This old hipster loves punk music, though saying so is almost as ambiguous a statement as “I love music.” As musical genres go, there is a pretty broad range of sound, from the sub-musical thrash of the first Replacements album “Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash” (1981) to the almost folky alt-rock of the final Replacements album “All Shook Down” (1990). There were regional styles, from California hardcore scene to Minneapolis, Chicago, DC, New York, London, and beyond. And over the past 40 years the genre evolved even further.
Which brings us to The Ratchets out of New Jersey. Musically adept, sharp lyrics, and tunes you can hum if so inclined and not a subversive haircut in sight. And while it might be tempting to simply classify them as a rock ‘n roll band, a quick review of their song titles suggests otherwise. Yeah, they might look like high school teachers (lead singer/guitarist Jed Engine is, in fact, an archivist), but the angry social commentary in their lyrics tells the tale.
The Ratchets are punk as fuck. And this old hipster strongly approves.
It’s a tale as old as time, really. Band forms in 2003. Releases album that doesn’t get a lot of recognition outside of a small circle of fans. Band goes on hiatus to pursue day jobs. They have a limited sort of reunion in 2012 where they discover they had made more of an impression on fans than previously thought. Five years later, after a handful of shows, they record a new album tempered with a decade plus of experience and lives lived (2018’s First Light).
And what an album.
No, The Ratchets are not re-inventing the wheel. And that’s alright. They wear their influences on their sleeve while still making the sound very much their own. Every member of the four-piece band can play the hell out of their instruments, but its nothing flashy. Nothing precious. Nothing twee. And honestly, that’s kind of a relief. No one is trying to show off or outshine the rest of the band. They’re unapologetically authentic. Tight. Crisp. But with a layer of grit that’s impossible not to love.
Joe Engine’s voice has a rough rock edge that recalls Mike Ness of Social Distortion or Joe Strummer of The Clash. It’s a perfect fit, not so rough that his lyrics are lost amid the soaring guitars (provided both by him and Zak Kaplan), solid Dan Desimoni bass line, and tireless Marc Ziccardi on drums. They energy they bring to every song is infectious. And with the implied exception of the song “Dotard on the Dial,” they seem less interested in calling out individuals than they are in critiquing money, power, and the absurdity of what people are willing to sacrifice in order to gain control over the lives of others.
These are smart songs, full of humor as well as anger. And they’re delivered with deceptive simplicity by people who give a shit–not only about the message, but the art of delivering it as well.
It’s a shame they’re not more widely known (around 1,000 followers on Instagram, fewer on Facebook, and a truly tragic 179 on Spotify as of this posting). They are a perfect example of the kind of bands I started this Old Hipster Recommends series to highlight. Because they are engaging as hell, sincere about their art, and worthy of a much wider recognition than the current music scene has allotted them.
No gimmicks. No tricks. No pretty faces with fancy choreography. Just honest, smart, fun rock ‘n roll.
What’s more punk rock than that?
For a taste, check out the timely tune “Dotard at the Dial.”
And if you like, maybe give them a little love. Their albums are all available to stream, but the link above will take you to places to buy one or more of them. And until the eventual collapse of late-stage capitalism, nothing says love like paying for your art.