Release Date: Feb 25, 2014
Record label: Warner Bros.
In the 37 years since the Ramones immortalized Rockaway Beach, it only makes sense that romantic images of 1970s New York have continued to percolate in the collective imagination. Of course, the charm wears off a bit every time a New York-based musician or filmmaker can’t resist another opportunity to remind us where they’re from. By naming its debut album Manhattan—which begins overtly enough with the sound of a PA announcement on a Manhattan-bound subway train—the nouveau-punk outfit SKATERS tattoos its fascination with the Big Apple onto its music, and thus onto the audience’s experience of it as well.
For the better part of the past months, the raw power of New York City’s SKATERS’ live show has taken both the Big Apple and United Kingdom by storm. So, could the trio replicate that energy on their first LP? The answer is a resounding “fuck yeah, bro!” Lyrically, the album tells the story of the Kafka-esque transformation of becoming a New Yorker. It may seem like a simple concept, except the band’s music is anything but.
Review Summary: Go on, have a little StrokeConsciously or otherwise, the Strokes did their best to try and destroy their legacy with last year’s Comedown Machine. Whilst actually being A Good Album, it inevitably suffered from a lack of promotion, accompanying tour and soulless packaging which must have been a dig at somebody, somewhere.While the Strokes’ career birthed any number of louche, swivel-hipped copycats, their long term influence has yet to have been really charted. As luck would have it, this brings us directly to Skaters and their debut LP Manhattan.Sure, if I was in a band from New York that peddled relentless guitar pop-rock with a sinister undertone, I would be tired of the Strokes comparisons.
The ghost of the garage rock revival of 2001 still looms over indie rock. Whilst other genres have found new ways forward, some bands have still seen fit to use that period as direct inspiration, with varying degrees of success. (Most of the results can be found in a box marked ‘indie schmindie’ at car boot sales, no doubt.) It’s either the start of a post-post garage revival or a refusal to accept that the past is firmly in the past.
The remnants of mid-Noughties indie can still be seen and heard to this day; it’s what inundates any teen comedy series, it’s blasted out with impunity in Topshop and for many represents the commodification of the genre. I defy anyone to find a British cookery programme that won’t have the dull strains of The Kooks et al lurking in the background: a trilby wearing hangover from an era best forgotten. Skaters are as band with their roots in this era, with Josh Hubbard previously guitarist for The Paddingtons and (briefly) Dirty Pretty Things.
Skaters couldn’t make their allegiance to the 2003 school of New York cool plainer if they mooched about with Strokes badges pinned to their leathers. Big Apple-based, but with Joshua Hubbard – former guitarist of mid-’00s indie types The Paddingtons – among their number, it will probably come as no surprise to anyone that moments on debut album ‘Manhattan’ could pass for long-lost outtakes from ‘Room On Fire’. Luckily, at least six tracks conform to a brilliantly giddy, dancefloor-friendly rock’n’roll template that totally justifies the occasional look back.
New England-bred, Manhattan-based quartet Skaters’ first full-length has a lot in common with another famous New York City debut: The Strokes’ Is This It?, their universally-acclaimed 2001 update of late-’70s art-punk. Where Julian Casablancas and company sometimes seem to bask in the glory of having too much time and money and too little to do — for satirical effect or not — Skaters are more openly critical of the ennui, scolding “a generation of jerks, directionless on our feet. ” While there’s a strong current of American punk influence on Manhattan, Skaters also expand their palate to include sounds from New Wave and early hip-hop, touches of electronic experimentation that bring Animal Collective to mind, an occasional blast of hardcore punk, and a subtle island vibe reminiscent of The Rolling Stones’ Some Girls.
Few American cities are romanticized quite like New York, a place filled with tough people in tough neighborhoods living tough lives and somehow, despite all the grit and grime of the big city, making it all work. Adding to the pantheon of albums about the Big Apple, Skaters make their debut with Manhattan, an album of songs about the city and its seedy underbelly. With a sound that feels like a more modern take on the kind of post-punk and new wave that was pioneered in the city over four decades ago, Skaters embrace the sounds the city helped to put on the map as a central part of their tool kit, evoking the languid cool of the Strokes.
Skaters really want you to know they’re from New York City. Subway announcements introduce opener ‘One Of Us’, while ‘To Be Young’ features what appears to be a city diner alongside the less-than-subtle refrain ”To be young / in New York City”. There are more street sounds on ‘Nice Hat’. The whole album’s called ‘Manhattan’.So it’s hardly surprising that the trio – Americans Michael Cummings and Noah Rubin alongside Londoner and ex-Paddington Josh Hubbard – are instantly compared with the last gang of leather jacket wielding scruffs from the island.
It begins with the clatter of a New York subway train, then guitars wail and a big, stomping beat kicks in. Wasting no time gathering momentum, Skaters' debut album races through Manhattan throwing up fragments of city life – chasing girls, running from the cops, smoking in the heat – and doesn't overstay its welcome. The trio's youthful energy and commitment to brevity (11 NB tracks in 33 minutes) recall the Ramones, but their sound is less exuberant, more fastidious.
Before any music: a field recording of a distant, rumbling subway car set against a canned Casio-SK1 beat. This is the first of many conversation snippets and other “day-in-the-life” fragments that open songs on SKATERS’ debut album, Manhattan. These traces of “city as text” are a not so subtle indicator that SKATERS are writing of, about, and within New York City.
Last week, the Village Voice published its list of the 50 Most NYC Albums Ever, a feature that illustrated the myriad ways—from West Side Story to Ramones to On the 6—in which the five boroughs have been mythologized in song over the past 60-odd years. Coincidentally enough, just days later, New York quartet Skaters issued their own listicle of Big Apple rock-history signifiers—they just happened to do it in the form of their debut record. It’s an album about living in Manhattan titled Manhattan.
Although transplants in New York City are often regarded as an infection within the veteran New York scene’s population, NY-by-way-of-L.A. band SKATERS demonstrate the benefits of musician transplantation with their debut LP, Manhattan. After releasing their five-track Schemers EP in 2012, as well as experiencing a year of bartending and living in the Big Apple, SKATERS have come to recollecting the transformation from transplant to locals.