Ayo Jegede
reviews editor
June 24, 2005
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Rock Music Reviews
New York City Smoke
Hearts & Stones
i've set foot in New York but once and with a frenetic mix of exhilaration and trepidation. the thought of emigrating from Nigeria was the most fantastical proposal my parents ever offered: moving flockmeal to a land i had only experienced in abbreviated filmic and musical bursts. the blur of New York was overwhelming, the colors and sounds colliding and melding with an inspiring confusion. it was winter then, and coming from a country that possessed only two seasons to watching my breath dissipate in a white dust into the night was pure wonderment. most of all, it was the city's smoke that moved me. the way it billowed from every corner, encircled every head. it was a sign of a booming, hylozoistic metropolis and it was stunning.
"I like the name Smoke, because it is always moving, never staying the same. It reminds you of the moment, and it makes you think. I like the way smoke looks. There was a band called Smoke, and the singer died. So I changed the name to New York City Smoke, because New York CIty has been a big influence in my writing." --Howie Statland, lead singer of New York City Smoke
so when a musician or band decides to juxtapose the glorious city with one of its attributes--and to do so with the explicit intent evoking that city's ethos--particular deference is given. a few bands off the top of my head have deftly channelled part of New York's great mystery. Ambulance LTD did so with Shoegazer and Dream Pop, their wafting guitars and susurrous vocals gripping but not vice-like. The National have done so as well on Alligator, fueled by a dynamism acted out both lyrically and sonically, each instrument comporting to the emotional agenda laid out for the particular song. neither group explicitly mentions their city's namesake, but it made perfect sense that they would come from the same state. then there's New York City Smoke's latest album, Hearts & Stones. these songs are supposed to inspire you because Howie is inspired. they're supposed to inspire you because it has New York in the title, culling the phantasmagoric tales, sounds, and sights that are globally familiar. but it does something that i've seldom witnessed from a band evoking New York: it fails at every fucking thing. it fails on the musical front, the band's jangly riffs and drunken drumming propelled by the ghost of a barroom sitcom. it strives for an exigence vocally as Howie Statland forcibly tries to channel the zeal of Pete Townshend, but only offers you a half-ass imitation of Bruce Springstein complete with shameless guttural screams that make attempts to be The Boss a complete Bust. it fails on the lyrical front, sometimes concatenating a rhyme here or there not because of the emotive effect it'll have but because he just needed something that rhymes. "Don't want to be a burden to you no more/Lighting candles closing doors/You won the battle but you lost the war/Elanore" ('Elanore'); "In the darkness there is a light/Of forgiveness in the night/Out in the street you find your way/What do you want in a friend?/Some one (sic) to be there 'til the end?/Someone who wont(sic) break when you bend and bleed?" ('Pushing Daisies'). we all know the old adage about having nothing to say. it fails in intent, its narratives muffled under the pillow of a solipsistic narrator and crush completely any buried universal applications in dirges and eulogies for random college sweethearts. it fails in possibility, each song purposely grounding itself in the specifics of a dull moment or idea rather than letting either roam. in toto this album is just a compilation of amateur licks employing an emotional locus to cover up its astounding dearth of originality. you're from New York? congrats! so are almost 20 million others. unlike the smoke of NYC, an animated phenomenon rolling across the city and capturing the minds of all, this band is just a puff of insignificance dissipating in the wind.
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Rating: 1.5 / 10

[RMR]