The Michigan Daily discovered in November 2004 that several articles written by arts editor Alex Wolsky did not meet the newspaper’s standard of ethical journalism. Parts of these stories had been plagiarized from other news sources. Although the article below has not been found to contain plagiarism, the Daily no longer stands by its content. For details, see the Daily’s editorial.

Music Reviews
Art is hard. (Courtesy of SYR)
Music Reviews
Music Reviews

It seems that the pavement of New York City at some point or another influences everyone who walks upon it. Lou Reed found heroin and — a mere two years later — Jesus trapped within its tapering pathways and stilted towers. Jay-Z rose from the streets to be the “C-E-O of the R-o-c” and the Strokes took a whole generation of kids north of the Long Island Expressway and introduced them to the lightning fast pace of the city. NYC is one of the only places in the world where the people who walk its streets define its streets.

For indie dance punks !!!, New York is new ground. When they moved to the city from California in late 2002, they were stepping into a bevy of history — New York’s ’70s-style dance underground had become a veritable heritage industry similar to jazz in New Orleans. The city gave birth to disco phase one and disco phase two, pioneered by clubs the Loft and Paradise Garage, respectively, and now, with numerous new underground dance revivalists (!!!, The Rapture and Radio 4) emerging in and around the five boroughs, it appears as if it is unearthing disco’s third phase: punk-funk.

What separates !!! from the others is that they’ve got politics. On Louden Up Now, the group’s much- anticipated second album, they throw jabs at President Bush, the war in Iraq (“Pardon My Freedom”), former mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani and many others but only end up hurting themselves. With lines like, “You can tell our president to suck my fucking dick / Do I sound dangerous?” delivered in a breathy overtone, followed by “Yeah? / Like I give a fuck!” repeated throughout the avant-garde “Dear Can”, !!! don’t come off as the righteous instigators they envision in their heads. Instead, their haranguing becomes a distraction

In many respects, the band had hoped that Louden Up Now would be their breakthrough, riding on the coattails of its most impressive track, “Me and Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard (A True Story),” the overwhelming, advancing force that crushes, or appears to have crushed, every other record in its path.  

Unfortunately, it’s not the invincible power the band envisioned. Not until four minutes into “Me and Giuliani” do !!! finally get it: Dance music, unless surrounded by people gyrating, isn’t enjoyable unless you make a track so dense that it encapsulates listeners with its every move. “Me and Giuliani” is a single, driving track, filled with more hooks and riffs than some full length records employ — unfortunately, it set the bar too high for !!!.

Tracks “When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Get Karazee” and “Hello? Is This Thing On?” are grounded in the same throbbing beat as most dance music, with layers upon layers of instrumental breakdowns and pithy, gossamer vocals on top. Each track is wildly insulating; !!! pulls you into the darkness and heat of their surroundings just as much as they convey the bright lights and fast pace of the streets outside the dancehall. They become the glow that keeps the city awake even into the night.  

Sonic Youth, the elder amalgam to !!!’s newfound New Yorker, haven’t made a record more hidden by the shadows of their home city than Sonic Nurse, their follow-up to 2002’s surprisingly relevant Murray Street.

Nurse is a sultry, dark record that appears to be lost within a dream. Everything from the hazy cover art to the many references to sleep, dreams, beds and yawning signal something less vibrant and electric than previous records like the rock ‘n’ roll stylings of Dirty and more like the avant-garde musings of Goodbye 20th Century. With its shifting, smooth guitar lines and craggy production, Nurse is the most forgettable record Sonic Youth has ever made, yet while listening you’d swear it’s the most captivating record of the year –– or at least the month.

Thurston Moore’s guitar doesn’t light many fires anymore; instead, it slowly burns like the smoldering embers left over from Daydream Nation’s epiphanous “Teenage Riot.” The songs range from sharp (“Unmade Bed”) to veiled (“Dripping Dream”) like the actual darkness they convey. “Unmade Bed” is filled with warm, inviting lyrics that do more guiding than distracting, which only seems appropriate preceding the celebrity meltdown ode, “Kim Gordon and the Arthur Doyle Hand Cream.” Moore’s guitar screams out, echoing the foreboding vocal shrieks of Gordon.

As for Jim O’Rourke, the knob-twiddling enigma of SY –– well, it’s nearly impossible to tell what exactly he’s doing on the record. His influence, however, spans the album: The translucent intro to “New Hampshire” builds until it hits a swaying guitar riff, bending its way through the rest of the track. This hands-off approach is a welcome retreat from the overbearing, almost omnipresent force O’Rourke had on NYC Ghosts & Flowers.

Like Louden Up Now, Sonic Nurse is adept at finding light buried within darkness. Where Louden is a throbbing burst of energy, Nurse is a hypnotizing record with its whirling guitars and dim lights of hope, an encapsulating album that hides behind its dreamlike veneer just long enough to make its sudden appearances all the more relevant. While both !!! and Sonic Youth come from opposite ends of the country, each band found their muse in New York.

Rating (Sonic Youth): 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Rating (!!!!): 2 out of 5 stars.

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