Skaters – Manhattan

ManhattanType ‘Skaters’ into YouTube and, high in the results, you’ll find several flashy-looking promotional videos that provide all the necessary introduction you’ll need for this new suddenly major-backed band. For the most part, the videos are typical major-label funded fare: professional-looking and trying to suggest some kind of artistically ambiguous deeper meaning (read: says nothing very meaningful at all).  Pulling clichéd attention-grabbing tricks out of the bag to engross the unsuspecting viewer into a narrative, one video has actors posing as patients in a mental institution (“Miss Teen Massachusetts”) while another has similar posing around some North American tower blocks (“Armed”). Soon you get the overwhelming vibe of a classic case of videos striving to superficially compensate for a band’s musical mediocrity. This trick is of course used to excess in the world of consumer-orientated pop, but for a band that have described their sound in interview as ‘non-traditional punk’ it’s all too telling.

Skaters’ sound can more accurately be described as very similar to The Strokes with the addition of retro drum machine sounds, which is about the most unconventional or interesting thing they do. If this band makes music that’s in any way non-traditional and/or punk, then it must only be these things to an audience with a very limited interest in music. Perhaps this betrays something about why Warner Bros would suddenly sign them out of nowhere.

Manhattan might appeal to young kids with not much of a musical palette yet, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’re more knowledgeable about music or know The Strokes’ best stuff, then you’ll probably just think Skaters are lazy crap. The Strokes comparison is irritatingly justified; an example of this would be the song “Schemers”, which seems to simultaneously utilize a small guitar riff from “Hard to Explain” and the vocal phrasing from “Barely Legal”. Live footage of the band reveals that even their stage presence comes off like homage to Julian Casablancas and company, with the singer adopting the familiar leaning-into-the-microphone-with-one-hand-on-it sort of posture.

Significant musical inventiveness isn’t the be all and end all, but Skaters come across as nothing more than the sum of their seemingly limited influences. Obviously countless bands and artists have borrowed from others but the difference is that good ones use what they take as part of an arsenal of ideas to express their own identity and vision. Like so many of the vaguely musically-inclined ‘artists’ currently on top in ‘the industry’, Skaters just don’t appear to have anything interesting to express and their approach to music and songwriting comes off as clinical and formulaic.

Ultimately Manhattan fails to leave much of an impression beyond the fact that if you hear it a number of times it becomes familiar. The songs are neither interesting enough from the perspective of craftsmanship nor emotionally-engaging enough to rouse attention. The fairly mundane “Armed”, their attempt at more minimalist pop with a groove, is as good as this band gets but that might just be because it sounds less like the Strokes and seems to have a reasonable lyrical message regarding USA gun-toting/NRA culture. Strangely enough that song has been left off of Manhattan. It’s high time a decent rock band emerged through all the blandness and reinvigorated popular music but Skaters’ isn't it.

Release: 25th February 2014, Warner Bros


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