Straight Outta Brooklyn

Get a taste of the new rock scene, while you still can.

Six blocks along Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn hold all the signs of young, hip urban culture. There's Beacon's Closet, where you can get used clothes and CDs in one stop; there are numerous bookstores and bodegas and cafes and falafel shops. There's even an old deli, which stands as a kind of reminder of what Brooklyn neighborhoods used to be--where the immigrant families fled in droves to live better lives than in the Manhattan tenements. And then there's the Brooklyn Industries Store, where you can buy canvas bags of all shapes and styles and T-shirts that say ironic things like "Neighborhood Revitalization Project: Williamsburg, Brooklyn."

The shirt's ironic because Williamsburg has already been revitalized. It's been called the "New Berlin" in magazines, whatever that's supposed to mean, and right off Bedford Avenue are the bars and venues where the supposed new New York City rock 'n' roll scene has been kicking up dust.

Over the years Brooklyn has become the place where wide-eyed young artists and intellectuals move, with hopes of making it big in NYC. Rent in Manhattan has become impossible for 20-somethings to afford; in Brooklyn, you add a few extra minutes to the commute and, in return, shave a few hundred dollars off the rent. So neighborhoods like Williamsburg are becoming more and more gentrified, forming their own cultural and musical identity. Last year's This Is NextYear (2001, Arena Rock), a compilation of Brooklyn bands, was strangely prophetic: now it's next year, and music magazines are full of Brooklyn bands like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Liars, both of whom will be playing an all-ages show with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in our humble town October 2.

"I think it's just that there happen to be a lot of creative musicians and creative bands here," says Liars bassist Pat Nature, who hails originally from Nebraska. "Maybe it has something to do with the turn of the century, or Sept. 11, or New York City being a cool town."

The Liars, composed of Australian expatriate Angus Andrew, Los Angeles refuge Aaron Hemphill, and Nebraskans Nature and Ron Albertson, have been working the rock circuit since early 2001. "We've definitely gone through the trenches to establish who we are as a band, to establish what we wanna do," says Nature.

But the time spent in those trenches has been brief. They've gone from playing shows to five people glued to a bar TV set to the Village Voice's esteemed Siren Music Festival at Coney Island in 18 months.

Keeping with the quick pace, the Liars' debut record was recorded in two days and hence has a spontaneous edge, while still managing to sound tight.

"I think it was a blessing we only had two days to record that album because it just kinda like came out naturally; it was all there after the first and second take," says Nature. "Everything that you hear on that record is what we do live, but it sounds different. All the parts are there but it sounds cleaner."

The Liars wear their influences like bright T-shirts, and those T-shirts might say Gang of Four or ESG. One song on They Threw Us All In A Trench and Stuck a Monument On Top (2002, Mute) even samples ESG's "UFO"; the song is aptly titled "Tumbling Walls Buried Me In the Debris with ESG." The tracks on They Threw Us... are driven by slightly distorted guitar melodies and Andrew's Australian-drawl vocals that have that typical punk quality of shouting rather than singing. Crunching power chords are used sparingly, leaving plenty of room for Nature's just-this-side-of-funk bass lines and Albertson's drums. The Liars also make economical use of a drum machines and synthbox to give their songs that we're-cooler-than-your-average-garage-rock-band feel.

The song titles are aphorisms, which intensifies that hipster aura. Some examples: "Grown Men Don't Fall in the River, Just Like That," and, my personal favorite, "Nothing is Ever Lost or Can Be Lost My Science Friend."

"There are a lot of potential ways to cross the bridge of songwriting, and the more we can come up with the better," says Nature.

Granted, the Liars are creative when it comes to song titles and lyrics, and the record is a lot of fun, but it's not really genre-shattering. The rise to fame is quick; so, unfortunately, can be the fall. So are these Brooklyn bands the new face of rock 'n' roll, like so many music journalists are shouting from their rooftops? Is this really the beginning of a beautiful new NYC rock scene, only in Brooklyn?

Probably not. So many music critics are so desperate to find something new and different that they often slap apocalyptic words onto any unsuspecting band that happens to cross their path at that moment of desperation. True, it's been a while since rock yanked the carpet out from under the high-top dancing shoes of the likes of New Kids On the Block and Janet Jackson, and Lord knows we're ready for the modern-day boy bands and their girl counterparts to slip treacherously on their shiny media personas, but six blocks of cool stores and bars populated by guys who are just playing energetic, rehashed punk ain't gonna do the job. Give a good indie band too much hype and you've created a vicious cycle. And it's not like New York was lacking for a music scene; it's just that everyone (in Manhattan, anyway) is surprised that the NYC bands getting attention are now from Brooklyn as well as Manhattan.

"There could be a lot of reasons for why there is a scene, but I think Liars are just another part of it and hopefully we can inspire some of these other bands like Oneida and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Lightning Bolts, Avey Tare and Panda Bear, to name a few, hopefully we can inspire them as much as they inspire us," says Nature. "And that is the core of the energy in Brooklyn."

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