New Jersey has always been bright-eyed. Music has defined a wide sector of the state from the likes of Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen – and the local rock scene is still undoubtedly thriving. It’s not a resurgence, either – the state’s legendary clubs have always had packed bills. Venues like The Stone Pony (if you don’t know it, you should) and The Saint champion local talent, and the Jersey shore itself houses a slew of (primarily) punky bands who hold down the foundation for up and comers who want to get themselves involved. Festivals like The Bamboozle, a semi-recent three-day fest, always gave prime opportunities to the hustlers – bands from the area who worked hard to get bodies into the outdoor venue space. Truthfully, bright-eyed barely cuts it. Jersey is always overflowing with profuse, punk-fused talent. With all of this said, here are 7 bands who are rewriting rock in the Garden State. (With Sails Ahead photo by Kris Khunachak)


Led by bright-eyed Twitch regular Sierra Binondo, With Sails Ahead, pictured above, contributes boldly to the progressive and post-hardcore genres. The band’s first single of 2021, “Murder Mountain,” is aggressive ear candy – but still well crafted, precise, and soundly produced. With Sails Ahead’s sonic landscape is atypical for the New Jersey punk scene, which makes for a fresh, empowering listen for local (and any) ears. “Our band’s mission is to make a lasting impression on the progressive post-hardcore genre, not only in terms of representation, but with our unique blend of math rock, pop, and post-hardcore,” Binondo states. “Our upcoming material explores the entire spectrum of our influences, aiming to push the structural shift in the new wave of progressive post-hardcore bands further,” she continues. One of their most recent releases, “Gurenge,” (a cover from the anime Demon Slayer) finds the band in an astronomical, space-shattering brand of cosmic rock, identifying themselves as valiant musical shape shifters. 


Wave Break’s history is nothing short of tenacious. The one woman rock act, led by founder Kelly Barber, approaches their refreshing brand of alt-influenced rock with fervor. During their initial years, Wave Break put out punk-tinged music, featuring a revolving door of band members. Their new EP “Puzzle Pieces” is filled with a range of colors, and was a one-person writing operation. “Wave Break’s name is rooted in the concept of overcoming adversity, and “Puzzle Pieces” is the realization of that. I wanted to show that it’s possible to create something beautiful even when you feel like you have nothing to work with,” Barber states. Instead of sulking over the loss of a lineup, Barber did the opposite – she plugged in her guitar, and created a grab bag of songs that invoke frustration, passion, loss, and strong-willed independence. 


(HighwindPhoto by Abby Clare)


The music? Infectious. The man behind Highwind? Pure passion. Christopher Russo Jr, the mind behind Highwind, knocks down the gate with his passion alone. Highwind’s sleek combination of scratchy hooks and boppy verses allow the vocal melodies to truly shine, and Russo Jr’s performances are something that listeners will want to consume. “Highwind is my way of putting my thoughts, energy, and feelings into a relatable, musical format. At the end of the day, all I want to do is put my music into the world and hope that it can affect the listener in a positive, comforting way. If it does that, then I am happy,” says Russo Jr. Caffeine-pumped, quick-witted, fist-bumping pop-fused rock – this is the beautifully crafted nature of Highwind.


No recent local band has enamored the Warped Tour scene like The Ones You Forgot, who played the main stage of the final Vans Warped Tour in 2019. The Brick-based fivesome is spicy, yet sweet bubblegum. They’re rigid, yet incredibly polished. Their most recent release, “Desensitized,” encapsulates their homeiness in a sweet 3 minute and 18 seconds package. They don’t need that much time to captivate their peers – just a few short seconds would do. But The Ones You Forgot are an entire package, one that’s made of sleek, established, moving parts.


Alternative pop, alt rock, pop rock; however you try to label Painted Young, nothing quite defines their zest for metamorphosis. There isn’t a singular genre that can box in the trio, which makes for an incredibly colorful array of releases for these not-so-newcomers. “Both individually and as a group, we’ve found that we have a pretty wide spectrum of musical interests and influences. As most artists would, we’re always trying to take different things from that spectrum and put it into our music,” says lead vocalist Chris Santos. “At the same time however, we also try to push ourselves outside of our own comfort zone because that’s where we find our epiphanic moments as well as our best work.” They’re just happy to be here, without a perfectly pinpointed ‘here’. The result of their eccentricity is not so off the grid – tracks like “45 After Midnight” have universal appeal, digging into their familiar alt-punk roots and manifesting them into raw, crisp elements. 


Hell To Pay,” the new album release from latewaves, is unequivocally an emboldened grunge-rock record. “Enough Is Enough” is laced with fuzzy, growling guitars, edging towards the energy of early stage Foo Fighters, but teetering on that edge. “We couldn’t really get our wheels on writing what would be known as “Hell to Pay” until we gave up on caring about our “sound”  – and inevitably realized we just wanted to scream big choruses and beat up our instruments,” says Mike Pellegrino, latewaves’ lead vocalist and guitarist. The listener doesn’t need to get past the first song to know that this is an indescribably strong debut, but the cohesiveness that lasts through the final second of fuzz is what creates an unavoidable tidal wave. “ Funny thing is that we found our “sound” once we stopped making it a priority,” he says. “Huge Karate Kid parallelism there.


Bands who have an established discography can sometimes fall stagnant, but Halogens continue to find invigorating ways to expand upon their anthemic, sort of sad, indie-esque brand of pop rock. “When we were younger, we always tried to write to fit into whatever scene was most popular at the moment, but we finally hit a wall when we just wanted to write what we authentically experienced and believed to be good music,” says drummer George Saives. “You’re Being Weird,” their newest LP release, is a quirky, tantalizing 11 song collection of indie that stretches far beyond the realm of tradition. Tantalizing barely cuts it – Halogens have created an exclusive mixture that only they could craft, and songs like “Talking Shit” zone in on that almost cryptic energy. “Even though we’ve been together for over a decade, I believe that the true musical identity of Halogens has only recently been discovered by us, and I’m very excited to continue working towards that goal with future releases and experimentation,” Saives concludes.