Manhattan is the debut full-length album from punk quartet Skaters, a set of tunes spun out of their daily lives as bandmates and bartenders for a year in New York City. ‘It’s like a book of short stories’, says singer Michael Ian Cummings, ‘it’s Salinger’s Nine Stories but it’s Eleven Stories by Skaters. And the writing is much better’.
Cheekiness aside, J.D. Salinger is known, in part, for having captured the essence of the Big Apple in the 1950s in his novel The Catcher in the Rye, and a similar intention is behind SKATERS’ Manhattan. Amid gritty but melodious punk tracks are snippets of sound – a taxicab conversation, noises in the subway, girls chatting in a café, etc. – captured on a hand-held tape recorder and planted throughout the record like studs on New York City’s leather jacket.
The music, however, is not in all places of a feel that you’d naturally associate with that area of the world. It might be guitarist Josh Hubbard’s Englishness shining through, but the chords that open the first track One Of Us certainly recall British punk outfit The Clash, and at other times I am reminded of the musical stylings of some U.K. post-punk groups, The Jesus and Mary Chain for instance – particularly so in the rigid and perturbed verse to the album’s single, Deadbolt. The following tune, Band Breaker, has this quasi-reggae kind of feel to it, transporting listeners to a different place entirely. Also, the somewhat disjointed groove and occasional artificial-sounding drum fills in Fear of the Knife feel similarly out of place amongst the straighter tracks that surround it, but as such is an appealing change of pace.
Other songs particularly worthy of mention are Miss Teen Massachusetts, the strong vocal melodies in both the verses and chorus, along with the general boisterousness of the song, give it a firm hold over my mind and body alike. Schemers and Symptomatic appeal for their sprightly punk drive, the latter also turning my mind to some energetic ‘60s acts – The Kinks, perhaps. I Wanna Dance is another favourite track, upbeat and intoxicating, but I think much of my fondness for it lies with some sympathy for the subject of the song – ‘I wanna dance, but I don’t know how’, the lyrics repeat.
A motley collection of tracks united by the youth and energy that the name Skaters encapsulates is Manhattan. A potent punk pleasure.