The thrilling debut album from this intense New York City trio makes their city feel alive once again
There’s an undiluted confidence around Show Me The Body. The New York three-piece last appeared in NME in February, when they were pictured burning a Union Jack on the eve of their debut UK gig. Far more than cartoon punks, these boys are primarily about soul and spirit – the kind that’s been absent from practically every emerging NYC buzz band for over a decade now.
Operating as part of the Letter Racer collective alongside their school friends Ratking, over the past few years these two groups have become the hidden face of underground New York. The audience who go to their shows are wilfully unreachable when it comes to mainstream culture, taking inspiration from the band themselves. With SMTB there’s no pandering to record labels, no ‘post three shots a day on Instagram’. At that first London gig, they were so loud that a neighbouring theatre performance of Hamlet was almost halted, and so intense that several audience members drew blood.
Now, with ‘Body War’, they have something to solidify it all. Lyricist and main singer Julian Cashwan Pratt is 21 and just out of school. Obsessed as much with the poetry of Emily Dickinson as he is with rap and hardcore, his words are aggressive and bleak, but also deal with themes of immortality and magic. The title track, which sounds like something early Beastie Boys, circa ‘Cooky Puss’, might have served up, boldly declares, “I fuck god instead / It won’t be incest”.
Even the sole moment of serenity here, ‘Metallic Taste’, contains the wonderfully acerbic line, “Arms and the body parts coming out the top floor,” as Cashwan Pratt obliquely chastises NYC’s low wage nightmare over sad, almost pretty riffs. Eventually, even he can’t help but give in to the city’s enlightenment though (“Sirens shining in / It’s so inspiring”).
Drummer Noah Cohen keeps things sounding dense throughout – SMTB describe their sound as “sludge” for a reason – while bassist Harland Steed is more sonic-sound-architect than pace-keeper. Along with Cashwan Pratt, who sometimes uses a banjo to create atonal feedback, the trio revel in dirty funk a’la Death Grips, but allow their music to mutate into raw, difficult punk (‘Tight SWAT’ recalls classic Wipers), heavy glam (‘Two Blood Pacts’) and cop-baiting nihilism (‘Chrome Exposed’). It’s completely thrilling, and while nothing like it musically, ‘Body War’ is surely the most New York ‘sounding’ album since The Strokes appeared full of inner-city rage some 15 years ago with ‘Is This It’. Show Me The Body are a band worth believing in.