REVIEW: Small Engine Metropolis - "The Cynic"

By Marcus Pan

Chain Border

The CynicWhat happened to the days when punk was fun? You remember - the Ramones or the Sex Pistols or Biafra never really wrote much that was technically stunning, but pogoing was fun! The aggression and attitude sliced raw and served provided an aftertaste that no other rock and roll commercial aspect could touch. Of course, in the latter days of punk hey-day, the corporations found a way to capitalize on the trend as they always do and suddenly we're treated to such 'alternative' tastes as 'pop-punk.' The name pop-punk in and of itself is ironic - when was punk ever popular?

Now that the punk commercialization has, for the most part, died down and they're too busy raping rapcore and milking the last drops out of grunge, punk can return to its underground, garage lifestyle. New York City has become a haven much like Seattle once was, and in the past few years has been pushing out a plethora of punk and similar garage bands. One of two that have already crossed my desk since I've decided to cover a bit of punk in Legends is that of Small Engine Metropolis.

With SEM, you can recall the idea behind punk - release anger, piss off the mainstream, spit at society - and above all have some fun. I've been to more than one SEM live set and I can tell you that this whole reflection of the old punk days is clearly displayed for all to enjoy. Even on their debut album, The Cynic, the mastering of the music is kept lowbrow so that the attitude can become a prime part of the sound.

Released on NYC's own Immigrant Sun Records in 2001 (yes, I'm a bit late - bite me), The Cynic has nine tracks of pure old skool punk. Guitarists James Suh and Derek Mele trade off licks and riffs, Pat Troy keeps the rhythm on drums going with sudden and often beat rolls and Phil Legault takes bass. Sean Kean takes frontman vocals and delivers so in a scratchy, non-technical style. That is to say he's more wanting to provide lyrics than spend his time hitting the perfect octave. This all translates into a band that is more interested in being a band - as opposed to being in the 'music business.' Indeed, all have dayjobs last I checked, in Manhattan's hip business scene.

While the music is extremely raw and garage, there is still a high technical merit with arrangement. Small Engine Metropolis take the musicianship to the next level above most other garage punk bands proving that they can indeed handle their instruments with aplomb. They're just more interested in pogoing around than playing the perfect riff, but the perfect riff is surely within their grasp if they wanted it.

The CD features very catchy rhythms that get you up and moving. Better Lucky Than Good is a fine example of a song with this catchiness - a definite radio track. Lukewarm meanwhile tones down the speed a bit and delivers a slower, more introspective piece that delves into society's villiians.

The two guitarists work together excellently. You can hear them feeding off of eachother during tracks like Sonny Liston. Later on with Thin you can hear what I mean by the non-technical aspects of Sean's vocals. He can completely miss the mark sometimes, especially during breaks, and that's the only caveat to his singing style. With Great American, a sure classic, the opening three words are in fact the band's name - they did have a previous name prior to the release of their debut but it became apparent they weren't the first - Five O'Clock Hero. They quickly changed their name to Small Engine Metropolis after the opening lyric to this song.

Overall, Small Engine Metropolis are remembering punk the way it was before Geffen and Capitol stepped in and pissed it out in its watered down form we saw during the 90s (i.e. Greenday). They are currently in the studio working on their follow up and while they are few and far between, you can still catch them pogoing around Green Door, NYC. Why not pick up The Cynic so that you can also remember punk the way it was?

Contact Information:
Post: Immigrant Sun, PO Box 150711, Brooklyn, NY, 11215

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