The halcyon days of new rock in the Kings County have only just begun
Difficult to believe that when I first moved Detroit to Brooklyn in 1999, Detroit was considered to have the more fecund musical landscape, due to the neo-garage movement spearheaded at the time by The White Stripes, Dirtbombs, the Von Bondies and Detroit Cobras. Fast-forward a few years, and the rules had changed completely, due to a scene emerging composed of The Strokes, Interpol, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and TV on the Radio. Bands were moving to Brooklyn form bands in the ‘00s thereafter, as opposed to the ‘90s, when, in Dean Wareham of Luna’s words to me in a recent interview, “Bands didn’t move here in the ‘90s to be discovered. They moved to Seattle.”
Stylistically the bands represented here are disparate, some are relatively new, formed within the past few years, while others have toiled for over a decade. Time together is irrelevant. These are great bands from an area very difficult to maintain a living in at all, made even more challenging when a pursuit of some sort of artistic expression is attempted, embodying the ethos of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, giving it hell as he tries to rip the kitchen sink from the wall. Maybe they’re all swimming against the tide playing countless gigs, sleeping on floors while on tour after playing to crowds in the single digits, or even just doing something as prosaic as searching for a label or a booking agent.
But all possess a singular dream they can’t seem to give up on. Dreams that for bands can ultimately end up being a burden, a bitter reminder, or occasionally even something cherished and eventually realized. But this is a list of bands extant now that are exuding a certain vitality and fervent idealism, and I love them all for that, and hope they don’t stop anytime soon. At very least, they’re wasting time creatively, and that’s enough for me.
Dead Leaf Echo
Dead Leaf Echo, who have been ubiquitous in Brooklyn for the better part of the ‘10s, released the sublime Beyond Desire LP in 2017, easily their best recording. Their signifiers are often recognizable—classic 4AD, My Bloody Valentine, Ride, and New Order, but they bring some sepulchral goth doom into the mix, such as Love & Rockets and Bauhaus, with a love for esoteric indie pop from the labels Teen-beat and Slumberland thrown in for good measure. “Strawberry Skin”
The bedrock songwriting duo of frontman Matt Sumrow (Dean & Britta, Ambulance Ltd) and drummer Mikey Jones (Swervedriver, The Lemonheads) are essentially Heaven, and recently released their second LP All Love Is Blue, which amalgamates the innate pop instincts of The Beatles and Big Star with an allegiance to the narcotized buzz of Spacemen 3 and quixotic dream tropes of The Dandy Warhols, which is a deft feat. They, like Dead Leaf Echo, have been a band for the better part of the ‘10s, but are just now hitting their artistic stride. “She’s Closer than Everyone”
Big Bliss pull off a neat trick—they effectively smooth out the rough edges of pre-Joy Division act Warsaw, leaving behind glistening reveries, with lyrics deigning to the vulnerable, hitting some truly dark recesses without succumbing to trite histrionics. And this indefatigable live band (150+ live shows in 2017), with only an EP and two singles to their name thus far, have an album due later this year which seems likely to be the finest distillation of their visceral live performances yet. Which is to say that it’s likely to end up on more than a few year-end best-of lists, a huge feat in our era of digital inundation, and with any luck bring the band to the level of public consciousness a band like Bodega have attained this year. “Contact”
Much like Big Bliss, Future Punx work tirelessly, gigging relentlessly throughout NYC and beyond. They’re celebrating their fifth anniversary this year, which is a triumph in our ADHD-addled era, with a post-punk, new-wave (self-anointed “post-wave”) inflected sound not afraid to embrace the power of the jam, making their live shows, typically sans setlists, the best place to experience their elusive appeal. Yet their recordings are undeniably great, on Dull Tools, the label Future Punx member Chris Pickering runs with Andrew Savage of Parquet Courts, a label on par with 12XU and What’s Your Rupture as one of the finest in the US, and one that fits Future Punx’s aesthetic like a glove.
Their recently released debut album Options produced by Connor Hanwick of The Drums, BIG BAND, out of Bensonhurst, Brooklyn recall the spirt of the ‘80s Our Band Could Be Your Life bands. Sonically they may often veer into a mode that takes the best parts of Queens of the Stone Age and repeat them over and over again, but that’s actually an immense compliment. They also espouse radical empathy in their lyrics, a quality lost on far too many modern bands. It’s not cool to give a fuck in 2018, but BIG BAND gave up on the fool’s gold of “the coolness sweepstakes” and just want to change your life instead, with a disdain for avarice and consumerism, embracing the aesthetic purity of an act like Fugazi, bands with a social conscience. BIG BAND distill this to the intimately personal, differentiating them from their idols, and often polarizing. But shouldn’t all great art polarize? “Vape Police” https://soundcloud.com/bigbandnyc/vape-police
My Teenage Stride
This indie pop band, helmed by Jed Smith, are seemingly forever a fixture in Brooklyn indie-pop circles, continuing to release new recordings as recently as last year’s terrific Living in the Straight World cassette only EP, while playing occasional live shows. They have a damn fine discography, dating to the ‘00s, and well worth a deep dive into if you enjoy the halcyon days of Flying Nun, The Modern Lovers, or any other cliched rock journalist pop music reference point. They’re that good.
With crepuscular, chiming pop akin to Kitchens of Distinction or The Chameleons, replete with a rhythm section capable of achieving the dynamics necessary to render this style of music vital, Veda Rays, while not mining much new territory, still resonate deeply. Much of this can be attributed to the palpable joy with which they play with—when so many are content to languish in ennui, Veda Rays cut through to the bone marrow with their twilit intensity. That’s rare and welcome in 2018. They recently released their second LP, For the Rest to Rest, a superb album capturing their elusive essence in spades.
A new band fronted by Alicia Jeanine, who sings lead and fronts the act, with Jed Smith, of My Teenage Stride, on drums and bass. Pop for fans of reverb and The Aislers Set and their ilk, who will be releasing their debut full-length this fall, with a more fleshed-out sound than hinted at on their demos without sacrificing the minimalist pop charm which renders those so irresistible. “Hits the Bone”: https://jeanines.bandcamp.com/track/hits-the-bone
Aggro punk is almost inherently trite in 2018, but Honduras have an inherent knack for writing a great pop hook, and a frontman exuding charisma in Pat Phillips, which renders them nearly impossible to dislike. It’s joyful noise plain and simple, and as fine as the recordings are, is best appreciated live. It’s been awhile since their last physical release in 2016, so perhaps the future will hold a stylistic departure akin to when Jay Reatard immersed himself in Flying Nun? Impossible to predict, but a new direction unafraid to challenge the band’s audience would be welcome, especially considering the sheer crashing ambitions they exhibit live. That could translate into a truly great LP, one they seem to have in them.
Fruits & Flowers
Gorgeous harmonizing, and resplendent, guitar interplay are Fruits & Flowers’ strongest qualities. Caroline Yoder and Ana Becker and Lyzi Wakefield have an ineffable chemistry, redolent of The Paisley Underground’s restrained psychedelia, yet often becomes unhinged and cacophonous at the drop of a dime. Yet another band without much recorded output to date, but a surfeit of potential.
“Been around for seven years, still not getting the attention it deserves,” is how Twin Guns’ guitarist/singer Andrea Sicco recently semi-joking described the trio. Yet, he makes an excellent point. For whatever reason, their sheer sonic brute force, which recalls the reckless, sprawling, and unwieldy nature of the likes of The Gun Club and The Birthday Party, has never garnered a particularly large audience. Yet the band continue to struggle fitfully on their own terms, and their newest LP Imaginary World is no exception, not making any dramatic stylistic leaps, but tugging gently at the boundaries of their signature sound, which they’ve honed to near perfection. It’s scuzz rock reimagining ’60s psychedelia via the storm und drang punk ethos X and the seedy vestiges of old Brooklyn, circa the mid ’80s when Swans and Sonic Youth reigned supreme with their free form noise expositions, addressing life in the ’10 with wild eyed wonderment, to glorious results.
Mining glam rock in a manner light years more sophisticated than the insipid sophistry of Foxygen, Sold Goold’s jaunty songs imagine a perverse pairing ebullient tin pan alley and the swagger of the Stayin’ Alive soundtrack. Live, their show is a far more “rock” oriented affair, hinting at their next rhythmic direction which may well swap skittish drum loops and wispy bass for a more organic backbeat, undergirded with slashing guitar figures in favor of epicurean synth lines, while allowing Gooold to still go off the rails in an extemporaneous manner, akin to what of Montreal might sound like if Kevin Barnes immersed himself in Charles Mingus for a year. File under–enormous potential. “New Best Friend”