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Makin Waves: 19th Annual Makin Waves Awards

By Bob Makin

originally published: 12/26/2017

Makin Waves: 19th Annual Makin Waves Awards

New Brunswick rockers Spowder are the Makin Waves Band of the Year. Photo by Bob Makin

Makin Waves: 19th Annual Makin Waves Awards


The 19th annual Makin Waves Awards honors the New Jersey music scene’s best music acts, musicians, records, video, and one non-performer who has made the most significant impact. 


Here’s my holiday present to the New Jersey music scene: the 19th annual Makin Waves Awards! Enjoy! And Happy Holidays! 

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Best Band: Spowder. Ah, the mighty Spowder. So not only did this fantastic band tour in support of a record, but that record, “Health Palm,” was released on not one, but two adoring labels, Sniffling Indie Kids and State Champion Records. Now that’s what I call Makin Waves!

Best Male Artist: Sharief Hobley. It’s so great to welcome this talented New Brunswick export back home after years of gigging with the likes of John Legend, Alicia Keyes and Kanye West. Sharief’s current band, Sharief in Burgundy, are expected to release an album later this year. And his first New Brunswick band, Spy Godz, will reunite on April 7 as part of a Court Tavern show at the Hub City Music Festival that also will reunite Wooden Soldiers and Amandla.

Best Female Artist: Renee Maskin. Whether solo acoustic or with her amazing band, Lowlight, last year’s winner of Best Band, this talented songstress is a pleasure and joy to behold and an awfully nice friend to have.

Makin Waves: 19th Annual Makin Waves Awards

Asbury Park singer-songwriter Renee Maskin is the Makin Waves Female Artist of the Year. Photo by Bob Makin

Best New Artist: Decoration. Shortly after forming in January, Decoration landed a deal with State Champion Records and started touring. Then they released their debut EP, “More Piles,” on cassette, toured some more, and sold the tape out. Whew! What a year! Can’t wait to see what they do in 2018.

Best LP: Cook Thugless, “MONEY.” Cook Thugless just keep getting better and better and so do their deep, trippy, fun concept albums. This year’s “MONEY” tops 2013’s “SPACE” and 2015’s “TIME.” I look forward to seeing what this great band can accomplish once they start hitting the road and netting more well-deserved music industry attention. 

Best EP: Experiment 34, “Charismanic 2.0.” Strong playing, songwriting and singing make this EP by my son, Matthew, and his talented band mates in Experiment 34, almost as good as their off-the-hook live show. Eclectic and intense, E34’s mix of punk, funk, rap, metal and psychedelic rock is well represented here, as it will be with a debut full-length in the works at the esteemed Weilhouse Productions. 

Best Song: The Vansaders, “Roll the Dice.” The rousing bridge to this song is one of the best bits of songwriting I ever have heard because it does best what popular music is supposed to do: stir powerful emotions with strong rhythm and rhyme. 

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Best Songwriter: Matthew Ryan Smith and Hodera   I was so impressed when Hodera bettered their brilliant 2015 debut LP, “United by Birdsongs,” with this year’s “First Things First.” They are a voice for their generation that their generation has to catch up to. 

Best Live Band: RocknRoll HiFives  The family that rocks together stays together. May the beloved, highly entertaining RocknRoll HiFives, featuring the Centeno family, stay together as a band for many years to come! 

Tsunami Award: Jim Parks, Roxy & Dukes. Jim Parks deserves this just for putting up with me for year with the Makin Waves Rock Circus, but also because he’s the most nurturing club owner in the state. He cares about local talent, and that’s rare for a club owner, so may God bless him and may he have continued success with his sweet little gem of a roadhouse and glorious oasis of weird in the middle of suburban mundane.

Makin Waves: 19th Annual Makin Waves Awards

Jim Parks, left, winner of the 2017 Makin Waves Tsunami Award for making the biggest impact on the New Jersey music scene, is pictured with Will Wood, last year’s Male Artist of the Year winner. Photo by Bob Makin

Best Vocalist: Justin Matthews, Toothgrinder. It’s amazing how Justin Matthews goes from sweet singing to hellhound growl within an instant, particularly on Toothrinder’s latest LP, “Phantom Amour.” 

Best Guitarist: Kevin Nenichka, Experiment 34. Kevin Nenichka’s world-class chops are a big part of what makes Experiment 34 a great band. He sizzles and soars, crunches and roars in an inspiring way. 

Best Bassist: Kevin Newcomb, Fun While You Wait. To watch him live, Kevin Newcomb’s fluid bass lines seem effortless, but it takes a great deal of talent to make something that sounds so good seem so easy.

Best Drummer: Evren Centeno, RocknRoll HiFives. This kid isn’t even in high school yet! Can you imagine how good he’ll be when he’s 20?!

Makin Waves: 19th Annual Makin Waves Awards

Evren and Joe Centeno of RocknRoll HiFives at North Jersey Indie Rock Fest. Photo by Bob Makin

Best Keyboardist: Mike Panella, Albert Savage. On the band’s debut LP as Albert Savage, “Savage on the High Seas,” keyboardist Mike Panella channels such jam ‘n’ groove greats at Art Neville of The Meters, Page McConnell of Phish, and Gregg Allman very impressively. 

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Best Instrumentalist: Anthony Carrera. Whether its hand pan, sitar or Flamenco guitar, Anthony Carrera is a one-man jam who has a night all his own night with special guests on April 12 at Barca City Lounge in New Brunswick during Hub City Music Festival. 

Best Producer: Pete Steinkopf, Little Eden Studios, Asbury Park. What a stable! Two records produced by the Bouncing Souls guitarist made my 2017 Best NJ Indie list: The Vansaders’ “No Matter What” and The Battery Electric’s “The Little Eden Sessions.” On top of that, there’s recent work by Brian Fallon, The Moms, Hot Blood, Lost in Society, Hannas, Little Vicious and much more. Can’t wait for that Crazy & The Brains platter to drop! And look for Little Vicious as a Record of the Week in March! 

Best Video: Cook Thugless, “New Release.” One of the things I love most about Cook Thugless is their camaraderie and contagious sense of fun. Out of all of their many videos directed by co-front man Jean Louis Droulers, the clip for “New Release” nails that vibe, as well as the dope song about representing.

Bob Makin is the reporter for and a former managing editor and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at Like Makin Waves at




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