A friend and I were talking on a recent bitter Montreal evening, and he commented that he could never settle in New York City. Oh sure, he could live there for a year or two, but he felt that there was so much going on there that he would surely burn himself out. Indeed, as anyone who has been to New York for any amount of time knows, the city boasts a diverse and seemingly endless cultural calendar, no matter what your niche may be. I would imagine that every week there are some New Yorkers who, despite being tired of partying and hitting concerts, grudgingly get dolled-up and hit the town every Friday lest they miss something.
Listening to the Flesh’s debut full-length (the band’s third release after two EPs), the labored energy that comes across these ten tracks is palpable. Dressing themselves up as some kind of oversexed disco-death-punk-whatever group, the Flesh truly live up to their name, offering something that never goes beyond being anything more than skin deep.
The band certainly drops the right names. The Talking Heads, Girls Against Boys and even hip-hop producer Timbaland are all cited as influences. But listening to their debut I have trouble believing the Flesh have actually listened to these groups. The album is a thoroughly dull and lifeless affair that, at times, struggles even to be competently played. Singer / guitarist Nat Halpern offers up the standard minimally constructed guitar riffs, but they are so thin they hardly seem to exist, let alone engage, and after three minutes any given song becomes sluggish. His voice, an obviously affected guttural tone, sounds as if someone is repeatedly stepping on his toes in the studio. But the real disappointment comes from keyboardist and sometime-singer Gabriella Zappia. A classically trained pianist, the Flesh is her first “real band”. But she brings absolutely none of her classical training the group, instead taking feeble, simple and intermittent stabs at her keyboard. The chance to expand the keyboard vocabulary beyond something we’ve been hearing over the past two or three years is lost. The songs never ooze with that ceaseless sexual energy the band is fond of writing about, instead they drag lead-footed across the dance floor.
The group likes to play up its reverence for hip-hop and soul, but nothing ever approaches the inventiveness of the aforementioned Timbaland. The arrangements, such as they are, are as predictable as they come, and the songs themselves seem tossed off and somewhat underdeveloped. Only on “Cuts” do the Flesh expand their ideas into something potentially bigger, with sampled vocals, dramatic synths and orchestrated backing vocals that climb theatrically into the chorus. Placed in the middle of the album, the track is a welcome reprieve from the tedium that is the rest of the record, and only serves to illustrate how painfully barren the rest of the disc is of any original ideas.
New York bands are often unfairly slagged for being more style than substance, relying on promotional machines and magazine interviews rather than any real talent. The Flesh however, fit that mold almost perfectly. This sort of lazy, barely passable “dance-punk” (music fitting neither genre) is exactly the sort of thing that comes to mind when someone asks, with eyes slowly rolling to the back of their head: “They’re from New York?”