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. “It’s like short stories,” singer Michael Ian Cumming explains, “It’s Salinger’s Nine Stories but it’s “Eleven Stories” by SKATERS. And the writing is much worse.”
From the beginning of the album to the its end, SKATERS dishs out mostly straightforward garage pop and lyrical vignettes archetypal of the Manhattan scene, somewhat in opposition to the poeticized verbiage and ambient synthesizer melodies predominantly preferred by your local Brooklyn band circa now. “The music from Brooklyn is more esoteric,” Cummings recently said to NY Daily News. “It demands a tricky listener. We’re just trying to write catchy pop songs.” You might expect that a band with those root goals and a name like SKATERS would consist of skateboard-culture L.A. street punks, but none of these guys actually know how to shred, nor do they focus their style around the left coast’s fuzzy, surf-punk sound. Instead, the name aims to encapsulate the sense of freedom of the skater culture, as well as the band members’ nought-era youth.
The album’s opener, One Of Us, inundates the listener with raunchy post-punk guitar riffs and slightly-slurred vocals easily comparable to Julian Casablancas. While comparisons to the Strokes are apt for a handful of tracks here (Miss Teen Massachussetts, Symptomatic), simply compartmentalizing SKATERS to New York’s ’00′s indie rock scene is a lazy misstep. The straightforward, fast-paced power chords on I Wanna Dance (But I Don’t Know How) harken to the Ramones, including teen-tied text featuring that familiar fear of breaking the ice with the girl you’ve been eyeing across the venue (“Little girl/What’s your name/Will I ever see you again?”).
Other tracks like Bandbreaker and Fear Of The Knife on the other hand offer up reggae-influenced slow jams for those chill house parties with depressants and munchies abound. After relishing in the NYC from a fresh-faced point of view akin to any bushy-tailed tourist upon seeing Times Square for the first time, SKATERS soon settle into the post-transplant realization phase with “This Much I Care.” The song exudes a stone-hearted New Yorker mindset, with Cummings hollering for a minute straight, “I just want to go out/for your money.”
The band goes even further to prove their New Yorker morph by including live recording bits of actual New York sights and sounds. Opener One Of Us includes a clip of the Q train, with the monotonous PA announcement alerting you to the closing subway doors; To Be Young In NYC captures the clichéd New York 20-something complaining to her BFF about her problems as you’re stuck next to her at a café. While the music and lyrics definitely carry the listener through newbie to seasoned-local, the overall production gives you a little something more to actually feel enveloped in the city and the people that make it.
If you can get past the (New York-ishly cynical?) temptation to corner this band into an indie frame, you can revel in the depth and intricacies that the band has managed to unearth from and on Manhattan. It’ll be interesting to see what SKATERS will be bring to the table next, once they’re coming from a proud local’s viewpoint.