Bootblacks: Bootblacks

A pretty good debut (as long as you ignore the lyrics) from a new breed of New York No Wavers.



Label: Self-released
US Release Date: 2012-10-01
UK Release Date: 2012-10-01
Artist website

Taking in a Bootblacks gig before writing this review was a real blessing; I may have written them off completely otherwise. Although the Brooklyn-based band performs monthly on average in New York, they have found a brethren among attendees of cold wave club night Wierd, and have a considerable following in Germany. Europeans who manage to catch the quartet on their upcoming tour of Italy and Germany should count themselves lucky, then. An excellent light show and Alli Pheteplace’s jagged guitar playing bring a menace the songs strive for, but fall short of, on the band’s self-titled debut.

Album opener “The Flood” lays out the band’s assets and flaws. Songs never overstay their welcome; most come with strong, high energy choruses; and Pheteplace’s backing vocals and guitar -- which will make you believe Rowland S Howard is alive and well and living in Brooklyn -- add a much-needed coolness to the proceedings. Most of the problems, then, lie in singer/synth player Ryan “Panther” Macdonald’s poseur vocals and plain bad lyrics. Pretty much every time Macdonald tries to sound deviant or evil-cool -- which is plenty -- he comes off as trying much too hard. This is most apparent in his Simon Bonney impersonation on “Charlatan” and the appalling lyrics, “My kiss is violence / and my touch is a gun.” The yelps of “punish me!” on “Unfortunate Rose” make you yearn for some modesty, or at least for Macdonald to find his own voice.

Bootblacks has a few genuinely great songs, most notably“The Things We Did”, which channels Dave Gahan and old-school Depeche Mode more than it does Aussie post-punkers like the Birthday Party or Crime and the City Solution. “The Things We Did” and the two songs which follow it -- ”Save Me Maria” and “Empire” -- serve as the album’s strongest portion. They exude enough angular rollicking and rolling to incite a darkwave dance-along in those so inclined. As long as the music is this good, the direness of Macdonald’s lyrical abilities stays in the background, where it belongs. Having additional reference points in such No Wavers as James Chance and the Contortions and Teenage Jesus and the Jerks is a nice respite from the current arsenal of bands who stop at Sonic Youth.

However, Bootblacks has plenty of lulls. “Charlatan” is the perfect tuning out point and the primary thing differentiating the three remaining songs is the trumpet scales (again, courtesy of Pheteplace) on “Machina”. How many bands have a song called “Vanities”? The inclusion of a song of that name on here verifies it’s time to retire it as a song title. It is far too soon to call for a New York No Wave revival and hail Bootblacks as its figureheads, but it would be nice, in time, if Bootblacks were able to marry the slightly poppier moments of Bootblacks with a new no wave vision. If not, then the least we can hope for is that Pheteplace makes showing up almost every other guitarist in Brooklyn a full-time job.


This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.