Sometimes all it takes for a scene to gain the recognition it deserves is some sort of focal point—what Sub Pop 200 did for early ‘90s Seattle or No Depression magazine continues to do for its eponymous scene—an easily digestible representation of a hard to characterize collection of bands. Brooklyn may have finally stumbled onto its own in the unlikely form of a benefit for the Brooklyn Animal Resource Coalition. The beautifully packaged double CD collects 42 largely unknown bands based out of New York’s largest borough. The fact that there doesn’t seem to be any characteristic that all bands share is one of its strengths.
The album leads off with one of its strongest tracks. The Walkmen’s “Radio” uses an off-kilter rhythm and uneasy piano melody to establish a brooding groove. Easily the most recognizable name on the disc, They Might Be Giants, contribute “I’ve Got a Fang” which nominally and stylistically could have been an outtake from Roky Erickson’s infamous The Evil One album. The Ex Models’ “She Blinded Me with Science” is not the Thomas Dolby song but Enon’s “New York’s Alright (If You Like Saxophones)” is the Fear song although through some artistic license the city is now so “if you like Virgin Megastore” as opposed to “art and jazz”. The Rev. Vince Anderson ends disc one with “Johnny Shot the Mexican” (though on the first few listens I could have sworn Johnny had started med school). It can only be described as the musical equivalent of Tom Waits leading a mariachi band raised on Stevie Wonder. And I mean that in the best possible way. Not to mention disc two. Former Jeff Buckley sideman Michael Tighe has teamed with former Dambuilder Joan Wasser to form Black Beetle who turn in the sparse yet vaguely funky “Vanish”. Blasco’s unrecognizable version of Thin Lizzy’s “Don’t Say a Word” is a smoky, hard alcohol affair utilizing not only a muted trumpet but, commendably, a “toy piano” solo.
Stylistically the collection of bands look like rival street gangs who should clash but instead find out that they all really get along. The Boggs, Hem, Hoagy, and Cub Country make liberal use of such instruments as banjo, pedal steel, mandolin, and violin (or should I say “fiddle”?). Home (with their aptly titled “Brooklyn”), Ex Models, and The Seconds’ contributions all expose the fact that they’ve probably got some Devo albums stashed away somewhere and Grand Mal and Les Savy Fav come closest to achieving their record label’s moniker.
Brooklynites will readily tell you that Manhattan has relinquished its reputation as the cultural epicenter of New York City long ago. Judging by its hubristic title the folks at Arena Rock Records are betting that they know where its worthy successor can be found. With This Is Next Year they offer the talent to back up their claim and I, for one, am not arguing with them.