By VICTORIA UREN ’17
When Mike Cummings met Josh Hubbard at a party at what he called a “really fancy-ass house” in Los Angeles, SKATERS was born. Two members later, the band released its debut album “Manhattan,” which is at once angst-filled and romantic, wavering in tone from lovelorn high-school boy to jaded (but still angry) New Yorker.
The record opens with the jumpy “One of Us,” which is probably a reference to the Ramones song “Pinhead” (“gabba gabba we accept you we accept you one of us!”). These lyrics are thus an outright declaration of the band’s allegiance to 70s New York punk rock (if you didn’t already catch the now old-timey punk rock collage/zine feeling of the album’s cover). Though it’s obvious what the band is trying to emulate, the overall feel is softened by SKATERS’ approach. The band’s punk is tidier, less absurd, and a little more outwardly romantic—in short, it’s a tamer,and perhaps more palatable version of punk rock for the 21st century.
This isn’t to say that the album isn’t fantastic. SKATERS’ lyrics are witty and concise, and, though not often conceived as such, much of this rock’n’roll is perfectly danceable. Or headbang-able. Either way. Highlights include “Deadbolt,” which is guaranteed to make you feel ready to take on the universe, and “Schemers,” which is catchy, shrewd and perfect. “This Much I Care” also deserves a place on the list—a tongue-in-cheek, post-punk track in which Cummings sings “I don’t want you for your smile, or for your delicate soul / I don’t care about your body, or your massive heart / I just wanna go out for your moooney!”
Of course, the key things that makes the album so great, like its ability to be vulnerable, are difficult to ignore. “I Wanna Dance (But I Don’t Know How)” has an ecstatic sound and is, once again, a great song for dancing/headbanging/flailing, but the lyrics feel almost as if they’re straight from the mouth of a John Hughes protagonist caught in a crisis of inaction. Cummings’ voices edges upon the desperate when he reaches the end of the chorus, singing “I don’t know what to do…to prove I got this thing for you.” The song makes the listener envision an awkward date between teenagers at a roller rink or high school prom. Still, the awkwardness here is okay, because you’re in a perfectly-scored John Hughes movie. The 80s vibe here is also aided by the “Love Will Tear Us Apart”-esque bassline, which offsets the upbeat melody and allows the high-low mix of joy and anxiety to shine.
This is all not to say that the album is perfect—“Band Breaker,” unfortunately, falls quickly and easily into the old Yoko-complex (i.e., the whole Yoko Ono/John Lennon/The Beatles fiasco). The song’s lyrics also turn slightly misogynistic, a phenomenon that reappears in “To Be Young in NYC” and “Symptomatic.”
“Manhattan” does have its rough spots. The “Strokes”-like dilution of its punk-rock roots might be a disappointment to some, but, in the end, the record is still a gleaming little pocket of joy dedicated to one of the greatest and strangest cities in the world.
“Manhattan” was released Feb. 25 by Warner Music Group.