ to pick up The Motown Chronicles, Vol. 1.
TicTac and Phase 3 by UNiiQU3 – Cruising around BandCamp one day brought me to Newark’s UNiiQU3 and her infectious beats and lyrics. This is amazing music to keep spirits high and mood elevated. TicTac came out in March and I was instantly hooked. Ask Ed, I play it ALL the time. Her newer EP from August 2018, Phase 3, is just as poppin’.
Velvet Noir by Blaise – Electronic in all the best possible ways, Blaise tore into my life because he invited practically all my friends in Asbury Park to his release show at The Saint. It was a beautiful time in August for a red hot night of music and I came away wanting nothing but more Blaise for the rest of my life. Mr. Terrible runs through my head to this day.
Isadora Duncan by Deal Casino – It’s not their most recent release but Isadora Duncan was released on my birthday this year so it still counts. (Check out their newer release, LLC, too.) I love love love this slightly new direction that the group has taken lately and can’t wait to hear more.
Hard Times in Two Dimensions by aBIRD – To say that I’m a fan of aBIRD would be an understatement. Adam’s solo material is moody, harder-edged and funky. We’ve been hearing demo recordings of this album forever so it’s a joy to listen to the finished product. The live shows are just as intense as the album.
Dark Blue by Reddmond/Joey – Released in August and re-released masters came out in October, Dark Blue is atmospheric and a pleasure to listen to when you don’t need to completely rock out. There’s a little indie rock in there but it’s mostly dreamy and atmospheric joy. Here’s hoping the duo from New Brunswick start playing shows soon. I’d love to be able to hear these gorgeous songs live.
ManDancing’s, “Everything Else,” was initially put out in 2016, but I learned of the record just before it was re-released this year. The songs passionate and pulsing mechanisms of melodic poetry, each cast in the pendulum swing of human experience. Vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Stephen Kelly, shares the pieces of his growing mind as it splinters off into quiet reflections and raging bursts. The band’s cohesiveness is a result of Kelly’s fine-tuned songwriting and three other wonderfully skilled instrumentalists, together generating a seemingly innate ability to pull you in and out of emotions with ease.
The unifying force of the songs’ anthemic lyrics and powerful alt-rock progressions has found to be comforting and cathartic all at once. I’ve found myself together with friends on countless nights this year screaming the words to songs like “broken,” “humor,” and “lost in the ocean”. Literally screaming. ManDancing’s music builds up into what feels like strength and understanding when you listen, even if the narratives are of the moments you feel the most despair. It seems that everyone can find comfort and unity in that, and it shines through in both their album and live shows alike.
I think The Paper Jets knew what they were doing when they waited to release this album at the end of 2018. You always go out with a bang. And what a glorious, infectious and raucous bang it is. From the brilliant danceable power pop of “Say I Can” to the slow burn of “My Gemini Heart” to the punk infused “Go On Go On” the album is the band at the top of their game. This might be the last thing they ever record and that would be a shame. But if it is, they are going out on a high that other bands could only hope to reach.
I tried really really hard not to list a record that one of the other YDKJ writers had already written about. However this EP is just so damn good I could not leave it out. You can mark Isadora Duncan the point where Deal Casino went from being a great band to being a magnificent one. The gut wrenching “Dirty T-Shirt” is possibly the best song of the year and will leave you astounded. And the scary thing is I have the feeling they are just warming up.
Asbury Park band Sonic Blume are teenagers making some of the best drone, shoegaze music that I have heard in a long time. Influences ranging from My Bloody Valentine to Beach House to The Cure have all meshed wonderfully on the band’s second EP Beach Karma to make a modern, fresh sounding dream pop album. Teenagers.
An incredible debut from Well Wisher, post dollys Natalie Newbold’s new band. Emotions run the gamut from anger, depression, happiness, longing and, finally, joy. Honest and heartfelt, This Is Fine is a testament to the power of human connections and all the trials and tribulations that the process entails. The message is it is all worth it.
Perhaps the best live band in New Jersey getting very spicy with and EP of red hot blasts to the ears!!!
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