Monday, January 4, 2010

Take Manhattan - 'An Audio Coloring Book'

[FULL DISCLOSURE: Greg Simpson and I are both staff writers for We do not know each other personally, nor have we ever met. I have a better chance of meeting staffer Mike French or reviews editor Brian Shultz (only a state away in either direction), or even Sloane Daley up in Godless Canada (my special lady friend is from Ontario). I could call Simpson a butthead on the Internet and there is no way he’d be able to find/stop me (Although, he does have my mailing address, so uh…). In short, yeah, we know of each other, but no, I don’t owe him anything. Cool? Next paragraph, please.] and numerous English classes have made me hesitant, even straight up a-scared, of using the word “irony.” “Oedipus Rex” notwithstanding, I’m pretty sure it’s ironic that Org staff writer Greg “Have you heard the Velvet Underground?” Simpson plays drums for Take Manhattan on their stellar debut EP/coloring book ‘n’ crayons kit, An Audio Coloring Book. Given that the dude is a music teacher, it’s not necessarily weird that his playing is tight. What is weird/ironic/WTF is that Take Manhattan is part Orgcore.

Gruff, occasionally nasal vocals. Buzzsaw gee-tars. Songs about drankin’. How the hell did Greg “Dirty Projectors are totally a good band” Simpson end up here? It seems like every so often, some 13-year-old with a misguided hard on for Sid Vicious makes a stink about his reviews not being “punk enough,” yet here he is, in direct defiance of the mall punx, dropping beats for a band that recalls the Gaslight Anthem, Loved Ones and, briefly, non-Org acts like Destroyer and Elvis Costello.

But hey, it’s not like Simpson is the only person in the band. The quartet is fronted by guitarist Scot Gallop, a dude whose vox are so flexible that I had to ask Greg “The Mountain Goats should’ve been higher on my best of 2009 list” Simpson if the singers on “The Trials and Tribulations of Beefy E” and “Tab Kalimotxo” were the same person. Bassist Cara Kinnally takes the mic for “Joy Division,” and the gender switch puts her in league with Lemuria, Discount and the Measure [SA] by default. J. Gillum adds a dash of power pop via keyboards.

So while it’s odd to hear the Org-ish gang vox of two-hit combo “Tiny Fists of Rage and Reason” and the Rancid-leaning “Beefy E,” knowing that Greg “Cymbals Eat Guitars made me choose life” Simpson is playing them, it’s not totally out of nowhere either. The real trick comes on “Tab Kalimotxo,” where the band’s sound becomes more indie rock-ish. Gillum feels more prominent in defining this Dan Bejar-indebted tune, as his keyboard lines push the song further into power pop territory.

The EP trips briefly on its back-half, as “Bloomington Stays” feels stuck between two sounds. It’s not quite as catchy as “Shit’s Got Legs” or “Beefy E,” and then it kicks into a rap breakdown, which is funny if only because the following track, “Rapmaster,” contains no rapping whatsoever. Just as Skinhead Rob ruined “Red Hot Moon,” Andy D’s flow here is goofy and unwelcome. And hey, maybe it was intended as a joke the whole time, but it’s still not very good.

No matter; the danceable “Rapmaster” closes out Coloring Book well, leaving the final count at six catchy, propulsive tunes out of a possible seven. You can decide for yourself: Take Manhattan is giving the EP away for free. Physical albums cost $5, or you can bootleg your own copy for free, since the songs, lyrics and cover art are all legally available online for a low, low price of nothing.

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