The ghost of the garage rock revival of 2001 still looms over indie rock. Whilst other genres have found new ways forward, some bands have still seen fit to use that period as direct inspiration, with varying degrees of success. (Most of the results can be found in a box marked ‘indie schmindie’ at car boot sales, no doubt.) It’s either the start of a post-post garage revival or a refusal to accept that the past is firmly in the past.
And yet, the fact that Manhattan, the debut from New York City-based Skaters, is being released on Warner shows that at least some people high up in major labels still think that there’s value in a sound that is beginning to feel more and more retro as the years go by. It’s impossible to listen to all of it and not think of The Strokes – the New York connection, the same swaggering attitude, the same influences – for there is here nothing remotely new. This feeling of familiarity is amplified with the presence of Josh Hubbard, guitarist of The Paddingtons, who were around during the UK’s very own garage rock revival in the mid-’00s.
Everything is thus set up for Manhattan to be dismissed within a nanosecond of it starting. But the real surprise is that it’s a perfectly fine album – even if they are still finding their way through the art of songwriting and aren’t quite the fully cohesive unit that they could be. When taken as a whole, it’s tenacious; the guitars chug along at great speed, the melodies have plenty of pop sensibilities and the vocals of Michael Ian Cummings, whilst not magical, are still a comforting presence.
It’s also very raw in places. There are songs that definitely feel as if they’ve barely been messed around with since the first demo – see the charging and succinct opener One Of Us or the blistering Nice Hat. That’s almost to be expected. But Skaters can also produce more substantial tunes that can leave a lasting impression. Miss Teen Massachusetts’s wailing chorus is infectious when it simply has no right to be, whilst I Wanna Dance could quite easily have found a home on the first The Vaccines album.
Even when they’re on auto-pilot, there is still plenty of enjoyment to be had. To Be Young is an example of Skaters at their most leisured, when they’re more than happy to lean back on the past, but the chorus is so strong it doesn’t matter. Every now and then there are flourishes of extra instrumentation, such as the bar-room piano that helps to drive To Be Young and the very ’80s-sounding electronic drums that compliment the opening bassline of I Wanna Dance very well.
Sure, there are a couple of dub experiments that sound clunky (Band Breaker and Fear Of The Knife), but what should be a another failure to relive former glories of a time gone by is actually pretty good, making Manhattan a solid collection of songs. Skaters have have yet to forge their own identity; they won’t change the world with these tunes, and the chances of them storming up the charts is minimal at best. In fact, they come across as a band who aren’t particularly desperate to make it big, and that somehow makes them very likeable. Nothing new, then, but Manhattan is the indie equivalent of a guilty pleasure.