Friday, May 30, 2008

NY Loose ’s Year of the Rat: An Evergreen Punk Album?

Though I only discovered this album back in 2005, it does beg to question the naysayers’ adage that punk is dead because it sounded same-old, same-old for over thirty years. Is it really?

By: Vanessa Uy

Originally released back in 1996 which is coincidentally a year of the rat under the Chinese Zodiac, Year of the Rat an album by the New York-based punks NY Loose. A band that's named after a Stooges song (Stooges, the band that propelled Iggy Pop to stardom for those of you too ashamed to remember) NY Loose not only used traditional Chinese motifs to design this album’s cover art (you can’t do that with downloadable music these days) but also to the illustrative lyrics of an otherwise American Punk Rock music. With Year of the Rat, NY Loose manage to fulfill a goal that fewer and fewer bands ever achieve as time goes by. Namely, generating a large enough fan-base while not sticking to prevailing musical trends. Although the much hackneyed verse-chorus-verse songwriting formula being played via guitar, bass, and drums has been de rigueur in American pop music for over 50 years. And yet, a lot of people never seem to grow tired of such predictable formula. To overanalyze something that works so well might be deemed hair splitting, but it’s a good springboard for creativity for upcoming musicians. Noting that it’s much easier to make ear-friendly rockers from such tried and tested formula.

The songs on Year of the Rat seem to come from a stylistic wellspring that still inspires the current crop of punk / power-pop bands – like Paramore for example. NY Loose ’s Year of the Rat is also one of those rare albums that’s very satisfying to listen through from start to finish. The lead track “Pretty Suicide” still sounds fresh and interesting in 2008 like it probably did back in 1996. Other more interesting tracks include “Broken” which the band’s vocalist - Brijitte West – sang about her trusty six-string that’s broken beyond repair. With interesting lines like “black water around my bed” seems to be an attempt at illustrative poetry on how traditional Chinese paintings portray deep water as black, making the albums salient Chinese motif that more consistent. NY Loose did also a very good remake of that John Cale hippie anthem “Sunday Morning” which I thought was their original the first time I heard it. The version by NY Loose interests me to no end because they only applied only a smidgen of modernity. And this resulted as if the song is the viewpoint of someone looking 30 years into the past – from the mid- 1990’s. Other interesting track is the song “Hide” which lyric-wise is the vantage point of Western phenomenology looking at how traditional Chinese societies reconcile the pragmatic tenets of Sun Tsu’s Art of War with their relatively arcane-from-a-Western-perspective spirituality.

In short this album not only rocks it seems to also resist the ravages of time. Which from the perspective of the music industry might be seen as a solution for their ever-diminishing return on investment. NY Loose ‘s Year of the Rat could still be fresh when the next year of the rat rolls in – in the year 2020!