New York's new avant-garde.

Songs you've got to hear.
Nov. 11 2005 12:19 PM

Weird Rock

New York's new avant-garde.

Brushing off the tidy punk formalism of the Strokes and the sleek new-wave style of Interpol and the Rapture, a swell of New York bands has rallied behind the idea of messing around. Holed up in Brooklyn lofts and performing in art galleries amenable to musicians chanting over mesmeric drones, they've created a rustling shadow-scene to the skinny-tie "New York rock renaissance." These experiments are not without precedent, but the new sound remains refreshingly hard to do a genealogy for. It's urban and pastoral, electronic and organic, psychedelic without tipping toward the '60s.

CD cover

Animal Collective Feels (FatCat, 2005) Listen to "The Purple Bottle" and "Grass"

Advertisement

Animal Collective have been this scene's bellwether since a series of barely released CDs started getting handed around, samizdat style, in 2000. In their early concerts, the band would flail about in animal masks or play cross-legged before flickering images of desert travels. (One member, who answers to the name Geologist, wears a spelunker's headlamp onstage, to better see his gear.) The group's music has always evoked a ceremonial soundtrack to a cracked naturist's private rituals, but it congeals into something more coherent and approachable on Feels—the first Animal Collective offering to scan asa"rock" album. "The Purple Bottle" cycles through a mad clatter of melody spat out by electric guitar, galloping drums, and voices in various states of ecstatic glee. The parts all sound as though they were sketched with a bluntcrayon, but they come together in dizzyingly intricate ways. The same holds for "Grass," which jams spells of manic screaming into barbershop "ooohs" and comely bird chirps.

CD cover

Black Dice Broken Ear Record (Astralwerks/DFA, 2005) Listen to "Smiling Off"and "Motorcycle"

Black Dice started out as a notoriously antagonistic punk band with ties to the Rhode Island School of Design. Then, befitting their academic surroundings, they morphed into a headyambient-music project. Some of the antagonism remains—audience tales of bruises received at lights-out mosh sets have been replaced by stories of ear pain endured at unbelievably loud ambient shows. But Broken Ear Record spans lots of beautiful chasms between rises of topographical noise. Black Dice's main focus is texture: Over the course of nine minutes, "Smiling Off" wanders through twitchy electro ripples, ominous low-frequency buzz, and airy pump organ made more human by wisps of voice processed into rhythmic bumps. No track by Black Dice could be called a "song"—they're more like maps of the ideas that transpire while lost in a tangle of wires and electronic gear. "Motorcycle" drifts closest to a stock rock track, as what sounds like slow, slurry surf-guitar settles into a riff at the center. It's only a matter of minutes, though, before any thoughts of waves get wiped out by a marching band stomping in from the distance.

CD cover

The Double Loose in the Air (Matador, 2005) Listen to "Icy"and "On Our Way"

More conventional than their peers, though still skewed in their own way, the Double are a rock band given to lumbering shifts in tone and color. (They also share a love for weird environments, playing a release-party show for Loose in the Air in the rusty bowels of a tugboat docked on the West Side of Manhattan.) Songs like "Icy" suggest the Pixies traipsing through a lazy day at a carnival, but the Double prove difficult to place for a band trafficking in a standard language of guitar, bass, and drums. Some of the earthier songs sound like cubist refractions of Wilco; others have elaborate structures that evoke the grand ambition of old '70s prog-rock. But it's much harder to define a song like "On Our Way," a menacing ballad rooted in tinny strums on an electrified zither.

Excepter Self Destruction (Fusetron, 2005) Listen to "Bad Vibration"and "Interplay: Your House"

A gangly group that has employed lots of guys pressing buttons and an experimental dancer who writhes like an arthritic snake, Excepter once played a concert for the Downtown for Democracy activist organization backed by a sign reading "Protest Music." It wasn't clear if it was a label or a provocation, but it's typical of an ambiguous band given to long, discursive spells of electronic mood music. Self Destruction starts in a magisterial mode, flowing over gentle pulses and throbs while a singer makes mouth noises that sound as if they were made by a guy hiding under a blanket with a microphone and a few hours to kill. The first half of the album is as involving or inconsequential as you choose to make it, but its grip grows tighter as the rhythm creeps in. "Interplay: Backroom" shimmies over distracted tambourine and beats culled from house music; the sequel "Interplay: Your House" amplifies all the parts and pulls in a stirring synthesizer melody. It's as though someone were walking through the woods, trying to remember what electronic dance music sounds like.

CD cover

Gang Gang Dance Hillulah (The Social Registry, 2005) Listen to excerpt 1 and excerpt 2

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

An Iranian Woman Was Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist. Can Activists Save Her?

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Sports Show by and About Women

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 1 2014 12:20 PM Don’t Expect Hong Kong’s Protests to Spread to the Mainland
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 2:08 PM We Need to Talk: Terrible Name, Good Show
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 3:01 PM Netizen Report: Hong Kong Protests Trigger Surveillance and Social Media Censorship
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 2:36 PM Climate Science Is Settled Enough The Wall Street Journal’s fresh face of climate inaction.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.