ALBUM REVIEW: Skaters, “Manhattan”

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Here’s a band that can make The Strokes seem, once and for all, obsolete—which is saying something considering The Strokes were lauded as “vital” and “indispensable” back in their day. Consider Skaters the new “vital” rock band; in fact, there’s a lot of comparisons to be made between the two bands: The Strokes rode a wave of hype into the music scene; Skaters are now doing the same. The Strokes debuted with a critically hailed album featuring 11 solid tracks; Skaters are now doing the same. You get the point.

And the similarities don’t stop there. All the elements that made Is This It such a strong rock album are prevalent on Skaters’ debut full-length, Manhattan, due out Feb. 25th on Warner Bros. Records. Manhattan opens up with the dark-sounding “One Of Us,” a super straightforward rock song that builds around the repeating line “Fun and games.” But there’s no fuss or messing around on this album: you come to find that each minute of each of the Skaters’ 11 tracks is worthwhile. They are not wasting any time here. The album’s third track and lead single “Deadbolt” is a prowling, thumping number that breaks open during the chorus, when lead singer Michael Ian Cummings howls “Won’t you give me one more try?” in as close to a Julian Casablancas impression as anyone could get.

Much of the midsection of the record features much more optimistic sounding, effortlessly catchy tunes like ‘To Be Young” and “Symptomatic,” which feature fast-paced, driving rhythms by guitarist Josh Hubbard and drummer Noah Rubin that make you want to get up and dance. “Schemers” is particularly pop-tinged and one of the album’s major stand-outs, with the same kind of anthemic magic that The Strokes managed on Is This It’s “Last Nite.”

But here’s where the two bands differ, and what keeps things truly interesting on Manhattan: Skaters confidently and deftly incorporate a variety of influences to bring some unexpected songs to the table, beginning with “Band Breaker.” Anchored by bassist Dan Burke, the song is colored with a reggae sound that brings The Specials to mind—a sort of unpolished, gritty aesthetic that simultaneously has a modern sheen to it. “Fear of the Knife,” one of the album’s most dynamic songs, continues in a similar, reggae-influenced tone and features a listless Cummings singing morbid lyrics about an operation and doctors who “get paid when you’re six feet underground.” “Nice Hat,” on the other hand, punches up the punk, drawing from the hard-and-fast style of hardcore bands like Black Flag and Fear. And with snippets of the city’s sounds—overheard drivel, drunken conversations with taxi drivers, announcements in the subway—sprinkled in between songs, the record plays like a genuine homage to quotidian New York City.

The album closes with as much primal energy as its opening—the fuzzed out electric guitar still shredding, the drums still thrashing, and the bass still throbbing. Skaters are, through and through, a rock band, but with a lot more to offer than power chords and great melodies. Manhattan is familiar yet novel, packed with material that’s strong enough to carry Skaters from the basement to the Bowery Ballroom and beyond. Catch ‘em while you can.

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