New York City
When I think of New York I think of nights that never have to end, walls that are still standing only by the collective adhesive of thousands of band stickers compiled over the years, fire code violations, late night taco runs, drinking a "pink baby" at Baby's All Right at 2am, weird electronic two-piece art school experimentation, the lackadaisical worldview of bands who are so-over-it, and music with a little more grit and gravel than the theatrical west coast.
A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS
Long-standing pillars of the NYC scene and noise rock in general. Their show is an art form in itself - smoke machines, dangerous sound levels, pitch black darkness except when the band is silhouetted by an epileptic light show, feats of bravery in the form of stage (and off-stage) acrobatics, and guitars flying through the air. This is one of the loudest and most immersive shows I've seen.
"Friendship and slushies". This is a weird band. Dani flails around stage laughing maniacally, and they seem happy to be alive; so am I by osmosis. When she shouts "Where’s all my shit? Where’s my keys? Where’s my friends? Where’s the door?", I feel that. I've had those nights. And those days. And that general pervasive state of being.
Dion from APTBS released a fucking riot of a solo album that I will preach about until the day I die. Lo-fi, raw, and blown out, Dion spits and shrieks his words like he's dancing on hot coals. Guitars slice through weird fuzzy organ tracks. There is so much range happening here - Ripper is like a retro rockabilly song, No Control is a slow, reverby testimony - but it all falls cohesively together under some kind of garage rock banner.
Skeletons are out there. Each song is like an art-rock sound collage, wherein the parts don’t seem like they should fit together, and yet somehow they meld into beautiful tapestries. It sounds like free jazz improvisation (particularly on the album Smile), but electronic sirens and sporadic string couplings weave their way in and out to encourage you along the right path. The vocals (when they’re included) are soothing, like The Acid, Electric President, or even Radiohead. Production-wise, elements are constantly trading places between sounding distant vs. right up close to your ear, clear and sharp vs. awash with haze. Great for zoning out to, equally rewarding for those who like to concentrate on a puzzle.
Michael Gira is one menacing bastard. Seeing a Swans show is like a full body experience - loud beyond reason, the wall of sound pulses through you in waves led by our holy conductor, whose arms sway in and out like wings nailed to a cross. Meanwhile, Thor Harris, beautiful viking and Nazi-puncher, is one of the most physical drummers I've seen - check out his kit. The guitarist Norman Westberg is 7 feet tall and looks like Rasputin. Together they are totally capable of hypnotism and I'll volunteer every time.
Originally from Boston. When I first saw them I'd never heard music like this before. They sound like a kaleidoscope. What kind of band even is this? Nobody knows. Pitchfork tried, they called it "dance noise...the mystical meeting point of DIY punk-jazz skronk, jamband festival populism, and the clanging dance music befitting their spot on the DFA label." Sure, we'll go with that. The shows are as spastic as the records and both are pretty good guarantees of some good 'ol mind expansion.
The Due Diligence
Isaac Gillespie is a New York mainstay and a good fucking time. Though a songwriter honed by elements of folk and blues, seeing a Due Dil show is a messy punk-rock experience - it’s hard for your eye to follow him around the room, and at any given moment he may be found rolling on the floor, inciting the audience to dance, or crashing into equipment (or people). The first time I saw him was at some house show in Brooklyn (along with Quilty, an early incarnation of Speedy Ortiz), and together with the guest horn player they epitomized the haphazard principles I was living by at the time. A rotating lineup of musicians forms The Due Diligence band, so every show is something unique.
Why did I ignore Parquet Courts for so long? I think it’s because “parquet” sounds like “croquet” and then I picture pretentious pastel-wearing tennis-playing country club bros. I’ve got to stop jumping to conclusions. This new album Wide Awake! is a blast from start to finish. The music is upbeat, schizophrenic, anxious, and danceable. The vocals sometimes remind me of punk bands like Fugazi, other times they’re rattled off so fast and with such conviction, no space for breath, that it’s like a list of demands. Then you’ve got anthems like "Freebird II", which builds into a bright, epic singalong - I feel free, like you promised I’d be - and slower reflections like "Death Will Bring Change". Out of nowhere, "Wide Awake" is like a drum circle. Across the entire spectrum, the themes are questioning, analyzing, full of reflection and searching for understanding and purpose, perhaps from a position of having finally figured some things out. But the journey is far from resolved, and we’re still in the chaos dimension.
Post-hardcore that isn’t simply derivative, nor have they bastardized our heroes like countless others have. The aggression doesn't exist for it's own sake; lyrical themes are quietly introspective and metaphysical, but the music betrays their feelings of upheaval in the face of life’s unanswered questions.