New York City Queens, Burn Out Like Roman Candles
Yeah, I’ll admit it — those New York City Queens kids have charmed me, thoroughly and completely. I was skeptical of the band at first, and hell, I couldn’t even tell you why, but when they popped up, seemingly out of nowhere, and nonchalantly tossed their debut, last year’s Somewhere Different, Something New, out into the pile, I held back, arms crossed, daring the band to prove to me that they are/were worth listening to.
And prove it they did. I listened to SDSN, then listened to it again, then again, and again, ’til it was living in my car and the backpack I take to and from work every day. The band really, truly hooked me in, with those near-flawless classic pop hooks and just-edgy-enough vibe; once I finally saw the band live, I was sold.
At the same time, though, the album itself still nagged at me just a bit. While I definitely liked it a hell of a lot, more and more it seemed a little “young,” to me, the product of a band that hadn’t quite found their footing.
The sound was there, definitely, but it felt like the band didn’t yet have that locked-together tightness you get from playing together over and over again, writing songs together, getting in fights, the whole mess. And hey, how could they? As bands go, they were a very young band, one with a lot of room to grow.
Then they just as nonchalantly dropped their new full-length, Burn Out Like Roman Candles, into our unsuspecting arms, and poof, there go any lingering reservations I had about the band. This time around, the New York City Queens are focused, tightly-knit, and utterly, completely confident, and it works like you wouldn’t believe.
The band’s overall sound is largely intact, mind you, but they shift between those subgenres of pop a lot more smoothly than they did on SDSN, changing direction with barely a sly sidewise grin. They’ve got this shit down, now, and it’s impressive to see.
Granted, there’s a bit of a formula in evidence with a lot of the tracks on here, but still, it works. On opener “Roman Candles,” for the very first example, the song starts off low-key and subtle, all heavy-lidded haziness and interweaving vocals from frontman/guitarist John Stephens, vocalist/bassist Kitty Beebe, and vocalist/guitarist Daniela Hernandez, the latter of whom croon sweetly beneath Stephens’ scratched-up voice.
By the time it gets to the break, though, the song’s started to climb upwards, with the band’s three guitars — Stephens, Hernandez, and guitarist Tom Guth — playing beautifully off one another as it builds to a driving, chiming crescendo. You get pulled along as NYCQ heads for the sky, and by the end, you’ve forgotten there even was a quiet, chilled-out part at the beginning.
For a lot of the album, that’s the band’s modus operandi: start quiet and soft, then crank things up ’til you’re on fire. See “Foxes,” where the band first comes off jangly and quasi-seductive but then bursts into a jumping, bouncing ska rhythm, or “Radio,” which is gentle at the start but busy and proggy and addictive by the end. With a lot of bands, that could get flat-out boring after a while, but here it’s more endearing than anything else, and I find myself liking Burn Out Like Roman Candles a hell of a lot even still.
One of the handful of exceptions to the above rule, though, “Tell Me All About It,” also happens to be my favorite song on the album. It’s propulsive and desperate, with the guitars thundering along a New Wave-on-speed melodic line while the rhythm section (Beebe and drummer Isaac Chavez-Garza) practically throws the song itself forward. Honest, every time the song ends, I want to hit the “Back” button and listen to it all over again.
Throughout Burn Out, the Queens mash together pretty much every type of pop imaginable, from surf-pop riffage to jangly, Elliott Smith-esque folk to ’70s-retro power pop (which brings to mind The Push Kings, for me) to shimmery dreampop to head-nodding, upbeat New Wave, and heat it up ’til it all melts and intermingles and mixes, coming out a candy-colored, thoroughly great pop-rock amalgam that’s just about impossible for a pop-song fanatic like myself to resist.
Some bands take years to hit their stride — these five kids apparently only needed 10 months or so. My hat’s off to y’all.
(Feature photo by Tyler Casper.)