New York, for some strange reason, has always produced cool bands. The Talking Heads were undeniably hip. The Ramones were so cool it didn’t matter that Joey Ramone went onstage with mucus running out of his nose. The latest band to take a drink from New York’s cool-aid and grab the media’s attention is Apache Beat, a five-piece band from Brooklyn. They have received attention from the press since their first single “Tropics” was released in late 2008. Since then, they have toured with the likes of Deerhunter and Crystal Castles, released a second single, and now have given us their debut album, “Last Chants.” However, in a city as fast-paced as the Big Apple, if you look back for more than a minute, you’ll be left behind, Apache Beat is a perfect case in point—they draw huge amounts of inspiration from the city of New York, but by exploring too much of their city’s musical history, they have failed to say anything original.
Apache Beat certainly is up there on the cool scale. Lead singer Llirjana Alushaj’s stage presence and bravado have already gained Apache Beat a reputation as an electrifying live act. The band has also done their homework well. The album is full of musical references to some of New York’s past greats, especially Sonic Youth and Talking Heads. Paradoxically, this is also the album’s greatest fault. It is so versed in 1980s post-punk and new wave that “Last Chants” forgot to say anything new.
This isn’t to say that the songs are poorly constructed. “Tropics” for example, is one hell of a single. The horns, synthesizers and guitars combine with a pulsing rhythm to create an almost hypnotic soundscape, and Alushaj’s strong voice is truly inspired. The album opener, “Knives,” a fast pasted, power-pop song, drenched in synthesizer chords and punctuated by dissonant guitar riffs, is also a success. Over the sonic backdrop flies Allushaj’s voice, which is strong enough to stand out while still complementing the other musicians. These elements come together to make a catchy, fun song that grabs you from the beginning, steps on the accelerator, and keeps building intensity until the very end. Although the song sounds a bit clichéd, it is an exciting opening track that leads very well into the rest of the album.
“Fear of Falling” is an excellent example of “Last Chants” strengths and weaknesses, embodied in the same song. It’s a great rocker, and the different styles mesh well together. However, all of the musical tropes and styles are pulled directly out of 1980s classics. The song sounds like it could have been taken from a Sonic Youth album, and the second guitar melody at the end sounds like it was sampled from the Stone Roses. Many of the other songs— “Nightwaters” and “Last Chants” in particular—have been so heavily influenced by Talking Heads that they lose any sense of originality. For a band with as much musical talent as Apache Beat, this is a particularly frustrating problem. Some of their emphasis on past musical styles can be explained by the band’s producer. The album was mixed by Martin Bisi, a Brian Eno protégé, who has also worked with Sonic Youth.
On “Last Chants” most of the songs are good. Some are really good. But it lacks the sense of novelty and originality that turns a collection of good songs into a great album. Alushaj says it herself in “Fear of Falling”, when she croons, “What do we do now?” It seems like an apt question for a band to ask after they’ve internalized its influences to such an extent that there is no room for innovation.