Lucid Culture


CD Review: The Brooklyn What – The Brooklyn What for Borough President

The Brooklyn What’s debut cd is a lot like London Calling. All the songs are different, but a consistent vision connects pretty much everything. Although this band’s roots are punk, they’re not deferential to their influences. And while many of the songs offer scathing, often hilarious social commentary, the band doesn’t look back to any romanticized glory days: the Brooklyn What want to create something new. They’re the voice of the here and now and for that reason alone – forget the laugh-out-loud jokes that would do Joe Strummer proud – this is an important album, something you should hear if you’re part of this generation.


There are echoes of a lot other bands here, but no cliches. They come out swinging with their signature song, a real current-day classic, I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg. The funniest thing about it, as it namechecks every fashion, fad and Brooklyn hot spot that have defined the trendoid esthetic at one time or another is that half of them don’t exist anymore. “I don’t wanna wear a tweed blazer!…I don’t wanna go to Northsix!” That was so, hmmm, 2004? Whatever. “You know what the awful truth is? I just wanna play with the cool kids,” gripes frontman Jamie Frey – if he’s not being sarcastic, he’s achieved his dream.


Summer Song is a striking change, and a gorgeously evocative, wryly Beatlesque account of a guy hoping to end up with “a decent job, hopefully one that doesn’t involve standing in the street all day,” and hoping his crush will make an appearance. Then it’s back to the ferocity with The In-Crowd, both a taunt to the trendoids (“Suburban kids are the hipster new recruits”) and a call to nonconformists everywhere to unite and create a real scene (this theme recurs powerfully throughout the cd). As with many of the songs here, the satire of No Chords is both lyrical and musical, a rip at the sad consequences of gentrification, a neighborhood’s working-class kids coming uncomfortably face to face with their smug, moneyed replacements as the band lazes aimlessly in the background like Pavement or any other off-key indie group:


Fashion victims of circumstance

Caught up in a middle class war

Radicals but only on the dance floor


A few tracks later, Soviet Guns creates a dark, mysterious spy movie ambience with a dark, Radio Birdman-esque melody. Musically, the cd’s high point is a scorching, anguished minor-key 6/8 blues, This Planet’s So Lonely. “This planet’s so vile, I’d rather have Mars,” Frey offers in characteristically dismissive style. “Get ’em off, Evan,” he cajoles lead guitarist Evan O’Donnell, who responds with a wildly flailing, lightning-fast chord-chopping solo. The cd closes with the Brooklyn What’s most visionary song, We Are the Only Ones, an anthem that’s as apt for kids this decade as Sham 69’s If The Kids Are United was thirty years ago. Over a catchy, Ramonesy melody flavored with vintage 70s synth from Frey, the band state their case for a new world order that has nothing to do with the last one:


They are out to destroy you

Kill all the girls and boys who

Are too smart to believe them

Intellects supersede them…

But I’m not scared of anything at all

Divided we stand UNITED THEY WILL FALL


As with London Calling, there’s also some lighthearted stuff here. Robert Pollard pays homage to the noted beer enthusiast, all the kids waiting anxiously “for GBV to come and save them.” Sarcastic? No. Dunno about salvation, but the band definitely could be counted on for a good show. Break Up With Your Boyfriend is an amusingly tongue-in-cheek ska-punk number, and She Gives Me Spasms is the requisite punk rock sex song, playfully nicking a classic Clash riff. If this is the only album the band ever does, at worst it’ll be a cult classic, a vivid look at what New York was like at the end of the decade from the point of view of an everyday crew who “just want to play with the cool kids.” And if the scene they want so badly gets any more momentum and starts to take over the city – things are starting to look good, right about now – this will be the start of something really big. It’s awfully early in the year, but it looks like this is the best album of 2009.


So the Brooklyn What really want to be Borough President (not a bad idea – they’ve got considerably more brains than the sum total of pretty much everybody who’s ever held the position). Let this be our unpaid political endorsement: buy the cd (it’s no more expensive than ten bucks) and help them build a war chest for when they announce their Presidential bid and go on tour. There’s no stopping these guys. The Brooklyn What play Fat Baby at 9 tomorrow, Jan 15.

January 14, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | 3 Comments

Song of the Day 1/14/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #560:

The Skatalites – You’re Wondering Now

Iconic ska ballad from the early days, 1964, Doreen Shaffer’s stoic, subtly haunting vocals over a sweetly bitter oldschool R&B melody. Covered by everybody but the original is the best, available wherever files are shared. Amy Winehouse, eat your heart out (might do you some good: you could stand a little extra weight).  

January 14, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Brazz Tree, Metro Strings and Alessandra Belloni & I Giuliari di Piazza at Drom, NYC 1/12/09

The APAP annual shindig AKA the booking agents’ convention usually creates a decent handful of extra-interesting double and triplebills around town, and this was one of them, starting out funky and fun and ending up completely hypnotic. The star of the early evening was violinist/songwriter Mazz Swift, who played with both opening act Brazz Tree as well as Metro Strings, the quintet who followed, and showed off the rare kind of talent that will probably outlast both bands. A gifted, fiery violinist with a casually soulful vocal delivery, her strongest suit is her tersely crystallized songwriting and particularly her lyrics. Randi Russo is the most obvious comparison, in spirit if not stylistically: the two share a gift for a savage, offhandedly apt turn of phrase and a defiant, nonconformist sensibility. You’ll be hearing a lot more about her in less obscure corners than this.


In a too-brief set with Brazz Tree, she was accompanied by a talented acoustic guitarist and a drummer who played one of those electrified wooden drum boxes that were all the rage about ten years ago and strikingly replicate the sound of a fullsize kit. Their first song, Out of Time sauntered along on a haunting Middle Eastern inflected riff. Then the guitarist artfully lay down a loop and they continued in a similar vein with a new one titled Everyone Will Be a Star, a snide commentary on reality tv and the cult of celebrity. The rest of the show was a mixed bag: on several occasions, the guitarist had the chance to go for the jugular and really nail a phrase or bring a chorus to redline but each time he backed away into generic Dave Matthews-esque open chords. That may resonate with the hacky sack crowd now, but when Dave finally hangs up his guitar and goes off on the hacky sack senior tour, those cliches won’t cut it anymore. The guy obviously has the chops to do more, as he proved throughout the set and on the trio’s closing song, a darkly funny hard-times anthem with a wickedly catchy, upbeat chorus. They’re off on the college circuit at the moment, with a stop back here at the National Underground at 11 on Jan 31.


Metro Strings seem to want to go in the same direction as the Turtle Island String Quartet (they augment theirs with a drummer) but don’t yet have the material. Of their brief seven-song set, only a Swift composition, a bouncy yet reflective number perhaps titled Shine On, stood out from the group’s soporific if cerebrally orchestrated pop and bombastic yet emotionless ELP-inflected prog rock.


Noted Italian percussionist/singer Alessandra Belloni and her all-female trio of dancer/singer/percussionists I Giuliari di Piazza were a striking contrast with the ornate feel of the previous two acts: one wouldn’t think that simply vocals and percussion would be enough to hold an audience for a full forty-five minutes, but they did that and then some. As the lights onstage went down, it was as if the crowd had been transported to a secret clearing somewhere in the Piemonte to witness some wonderfully obscure, mystical ritual. Alternating between high, eerie incantations and earthy folk melodies and playing a small museum’s worth of percussion instruments, they wove a sonic web not unlike another very popular vocal group, le Mystere des Voix Bulgares. As head spell-caster, Belloni was so wrapped up in the music herself that she’d back off the microphone, eager to launch into the next song, even as she announced what it would be. In addition to melodies from various parts of Italy as well as Brazil and a couple of impressive solo turns from band members, their dancer whirled through the club, finally dragging a couple of audience members out on the floor as the drums and voices wailed high overhead. It was a performance that was as physically gripping as it was sonically captivating, even psychedelic. Belloni will no doubt be back in New York before long; watch this space.



January 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment