The Curator’s Office – The Discreet Charm of Brooklyn
Americans have always been sensitive to any erosion of the hard-won civil and personal rights enshrined in the Constitution of The United States of America. Whenever something challenges those tenets of life, liberty and justice for all there have often been two prominent forces rising to meet the threat. One is the intelligentsia who seek to amplify and apply the rigour of the law, and the other is the voice of the nation’s youth.
The Young Americans who are making new music for today do not seem to be overtly politicised but they do seem to be concerned about something. It could be the phenomenon that is touching all of us everywhere and all of the time. Is it the prospect of living in a world that is always on, always awake and constantly online? Is it the concern that the machine is managing us and not, as it should be, the other way around?
The dichotomy of socialized technology is that you are never alone with Twitter but you can never get a minute’s peace from adfomation with no message other than “buy” or “sell”. Your Facebook friends are fun, but are they holding you prisoner in front of your device when you could be outside lying under a tree? Hell, you might even be able to write a new song.
The web has the capacity to bring us together in unprecedented ways but is it also keeping us apart? The heart of the dichotomy is this; socialized technology gives the individual the opportunity to be a presence in the world – visible, accessible and contactable. It also leaves us exposed, vulnerable and ultimately revealed as even smaller still in The Grand Scheme of Things.
There is no attempt to make musical connections between the Young Americans featured here. If anything is discoverable here then it is that diversity of form is prevalent and a widespread acceptance that contemporary music in America is a family affair. The genres are kissing cousins not distant neighbours. What is evident is that these young writers and players share a common cause when they seek to make direct contact and communicate freely with their audiences. A like or a link will not suffice. They know that modernity means a joined-up world but it will only keep us apart if we forget to say share real thoughts, concerns worries and emotions.
A significant number of new artists are musically trained and come to their craft with an educated mindset. Others are self-taught while many are still negotiating the learning curve that, in truth, never really has an end point. There are players here who have been around the block already and they bring their worldliness to bear on a creative spark that can never be crushed.
What I like about all of them is they make music with an understanding of how it is going to be heard. They come prepared and disinclined to experiment on your time. When you have bought your ticket you are ready to listen. They are making sure that they are ready to play.
The songs, by and large, contain melodies that stick up for themselves regardless of instrumentation or stylistic flourishes. There is structure and dynamic within considered arrangements. They understand the need to avoid cliché and know a side-step from a two-step. Some of them can even write good intros – an under-rated skill in itself. They also read other writers and take inspiration from literature to create an astonishingly well-lettered, urbane lyricism.
Young Americans on INSTRUMENTAL will introduce you to music from a big country that is not so large that new friends can’t be found. This music, of course, is not the slightest bit representative of current (all) American music everywhere. My good woman is not The Time Traveller’s Wife and I have no psychic powers. However, I think that there is a common desire and very real need to engage in a conversation with their listeners. They are candid about the things that they are thinking and feeling, and there is recurring theme of reassurance. It’s not The Times They Are A-Changing they are rattling out, but the more affirmative and collectively delivered message of Let’s Work Together.
It’s interesting too that some of the most intimate sounds are either associated with or coming out of a suburb of the nation’s loudest city, New York. I have cherry-picked a few artists who have badged Brooklyn as a hotspot of musical activity. They are indicative of the way that musical ideas and direction are no longer governed by uniform fashion or slavish adherence to form. They play what they like for people who listen to whatever they please. It’s a meeting of the minds that is going to flummox the majors when it comes to plucking the superstars of tomorrow from all of this merry fragmentation. In the meantime, go see a band, buy their CD, be a fan. These days, the distance between the listener and the player really is that small.
Barkhouse are a young three-piece outfit from the heart and soul of Brooklyn. They line up as: Will De Zengotita on guitar and vocals; Jay Mort on bass, keys and vocals; and Olmo Tighe on drums. They are tight like family, not least because Will and Olmo are cousins and Mort is a childhood chum.
This is a band very much at the beginning but it’s plain from the recently released bandcamp EP that school has been out for some time now. They play regularly on the burgeoning Brooklyn scene and their songs have a solid, brownstone core and an uncommonly warm rock’n’roll heart. Barkhouse know how to use minor keys to create a soulful feelgood feel that is quite distinct from the vogue-ish fatalism of folk and the drowned sorrows of country.
Will is doing something confidently courageous by fronting up on guitar and lead vocal the way he does. He’s taking responsibility for the songs and I think that self-assurance grows from the knowledge that he’s among friends both on and off stage.
The Aviation Orange are a guitar/synth/percussion-pop ensemble from Brooklyn who have strength in numbers and in songs. They are interested in layers of sounds that take the prehistoric twiddling of 1980’s effeteness to a witty and sophisticated new level.
Perhaps unwittingly, they also help to further validate the art of electronic song as a mature discipline. If electronica is a much broader church than it was when Kraftwerk droned down Der Autobahn then it may be because the congregation can now join in on the chorus.
The Aviation Orange are: Mike Nesci on guitar and vocals; Cherie Hannouche on keys and vocals; Alex Beninato on guitar and vocals; Kate Rogers on bass and vocals and Josh Harris on drums. I like them immensely and their calling card tune Radio earned several upward arrow clicks on the volume-o-meter.
Beast Make Bomb are dynamite in a small package from Brooklyn but there’s nothing sinister about them. In fact, they are guilty only of rockin’ in the free world in the most honest and forthright way. I first noticed them in a video diary from SXSW on the Re-Think Pop Music site. The performance was hi-energy, rip-this-joint, get down and get with it, beer-drinking loudness and a great song too. You need a bit of attitude to play this way but who would have thought it possible in Brooklyn? Or am I being naïve?
The current Beast Make Bomb line-up is: Glenn Van Dyke on lead guitar (the truffle thief); Ceci G on guitar and vocals and attitude (the one with the tangled hair); Sam Goldfine on bass (the one with the smarts) and Hartley Lewis on drums (the one that likes giraffes). Now, I could tell you a thing or two about giraffes but that will have to wait for another time.
The Yes Way look like slackers. They have a slacker type name and a slacker approach to biographical detail. So far, I have gleaned that red lights bother them, that they like The Mets and that four years is their idea of lead-in time. But really, theirs is not lazy music. It underscores what I have been saying all along about a duty of care to the listener. Their song is for you and in order for it to deserve your attention it does not come as a dashed-off signature. Their core strength is that they are a singer’s band. The songs are like telephone calls from the soul and compel you to listen.
It’s guitar-led music with a cause and several effects. The playing is understated in accompaniment but it roars through the open gaps in the narrative whenever the opportunity presents itself.
The rhythm section could easily idle along in a 4/4/ if they chose to – but they don’t. Some of this music has come out of jamming for hours I think. It’s an expensive investment in time and effort but the dividends are delicious.
The Yes Way are: Nick Burleigh on guitar; Aaron Mendelsohn on guitar & lead vocals; Jesse Bilotta on drums and vocals; Ian Mellencamp on bass & vocals; Josh Rouah on keys & vocals.
The Curator, June 2012