The Best Unknown Brooklyn Bands

By Mikey Asserrad

Music lists are incredibly valuable to music culture at large and totally not arbitrary. So it makes perfect sense to get upset over them when they are clearly written by mental midget imbeciles and don’t mirror your preferences exactly. My favorite list makers are Pitchfork, who use the format to enshrine their impeccable taste. This month they took it a step forward and gave their fans the power to pick the best albums released since the site’s inception. Who would’ve guessed that Pitchfork readers revere awkward white guys with keyboards even more than the site’s edit staff?

LA Weekly’s Ben Westhoff, on the other hand,tried to throw a wacky list curveball by going negative. He made a list of the worst hipster bands. Color me unimpressed, man! Rock n’ roll is still alive, well, and following a strict P90x workout regimen. There’s no reason to write it a eulogy. I think Ben needs to get out of his fancy condo and back into the trenches—the gritty rock clubs where the next Yeah Yeah Yeasayer is passionately turning knobs and pushing buttons like a manic air traffic controller.

Everybody knows Brooklyn is the place to find these awesome new bands, because that’s what they say on music websites. So rather than begrudge the success of bands I once gave a favorable review to, or pat myself on the back for having such great taste (which I do!), I give you the top Brooklyn bands you need to hear.

Raya Brass Band
Following in the gypsy rock grooves of Gogol Bordello, Raya Brass Band brings authentic Balkan rhythms to new heights. Shunning tired New York venues, RBB play in unexpected places like Russian Baths and even subway cars, to broadcast their Eastern Euro vibes.

Standounts include their bouncy track “Hasapikos,” where the drums keep a steady shuffle as the tuba notes soar. Forget Daft Punk, Raya Brass is coming to my house, my house—no joke they’re even available for house parties!

Watermelon
Looking for the next MGMT? Watermelon’s neon funk blends classic New York noise like ESG with dynamic call-and-response male/female vocal interplay. The result is Anthony Kiedis falling off the wagon with David Byrne backstage at CBGB in ‘77 before heading over to Max’s for a serious dance party. The pulsing wah-wah guitar of “Go” leaves no questions: Watermelon are here, and they’re ready to get you sweatier than a Le Tigre dance party and a nose full of candy.

Kagero
Another gypsy outfit? Noticing a trend here? It might be time for a new genre name… And hipsy it is. Kaz Fujimoto’s perfect English accent might fool you, but as their bio states, “This cat IS a Japanese Gypsy!” Kaz’s colorful personality meshes with bass player Robbie Simpson’s thick tone and closet full of vintage rock t-shirts. The interplay of American hard rock roots and a vivid Japanese pop pastiche make Kagero really work.

The opening rooster cackle that starts “2+1 Is Almost 5” gives way to a staccato rhythm that echoes vintage James Chance. Kaz croons about mojitos, tequila shots, and well… a pretty heavy night. Japanese psych rock is over, long live Japanese hipsy rock.

Volunteers
They might be volunteering, but no one rides for free. Don’t believe me? Right now the Volunteers are in litigation with a little band called Foster the People, who allegedly sampled the Vols’ “Vampire Joe” for their breakout hit “Pumped Up Kicks.”

This raucous quartet knows a thing or two about a getting a cocaine-sunburn crossing the Williamsburg Bridge after a night of LES debauchery. Just sample the track “HoogaBooga,” take a stiff shot, text your ex, and hold onto your fedora. Want to find them? Take a seat at Rock Star Bar, order a double, and pray they don’t steal your lady. If the Dead Boys were from Brooklyn, they might have been the biggest band in the world; there’s no doubt the Volunteers are on that path.

AnAkA
Remember when everyone grew their hair out, threw on a Motörhead shirt, and devoured copious amounts of Jäger? Maybe we’ve forgotten how to let our hair down, luckily we have AnAkA here to remind us. Like Kyuss, Sleep, and the titans before them, AnAkA aren’t afraid to stomp the distortion pedal and kick you in the teeth with a desert buzz and Sabbath fuzz. AnAkA avoid the trappings of a genre by eschewing clichés and finding new sonic passages. “Carry On” and its reverb-drenched riffs interplay perfectly with crunchy bursts of chaos, while singer Peter Pallis reaches back for a Kill ‘Em All-era Hetfield snarl. A few tracks in and you’ll remember just why you started smoking pot in the first place.

Mancie
Every musical movement needs an anthem, and Mancie may have delivered the “House of Jealous Lovers” of 2012 with “Hey Brooklyn!” Blending a Courtney Love swagger with a sexy splash of Peaches, Mancie could just be the soundtrack to your next bad decision. “Hey Brooklyn!” is an ode to Williamsburg, touching on everything from the tattooed hipster boys to Union Pool. It drips with sugary sleaze and is the perfect road map to a wild night off the L train. Thanks Mancie!

Machine Elves
Machine Elves might just be Brooklyn’s answer to Muse, but with amps that go to “eleven.” The Elves wear their math metal roots on their sleeves, especially in “Running Off the Edge,” which recalls Failure’s best and adds some grit you can only get off the BQE.

Charismatic front man Joey Calveri also performs full-time in the Broadway smash production Rock of Ages, so don’t expect to be anything less than entertained when he grabs a mic. With Steve Albini twisting the knobs on their next LP, and a little luck, the Elves just might be here to stay.

The Debfibulators
The Defibs are Brooklyn’s kings of alt-country—just minus the “alt.” This is true, fiddle-driven Americana here. Their honest spin on rootsy bluegrass is refreshing and fun. With all the proggy pretenses stripped away and no pesky Jim O’Rourke-types complicating their sound, the Defibulators transport you to a Louisiana porch where ma’s vittles kiss the air and a washboard ain’t just for cleanin’.

Don’t be quick to label the Defibs revivalists though—their sound is as fresh as it is traditional. The New Yorker branded them “citibilly,” the perfect name for a band that’s equal parts Mast Brothers chocolate and down-home possum pie.

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