[3 January 2005]
Is it OK to forgive New York now? I mean, seriously, they tried to get their act together, to make a go of having a “scene”. It’s not their fault that they just happened to live in New York. You can’t really have a “scene” if you live in New York, because New York already has everything. No one’s going to get excited about a bunch of rock bands sprouting up from the dirt in New York, because New York has always been home to hundreds of rock bands, in addition to a huge chunk of all the hip-hop, dance, folk, and classical music produced anywhere in the world. It was exciting when a metric ass-load of great bands came pouring out of Seattle in the late ‘80s, just as it was exciting for all the post-glam metal in L.A. in the mid-‘80s, all the indie rock in Olympia and all the emo in Nebraska. But New York? They’re already pretty much the center of the recording industry, so trying to convince people that there’s more of a scene now than there was before is laughable. It’s just not possible for them to be more centrally located in our collective psyche than they already are.
But with that said, there has been a lot of good music coming out of the tri-state area these last few years. It all began with the Strokes, and once the Strokes made something of an impact (not that large of a commercial impact, but they got people to pay attention), people started sniffing around to see if there was more where that came from. Record industry folk are slaves to history, and since the early ‘90s they all think that the next big thing is going to blow out of nowhere and carry all sorts of bands with them. Well, whatever you want to call the rock revival of the last few years, the Strokes had about as much to do with the White Stripes as an antelope has in common with a grizzly bear. When New York bands started to emerge in the Strokes’ wake, they certainly didn’t owe the Strokes any debts, and some of them actively disliked that groups’ doggedly pre-fab exterior.
So you have the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, TV On The Radio, !!!, and a handful of other acts worth mentioning. If there is any common denominator that unifies the second-wave New York bands, it’s an awareness of rhythm and an embrace of dance textures in the production of their music. Of course, that’s not very true for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Franz Ferdinand qualify under that banner even though they’re Scottish. But still, the DFA are from New York, and there are so many artists under their aegis that they almost qualify as a movement in themselves.
That is the sound that defines this second edition of Plant’s Sound of Young New York compilation, the sound of rock and roll suddenly waking up to the existence dance beats and synthesizers. The DFA are strangely absent from this disc (a notable absence considering how strongly they featured on the first edition), but their influence is still felt on tracks like the Stills’ retro-disco “Still In Love Song” and Itchy Revolutions’ slinky “Face Me”. The compilation doesn’t necessarily feature New York exclusively—which explains the presence of Omaha’s own The Faint—but rather offers a glimpse into the particular dance-rock hybrid sound popularized at New York’s defunct Plant bar and club.
You’ve probably heard !!!‘s rapturous “Me and Giuliani Down By The Schoolyard (A True Story)”, but regardless of its familiarity it remains a highlight of any compilation. French house producer I:Cube makes his presence known with an unlikely collaboration with the Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA on “Can You Deal With That”. It’s a great track, but I have to wonder if the RZA actually contributed anything beyond the rap, because I’ve been dying to hear the RZA drop a house joint since I heard “Return to the 36 Chambers” for the first time.
I can’t tell you how refreshing it is to hear rock and roll finally waking up to the possibilities of dance music. If sometimes the songwriting falters (and yeah, I’m looking at the Rapture), the enthusiasm that propels them forward keeps the sound perpetually interested. I am ready for this dance-rock thing to hit the big time, even if I’m pretty sure it never will. Like the bulk of the dance music that inspired the sound, it’s just too cerebral for Middle America. But I’m OK with that. Just so long as enough people like it to keep things like The Sound of Young New York series in production, I’ll be happy.