ONLY NOISE: Coney Island, Baby


As the glad hand of summer tightens to a fist, I feel hungover. These three hot months we wait for all year melt us into believing that we can live this way forever; damp and in torn jeans, drinking beer at 2pm and eating hot dogs at 2am. Perhaps summer to others is less slovenly, but it’s hard to be fresh-faced in the New York sun, which radiates off black pavement and carries the scent of freshly baked garbage up your nostrils. Where else in the country does summer = hot garbage? Better yet: hot garbage juice, which I’m sure we have all stepped in, wearing sandals.

This of course, isn’t everyone’s summer in New York. Portions of the Upper East Side and Park Slope seem to be refuse-free. And while many would find the above description noxious, there is one place in New York that seems to spin all that trash into colored candyfloss every summer: Coney Island.

Coney Island was a place I loved long before I walked its busted boardwalk, jutting upwards like misaligned teeth. It was a place I knew from song, as it has been immortalized in many. It seemed to be a perpetual place of interest for Tom Waits, who recorded a salty version of “Coney Island Baby” for 2002’s Blood Money. The beachside town has achieved an honorable mention in Waits’ “Take It With Me” from the 1999 LP Mule Variations, and it seemed the rakish balladeer perhaps knew the place better than anyone else.

Yet the artistic fascination with Coney Island doesn’t start or stop with Waits. The Ramones bopped about it in “Oh, Oh, I Love Her So” from 1977, singing about going “on the coaster and around again” in the grade C theme park. The only coaster they could mean is the treacherous Cyclone, which has provided thrill-seekers with whiplash since 1927. In the same decade Coney was fetishized by the Ramones, films like Annie Hall and The Warriors tipped their hats as well. While its use in the former merely provides a comical backdrop (Woody Allen’s character grew up in a house beneath the Cyclone, hence his neuroses), the latter catapulted the area into cult status. Where Waits had provided a mood, The Warriors affronted with a forceful visual of dueling gangs in leather vests and headbands.

I knew far more about Coney Island than I should have prior to moving to New York. I knew about the Wonder Wheel, and the Freak Show, and Nathan’s Hot Dogs. I knew that it was most likely filled with large women, and men named Frank. But I didn’t fully understand the allure until I first went for myself in 2009. By then I had discovered another “Coney Island Baby,” the classic Lou Reed track off of his 1976 album of the same name.

Something churned within me as I got off the F train that summer…and I realize now that same feeling can be explained by Reed’s lyric:

“Ah, but remember that the city is a funny place/
Something like a circus or a sewer
/And just remember, different people have peculiar tastes”

It was right then that I grasped the elusive beauty of Coney Island: it is an absolute shithole. It appeared that all of the collective enthrallment with the neighborhood was very aware of this fact. What’s more, the contradiction between the dirt and depravity of such a hood and it being a place of magical, family entertainment only seemed to increase the morbid fascination.

“The city is a funny place/Something like a circus or a sewer.” This rotated in my head as I walked past a portly, sun-baked woman, the length of her strangled in a fluorescent pink fishnet bodysuit. To my left, children were running through sprays of water generated by large blow-up palm trees punctuating the beach. Seagulls dove through the mist as old men wetted their balding heads, no one discriminating against the offerings of the plastic foliage. A boom box accompanied a saxophonist blowing away to Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” and pieces of garbage floated past my feet, though none of the famed “Coney Island Whitefish” I’d heard so much about, a.k.a, used condoms.

While I can’t say the same of many places, Coney Island is exactly what I’ve always wanted it to be; and it maintains its appeal almost eight years later. When I went the other day it was waiting for me, running up to say hello with a hot dog in one hand and a beer in the other. I accepted and sat on the cement benches at Nathan’s, listening to “Year Of The Cat” by Al Stewart and innumerable Fleetwood Mac tracks. Neither of these made any sense, and I wish I could say something like Reed or Waits was playing, but I was happy to choke down shameful food to something familiar, something un-Carly Rae Jepsen. And that is what this place is all about: shame, pleasure, and familiarity.

Perhaps the kernel of Coney Island’s appeal possesses the same molecules as comfort food, guilty pleasures, and poorly produced music. It isn’t so much about the overt, qualitative aspects of a thing, but the gut reaction it elicits. Did that hot dog feel good in my gut? No. But did it feel good in my gut’s heart? You betcha.

After waddling out of Nathan’s, where I once watched the world famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest (to the tune of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”) in another bout of poor taste, I made my way to MCU Park to take in my very first Brooklyn Cyclones game. Blaring out of the shoddy sound system were soundtrack versions of Disney songs: “Bippity Boppity Boo” and “A Whole New World” and the like.

Because Coney Island can only get weirder every time I go, the game is themed: it is princess and pirate night at the stadium, and there are hoards of terrifying children literally screaming for ice cream in sparkly pink dresses, tiaras, and pastel eye shadow. Large men with robust Brooklyn accents address their families with jovial shouting, which is later directed at the baseball team, only less jovially. As it turns out, the Cyclones are a pretty terrible team. A man behind me begins heckles the athletes while wearing a Cyclones shirt: “Come ON! My daughter hits betta than you!” he blurts. A princess-disguised hellion stands behind me, prodding my neck with something. I turn and realize it’s a chicken finger.

If it weren’t for Princess Poultry I may have stayed for the last two innings, but my companion and I were growing heavy from the heat and hot dogs. We laughed at the absurdity of such a place, and that a baseball game could be so comically bad. “You know what though?” my friend asked. I completed the thought before he could, “we would have been disappointed if they were really good.”

When I am asked to defend my bad taste, in the same way I must when my dad inquires about my preference for crappy bars as opposed to slick ones, I never have a ready-made reason at hand. But I think that it is the unrefined things that possess the most endurance. It is the rationale that against all of the information I possess about the health detriments of hot dogs, I still adore them. I know that Bob Dylan does not technically have a beautiful singing voice, but I will continue to love it. So when asked why in the hell I love Coney Island so much, I can’t help but counter:

“Ah, but remember that the city is a funny place/
Something like a circus or a sewer
/And just remember, different people have peculiar tastes”

PLAYING DETROIT: Mountains and Rainbows “Particles”


Once hailed “The Best Band That Doesn’t Have an Album” pysch-rockers Mountains and Rainbows can finally re-categorize themselves.  After bouncing around for almost a decade with nothing but a cassette tape and some scattered demos, Mountains and Rainbows caught the ears of  Thee Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer after sharing a bill with the head rattling 70s art punk revivalist foursome last year. Dwyer signed them to Castle Face Records and released their double debut LP Particles last month. Particles is more than an album, though. It’s a transient, transcendent head trip that sweats and absorbs in equal measure. There is a boldness to the album as an adventure through time and memory, trailing across stateliness and atmospheric boundaries, that convinces you to overturn yourself as if you were some government implemented barrier between happiness and obligation. Particles is salty and dry, thirst inducing and never quenching.  It is that very thirst that makes Mountains and Rainbows’ long awaited exploration of chaos so surprisingly satisfying. It’s a high without the hangover.

It’s hard to consider the album as individual tracks. The songs blend together, not monotonously or statically, but with a meticulously reckless smashing. Each song strikes one another forcing tinier and finer divides like an astral phenomena we read about but never actually see. Sludgy, strung out Velvet Underground-esque track “Fancies” breaks the album up and clocks in at just over ten minutes. It’s anxious and uneasy and feels more like a band warmup where the instruments sound like vocals and the vocals are a series of warbled announcements. This is a complete departure from the bouncy beach party track “How You Spend Your Time,”  which is tightly composed and fulfills the albums strained pop tendency. Mountains and Rainbows play with distance and warped dissonance, which invites a cosmic spacial awareness that lends itself to feeling like fabric ripped at the seams. Drums seem to interrupt, the guitars are manic and distressed and the bass is spastically metallic. These elements crowd the vocals in such a way that it often feels like attempts to suffocate, but also is aurally victorious at regaining breath. Considering it is their first “proper” release, Particles is a fully formed thought that is not for the faint of heart, rather for those whose heart beat persistently askew.

Particles is streaming over at Hype Machine.

Listen to the track “How You Spend Your Time” below:

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Mountains and Rainbows record release show wag Bonny Doon, Feelings and Dead Beat Beat at El Club, Detroit 6/24



NEWS ROUNDUP: Palisades, Deerhoof, & Patti Smith’s Nico Tribute


  • Palisades Shut Down For The Summer

    Hopefully it’s temporary; during last weekend’s Northside Festival, the DIY space Palisades was shut down by police and the venue’s shows have been moved to other locations. Management tweeted that it would be closed for a few days, but it’ll be more like most of the summer after the NYC Department of Buildings gave them a complaint for problems like “GROUND FL OPERATED AS A CABARET WITHOUT A SPRINKLER SYSTEM CELLAR WORK W/O PERMITS & FAILURE TO MAINTAIN PREMISES.”

  • Patti Smith to Release Nico Tribute

    Patti Smith recorded a tribute to the late Velvet Underground singer, with Smith’s daughter contributing as well. “Killer Road” is inspired by Nico’s own poetry, her harmonium is used on the track. It sounds kind of like Nick Cave decided to take a shot at ambient music: chilling and foreboding with whispers in the background alluding to death. The track will be officially released on the Soundwalk Collective’s Killer Road, coming September 2nd. Listen below:

  • Deerhoof’s The Magic Now Streaming on NPR

    The unpredictable band recorded The Magic by renting an abandoned New Mexico office building and recording for a week with no prepared material. NPR describes the result as a “tense, visceral, unpredictable sound that doesn’t let listeners get comfortable for very long.” Stream The Magic here, and watch the video for “Criminals Of The Dream,” which appears on the album, below:

TRACK OF THE WEEK: The Black Angels “Diamond Eyes”

As if you needed another reason to be excited about Record Store Day (which is NEARLY UPON US, coming up April 19th!), Austin psych trip The Black Angels have announced that their 10″ clear vinyl Clear Lake Forest EP will drop the same day. It’ll be the third in a rapid-fire round of releases since 2010 for this foursome, and if new single “Diamond Eyes” is any indication, it’ll be more of the heavy-rocking, straightforward psychedelia that the group’s been putting out for years.

The Black Angels released at least one bona fide rocker in 2013 with “Don’t Play With Guns,” off Indigo Meadow, which came out that spring. This group doesn’t favor long jams–their style of psych is no-nonsense and utterly, miraculously free of stoned musings and distortion-packed trips to nowhere. The songs are direct descendants of The Velvet Underground’s, and the group even took their name from a Velvet track, “The Black Angel’s Death Song.” It’s psych music with a steady rock and roll heartbeat.

The instrumentals on “Diamond Eyes” are a sludgy mess, but it’s clearly an organized chaos. Alex Maas’ vocals glide over the track in smooth, practiced slides, reality sliding in and out of focus. Still, The Black Angels are too catchy for “Diamond Eyes” to be a demanding listen. The group’s expertise as  perpetrators of this particular style allows you to relax into the music, because even at their most tangential, The Black Angels clearly know how to write a rock song.

The Black Angels will be playing Austin Psych Fest, which they also curate, in very early May. But before you buy your plane tickets to Texas, make sure to pick up a copy of Clear Lake Forest  on vinyl April 19th. Listen to “Diamond Eyes” below: