Is This It?
Heralding itself as “the post-punk/art-garage rock explosion from New York City”, Yes New York is a compilation that tries to prove there is life after the Ramones. Not since the late ‘70s has such a cohesive scene risen from “the Big Apple” with any promise of hooking its way into the culture at-large. In fact, it has been 25 years since the inspiring No New York compilation was released. Comprised of the “No-Wave” stylings of four bands with four songs each (Mars, D.N.A., James Chance & the Contortions, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks), No New York was brought to life by legendary producer Brian Eno (David Bowie, U2). Aside from having incredibly great band names (Teenage Jesus & the Jerks!), these bands represented and pushed forward a movement that captured the zeitgeist of a city and its sound. Along with the people who made CBGB’s a household name (Blondie, New York Dolls, Patti Smith, etc.), they somehow created a vacuum of momentum for the groups that followed.
Well, that’s all changed in the year 2003. With critical praise and near-platinum status, the Strokes took the world by storm with their own brand of “new-garage-wave” or “post-pop-punk” or whatever the hell you want to call it. The only real label that matters is the no-frills “good music”. And the Strokes brought that in spades with their debut record, Is This It. Suddenly the spotlight followed the five hastily coiffed lads from Arlene’s Grocery, incidentally illuminating the geography of New York Rock City. Now, whether you frequent the Bowery Ballroom or Mercury Lounge, you’re bound to hear something special. In essence, the sound of this scene can be broken down into two categories. There’s the “more adrenaline, less atmosphere” of bands like Ted Leo & the Pharmacists or the Natural History. The other side of the coin brings us the “more art, less rock” credo of Interpol and the Rapture.
Kicking off the 16-track, 16-band compilation are the trailblazers themselves, the Strokes. And blaze they do with this live version of “New York City Cops”, a crunching spew of guitars that was left off of Is This It due to an untimely September, 2001 release. As they spent 2002 proving, the Strokes know their way around a live show and “New York City Cops” is a showcase for their unyielding musicianship. Simply put, this band deserves to be out in front.
A robot bassline gives Ted Leo & the Pharmacists the juice necessary to careen through “Ballad of a Sin Eater”. When Mr. Leo asks the chorus question of “You didn’t think they could hate you now, did ya?” the beat jumps on each repetition, leaving you no chance to answer, let alone care. The Pharmacists send the song out by going off the tracks into a drumming whirlwind, superbly exemplifying the rock ‘n’ roll aspect of New York.
The artier bands on Yes New York have a certain influence in common. More often than not, the Cure is evoked with a healthy dose of electrocution. Who knew the “Robert Smith sound” would be so ubiquitous in 2003?
Apparently, Interpol did. Probably the most hyped indie band today, Interpol contributes the appropriately titled track, “NYC”. The song is a rich, gradual spiral into loneliness that gives us the best metaphor of the record with “the subway is a porno”. As the atmosphere builds, the feeling is that of a lascivious midnight on a park bench.
Attempts at this method are not as successful elsewhere however. Especially with the offering of “Olio”, The Rapture sound like a headache, forcing you to reach for the Excedrin of the “skip” button. Similarly pain-inducing is Icd Soundsystem, who yell for three and a half minutes until you feel like the title of their song—“Tired”.
Riding an ambulance of sound and slamming car-door drums to the rescue is the Walkmen’s “Rue the Day”. Their formula of carousel pianos with raunchy guitar creates dizzying rock ‘n’ roll. Lead singer Hamilton Leithauser is the focal point of the storm with his drunken phrasing and emotion. If their first album Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone is any indication, the Walkmen should provide us with interesting tunes for years to come.
At the very least, Yes New York procures a look at a city churning out (mostly) good bands. Not since that famous city from the Northwest released Sub-Pop 200 has one place been so dense with likeminded talent. Whether or not it blossoms into the mainstream or retreats to the land of Nuggets is up to the rest of the world to decide.
// Notes from the Road
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