The iJAMMING! HITLIST
SEPTEMBER 2004
TO THE 5 BOROUGHS

ABSOLUTE AFFIRMATION

As my own tribute on this third anniversary of such a terrible day, I offer a special September Hitlist: Ten new New York albums. None of them make direct reference to 9/11; many would surely have come into existence without the events of that day. But almost all of them name-check their home city in some form or another. They come at the end of a twelve month period that has already seen important and/or excellent albums from The Rapture, Stellastarr*, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Scissor Sisters, The Strokes, Ambulance Ltd., Secret Machines, !!! and The Beastie Boys' long-awaited Return To The 5 Boroughs – and just as we anticipate a new Interpol album corner (I'm listening to that group's gorgeous 'NYC' with tears in my eyes as I edit this morning). With their clear-cut confidence, their expression of their surroundings, these acts exude New York's continued vitality and noisy defiance. We won't be beaten down by murderous fundamentalists. We will continue to celebrate our lives in the way we know how. Which for the people that follow, is primarily through their music. Enjoy.

Tony Fletcher, Saturday September 11, 2004

RADIO 4: STEALING OF A NATION (Astralwerks)

I can hardly claim to be impartial, given that I authored the record company bio, and show up on the accompanying 'Making of the album' Quick-Time video. But personal and professional connections aside, I can still put hand on heart and say that with this album Radio 4 have found themselves where they've long wanted to be: at the point where protest rock takes to the dance floor. It's a place where 'Party Crashers' could be a reference to late-comers on the club scene or protesters at the Republican National Convention (in this case it's the former), where 'No Reaction' could be an attack on political apathy or on the media for not reporting political activity (it's the latter), and where 'Transmission' could be a Joy Division cover, or a wryly-titled celebration of the bedroom recording scene (and yes, it is thankfully the latter). There's a consistency of songwriting here that only lets down towards the very end, and any suggestions that Anthony Roman's impassioned war cries might get repetitive in style or substance are eased by Tommy Williams' three carefully placed lead vocals. And right where they should, bang in the middle of the album, Radio 4 diverge from their Madchester-influenced dance beats (expertly produced by Max Heyes) for the album's cornerstone, the six minute dub-driven 'Nation,' a play on Jacob Miller's 'Healing of A Nation'. You can tell from this track that they're big Clash fans but you can also tell that, unlike so many other New York bands, they also know their Studio 1. Politically smart without ever being judgmental, Stealing of A Nation is a rallying call – to the ballot box and the dance floor.
New York Moment: 'Absolute Affirmation,' which celebrates bar-closing New York nights out on the town (followed by the inevitable hangovers and eventual decision to repeat the process). I still hear the opening line's reference to our local Brooklyn "Ninth Street Station" as "Knightsbridge Station." One world, one love. (We wish.)

GOGOL BORDELLO VS TAMIR MUSKRAT - J.U.F. (Stinky)

As project leader Eugene Hütz puts it on the advance CD sleeve notes, "New York progressive underground discotheque" (a term that encapsulates so much of the music reviewed here) has its uses but, and I quote, "Where is "gypsy-disco-punk for the after party, where is Arabic-dub-sextura and where the fuck is the soundtrack for a Balkan train robbery?" Hütz then tries to answer these questions with the music of Jewish Ukranian Freundschaft. Astute historians will instantly recognize that name as a play on pioneering German industrialists Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft, while fans of Hutz's long-term gypsy punk rockers Gogol Bordello will be more interested to know that J.U.F. offers a chance to take his main band, borrow Tamir Muskrat from Lazy Pig, and mix it all up global DJ style.
The rest of you, hopelessly confused by this point, may just want to tune into the hour of musical madness: Arabic melodies entwined with New York dance beats, the sound of a Ukranian wedding invaded by The Clash, even a call-out to Rastafari on 'J.U.F. Dub.' Other titles, likes 'Balkanization of Amerikanization' and 'When I Was A Little Spy' suggest that J.U.F. should be enjoyed with tongue in cheek, but when such uplifting music manages to be simultaneously cosmopolitan and traditional, who cares about the whys and what-fors?
New York Moment: 'Bassar' (Spanish Car Service)' gives a shout-out to the borough of Queens and downtown Manhattan's Delancey Street. And 'Super Rifle (Balkan Express Train Robbery)' concludes, in what I believe is Ukranian, "Me nabari Rostoskirii/Me Bengoro New Yorkskirii."

NORTHERN STATE – ALL CITY (Columbia)

Cheerful – some would say too cheerful – hip-hop from the Long Island trio of white girls who, emulating Salt'n'Pepa in their heyday, attempt to bring an upbeat feminism to the rap game. At times, as with their prime influence, the effervescence renders it all a little lightweight, but 'Think Twice' (featuring The High and Mighty) has the Beastie Girls spirit they're clearly aiming for, while 'Don't Look Now' must be the only contemporary rap tune to namecheck both John Kerry and Tupac. Most enjoyable in small doses.
New York Moment: They're named for a highway that connects Long Island to New York City, and on title track 'All City' they come barreling down it. "Everybody in my kitchen when I'm the one cooking - and I ride a wild buck through the streets of Brooklyn."

THE MOONEY SUZUKI – ALIVE & AMPLIFIED (Columbia)

Over the last couple of years, I've discovered two great ways to get more out of music: 1) Don't look at the charts. 2) Don't read record company bios until you've already listened to the record. The second of these memos came very much in handy with the Mooney Suzuki's third album, which I had already fallen head over heals in love with before discovering that, in the ultimate cliché of what happens to a successful proven indie band the moment they sign to a major label, the New York garage rockers had been strong-armed into working with pop producers The Matrix. By the group's accounts, the relationship was not an easy one, but it's born dividends, marrying their road-tuned disclipine and energy with a blatant commercialism. And it's surely no coincidence that the most immediately accessible songs are those for which The Matrix take co-songwriting credits: 'Alive & Amplifed,' 'Legal High,' and 'New York Girls.' What could have so easily been an immediate major label sell-out may result instead in merely well earned major label sales: and judging by their blistering two-song appearance at Randall's Island a few weeks back, the group have compromised nothing when it comes to onstage aggression.
New York Moment: Obviously it's 'New York Girls,' a somewhat shameless if long overdue response to the Beach Boys' 'California Girls.' "I'm headed back to NYC/Back to 13th Street and Avenue B/And the New York lady waitin' there for me."

HEAD AUTOMATICA – DECADENCE (Warner Brothers)

Glassjaw's Daryl Palumbo was raised on the Long Island hardcore scene (as were most of Radio 4), and his collaboration with San Francisco producer Dan the Automator has been keenly anticipated by yours truly since seeing the act live at last year's generally disappointing Renewable Brooklyn event. With crunching looped beats (courtesy of Glassjaw's Larry Gorman), Palumbo's newfound sense of melody and Dan's production chops, Decadence recalls nothing so much as the glory days of EMF, Jesus Jones and B.A.D. At times, it's a little too mainstream, but 'King Caesar' has the makings of a quality radio hit, and 'I Shot William H. Macy' concludes business in particularly fiery form.
New York Moment: 'Brooklyn Is Burning' is clearly a diss on all those party crashing scenesters with attitude. "You strange people with a piercing stare/I can't believe I made it/The way you operate is so severe/I hate it." Don't worry Daryl, I too view Williamsburg with disdain.

SPALDING ROCKWELL – KATE (Defend)

You may know them by their vital female vocal contribution to Armand van Helden's 'Hear My Name' single. But first impressions are often deceptive and debut album Kate finds the downtown NYC duo of ML and Nikki in more aggressive, underground territory than that progressive house hit. The results are somewhat schizophrenic: Spalding Rockwell emerged from the city's Electroclash scene and they don’t know whether to wear that association as confidently as Scissor Sisters or run a mile from it. So while 'Ingrid' kicks things off with a guitar-driven energy that would render The Donnas jealous, and 'Cocaine' veers into twisted down-beat hip-hop (would that Northern State could sound so seedy), the girls can't help but return to formula tracks like 'Kissing' and 'Flake,' which verge on electro-pop parody, propped up next to each other despite both being built around a spelled-out chorus of their title. The sultry, rhythmic and highly melodic 'Boy' beats them both up.
New York Moment: 'Flake,' spelled "F-l-a-k-e." For all the New Yorkers who stand you up because something more exciting just came along. Hey, no one said we're perfect.

BLACK DICE – CREATURE COMFORTS (DFA)

Black Dice have mellowed out since 2002's full-length debut Beaches and Canyons. But all things are relative, and the perpetually anonymous Brooklynites remain as willfully non-commercial as ever. There's nothing on Creature Comforts that constitutes a beat, let alone a vocal or a melody, and users should treat the title of opening track 'Crowd Pleaser' (a two-minute exploration into ambient bleeps and bloops, and post-rock guitar riffs) with a large dose of salt. Yet as it unravels, Creature Comforts reveals itself as an ever more adventurous journey into sound.
New York Moment: The entire album celebrates the city's long-standing status as a bastion of the avant-garde.

COYOTE SHIVERS GIVES IT TO YA. TWICE (Foodchain)

Mr. Shivers presents himself as a potential Paul Westerberg, able to rock it up on the first disc (One Sick Pup), then bring it down to acoustic basics on the next (From My Bedroom, To Yours). Truth is, he's more of a one-trick pony, his various musical vendettas (primarily against former girlfriends) becoming annoying as malice takes precedent over wit. Exceptions include the acoustic album's opening song 'Sugar High,' which dates from an appearance in the movie Empire Records (Coyote is also an actor, and of course now lives in LA), and the electric album's 'Secretly Jealous,' which employs the "colored girls" motif from Lou Reed's 'Walk On The Wild Side' to express empathy with Kurt Cobain for acting on his suicidal tendencies.
New York Moment: The double album's highlight is undoubtedly One Sick Pup's opener, 'Plus One,' an exuberant, humorous tribute to anyone who's ever been part of the "sluts and drugs and fags and rock'n'roll" grubby downtown scene. (And haven't we all at some point in our lives?) As Coyote sings it: "Come with me baby to a very special night/Ramones farewell shows, Coney Island High/ where they'll say Adios Amigos and wave bye-bye/Oh baby baby I'm gonna want you by my side."

THE ROGERS SISTERS – Three Fingers (Troubleman Unlimited)

You know you have a problem as a reviewer when you listen to a CD several times, conclude that it sounds far too much like the sum of its influences – ESG, B-52s and The Slits – and then pick up the bio to find the exact same three bands listed positively as comparisons. The Rogers Sisters (guitarist/vocalist Jennifer, and drummer/vocalist Laura, with male bassist/vocalist Miyuki Furtado making up the trio) are fun, there's no denying that, and the best of their songs (like 'The Secrets of Civilization,' which throws some Au Pairs into its B-52's) have a spunky/funky/punky exuberance typical of the New York scene - but of several years ago.
New York Moment: Unless they can quickly grow out of their influences, it's passed.

AEROVOX – REWIND 2004-1 (Aerovox)

Unsigned bands sometimes send me their barely released CDs. Most are disappointing. Not AeroVox, whose pedigree (front man Jeff Darien was ground through the major label machinery as a member of Mach Five) shines through in this, their second self-released EP. Clearly influenced by shoegazing and Manchester, these are five strong tracks, of which the uplifting pop song 'A Million' and proudly anthemic finale 'Home' (with its leanings towards hometown sometime heroes The Strokes) most piqued my interest. Rewind is not easily available commercially, but Aerovox don't seem too bothered: you can get all these songs for Mpfree at their web site.
New York Moment: None. Like many bands in the Big Apple, Aerovox are more overtly influenced by Baggy Brit-Poppers than New York Rockers.

NEW YORK TRIED AND TESTED AND ALSO RECOMMENDED...

SECRET MACHINES: NOW HERE IS NOWHERE (Warner Brothers)
(Read review here)

!!!: LOUDEN UP NOW (Touch and Go)
I didn't pick up the album only because I've been buying the accompanying 12" singles, which collectively form the most potent, vibrant, furiously funky and aggressively political dance music to have come out of New York in years.

INOUK: NO DANGER
(SayHey)
Transplanted Phillie band make vaguely psychedelic, slightly post-rock music that defies easy categorisation - or short-term expectations. If it were a wine, you'd cellar it to let it improve; in this case, keep listening for the same effect.

ON! AIR! LIBRARY! (ARRCO)
Read review here

AMBULANCE LTD. - LP (TVT)
The finest new new band of the year? Read review here)

TV ON THE RADIO - Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes (Touch And Go)
Read review here)


iJamming! Site Copyright Tony Fletcher 2004


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This page last updated
Tue, Nov 30, 2004 9:32 pm


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