The Hudson Valley is known for not being New York City. Therein lies its charm. Resisting geographic proximity to the city, Poughkeepsie, Beacon, New Paltz and their neighbors kiss the river and the mountains and give the illusion of being everything Manhattan is not: quiet, agricultural, homey, perhaps a little boring.
The metropolis breeds individuality supposedly because its people are bombarded by stimuli, experiencing ritual and habitual contrasts (posits Berlinese sociologist Georg Simmel). Because of this, art blooms in the metropolis. But I have wondered: Which is stronger, stimulation (competition?) or a lack thereof? The latter, I argue, inspires artists to become their own stimulation. If the cold and stretch of the Midwest inspires the country’s greatest emo music, does the Hudson Valley landscape, and maybe the fact it is not Manhattan, set the stage for good indie? I scoured Bandcamp. I was not surprised to find that, given Vassar’s demographics and the wails of boredom I hear from its students, the region is replete with angsty, personal, pensive music—borne, perhaps, by the languor and quietude you can only enjoy outside the metropolis. What follows are some of the best indie albums made on the banks of the Hudson.
Diet Cig, “Over Easy”
Alex Luciano (soon to be Diet Cig’s vocals and guitar) and Noah Bowman (longtime drummer) met at a house show. She interrupted his set to ask for a lighter. They recorded their debut EP “Over Easy” at Salvation Recording Co. in New Paltz. These five tracks of “slop pop,” all written by Luciano from her bedroom, memorialize teenagerhood and change. The lyrics are simple, with bouncy guitar and drums that are the driving force of the record; none of the songs exceed three minutes. Luciano’s voice is sickly sweet, almost babyish, so when she growls or gets a little sloppy it is particularly exciting. “Pool Boyz” describes interim suburban summers. The protagonists get arrested mid-swim, after which she croons, “I’m sorry my town sucks/But we all know life’s rough.” “Harvard” is their most popular track; a pleasant and playfully angry pop-punk diatribe against an ex (“Put your work shoes on/ And talk about her at your shitty job/Does it feel better/In that cold Boston weather?/Fuck your Ivy League sweater!”).
Breakfast In Fur, “Breakfast in Fur”
The New Paltz sextet is named after the 1936 surrealist sculpture by Méret Oppenheim of a teacup covered with tawny brown fur. Their eponymous debut EP is whimsical and highly textured folk that makes me want to watch a sunset or a sunrise, or ride a bike. They signed with Bar/None Records (the Hoboken label boasts groups like The Front Bottoms, Of Montreal and Yo La Tengo) after the EP’s release. I want to liken them to someone—I hear Beirut in some of the melodies—but they are like no other in how they pick and mix their instruments. Plucky guitar, melodica, strings, bells and myriad mysterious sounds are featured. “I Don’t Care” opens with a vibraslap, quickly followed by three or so layers of unconventional percussion and several melodies. This virtuosic layering allows you to roam inside the song; pick a single layer or instrument and you will get sucked into the song-unit. When the great soundscape is paired with the vocals of Dan Wolfe and Kaitlin Van Pelt (cooing but audible, and strong), the result is both quaint and epic. Pitchfork describes them as “agrarian psychedelia” (Pitchfork, “Breakfast in Fur: Flyaway Garden,” 02.04.2015). Wolfe has revealed that Breakfast In Fur is releasing a new album later this year.
Dumb Talk, “Together Never Again”
The Beacon group recorded their second album at “riverby and rob’s house in spring/ summer 2013” (Bandcamp, “Together Never Again,” 08.02.2014). They lie somewhere between twee pop and garage punk. Their spot on the spectrum of sweetness and grittiness wavers with every track, and even within the track sometimes—“Peter Frampton” combines doo-wop vocals, in low fidelity, with dreamy shoegaze guitar and piano. It is a ballad. The next track, “Come Out,” invokes The Drums and, in the chorus, pure twee. A couple tracks after that, “Lori” is fast, more gritty and reckless. Teenage titles aside, “Free Teen Cams” makes my heart swell the same way that it does when I hear “Young Adult Friction” by New York City’s Pains of Being Pure at Heart—an epic, expanding effect is not sacrificed for catchiness, though they achieve both. I take a lot of pleasure in tracing bands’ growth from record to record; it is evident that Dumb Talk has matured between albums, and rests and explodes within them. The band is no longer together but their two-piece discography chronicles more growth than other groups display across decades.
Frontman Dean Engle sings with a slack mouth on the song “Pool,” “In the backseat, swimsuit dripping/I made a promise/That when we got back to Poughkeepsie/I wouldn’t call you.” Some music seems like it comes out of the ether, placeless and omniscient or otherwise unattainable, while his is intensely local. Not in the sense of size or consequence, but in how you can imagine yourself feeling the same things in the same places. QUARTERBACKS has been broken up for years now, says Engle, making the listen even more nostalgic. There is a delicious and funny contrast in Engle’s apologetic, sweet, purposefully naive singing and the energy and haste of the band. Every track on their eponymous debut is under two minutes, but despite fast pace and little time, their control of tempo (“Weekend”) and intimate, narrative-heavy lyrics ease the ear.
All these artists can be found on Spotify and Bandcamp.