Alt-Nation: Public Alley Wins the 2015 WBRU Rock Hunt and Jesse Malin’s Latest

bruIn one of the biggest upsets in Rock Hunt history, Public Alley shocked the local music community to take the crown. This high school band didn’t even make the original cut and had to win an online poll against somewhere around 20 other local acts just to sneak into the Finals. Vegas had Public Alley at a distant 43 to 1, but I thought it was a steal for those odds because once you’re in the dance, you always have a chance.

Another reason why I didn’t think Public Alley was a snowball’s chance in Hell type pick was that I wasn’t really impressed with either We Were Astronauts or Forest Fires. They are each well rehearsed and good at what they do. That said … I find them both to be boring. It happens; great songs don’t grow on trees. You can be as tight as a virgin and have some good ideas, but it doesn’t mean that one is going to be able to hold the attention of a couple hundred people for 30 minutes. It’s not easy. Watching Forest Fires in the semi-finals, they just struck me as the type of band that never wins it all in these types of contests. They reminded me of ’90s shoe gazing indie rock — if that’s your bag, check them out. We Were Astronauts have a more contemporized indie rock sound.

The goliath in the competition was the aptly named Most Dangerous Men Alive.  They are kind of like a hybrid between alt rock and a jam band. They have hooks that can be lethal in a fight. I accepted that Most Dangerous Men Alive were taking the crown despite the eye opening set from Public Alley till someone told me they were planning on doing a Rage Against the Machine cover. Covers can hurt a band in a competition like this as much as they help them. Most Dangerous Men Alive had everything firing on all cylinders, totally nailing it, and then in a WBRU Rock Hunt moment they threw it away. Close to the end of their set they slowed it down for some dumb Dave Matthews sounding tune and tried to pick it back up with the Rage cover and it blew up in their face. It’s just not what they do.  Covering a punk/rap/rock thing like Rage Against The Machine doesn’t work well for jam bands being judged by music critics because it has to live up to the originals.

Most of the people I was talking to knew nothing about Public Alley before they played, which is normal considering… they are still in high school. But what they did have going for them is they made an impression. Some people shrugged them off as they’ll be good in a few years. Others, including myself, loved them for the imperfections.  They had a certain chaos to them where the songs were all different. They may not have been as tight as the other bands, but they were rock ‘n’ roll! It worked because it was all heart and soul. They are pretty much alternative rock, but they play around with different things. It was really their energy on stage that made Public Alley so endearing. Sure it helped that they packed the room with friends and family, but that is what bands are supposed to do.  Congratulations to the new WBRU Rock Hunt Champions, Public Alley! Congratulations to all the other bands that participated especially Most Dangerous Men Alive, Forest Fires, We Were Astronauts, and to WBRU for once again putting on a great extravaganza.

Jesse Malin – New York Before The War (One Little Indian Records)

Jesse Malin returns with his sixth studio solo album after five years on the down low. Much of New York Before The War deals with pre- and post-gentrification of Malin’s hometown. On New York Before The War, Malin presents a collection of tunes that have a couple of rockers, but mostly mid-tempo numbers that are sandwiched between an opening and closing ballad. Tunes like “Addicted” mix the rhythm of Simon & Garfunkel with the aggression of the Ramones while Malin sings about book stores being razed for high end condos. “She Don’t Love Me Now” has a cool doo-wop feel to it, while “Bent Up” is a roots-tinged ’50s styled rocker. “Turn Up The Mains” finds Malin going back to his punk rock roots channeling the MC5 and The Clash with its chorus “to kick the system and turn up the mains.” “Death Star” has nothing to do with Star Wars, but has a Lou Reed with a better hook style to it feel. The horns illuminate the album closer “Bar Life,” which wouldn’t be out of place on a record like Tim by The Replacements. Alive with memories of the past and wariness of the future, New York Before The War is a gritty ride on the roller coaster of life. And possibly the best record of the year to-date.

Jesse Malin and band will be performing at The Church in Boston on April 9.

Email music news to mclarkin33@gmail.com

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