In the endless ebb and flow of boutique micro labels, some burn out fast while others turn into stalwarts like 4AD or Rhino. I’m not sure where this London, New York, and Zurich label will end up, but they’ve produced a varied and eclectic set of artists over the past five years. This compilation samples ten artists representing what they call “The New York Underground.” Here’s a rundown:
Bowery Boys Blue opens with a Nirvana-styled “Now We Will Be Brothers.” While the rough edge vocals are missing, the sad and near-suicidal tone and slow urgent guitars will take you back to 1992. The next cut pushes you back even further – Moritz Wettstein’s industrial scribbling and sampling stutter and stammer through what might be a tour of Santa’s reindeer bell factory. They call it “progressive dub,” and I imagine Moritz in a black turtleneck, refusing to make eye contact with the audience.
The gem of this set comes from punk revivalist The Brooklyn What and the CBGB flavored “I Don’t Wanna Go to Williamsburg” It’s noisy and snotty and rejects the idea of trying to get into a school where no one will drink with you, even if you wear the right hairdo and polo shirt. Then it’s on to French postmodernism spaced out on Quaaludes with the whispery, narcotic female vocalist ElodieO wishing she was a cuckoo. “Why” is an unknown, and the suspicion is she’s the sort of girl who would make you consider suicide as the most efficient way to break up. Chin up, she’s only a passing worry. There’s urgent noise rock next as The Specialist presents “New Love Concept” full of unmodulated guitar strumming and thrash drumming backing up cryptic, inaudible vocals.
At the halfway point now, we experience Django Voris with “Big Nature.” Sly vocals make it nearly danceable, although the collision of backing instruments makes listening a chore. The Courtesy Tier improves the experience with “Cold,” which features more urgent drumming, but somehow this song feels better crafted as it moves around more in its narrow audio spectrum. The line between subtle and boring is often so very, very fine.
The Fates hammer out another gloomy noise number with “Murky Circuitry.” It’s possible to imagine recording this sound for fun, but it seems the market for dark noise can’t possibly be as large as the producer base. Put this one in the Skinny Puppy pile, along with Iamprimate’s “Camera.” Both of these songs are more like industrial knitting machines than bands.
Having made it to cut 10, we find an introspective alt-folk flavored The Reporter crooning “Stop Me.” A female vocalist takes us back to the boring, mundane world where songs have lyrics that make sense and words that can be heard over songs with chords, notes, and rhythms. It’s been a long journey and like most adventures, it’s been a mix of spectacular scenery and smelly hotel rooms with no hot water.