Everyone's Gone to the Dentist

Downtown kids chill out, kick back, discover yacht rock, soak in the good life

This summer, people my age—mid-twenties, that is—wore white jeans, khakis, topsiders, deck shoes, loafers, pastel shorts, and suntans. It arrived under the guise of the season, this Vineyard wear—a nod to an adult lifestyle nowhere near our grasp. There was a sense that something important was about to emerge: a way to skip those striver years, that cramped apartment, this New York rat race. Music heard in the background all over town seemed to promise relief from the tremulous times to come, years of deprivation for the sake of youth and the avant-garde. Instead, it seemed, the avant-garde could be the radio barely audible in the dentist's office, it could be Boca chic, it could be the laid-back sound we recognized as belonging to those who'd reached an age when the hard work was done and the living easy.

Recent Columbia grads Vampire Weekend named the aesthetic—the yacht-rock corollary to the yacht-wear, as it were—on their summery, self-released, self-titled EP. They called it "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa." Brooklyn's Artanker Convoy called it Cozy Endings. Even out-of-towners could see the trend coming: the Norwegian producer Hans-Peter Lindstr say, who pulled records usually only glimpsed on Mom and Dad's shelves for his August contribution to the chill-out mix series LateNightTales. These musicians, onstage in the city's myriad clubs over the next few months, will carry with them the thrift-store smell of the obsolete and the comfortable, the unwanted and the adult—a pointed departure from downtown's typically prolonged and touchy adolescence.

Vampire Weekend's EP, polite to a fault, takes me back to when my parents tried on Nantucket Reds and listened to nothing but Paul Simon, but I know I'm not the only one. Brooklyn's Artanker Convoy, who release records on experimental bastion the Social Registry, and who were a highlight of the label's Summer Festival over in Gowanus a couple weeks back, delve into even lighter fare. Theirs is a singular achievement: to turn Kenny G and the type of trebly bass usually heard on high-dial FM radio into chic art-rock. "Rabbit," from their recent Cozy Endings, dabbles in not just splashy straight-jazz cymbal tapping, but frankly smooth saxophone lines and a certain edible organ tone. At the end of the jam one guy says, "I think that smells like it's ready," and still gets corrected by a bandmate: "Yeah . . . just chill out."

Artanker Convoy have no relation to cool as it's defined in Manhattan: young good looks, high taste in art and fashion. Instead, these six outer-borough men with widow's peaks work from the unfashionable inspiration of decrepit lite-rock, repurposing sunny scraps roundly rejected over on the left bank of the East River in order to craft something new.

New York culture wars can't mean much to a guy like Lindstr whose primary residence is in Oslo, Norway, where he's known for mining the spacey bombast of long-forgotten Italo-disco for capacious synth grooves and their inevitable, icy climaxes. So take LateNightTales as a coincidence. If Artanker Convoy's jazzant-garde is a way of opting out, of aging to the point where being cool doesn't matter, Lindstr mix is different—an elevation of the cheesy and the misbegot- ten to big-things status among overseas- gazing hipsters. Proto-progger Alf Emil Eik's Christian rock gives way to Fern Kinney's housewife disco, arena-goon Todd Rundgren's "Born to Synthesize" vocodes all over Carly Simon's piano-reggae "Why," and the production duo Terje & Thomas invents, with the track "Regnbagnan," the lonely genre of Euro-harmonica funk.

Oddly, money seems to never enter into it. You'd never mistake LateNightTales or Cozy Endings as a soundtrack for the trip out of the yuppie closet. Both are too bizarre, tweaked irreparably off their genre axes. Both artists—Vampire Weekend too, not to mention the Barry Manilow–inspired crooner Jens Lekman (who also comes to town next month) or the Beastie Boys, whose recent all-instrumental record owes as much to lite-FM as it does to their own past catalog—seem more like they're looking for a break. It's less a style of music than a type: sound that does anything but assert its own cool. In New York, that can be a hard thing to find.

Previews

Bill Callahan + Sir Richard Bishop
September 7
Highline Ballroom, $15, 9 p.m., highlineballroom.com

Two acoustic-plucking refugees here. One, Callahan, shedding his longtime Smog alias in favor of the words on his birth certificate; the other, Bishop, touring frantically in the wake of the dissolution of his band, the free-music pioneers Sun City Girls, due to the death of drummer Charles Gocher. Both have a lot to forget. As Callahan explained his name change to Pitchfork: "I look at my hands and I don't know what they wrought in the past. Are they the hands of a bad man?"

"Farm Aid 2007: A Homegrown Festival"
September 9
Randall's Island, $52–$1,502, doors noon, farmaid.org

Behold, college students! With Dave Matthews, Guster, Matisyahu, and Willie Nelson all on the same bill—not to mention a few curveballs like the Supersuckers and Montgomery Gentry tossed in for good measure—Farm Aid 2007 promises to be the greatest dorm-room poster mash-up of all time. If you have only one opportunity to buy drugs this year, this is it.

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