Although Nicolle Maroulis’ third LP as Hit Like a Girl saw the songwriter aligning with Charlotte label Refresh Records, and working with big names within the national emosphere such as Bartees Strange, Petal, and members of The Sonder Bombs and Lucy Dacus’ backing band, their sense of local community remains just as strong as it was in the time of their first record. “I’ve been going to local shows in New Jersey for the better part of 15 years now at this point in my life,” Maroulis shares. “I’ve seen so many great bands in some of the smallest sized rooms and basements, and seen so many bands come and go.”
With Heart Racer, HLAG’s new album released last Friday, the band’s sound is lusher than ever, swapping any remnants of a band that plays small rooms and basements for one filling auditoriums, maintaining those East Coast emo roots while heading down the same path Bartees Strange took with his debut LP: genre-blending rock full of emotional highs and moments of polished pop bliss.
Meanwhile, Maroulis is far from moving on from their local NJ scene. “There’s several artists from New Jersey who have made a life-long fan out of me,” they continue, “even if they’ve since stopped being active bands, such as Archie Alone, Arrows in Her, County Drop, Polyphony, Marloneisha, Capacities, Paste, Prawn, Forth Wanderers, Forever Losing Sleep, Back and Forth, and A Film in Color to name a bunch.” For some of their favorite groups still holding it down for the scene, listen to the playlist they put together for us below, and read on for Maroulis’ commentary.
Fire Is Motion, “Yesterday’s Coffee”
What’s not to love about this band? Adrian is someone who takes a lot of time to write Fire Is Motion songs (and with great reason). Every song this band has ever put out indicatively sounds like a piece of art that was so meticulously thought out, and I love that. The way Adrian and Avery’s voices sound so perfect together, too, makes listening to them all the more enjoyable.
ManDancing, “Passing Out”
I fell in love with this song from the second I first heard it, watching the accompanying music video of the band playing in an attic somewhere. This is a band that HLAG has gotten to play with several times, and every time always feels like such a treat. This band packs the room every time I see them play, and kids are just screaming their heads off along to Stephen’s equally matched screaming energy. I implore everyone to get the chance to watch this band live if they ever can!
Identity Shift, “Stretch Myself”
This is a song I got to hear from its early stages into its final form. My best friend, and oftentimes bandmate, Frederick Pruden produced this song alongside my friend Joe Kelly. These two also used to play in NJ powerhouse emo/post-rock band Forever Losing Sleep. It’s a really fun electronic song about spirituality and the universe and stuff like that. It’s a lot of fun to listen too.
Picking just one song to highlight from Spowder’s full length album Health Palm was difficult, considering every song on this record is so awesome. This band has been around for several years, packing out New Brunswick basements and beyond. This song specifically has just the right amount of chaotic energy that will put you in a great mood. From a songwriter’s perspective it’s particularly fun to listen to considering how often the parts move, and how rhythmically adventurous it sounds.
Long Neck, “Campfire”
Lily, my friend, you’ve done it again! This is a band I wish more people knew about, specifically their latest album World’s Strongest Dog. This is the opening track from that album, and it is such a sweet song. Lily’s beautiful voice pairs perfectly with these chorus-y guitar tones, and creates such a vibe!
Screaming Females, “I’ll Make You Sorry”
When you ask any NJ native to think of “New Jersey bands,” Screaming Females is a legendary band from New Brunswick that should come to mind immediately. This band’s discography is pretty thick, so picking just one song to highlight is no easy task, but this one rocks. “I’ll Make You Sorry” is the third track from their 2018 record All At Once, which is a collection of songs that you’ll want to consume…all at once (and then some).
Listen to the playlist Screaming Females made us here.
Sunrot, “Molt (This Feels Like Death)”
This band holds a special place in my heart. Each member in this band has personally helped HLAG or No More Dysphoria 100 times over and over again, and I can’t thank them enough for all of their continued support throughout the years. As their friend, it’s exciting for me to watch them over the years evolve and grow into the talented band of musicians and people they are today. “Molt” is my favorite, and latest, offering of the band. Be on the lookout for a new full length from them sometime this year or the next.
stillhungry, “Paper Lanterns”
This band seemingly came out of nowhere, and I am so happy that they did. When they dropped their self-titled album, it was on repeat in my car for days on end. I’m familiar with Mateo’s other NJ band Toy Cars, and I guess I can hear some sort of influence from there reflected on this record, but it still feels like songs I’ve never heard before, which is so exciting for me! “Paper Lanterns” is sonically the catchiest, in my opinion, and I love it a lot.
Save Face, “Bad”
I personally loved watching the come-up of this band. I remember seeing this band on so many flyers, and play so many small DIY shows to equally as small crowds. Then came their 2018 Epitaph Records album Merci, and the well-deserved Save Face takeover was upon us. This song stands out to me because of the way it moves, and how fun the energy in the choruses are. I can’t wait to see what new stuff this band has in store for us all.
Well Wisher, “Lullaby”
There was a running joke pre-COVID about HLAG and Well Wisher running into each other more often in every other state other than New Jersey. One of our earliest NJ gigs was played alongside Well Wisher and Petal at Ramapo College. Ever since that night, I was hooked as a fan. I was torn between talking about this song and one of their oldest hits, “I’ll Go” (this song absolutely rocks), but ultimately went with “Lullaby” because I think it really demonstrates how talented of a songwriter Natalie is, and how far they’ve come over the years since their older projects such as Dollys.
Glazer, “Amplified Mind”
Another local legend band hailing from New Brunswick, and specifically the DIY venue In The West, which has been a safe haven for bands to play shows in, rehearse, record, and more recently even skateboard! This song is a great example of the band’s ability to write melodic riffs, and then out of nowhere slow things down with a beautiful guitar riff that sends you somewhere out of your body and mind temporarily. Before you know it, the rhythm section is grabbing you by your feet and bringing you back down to Earth again to headbang one more time!
Teenage Halloween, “Holes”
This is a NJ band that’s also been around for awhile, and thank goodness for that. Luk has always had a gigantic hand in most of the DIY booking and always delivers for the touring bands they help out. Everyone knows that a “Luk Hendriks show” is going to be a good one, and kids come out. They finally released their debut full length self-titled album via Don Giovanni Records during quarantine and I am so happy to see this album and band get the recognition they deserve.
This is a band I also hold closely to my heart (literally and figuratively) considering that front person Joe Paventa is my roommate and sometimes bandmate! I’ve known Joe for many years, since we’re also from the same town and went to high school together. I got to see Watchmesink perform in its earlier stages, and helped him record his quarantine EP That Which Enhances Silence in our tiny Montclair apartment. This is the first one we recorded, and I like how this song came out the most.
The Vaughns, “Raina”
I think the first time I ever saw The Vaughns play live might have been at Maxwell’s in Hoboken years ago, but I might also be making that up. Regardless, this is a cool band that’s been around for awhile, and I was so stoked to see their recent signing to Equal Vision Records. “Raina” is a pretty song that came out earlier this year. I am a huge sucker for soft vocals and electronic drum beats. It’s a sweet love song, and anyone who knows me knows I love a good love song.
Halogens, “The Backwoods”
This band also knows how to pack out a room. HLAG has been lucky enough to play a few shows with Halogens, and every time is a rowdy time considering the crowds they draw. This is the closing track of their 2019 EP Happy Hour, and is a fun song that I really enjoy and think y’all will too!