[22 February 2008]
On their third album Musique Noir, rock quintet New York City Smoke try out too many identities. In the enclosed space of 14 tracks, they are grunge revivalists, crisp, Jimmy Eat World-type mainstreamers, ragged rockers in the Strokes’ and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ vein, and even experimenters of electronic-pop. As individual songs, their rock is largely conventional; as a package, it’s unusually scattered. Consistency of style, then, is not a strong suit for New York City Smoke, but the problem appears to start at the top. Lead vocalist and songwriter Howie Statland similarly struggles to find his footing. On the corrosive “You Wear Your Sin”, he tosses around lines about “freaks” and “cocaine” in mangled tones of overkill. Here he’s wild-eyed and unforgiving. But on “Bone Blood and Cell”, Statland succumbs to his inner sap: “Don’t be dark / My light will / Shine right through your hell”. So fierce and then fragile, the dueling moods undercut each other. Elsewhere he awkwardly dips into politics (“Give Me an Issue”) and tests his hand as a detached narrator (“The Cyclone”). Naturally, Statland’s careening shifts in temperament sync up with the course of the music, which just reinforces the confusion. From raging and obstinate to intimate and uncertain, New York City Smoke come in a variety of flavors when all they need is one.