The Makin Waves Awards return for their 20thtrip around the sun to honor New Jersey’s best indie and unsigned music acts.
For 20 of the past 30 years, Makin Waves has bestowed its Makin Waves Awards on the annual cream of the rich crop of the New Jersey music scene. Here’s the latest look at my yearly Christmas present to the local music scene. For a deeper dive, see coverage of these acts here and here.
Best Band: Nalani & Sarina. A voice for their generation in a meaningful mix of funky sass and folky storytelling, Nalani & Sarina chronicle their peers with quality songwriting and intelligent stories that feature an abundance of hooks and grooves that should not be missed live.
Best Male Artist: Mike Montrey. This guy can sing and shred with the best of them. After years of makin music, Mike Montrey Band’s latest LP, John Street, is their best work yet.
Best Female Artist: Avery Mandeville. This uniquely expressive, richly talented lass combines clever wordplay, unique vocals, and a strong message into an irresistible package.
Best New Artist: Second Arrows. This rad local super group, featuring members of Every Time I Die, Nora, Deadguy, and Ensign, expect to follow a debut single with an EP soon, so definitely check it out along with a gloriously raucous live show.
Best Album: Screaming Females, All at Once. The Screamales once again have succeeded in maintaining an unprecedented artistic trajectory by bettering every previous release with this their seventh studio LP since 2006.
Best EP: Deal Casino, Isadora Duncan. Deal Casino are the real deal, and if there’s any rock ‘n’ roll justice, work like this great 2018 EP and the follow-up LLCLP will allow them to thrive. The best part is that Deal Casino are even better live (see below).
Best Song: Avery Mandeville and the Man Devils, “Blood.” An anthem that releases the anger women often contain in the face of a world of bullshit, “Blood” is the explosive, expressive and sardonically funny standout of Avery’s debut full-length, Happy Birthday, Avery Jane.
Best Songwriter (tie): Doug Zambon and The Vansaders/Johnny Ott and The Cryptkeeper Five: A cut above most punk bands, The Vansaders and The Cryptkeeper Five both have the strongest songs in the New Jersey music scene, so strong that they make me and many other want to see them again and again, so we can sing along. The Vansaders’ “Roll the Dice,” the 2017 Makin Waves Song of the Year, and The Cryptkeeper Five’s “Frankie,” an autobiographical tale about two young brothers boxing on their front lawn to entertain their dad, are among my favorite songs.
Best Live Act: Deal Casino. If Nick Drake joined Pink Floyd, the results might sound and look like Deal Casino, who are not only the best live act of the year because they performed superiorly but because they also presented phenomenal lighting and sound and visual effects, which is no easy feat for a band on a budget.
Tsunami Award: Joe Kuzmeka (Porkchop Express, Trenton Punk Rock Flea Market, Art All Night, Levitt AMP Trenton). A nod also should go to Joe’s right-hand man, Griffin Sullivan. They carry the absolutely awesome and grossly overlooked Trenton punk and indie rock scene on their strong backs, along with a good chunk of the rest of the NJ scene.
Best Vocalist: Brian Erickson (The Extensions, The Paper Jets). If you enjoy the late, great Roy Orbinson as much as I and millions of others, you’re going to love Erickson’s stunning vocals that will shatter your heart, if not glass.
Best Guitarist (tie): Paul Ritchie (The Parlor Mob, gods)and Erik Rudic (The Cold Seas, The Parlor Mob). These guys play so great together in The Parlor Mob and in their separate bands, gods and The Cold Seas with equal amounts of taste, edge and inventiveness.
Best Bassist: Chris Dubrow (The Burns, Avery Mandeville and the Man Devils, Tara Dente & the Blind Pilots). With all those credits keeping him busy on the bass, Dubrow certainly is one of New Jersey’s most productive players, especially when he also plays with Rachel Ana Dobken, Foes of FERN, and Dave Mooney & Viewers Like You.
Best Drummer: Colin Ryan (Lowlight). The first time I saw this guy play three years ago at the Court Tavern, he cracked his cymbal. I was like, “Damn, this roots band has a hard-rockin’ drummer,” which is one of the many things that continues to set Lowlight apart.
Best Keyboardist: Eric Safka (Colossal Street Jam, Billy Walton Band). Need a psychedelic jam ala Pink Floyd? Safka’s your man. How ’bout a bluesy Hammond run like The Allman Brothers Band? Eric can do that too. Whether synth or organ, this guy is king of Jersey keys.
Instrumentalist: Jeffrey Rubin (Crazy & the Brains). The amazing chops of unlikely punk rocker and xylophonist Jeffrey Rubin deliver a frantic trickle ‘n’ tink that add an extra special crazy to Crazy & the Brains. I love when he makes his mallets explode, tossing them to the floor, where they lay beheaded, shredded and shattered beneath his rig.
Best Producer: Erik Kase Romero. Whew! Two fantastic Deal Casino records, plus great stuff from Sonic Blume, Well Wisher and The Front Bottoms are just a few of the credits this influential Asbury Park producer-engineer laid upon the musical landscape this year.
Best Video: Cook Thugless “DAT MOFK!” Thugless are going to think I’m crazy going for this low-budget clip compared to the more expensive and cinematic ones they produced this year, but damn if both the tune and the playground fun of this video aren’t richly entertaining.
Bob Makin is the reporter for www.MyCentralJersey.com/entertainmentand a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at www.facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.