To write a properly in-depth treatment of the history of New York bands would probably fill at least two or three Surviving the Golden Ages. Hell, even taking on the Big Apple’s punk scene could be enough to jam the tubes of the internet. But lest we think that NYC was adequately represented in the current rock scene, we get SKATERS new album, declaratively titled Manhattan.
SKATERS needn’t be so blunt if they wanted to prove their borough-based lineage. Their straight-ahead guitar powered brand of rock puts them safely on the subway track that The Strokes laid out before them. Their chords buzz with feedback and keep relentless time with just enough riffs and soloing to prove that someone’s is still at the controls. The Strokesian (or Ramonesian if you want to go back another generation) monotony is broken up on a couple of reggae inspired mellow jams such as “Bandbreaker” and “Fear of the Knife,” but otherwise it can get hard to differentiate some of these tracks.
Of course, SKATERS allows themselves a little more vibrancy and jittery energy than their leather-clad predecessors, but this is only at times a good thing. “Schemers” comes off as stilted, leaving the listener disoriented and wishing for metronomic precision of the rest of the album. “This Much I Care” even sports a blues inflection, but is far too noisy to reclaim any merit.
But a truly New York band, and especially a punk band, can transcend average musical settings with incisive commentary on the greatest city in the world. But here, too, SKATERS leaves us wanting. It’s not that their treatment of New York feels like touristy chintz. Instead, they’re experiences are naturally lived-in, but in a way that doesn’t add much of interest. “To Be Young in NYC” uses those exact words in its chorus without adding much to that particular conversation (one that was done well by the non-native Cub by way of They Might Be Giants). Even the plea on “Miss Teen Massachusetts” of “I guess I’ll never change your mind/but at least you know how hard I tried” sounded better when Julian Casablancas was just trying to get back to our apartment.
Listen, ever since Peter Minuit ponied up the $25 it cost him for Manhattan, people have been making art dedicated to the old New Amsterdam. SKATERS put themselves on a pretty harsh curve by trying to add to that experience. But without much to go on musically and little to actually say about New York, Manhattan is much less densely packed than its eponymous borough. Maybe it’s time somebody made an album about Staten Island.