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!


Anne Marie said...

Even though there is still a few weeks left before the Year of the Rat 2008 ends - the Lunar-based Chinese calendar is somewhat to blame. Even though 2008 was seen as a bad year economy wise, it did uncover corporate malfeasance like the Bernie Madoff hedge fund as a pyramid scheme scandal. NY Loose's Year of the Rat is indeed an evergreen punk rock album.

Sarah said...

Does Vanessa like NY Loose because their front-person looks like her? Seriously though, I do agree that despite the relative obscurity of NY Loose's "Year of the Rat" album, it did offer a welcome relief of the Spice Girls' "reign of terror" during the 1990's before I discovered Lunachicks. As with NY Loose, I think there's something about New York that brings out the creativity - the very good kind - of some artists.
I too will agree that NY Loose's "Year of the Rat will probably sound fresh even when "young punks" will discover it in the year 2020.
Other relatively obscure but excellent albums you should check out are from bands like Pearls Before Swine, Big Star, The Gathering - especially their "How to Measure a Planet?" album.
P.S. according to the Chinese Lunar calendar, it is still the Year of the Rat. And the rat ratted out Bernie Madoff's pyramid scheme.

Vanessa said...

Dear Sarah,
Sorry to disappoint you but myy eyes are kinda too small to be compared to Ms. West's. Though National Geographic has boosted by "delutions of grandeur" - again - after presenting a documentary suggesting that Ancient Greek Amazon warriors were my people - i.e. Central Asians ho look superficially like Muskovites. Via DNA testing.
Back to NY Loose, in the Chinese 12 year long Zodiac, the Year of the Rat is seen as a ver auspicious year. Which has - to me at least - be very auspicious that we found out, during 2008, about all that is wrong ith the global economy. The Bernie Madoff hdge fund-as-pyramid-scheme fraud is a very good example.
Rats - hether in America and in China - has a reputation of "ratting out" the truth. Which being my Zodiac sign, makes me have a reputation of a Michael Moore-like figure in my place. I really love this album. NY Loose is probably the only New York-based band that is of creative parity with Lunachicks.
Speaking of relatively obscure - but excellent - music albums, have all of you checked out Cop Shoot Cop's "Ask Questions Later" album?

Apple said...

If someone's mom lookes like the Prime Minister of Ukraine - i.e. Yulia Tymoshenko - then it is very likely she will look like Brijitte West of NY Loose. Maybe it is a faulty reasoning borne out watching too much Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency episodes, but I do like NY Loose's Year of the Rat album. Despite of the dismal reviews posted by other people on the Internet with regards to this brilliant album, they should be subjected to the 1990's era Spice Girls hell on Earth experience 24 / 7. I think the only good reason to dislike NY Loose is that they have disbanded for about ten years already - I think. Together with other New York-based bands that got their "big break" during the 1990's like Lunachicks, King Missile, and Cop Shoot Cop, NY Loose should be commended for making the 1990's "humane" inspite of The Spice Girls' global reign of terror - cool Britania they are not!
P.S. I do agree that the 2008 Year of the Rat is a very auspicious year. Auspicious enough to tell us not to get fooled again by the Bush Administration Neo-Conservatives and Bernie Madoff's NY-based hedge-fund-as-pyramid-scheme fiasco.

Viktor said...

Even though we are at the very "tail end" of the 2008 Year of the Golden Rat, it seems like NY Loose wanted to make their Year of the Rat album to still raise hell 'till when the 2008 Year of the Rat comes around.
Everyone should listen to the wisdom of the 2008 Rat - it did us a favor by exposing what everyone is doing wrong in the global financial markets.
When it comes to obscure but very good New York City-based "progressive punk" musicians, have you ever checked out Rein Sanction. I think they were King Missile's touring mates back in the mid 1990's. And I too agree that NY Loose is one of those few NYC-based bands that can compete fairly with Lunachicks.

May Anne said...

Like their fellow NYC inhabitants like Lunachicks and Cop Shoot Cop. NY Loose really did make the latter half of the 1990's heaven to us who find the "Bitchy-Bush Administration-Style-Neo-Conservatism" of the faux cool Britania of the Spice Girls distasteful. I ony discovered NY Loose's Year of the Rat in early 1997 - which was technically already the Year of the OX. Now another Year of the Ox has come around and NY Loose is as fresh as ever. Even in 2020 when another Year of the Rat comes along.
I also like the "deadpan poetic monologue" of King Missile about that "certain detached appendage" or the "progressive punk" stylings of Rein Sanction.

Sarah said...

It looks like NY Loose's Year of the Rat can still hold its own in the 2009 Year of the Ox - according to the Chinese lunar calendar.
Speaking of that King Missile and their deadpan monologue as poetry read with musical accompaniment antics (most songs on the Happy Hour album are like this by the way) I wonder how does the US FCC view them since most FM stations - especially in New York - chose to play their tunes. Especially that one about an ode to then President Clinton on "if only the 'Unruly Appendage' can be left somewhere were it wont cause any trouble" song. I wonder if Ken Starr collaborated with it?

Geraldine said...

Even though I only "discovered" NY Loose back in 2002. I too would agree with everyone posting on this blog that their Year of the Rat album will probably still be fresh when the next Year of the Rat comes along - in 2020! But in the current Year of the Ox 2009, NY Loose still refuses to die. Most "musicians" might have a disdain for their use of First-Grade level Mel Bay techniques - especially on the songs "Apathy is Golden and "Kiss My Wheels", but the less-is-more technique of minimalism is the cornerstone of punk - just to remind these so-called "musicians". Together with Lunachicks, NY Loose is one of those bands that make America great. President Obama should have endorsed them to play in his inauguration.

Ringo said...

Although Kiss My Wheels is somewhat beyond the First-Grade level of Mel Bay's guitar playing tutorial books. I do agree that the Ny Loose song "Apathy is Golden" from their Year of the Rat album more often than not ticks "musicians" off because it manages to sound "beautiful" in spite of it's aparent simplicity.