Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 4/4/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #666:

The Brooklyn What – The Brooklyn What for Borough President

“If this is the only album the band ever does, at worst it’ll be a cult classic,” we said here in 2009, choosing it as best album of the year. Happily, the band is not only still together but still recording, with a ferocious series of singles coming out. What the Clash were to the UK in the late 70s/early 80s, the Brooklyn What are to New York thirty years later: fearless, funny, good at everything they do, eclectic beyond belief and armed with a social conscience. Where the Clash wanted global revolution, Brooklyn’s finest band at the moment would settle for an end to the gentrification that’s destroyed so much of the city over the last ten years. The acknowledged classic here is I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg, a hilarious anti-trendoid rant that namechecks every silly indie fad and fashion circa 2004. No Chords echoes the anti-trendoid sentiment with a quite, satirical savagery; The In-Crowd mocks them again, much more loudly. The most intense point, musically is frontman Jamie Frey’s Planet’s So Lonely, a haunting, 6/8 blues with some screaming, intense lead guitar from Evan O’Donnell. There’s also the soul/punk We Are the Only Ones, an anthem for a new generation; the late Billy Cohen’s snarling, surreal Soviet Guns and Sunbeam Sunscream; the brooding For the Best; the Ramones-y She Gives Me Spasms, and a fiery tribute to Guided by Voices. Impossible to find at the sharelockers, but it’s still up at cdbaby and all the usual download merchants. The Brooklyn What are at Trash on April 16 at 9ish, as part of their monthly residency.

April 4, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Brooklyn What Are the New York Equivalent of the Clash

The corporate media wants you to believe that New York is all master mixologists mixing $26 heirloom lobster cilantro mochatinis, with celebrity djs pumping up the bass while Shtuppi, Blandie, Faylor and the rest of the cast of The Real Housewives of LoHo poledance for the camera. That element does exist, and in greater numbers with every passing tax break for the ultra-rich, but those people don’t represent New York. They’re not even from here. And while we wait, and wait, and wait, for a high-profile murder or two to send them scrambling for the next charter flight back to Malibu or Lake Wayzata, the Brooklyn What write songs for the rest of us. Like the Clash, they use punk as a stepping-off point for a range of styles that span the history of rock, from the 50s to the indie era. This may be old news for those who’ve seen them live, but they’re not just playing crazed punk music anymore: they’re become a truly great rock band. They have five newly recorded singles out: the songs are complex, psychedelic, and socially aware without losing the in-your-face edge that made the band so compelling from the start.

I Want You on a Saturday Night has been a big concert hit for them for awhile. It’s punked out doo-wop, a Weegee snapshot of a random night out. Guy’s at the bar, got only half a buzz, annoyed by the annoying crowd, trying to drown them out with Johnny Cash on the jukebox. He could go to Williamsburg, or to the Village where he’d meet some people and “want to kill them,” or stay home, get stoned and listen to Springsteen. But he wants out. And like the Uncle Sam poster, he wants you.

Punk Rock Loneliness is the shadow side of that picture. The guitars weave a staggered tango beat, distantly echoing the Dead Boys but more funky. Jamie Frey’s lyric sets the stage: “Rain through your canvas sneakers, nervous breakdown in your speakers…” Who hasn’t been there? Down at the corner of Bleecker and Bowery, where CBGB’s used to be, he thinks back on the girl who’s gone now. “All the things you had to give her, first your heart then your liver, drowned in the East River.” And the world couldn’t care less: there’s no more Johnny, or Joey, or Dee Dee with a song that would dull the pain, and the club they made famous is just another stupid shi-shi boutique now. A classic New York moment early in the decade of the teens.

Come to Me is like punked-out Sam Cooke. It’s sly and it’s irresistible – the singer understands that the girl’s been working a twelve-hour shift, she has to smile when her heart’s a frown, but he’ll make her forget about the long day and how light her purse feels at the end of it. The brief doubletracked guitar solo at the end is pure psychedelia: Evan O’Donnell and John-Severin Napolillo make the best one-two guitar punch this town’s seen in decades. A more rocking take on early 70s psychedelic funk/soul a la Curtis Mayfield, Tomorrow Night is more abstract, floating in on a catchy yet apprehensive slide guitar hook, winding out with another nimble, incisive solo. The fifth song, Status Quo, evokes Black Flag with its furious vocal tradeoffs, then goes for an anthemic garage punk Stooges/Radio Birdman knockout punch on the chorus. “I’m so bored with the status quo/Everything here has got to go,” the band roar. “You get all your sense of humor from reality shows,” Frey taunts the latest wave of gentrifiers. At the end, they finally let it fly completely off the hinges. The Brooklyn What also have a monthly residency at Trash Bar, a Saturday night where they play alongside some of the best of their colleagues in the Brooklyn underground scene. This month’s show is this Saturday, December 18 starting at 8 with power trio New Atlantic Youth, the Proud Humans (ex-Warm Hats), the Highway Gimps (the missing link between My Bloody Valentine and Motorhead), the Brooklyn What, postpunk rockers Mussles and finally the new Pistols 40 Paces at midnight. Check with the band for these songs as well as their classic 2009 album The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

December 16, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam – Billy Cohen

One of New York’s most talented emerging musicians, guitarist and composer Billy Cohen died this past June 29 after a long battle with cancer. He was 23. A founding member of the charismatic rock band the Brooklyn What, Cohen was an integral part of their original three-guitar sonic cauldron, and also served as one of the group’s main songwriters. Both his guitar work and his compositions on the band’s landmark first album, The Brooklyn What for Borough President, offer a cruelly tantalizing glimpse of an already formidable talent that would have only grown, had he lived.

As a guitarist in the band, Cohen played with an edgy, brash intensity that both meshed and contrasted with John-Severin Napolillo’s purposeful powerpop sensibility and Evan O’Donnell’s slashing lead lines. Cohen was extremely adept at abrasive noise, yet was gifted with an uncanny sense of melody that he’d often employ when least expected, as demonstrated by his purist lead work on The In-Crowd and We Are the Only Ones. The shapeshifting, focus-warping song Soviet Guns illustrates another, more abstract side of his compositional skill. Cohen was also responsible for the delectably unhinged scream on the song Sunbeam Sunscream.

A musician’s musician, Cohen listened adventurously and widely throughout his life, immersing himself in styles ranging from garage rock to contemporary classical music, cinematic soundscapes and tongue-in-cheek mashups. At Brooklyn’s Edward R. Murrow High School, Cohen played guitar in the jazz band as well as in the Brooklyn rock band Ellipsis; afterward, he attended the State University of New York at New Paltz, where he majored in Music Therapy and Music Composition. A song from his Ellipsis days as well as two atmospheric keyboard pieces, and a couple of clever, satirical mashup videos – including a direct and very funny one featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger – are all up on his myspace page.

Cohen’s uncompromising originality, creativity, absurdist humor, fondness for the Kinks (he picked out the band’s signature cover song, I’m Not Like Everybody Else) and devotion to his beloved New York Mets lifted the spirits of his bandmates and friends and left an indelible mark. The surviving members of the Brooklyn What are playing a memorial show for Cohen at Bowery Poetry Club on August 13.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | music, concert, New York City, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Concert Review: The Brooklyn What at Trash Bar, Brooklyn NY 5/28/10

An hour of power after power hour Friday night. Actually, the power started during power hour (at Trash Bar, they have free drinks in the back for an hour starting at 8 PM – with a deal like that, who needs to pregame). Play It Faster sound like the Subhumans, but if that band listened to Social Distortion instead of reggae – interesting song structures, smart politics, loud, roaring vocals and guitars. And a Rickenbacker for some unexpectedly sweet guitar textures. Memo to the Rick player: if you’re going to keep taking solos, you need at least a cheap Boss pedal so they can cut through every time.

“I can’t remember when we played a set this early,” Brooklyn What frontman Jamie Frey told the crowd (they hit the stage a little after nine this time; showtime for these guys is usually around midnight on a Saturday). There are louder bands in New York than the Brooklyn What – a few anyway – but there are none better. Their new songs are so strong that they don’t have to fall back on last year’s hits, or the ones from the year before. It’s amazing how much this band has grown – people don’t realize how young they still are. Lead guitarist Evan O’Donnell just graduated college. “He’s ours all the time now,” Frey grinned. Gibson SG player John-Severin Napolillo – who also leads first-rate powerpop band John-Severin and the Quiet 1s – joined O’Donnell in locking into a murkily beautiful, melodic, punk-inflected roar, reminding of nothing less than the Dead Boys, but without the drugs. Frey knows that hits are simple; this set was one after another and they all packed a wallop. And they did it without I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg, or We Are the Only Ones, or Planet’s So Lonely. Like the Clash, the Brooklyn What leap from one genre to another with gusto yet without ever losing sight of the social awareness that defines them. How ironic that they’d play this show in what has become the neighborhood most antithetical to everything they stand for.

They opened with a characteristically cynical, scorching version of Gentrification Rock, title track to their most recent ep, bringing it down to Doug Carey’s growling bass for a couple of measures at the end. “I don’t mind if you put a hole right through me,” Frey sang sarcastically on the snarling midtempo rocker they followed with. This is a guy who obviously loves oldschool soul music, and he’s developed into someone who can deliver it and make it his own without sounding derivative or fake. There was a lot of longing in those vocals all night. Their best song was another new one, Punk Rock Loneliness, a bitter and angry memory of Bowery and Bleecker before CBGB became just another overpriced clothing boutique for tourists: “You wanna be a dead boy?” Frey taunted. As charismatic as Frey is, he’s generous with his bandmates, giving Napolillo a turn on lead vocals on a handful of cuts including a new one with a swaying Guns of Brixton flavor. The first of the encores was a delirious crowd-pleaser, I Want You on a Saturday Night, more doo-wop than anything the Ramones ever did (that these guys, like the Ramones, know what doo-wop was, speaks volumes).

And now comes the sad part of the evening, at least for us. Tri-State Conspiracy were next. Ten years ago they were a killer ska band, just busting out of the small club circuit. These days they still play ska, but they’re way more diverse than that, and even more gleefully noir than they were in 2000. One of their early songs sounded like the Yardbirds. Their trumpet player sang; their two guitarists traded licks better than any jam band in recent memory. So it hurt to walk out on what was obviously going to be a killer set – and hurt equally to miss the Highway Gimps, whose snarling post-Gun Club glampunk songs sound like they’d be even better live than what’s on their myspace. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Brooklyn What Runs for Brooklyn Borough President

With election day 2009 approaching, and no viable option on the ballot for those who are dissatisfied with Marty Markowitz, The Brooklyn What wishes to make formal its write-in campaign for the office of Borough President of Brooklyn, NY.

The local, Brooklyn raised punk rock band has been running informally since summer 2007, when lead singer Jamie Frey and guitarist Evan O’Donnell encountered current Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz at a concert in Coney Island, and informed him that they were not interested in the planned Nets arena in Prospect Heights. “Marty took one look at our shirtless, sweaty, hairy bodies and told us to ‘move out’.” Recalls O’Donnell. “From then on, it was war.” The group titled its first album, released November 28th, 2008 on Pozar Records “The Brooklyn What for Borough President” and Frey and O’Donnell have been heckling Markowitz at public events ever since.

The Brooklyn What’s Top Five Reasons not to vote for Marty:

  • The Proposed Atlantic Yards Project, which illegally uses eminent domain to give land to a private developer for a fraction of its valu, in order to build a basketball arena and several high rise condo buildings in the middle of prospect heights.
  • Marty is Corrupt. The New York Post reported that Markowitz has steered nearly $700,000 in no bid contracts to his personal non-profit, which has also been recipient of $1 million in contributions from who else? Bruce Ratner, the Atlantic Yards developer
  • Marty knocked his only democratic challenger off the ballot.Thanks for the democracy, Marty!
  • Marty Endorses Bloomberg. Bloomberg has made living in this city without a million dollar salary nearly impossible.
  • Marty is Manhattan-izing Brooklyn. Skyscrapers, exorbitant rents, local treasures (Coney Island) turned into tourist traps, sound familiar?

Bring the real Brooklyn back!

The Brooklyn What are a local band, formed in the basement of lead singer Jamie Frey’s parents house. The group has been playing raw, loud, authentic NYC rock & roll to packed, sweaty rooms of New York’s youth since 2006, at venues such as Freddy’s Bar, Don Pedro’s, Trash Bar, Mehanata, and many others across the city. The group’s first album has been hailed as a cult classic.

The Brooklyn What are running for office because they envision a Brooklyn that belongs to everyone, regardless of paycheck size, with room for the diversity of culture that makes Brooklyn truly great.  The group does not feel that the places and people that we all love so much need to be replaced with shinier, more expensive versions of themselves, stripped of all history and feeling. Brooklyn the place is good enough as it is. What the borough really needs is affordable housing, decent jobs at decent wages that last, real options for the kids growing up in this rapidly gentrifying city. The Brooklyn What endorses the UNITY plan for the Atlantic Yards,

If elected, the Brooklyn What promises to rezone all newly built condos and buildable lots not used as community spaces for affordable housing, ban the opening of any more fancy coffee shops or clothing boutiques in working class neighborhoods, create community health and cultural centers throughout the borough, push for a full audit of the MTA, and place the lead perpetrators of the glass condo plague behind bars.

The Brooklyn What can be found at Bar Matchless on November 14th, and Trash Bar on November 20th for further discussion. For more information visit the Brooklyn What home page, the band’s myspace, their Pozar Records page or email thebrooklynwhat [at] gmail.com.

November 2, 2009 Posted by | New York City, Politics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Brooklyn What at the Brooklyn Lyceum 8/22/08

Very possibly the best show of the year so far. The Brooklyn What look and sound like something you would have seen at CBGB around 1977, not a carefully coiffed, safetypinned-and-mohawked self-parody decked out in matching mallstore Ramones shirts, but just an average-looking bunch of guys playing blazingly energetic, loud, often hilarious rock with purist punk energy, intelligence and a spot-on, often vicious sense of humor. Frontman Jamie Frey is a big guy who looks like he doesn’t deprive himself of pizza or beer (although at this show he was fueled strictly by adrenaline, drinking only water). By the time the band had started their second song, his shirt had come off, “NEXT TOP MODEL” stenciled down his hefty torso. The band – who seem to be something of a revolving cast of characters – started out with three guitarists and ended up with two. Running their instruments straight through their amps as the PA was being used for just the vocals, they played smartly, tersely and tunefully although with enough looseness to provide plenty of menace.

 

They hit the ground running with a blazingly catchy, upbeat number, then a couple of songs later did what has become their signature song, I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg. If there is anyone alive 20 years from now, this song will be a classic, the little clique it ridicules a metaphor for a much bigger problem. The funniest thing about this song is that it’s already dated, namechecking both Northsix and Galapagos, the first of which is defunct and the second of which moved to Dumbo earlier this year. The band played it faster than the version on their myspace, giving it a vintage Black Flag feel: “I don’t wanna go to Galapagos! I don’t wanna hear the fucking Hold Steady!” On the chorus, it’s unclear whether Frey is being sarcastic or if he’s speaking for himself: “I just wanna play with the cool kids,” he hollered. If this is to be taken at face value, he’s definitely achieved his dream. This is the anthem we’ve been waiting for. As the Boomtown Rats said, watch out for the normal people: there’s more of us than there’s of you. If only everybody knew that.

 

They did two covers. Carol by Chuck Berry was transformed from happy Dick Clark rock to something casually but absolutely evil, like what the Dead Boys might have done with it. The version of the Kinks’ I’m Not Like Everybody Else was every bit as good as it could have been, in fact with the guitars roaring at full blast the classic nonconformist anthem might have been even better than the original. Among the other songs: a vaguely oi-punk number evoking the UK Subs, the band hollering their refrain after Frey reached the end of a verse; a slow, pounding riff-rocker; and a hilarious, backbeat-driven anti-trendoid diatribe possibly called Moving to Philly. Frey thrashed around, throwing himself to the floor, then on one number got up and took a sprint around the back of the stage – in his socks – before reemerging a couple of seconds later, picking up where he left off. The band closed with We Are the Only Ones, a defiant call to unity for all the cool kids who’d come out to see them, an almost predictably diverse mix of old and young (Frey’s grandmother among them), male and female, gay and straight, dancing around deliriously albeit without any violence. Like the Sex Pistols or the Clash, the Brooklyn What could spearhead a brand-new scene that has nothing to do with fashion, celebrity or inherited wealth. They couldn’t have timed it better. Watch this space for info about their next show and their upcoming cd The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

August 26, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments