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


  1. The Brooklyn What is my favorite band. I foresee success

    Comment by Mystery Man | January 15, 2009 | Reply

  2. this is the ultimate indie cd of the millenium. it has everything- great songs, musicianship, and the most entertaining sound in in the universe. move over “the who” here comes “the brooklyn what”!

    Comment by big steve | January 18, 2009 | Reply

  3. I’ll vote for them any day

    Comment by Brooklyn Fan | January 23, 2009 | Reply

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