The Menagerie That Is New York: A Compilation Overview
I. "turn on your bright lights"
The first track of Yes New York— a tribute to the legendary 1978 no-wave comp No New York— is the Strokes’s aptly titled "New York City Cops," immediately letting you know what type of album this is going to be: powerful, hard-hitting, and (mostly) name-brand.
Immediately following the garage gods is Radio 4, a band that incorporates energy and eighties synth-rock elements to produce a "dance-glam-rock" sound. Then come the Rogers Sisters— clean delivery, infectious drumbeat, and Blondie-era punk influences— with a neo-surf rock gem. Next we are introduced to Ted Leo/Pharmacists (a current darling) with a punk feedback groove and a Rage undertone. This song ("The Ballad of the Sin Eater") is attitude without the flash, incorporating numerous tongue-in-cheek commentaries on culture and politics. The Fever finishes up this "energy" portion of the CD with "Ladyfingers," a catchy, joyous, and raucous tune that has the Clash mating with the Ramones. Watch these guys.
Then the CD switches over. (Whoever ordered these tracks must have made a ton of mix tapes when they were younger, because it flows so nicely.) Longwave sings to us about the "Next Plateau" with melodic strumming reminiscent of Elvis Costello and Elliott Smith at their best. The emotion is simply flowing out of the speakers. And then local faves Calla invite us into the basement for the "Strangler." This Massive Attack creeper belongs on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, the love child of Leonard Cohen and Robert Smith that was kept locked up in the closet. Slowly moving out of this mood is The Rapture, giving us an ambient/house dance track with gorgeous swarming vocals.
The second half plays around a bit looser, but not much. The notoriously overlooked the Walkmen demonstrate their herky-jerky, off-tempo love: luxurious, vivid, and shimmering. Interpol, one of my favorites, contribute "NYC," a symphony to remembering. The Natural History brings us back full circle to garage-indie punk; with a blistering combination of Television, the Strokes, and Hunky Dory–era Bowie.
Rounding out Yes New York are the Witnessess (Black Crowes with rollicking choruses and the swing of the Blues Brothers); lcd soundsystem, a Hannibal Lecter dance of insanity drawing on Zeppelin and Sabbath; Le Tigre’s straight-up electronica funk dance track that would work well at the Mos Eisley cantina; Secret Machines (these guys are incredible live), deliciously layered, like diving into the deep blue sea; and Unitard, an alter-ego of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs (the press release coyly reveals their identity as "the twenty-fifth letter of the alphabet x3"), which gives us— well, a beautiful ballad with a singer that sounds exactly like Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blonde. (www.vice-recordings.com)
II. "we want the resurrection…if we can reach you"
Now for the younger crowd. NY: The Next Wave delivers bands that might be the next tier down right now, but not for long.
Beginning with Sea Ray, the new-wave Brit pop (with cello and warm undertones) brings you right back to St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) and the catchiness of the eighties. The dance-punk-funk of the Flesh is up next, with a sexy groove that feels sleazy in all the right places. Awek is rock with wonderfully distorted vocals and layer after layer of guitar attack that brings the Strokes to mind.
Aerial Love Feed is pure Billy Idol, with the grooving bass lines, powerful slurring voice, driving beat, swirling guitar work, and crescendo-ing chorus that that implies. Mazing Vids is dirty rotten punk with some extremely primitive tribal beats. Four Volts slows it all down with a well-crafted, Portishead/Mendoza Line–influenced tune. Bastion brings the mood right back up with a perfect pop song of twirling loveliness that feels like New Order is on tap.
Which of course, leads us to the retro eighties cornucopia of stellastarr*, who don’t disappoint with the Aha-influenced "Homeland." Blue Sparks give us a rocker with tones of Television and Echo in it; Hot Socky is just a fun ol’ rock band.
Mommy and Daddy sound like the B-52’s on coke, with grinding bass and screamed bullet vocals. The Boxes are Blondie updated and crossed with rockabilly. Elefant is a band to keep your eyes on— imagine Interpol with Bowie on vocals. Rogerhumanbeing is amplified "Boys Don’t Cry" quickly morphing into teen punk (or as Chris Rock put it, "a mediocre Green Day").
Oxford Collapse is Talking Heads–meets–Sonic Youth; Shorebirds mix psychedelia-laced blues and sixties bass-dominated rock, with a groovy Raveonettes vibe that sounds very, very good. Winding up the CD is Electro Putas (whose name I’m not going to translate) with an electronic voodoo dance of feedback and chirps that, strangely enough, seduces. (www.kaninerecords.com)
III. "her power will prevail"
Or not. W.O.W.: Women of Williamsburg (ironically distributed by Big Daddy) seems to think that most of the females in Williamsburg are vegan, yoga-practicing, chanting, neo-feminist songwriters who can only write ballads à la Joni Mitchell (who I love), Sarah McLachlan, Kate Bush, Jewel, Cowboy Junkies, or Indigo Girls. Well, I live in Williamsburg, and I feel rather confident saying that’s not the case.
But I didn’t make the album.
Apart from the yoga chant tracks (I’m not kidding) or the performance-art skits, or the type of music described above, there are a few tracks that are worth checking out. Suziblade is straight-ahead rock by dirrrty grrrls that like to play loud music— a combination of Sleater, the Donnas, and the Dead Girls. Nearly halfway through the CD, Kathy Taler finally provides feedback and alternative rock (think Matthew Sweet, Pete Yorn, and eighties new wave). Swelter’s contribution is happy and melodic, though their songs exude the Indigo Girls/ Matthew Penn vibe. And then the next-to-last tune by Mary Wood has some energy and a good beat— sort of Luscious Jackson, Meredith Brooks, and Natalie Imbruglia— with a moving chorus. I’ll take conventional pop at this point. (www.lulurecords.com)
Grant Moser is an art writer and frequent contributing writer for the Brooklyn Rail.