Articles by

<Jeff Klingman>

07/16/15 11:57am


No one who moved to Brooklyn after 2000 has a legitimate claim to getting in on the ground floor of anything. Still, in 2002, the degree to which New York City’s music scene was still carried out across the river from here is maybe difficult for more recent transplants to picture. Upon my arrival here that year, a club called Northsix lived where the Music Hall of Williamsburg now sits, and acts rolled through there often. Quiet corners supported tiny folk music hangouts like the now-dead Zebulon and the still-living Pete’s Candy Store. (Pete’s picked the corner that would stay quieter longer, it turned out.) Union Pool wasn’t set up for live music, yet; The Knitting Factory still took up three floors in Manhattan. The pool of regulars who could support something as relatively specific as the metal shows playing nightly at Saint Vitus was still years and years away. The stray DIY show in a decrepit loft space was a welcome surprise but hardly an expectation.


In 2002, the candy-colored, new wave, coke-fantasia that was Williamsburg’s electroclash nightclub Luxx was the nightspot of note. It only lasted a couple of years before switching into the just-closed punk dive Trash Bar, which will now become a Smoothie King or some such corporate enclave, probably. People who may claim the current environment is filled with pretentious kids playing dress up really have no idea of the level of skinny-tied commitment Williamsburg once commanded. (I expect it to pop up as a throwaway gag as soon as early 2000s Brooklyn becomes the setting for a prestige cable drama.) It was alternately terrible and amazing, and deeply memorable either way. But even then it felt somewhat disposable, something that’d be outgrown if it wasn’t shut down. I don’t think anyone there thought that stuff could, or should, last forever.

Since then the story of live music in Brooklyn has been one of almost continual growth. Though individual spots have come and gone, we’ve steadily amassed more clubs, more bands, and more variety of everything, including more options for how to consume music. The biggest single disruption of that otherwise steady climb happened last year, which had the most funereal feel of any I can remember in Brooklyn’s post-millennium music scene. As was exhaustively documented, debated, and fretted over, VICE’s multi-million dollar headquarters expansion ate a bunch of Williamsburg’s music venues, permanently closing 285 Kent, Death by Audio, and Glasslands, leading many to mourn the idea that this city could nurture art in a genuine way. And the irony of a media empire built on hip culture, bulldozing weird, cherished spots with investment capital money was too richly symbolic to feel anything other than blatantly gross.


But now, just a year removed from that much-lamented reaping, it’s clear that farther off places like Palisades, Silent Barn, Alphaville, and Aviv have continued the spirit that those rooms used to nurture, and have done it more or less seamlessly. Going to shows out there is to be surrounded by people whose whole idea of music and culture in Brooklyn is now being formed with those spots at their center. There’s more precedent now to suggest that if, or even when, those places close, they’ll be replaced too, and quickly. If it happens to be in Queens or deep Harlem or under the roller coaster on Coney Island, the feel inside those sweaty rooms of the future will probably be the same. So containing the rise and fall of Brooklyn’s music culture to the past decade or so (or even just to Brooklyn) feels counterfactual, and even kind of arrogant: “If our thing gets blown up, there may never be another thing!” Not likely. In fact, there are more places to see music now than there were when the L started printing, more stylistic diversity in the sorts of stuff being made, and more people just itching to make it. If the prohibitive expense of living in 2015 Brooklyn hasn’t killed the primal urge for expression yet, a further, truly apocalyptic annihilation just over the horizon seems pretty unlikely.

It’s true that the city doesn’t care about us as much as we care about it. It won’t make a preserved historical site out of the particular room where you saw your new favorite band, or the place where you got gloriously drunk and did something romantic, or flat-out stupid. Our own personal histories are marked with spots that no one else can visit, where crowds no longer gather. And that’s sort of great. But while those things are important to us, and while they make our identities and our memories dependent on the city, the city isn’t reliant on us—it won’t click on our pained farewell essays. And that’s sort of great too. If you spend enough years here and the main truth you’re out to prove is “everything dies,” you’ll be given ample evidence to back that up. But you’ve missed the overwhelming, sorta scary, yet ultimately reassuring idea that everything is reborn too.

Ingrained impermanence is culturally healthy, if not personally flattering. And there’s still a minor, undeniable thrill to leaving your footprints in the sand, then standing back to watch the ocean erase them.

07/01/15 9:14am


Sleater Kinney “Price Tag”
The iconic rock warriors wouldn’t have descended from Mt. Olympia without planning a strong first strike. The leadoff track from Sleater-Kinney’s comeback record keeps double-jumping to new levels of intensity. Janet Weiss’ precise drum blasts—like controlled explosions used to trigger ski-slope
avalanches—provide their perpetual spark.

Colleen Green “Deeper Than Love”
An unexpectedly vivid concept album about twenty-something ennui, Colleen Green’s I Want to Grow Up is deeply funny and totally fucked up. Its neurotic peak is this slinky kraut-pop epic, which departs from her usual hooky alt-rock to let conflicting fears of loneliness and intimacy dance a dead-eyed tango.

Rabit “Bloody Eye”
The metal shard landscape and ray-gun zips that make up this Texan version of British “grime” production suggest a laser tag duel that’s a little too real. (Its startling gun shot percussion is the sound of at least one player who isn’t playing.) This is experimental electronic music at it’s most
physically jarring.

Prurient “Greenpoint”
The Brooklyn neighborhood, home to bougie gift shops and boiled pierogi, is recast as an existential nightmare by Dominick Fernow’s long-running noise project Prurient. It starts with unexpected acoustic strumming, dangling something pretty for the coming dread to swallow whole. The drone builds slow behind Fernow’s sober narration of an alcoholic in ruin. It’s not rage-red but ice-cold; a poison frost freezing a flower from its roots.

Blanck Mass “Dead Format”
Ben Power’s other band, Fuck Buttons, are too often adrift in their own psychedelic fantasmagoria to make dance-floor fillers as straight as this solo jam. And even this is just a hair more propulsive than it is creepy. “Doom rave” is on the rise! (more…)

06/17/15 9:45am


Upon hearing Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” Brian Eno famously guessed that the single would “change club music for the next 15 years.” That bit of fortune-telling, recounted countless times since spoken in 1977, ended up being an understatement. Electronically produced dance music hadn’t even sniffed its cultural peak by 1992. It’s since become youth culture, major festival fodder, and blockbuster mainstream entertainment on a scale that Eno wouldn’t have claimed on his fourth lager. Club walls can no longer confine it. And now, Summer’s iconic producer, Giorgio Moroder, returns as an elder statesman to a pop culture he had a strong hand in shaping. (more…)

05/20/15 11:33am


In early LCD Soundsystem singles, the kids were not alright. They annoyed James Murphy with their inability to dance, hook up, or fall in love properly. All they could do was borrow nostalgia and send out irksome mailers, inviting him to parties he thought were lame. LCD’s whole schtick centered on the viewpoint of an old guy who thought he knew better, who’d heard all the great records when doing so required real effort and was forced to interpret their lessons for the masses since none of these lousy kids could be trusted. It’d be interesting to hear his reaction now to something like Ratchet. The debut album from 20-year-old Las Vegan Shamir Bailey grows like a flower from creative soil he tilled a decade ago. “They say I am a big party machine!,” Shamir tells us, quite plausibly. Murphy’s side-eye might be unavoidable, but “the saddest night out in the U.S.A.” this is not. (more…)

04/22/15 6:23am


With hindsight, Arcade Fire having long-ago begetten a legion of po-faced men in pork-pie hats, the blockbuster victories of mid-00s indie-rock seem unfortunate. For grown 90s teens, the idea of once-modest college rock winning Grammys and topping shrunken Billboard sales charts was briefly validating. But any series of events that leads to songs by The Lumineers or Edward Sharpe being played at the gym requires a touch of regretful reflection. Of peak indie’s best-known artists, Sufjan Stevens, especially lost something in scaling up. His claim to be working on 50 separate albums tailored to the details of each of our united states was a goof taken too seriously by the press, but also a definitive example of personal music strangled by sort of arbitrary ambition. Though the songs from that period were often beautiful, there’s something off-putting in revisiting them now, a certain unintended smugness in the superhuman size of the task Stevens took on. His strengths as a songwriter are intimacy and empathy. Throwing himself into speculative historical fiction undercut them, suggesting that a stroll through a municipal record or Wikipedia page could provide all the inspiration he’d ever need. Leading orchestras in neon wings and crowding the stage with players, his delicacy was trampled underfoot.  (more…)

04/22/15 6:22am


Last year, Drake broke his clearly stated “no new friends” policy by buddying up with iLoveMakonnen. When he remixed and featured on the Atlanta rapper’s loopy weeknight party anthem “Tuesday,” he slingshot the song from beloved Internet oddity to marginal mainstream hit. Gracing a DIY producer with a touch of his regal scepter isn’t unusual for the rap superstar; in fact it’s one of the things Drake’s made his reputation on. But where another protege like The Weeknd shares his oversexed yet depressed vibes and Toronto zip code, Makonnen Sheran is a stranger choice. A psychedelic crooner, possibly on mushrooms, is not the most natural night-club wingman? Bringing an exponentially increased number of ears to something as weird as “Tuesday” without altering its basic form might be the most benevolent thing Drake’s done in his mega-famous imperial phase. But it’s easy to see why it might flatter his ego to pal around with Makonnen, the singer is a reflection of a bunch of things Drake continually assures us he is: a hustler, an outsider, an underdog who clawed his way to fame. (more…)

04/08/15 10:57am


One of the cooler aspects of alternative rock in the 1990s was its notably better representation for female musicians than previous rock n’ roll eras. Media coverage still tended to be a bit condescending then, thick with “Women Who Rock?!” style novelty pieces. In 2015, the wry, hooky fuzz-bomb style of alt-rock persists, and at this point young women dominate it almost completely. This year has already been thick with superficially similar but subtly varied albums supporting that claim. New Courtney Barnett and Colleen Green records provide charm and crunch in equal measure, while high-profile indie-rock dudes currently seem sequestered in the emotive piano bar of 1970s singer-songwriter roles. (See: Father John Misty, Tobias Jesso, Jr., Sufjan Stevens.) Ivy Tripp, the third record by Brooklyn-via-Philadelphia-via-Alabama band Waxahatchee adds to the mounting mountain of evidence. (more…)

04/08/15 10:56am


At the end of 2014, a limited-run cassette from a small local label cracked this magazine’s top-5 records of the year. That tape was Common Interests Were Not Enough to Keep us Together, a collection of songs from Godmode, the Brooklyn imprint run by producer, musician, and ex-critic Nick Sylvester. Where their earliest releases focused on brooding, bad-natured noise rock, this one let in house, pop, and left-field disco, suddenly announcing Godmode as the most tasteful and varied imprint in the neighborhood. 

American Music is the label’s follow-up  compilation tape. Again it’s filled with un-hyped bands making weird sounds that draw from many eras of pop and experimental music, without leaning too heavily on any single flavor of nostalgia.

A few artists provide repeat highlights. There are two tracks from the wildly under-appreciated locals Courtship Ritual: an old one that reasserts last year’s LP Pith as motel pillow levels of slept on, and a new one that continues to sound like Young Marble Giants as a cabaret act. Then there’s the first new song from local noise duo Yvette since their vicious 2013 record Process. “I Don’t Need Anything From Anybody” smartly resists the shoe-gaze impulse to swallow vocal clarity with guitar fuzz, allowing a song with almost zero empty space to feel weirdly wide-open. It closes on a lovely remix  of “I Know It’s a Good Thing” by Shamir, which cranks up the synth squeals and surrounds his voice with faux-holy ambiance like “Like a Prayer”-era Madonna, making it an elegy for an act who blew up too quick to ever be a label mainstay. (His first album will come out on the bigger XL this spring.) 

There’s killer stuff from bands you’ve never heard of, too. Breeding Program’s “No Time for 69” is an overt electroclash revival that’s appropriately dumb, fun, and trashy. (“I bet computer guys invented 69,” it claims, dubiously.) The disco cuts feel in the moment rather than in quotes, present instead of hiding at a hazy middle distance. House tracks work into their grooves so relentlessly that eventual acid-rave freakouts feel like stress hallucinations from concentrating too hard. When that starts to feel a little formulaic, we get a song like Malory’s “Dah”—so dedicated to minimalism that its increasing intensity comes not from from loosening up but contracting tighter. The dance music is typically very carefully controlled, making brief noise snippets from Excepter, Manikr, and especially Kill Alters so crucial in context. They represent rare, necessary slips into chaos. 

American Music’s varied, but mostly dance-adjacent, sounds closely mirror those that DFA Records made such a huge impact with in the early 2000s, sometimes to the point of distraction.  But the similarities come from overlapping taste and and eclectic philosophy, rather than conscious emulation. It doesn’t resemble the sustained, pill-regulated mood of Johnny Jewel’s After Dark compilations either, structured more like a mixtape made by some clever, moody, more-earnest-than-he-thinks college kid. It top-loads with accessible material, earning credit for the wilder selections that follow. It’s over long, but as a function of its intended format. There’s space to fill, so why not fill it? It’s all pretty great, besides.

03/25/15 8:35am
Photo via Instagram

Jana Hunter’s career has already contained multitudes. She started playing lo-fi folk “either twelve or like, thirty” years ago, a by-gone time when being a Beck devotee was unimpeachably hip. Since 2010, Hunter’s been fronting Lower Dens, a band who can execute her songwriting on a grand psychedelic scale. On 2012’s Nootropics they were mid-transformation, becoming a sulking krautrock behemoth.


03/11/15 7:05am


Mike Hadreas, the Seattle songwriter who’s drawn great acclaim for the beautiful and pained records he’s recorded as Perfume Genius, is in a “frazzled” pre-tour state. He’s about to leave for a second U.S. swing in support of last fall’s Too Bright, his third and best record. It will bring him to Manhattan’s Stage 48 on Thursday, March 19th, ahead of dates supporting big-deal Matador Records labelmates Interpol and Belle and Sebastian. I caught up with him by phone, shortly after his return from Rite Aid, where he “somehow spent like a hundred bucks” in cautious preparation. (“It makes me feel better to have various cremes and serums.”)