...ALL OF THEM RELEASED IN THE LAST MONTH OR TWO, MOST OF THEM WORTH SPLASHING OUT ON, JUST ABOUT ALL OF THEM ON INDIES, AND STILL NO ROOM FOR (OR RATHER TO TIME TO LISTEN TO) LONGWAVE, NATURAL HISTORY, OR THE 20-BAND COMPILATION NY: THE NEXT WAVE. THESE ARE, AS CHIC SUNG BACK IN THE DAY, GOOD TIMES
VARIOUS ARTISTS - YES NEW YORK (Wolfgang Morden)
The inevitable by-product of the New York band boom is the city-wide compilation, a risky concept at best of times, even more so when the scene is under such close scrutiny. That the title issues a positive challenge to Eno's No New York compilation of 1979 confirms both that many of New York's new bands have their roots in the vibrant post-punk scene of back then, and that they feel confident enough to associate themselves with Mars, DNA, James Chance and Teenage Jesus. And why not? While the 16-song No New York featured only the above four acts, three of which never made a commercial impression, Yes New York includes a full 16 bands offering one cut each, and still leaves out such notables as Liars, Northern State and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. But most of the other leading lights are here, several of them with purposefully chosen city-related subject matter: The Strokes with a live version of 'New York City Cops', Radio 4 with 'Save Our City' and Interpol with the classic 'NYC.' Yes New York wisely puts the best of the new bands right up front (The Rogers Sisters, Ted/Leo Pharmacists and The Fever); it has less success figuring out where to place the Rapture ('Olio'), LCD Soundsystem (the disappointing dirge 'Tired') and Secret Machines ('What Used To Be French'). At least this complication is the result of variety, not stagnation. So while Yes New York jars a little at times, that's an accurate reflection of a vibrant, varied (and of course, sometimes violent) city. A-.
ELEFANT SUNLIGHT MAKES ME PARANOID (Kemado)
Neither the EP nor the live show led me to expect this: a thoroughly mature album of decidedly edgy, mature, intelligent rock. Highlights include the alienation of the title track ("I look outside and see the world at war") and the wistfulness of 'Misfit' ("wrote a poem on the back of your shoulder"), both of which suggest that vocalist Diego Garcia has listened to Morrissey a bit too much. Fortunately his band-mates are less obsessed with the Smiths, and instead propel the arrangements towards the sparse, the simplistic and the urgent. All of which renders Sunlight Makes Me Paranoid a useful counterpoint to Interpol's Turn On The Bright Lights. B+.
FIREWATER THE MAN ON THE BURNING TIGHTROPE (Jetset)
Firewater's fourth album finds Tod Ashley's band building on, and occasionallyeven improving upon, 2001's excellent Psychopharmacology. The Man On The Burning Tightrope follows the narrator's high-wire attempt to survive a dark and impassioned love affair, with carnival and circus arrangements (including calliope, carousel organ, bazouki, accordion and enough 3/4 time signatures to launch a waltz party) helping create a musical theater of the absurd. The affair in question begins in the ascendant with a fine collection of metaphors decorating 'Anything At All' ("If I was a satellite I'd watch you in your sleep/if I was an undertow I'd drag you to the deep"), before 'Too Much Is Never Enough' suggests that the excessive desires of lust will lead to disappointment. And so, bang in the middle of proceedings, with 'The Truth Hurts', we hear a damning answering machine message so vindictive that it leaves a sour taste in the listener's ear too, and as the love affair falls apart, so does some of the album's appeal. Artistically, that's a triumph; musically, it makes for some disappointment, though the majesty of 'The Song That Saved My Life' helps rescue proceedings as we head towards the finale of 'Descent.' Ambitious in the extreme, The Man On The Burning Tightrope is that rare album that reaches for the stars and succeeds in touching the moon. A-.
THE FEVER PINK ON PINK EP (Kemado)
The New York new band onslaught shows no signs of running dry: The Fever have all the right ingredients for criticial/commercial acclaim (raw power punk trash), but enough exuberance to ensure they don't get compared with the Strokes, and sufficient irony to ensure they don't get lumped in with London's Libertines (with whom they share a vocal inflection or two). 'Ponyboy' and 'Ladyfingers' are gloriously loud and sufficiently funky punk singalongs the type of tracks I'd mosh to if I was younger. 'Bridge & Tunnel' features a high-wire guitar act, though sadly singer Geremy's equally frenetic wail renders the lyrics indecipherable. (He has described the song as Tom Waits' 'Jersey Girl' from a reverse point of view.) Finally, the Fever cover Sheila E.'s 'Glamorous Life' and beat it up so thoroughly you have to do a double take to recall it was once a pop song. Oh, and the sleeve is gorgeous too. Clearly the band of the moment, and if they can survive the attention, they'll do just fine in the future too. B+.
ADAM GREEN FRIENDS OF MINE (Rough Trade)
An ongoing series of non-sequiters set to acoustic band and surprisingly lavish string arrangements, former Moldy Peach Adam Green tests the patience of saints with this forage into Jonathan Richman/Evan Dando territory. What to make of lines like "There's no wrong way to fuck a girl with no legs/just tell her you love her as she crawls away" except to assume that it's all one big joke and you're meant to smile along with it. Green occasionally rises to the challenge of his whimsical lyrics, most notably on the Brill Building-like title track and the rather delightful 'Musical Ladders.' Still, it's all very self-conscious hipsterism of the kind I can live without. C+.
THE KING OF FRANCE SALAD DAYS (Egret Records)
They're very much a New York band, having built up a substantial following over the last 18 months. But this is more of a solo record, the early songs of transplanted Minneapolis front man Steve Salad. (A proper King of France band recording is soon to follow.) Perhaps it makes sense then that while reviewers have frequently noted the band's audio likeness to the Pixies, the Faces and the Velvet Underground, Salad Days recalls nothing so much as the Go-Betweens in its stripped-to-the-bones simplicity and its slightly whiny vocal delivery. 'Lover Don't Cry' provides a strong start; 'The Beggar and The Christians' is a stand-out. Much of the rest becomes one-dimensional. The best, clearly, is yet to come. B-.
MINK LUNGS I'LL TAKE IT (Arena Rock)
They're an acquired taste, Mink Lungs, and I can't say I fully appreciated them on their debut The Better Button, but stick with I'll Take It long enough and what starts out as dischordant, non-melodic, childish and yet pretentious rock gradually reveals itself as smart, witty, tuneful and intriguing. And if that sounds schizophrenic, it may because the four members of Mink Lungs all write their own songs and each gets to sing his (or in the case of bassist 'Miss Frosty' Hoopes, her) composition. But despite the occasional throwaway like 'Men In Belted Sweaters' and 'Dishes', there's enough sex and sweat lurking in the corners on songs like 'X-Ray Gun' and 'Secret Admirer' to keep your attention. And just in case you hadn't guessed from all of this, yes they are indeed from Williamsburg. B.
NORTHERN STATE DYING IN STEREO (StarTime International)
Funky and feisty if only occasionally funny, the three females of Long Island's Northern State recall the days when New York hip-hop was a multi-racial affair, as eager to fight the power as to fight for the right to party. The backing's supplied by real live musicians which renders it unusally loud and rocking (for a rap record), and the Northern State girls have a distinct whine like a certain male trio they've already been likened to. All of which means that you wouldn't mistake Hesta Prynn, DJ Sprout and Guinea Love as anything other than white girls. This doesnt need to be a novelty, nor do they allow it to be; they spend most of this short album getting straight down to business. In isolation, every track's a winner; in totality, they're embarrassingly similar. But with lines like "it doesn't take 41 to kill a man without a gun, glad to wave goodbye to Guiliani" ('Vicious Cycle'), you definitely want to thank them for being on the case. B+.
BRITTA PHILLIPS AND DEAN WAREHAM L'AVVENTURA (Jetset)
Partners in love as well as in Luna, Britta Phillips and Dean Wareham take a break from their band job to make sweet music in private though given that they recruited veteran (Bowie/Bolan) producer Tony Visconti to oversee the project, we should perhaps consider L'Avventura a threesome. Regardless, it's a record that oozes romance, from the self-composed, string-accompanied, heavily sugared opening duet 'Night Nurse' ("You are the treacle in my pie/you are the splinter in my eye,") through to the closing Doors cover 'Indian Summer' ("I love you the best"). Phillips takes the vocal spotlight on two of her own compositions, exercising a rarely-heard sultriness on 'Your Baby' and 'Out Walking', and comes together at the microphone with Wareham again on the rhapsodic faux disco of 'Ginger Snaps'. But it's the seven covers that provide the album's real raison d'etre. Wareham effortlessly switches Madonna's 'I Deserve It' to the male voice, takes on a Buffy Saint-Marie protest song 'Moonshot' and brings to light the gorgeously obscure Angel Corpus Christi number 'Threw It Away', which in its twisted guitar playing suggests that Luna's legacy is not about to be forgotten. The most impressive aspect of L'Avventura is that a first time listener would struggle to isolate the originals from the covers, no small achievement considering the varied source material. A summer time classic. A.
YEAH YEAH YEAHS FEVER TO TELL (Interscope)
Believe the hype? Yeah yeah yeah. Fever To Tell is brash, sexy, wild, raucous, barely in control of its lusty intentions. Karen O's ecstatic yelp, Brian Chase's powerhouse drums and Nick Zinner's caustic guitars don't quite co-exist in perfect harmony Fever To Tell is too dischordant for that but they feed off each other so successfully, so damn enormously, you'd never suspect there's no bass guitarist unless you knew that was their calling crad. I'm particularly taken by the strident punk of 'Black Tongue' (with its classically New York trans-gender put-down, "Boy you're just a stupid bitch and girl you're just a no-good dick"), but 'Cold Light' and the semi-ballad 'Maps' are also rock solid. In fact, after a few plays, just about every song here declares itself a contender. Not an easy album to arise to, but a definite late night thrill ride. A-.