The Best North Brooklyn Street Art of 2011

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off the wall is written by the staff of Hyperallergic.com, a Williamsburg-based art blogazine covering Brooklyn and beyond. We’ll be reporting on exploits of the North Brooklyn art community outside of the traditional art gallery.

North Brooklyn is indisputably an epicenter of street art. Whether it is the amazing homegrown talent painting murals, the local artists who dabble in art out in the open, visiting artists from Europe or Australia who leave their mark while exploring the city, or local businesses commissioning artists to create posters that are posted illegally, it’s a visual jungle out there and some of us really appreciate the role street art plays.

One of the pleasures for street art watchers is that every season a new batch of artists and work appear. New styles crop up, older styles wilt away, and there’s something for everyone.

We decided to compile a list of some of the most notable street art from the area in 2011. This is not a comprehensive survey but a taste of some of the exciting work that has been appearing on the streets of our dear borough.

El Sol 25 is no stranger to local street art lovers, but this year this talented artist outdid himself. Know for his hand-painted images that look like a zany remix of pop culture, his images — like the one in the center — all are original, multi-layered, and eye catching. On the left, you can also see a fantastically neon-colored series by Celso that was handprinted in Peru in the popular Chicha poster style. The series definitely stood out from the crowd.

The adorable hearts of Chris Uphues are a staple of the neighborhood. Last month, he created a large happy heart mural for the recently shuttered Monster Island building on Metropolitan Avenue and Kent Avenue. Above the work drips of paint from the closing party that involved pouring paint down the walls as a symbolic (and artistic) goodbye to the building. For those who will miss Monster Island, don’t worry. One of its most active occupants, Secret Project Robot, has already set up shop further east in Bushwick.

 

Did you know that the proprietors of the Factory Fresh gallery have been working towards their goal of transforming the block-long Vandervoort Place into a street art park? Well, just to get our imaginations going they set up a temporary version on Saturday, June 4, and made us want more. Here we see a work by Leon Reid IV, who is known for injecting his cheeky humor into the everyday.

One of the most ambitious works in all of North Brooklyn this year, Skewville painted an entire building on Flushing Avenue in Bushwick to resemble an old style boom box. Created during Bushwick Open Studios, the image brought a whiff of old skool New York to a neighborhood that is experiencing fast-paced change.

 

 

New to the scene, Enzo & Nio have been very active all year. From their clever Emergency series to their Catholic school girls with guns wheatpastes, they create jarring work that makes you take notice.

 

If the walls are the most common place to find street art, it’s definitely not the only “canvas.” Mr Toll is a street poet and sculptor who creates small works out of plasticine or clay. Sometimes they are miniature sliced cheese pizzas or Smurf-like mushrooms (like the ones pictured here), but they are always like Easter eggs in unremarkable corners or ledges, for street art lovers to find.

 

Veteran street artist WK Interact pulled off what we think is the most ambitious work of the year. During the week of 9/11, the French native pasted up a block-long paper mural in his smudged and streaky style that portrayed some of New York’s bravest. A memorial of sorts on the 10th Anniversary of the terrorist attacks, the scale of this work was eye-popping, but sadly, it was gone within a week or two.

 

Quel Beast has been very active for the last couple of years in the area, but this year his work showed more sophistication than ever. Hand drawn and shaped, his faces appeared to emerge from the walls in which they were trapped. Quel awesome.

 

 

We wish it were easy to identify all the street artists who work in the area but alas occasionally there are artists that forever remain anonymous. One unidentified series this year stood out. A mixture of the famous Brussels icon Mannekin Pis (Little Boy Pissing) and a Krylon spray paint can spouting yellow paint, this clever series was posted around the area and makes us laugh each time.

This year, NohJColey has been using his street art to explore a very intense series about people and their vices. The work pictured here was about the "hoodwinked lifestyle," according to the artist. When you visited this curious street sculpture you could pull its "strings" and move the figure's hands to transform from a praying gesture to one that looked like pleading.

German artist L.E.T. (aka Les Enfants Terribles) created some well-regarded works in our fair corner of Brooklyn that spoke to the city’s changing face—and those left behind. His best series played with Milton Glaser’s famous I Heart NY graphic and portrays youth who “need it more,” as the work itself explains.

The Gallerist—It’s Always Valentine’s Day in Ridgewood

“The Pile” by Mike Ballou exhibited at Valentine Gallery, last month. Photo courtesy of Valentine Gallery

“The Pile” by Mike Ballou exhibited at Valentine Gallery, last month. Photo courtesy of Valentine Gallery

Ridgewood’s Valentine Gallery boasts a not-so-whopping 550 square feet of programmable space—not counting its tiny “gift shop.” But what’s on display there is choice: well-chosen fare by local artists you wish someone would have the balls to show more often. Thanks to Fred Valentine—its owner, curator, and man-about-studio—the married artists Lawrence Swan and Lori Ellison got to display their individually impressive artistic oeuvres in unison (they’re a local couple no one had thought to exhibit together before); Mike Ballou got to stack his papier maché animal heads (“Bitey” the shark, “Rickey” the rat) up to the ceiling like some colorful, shamanistic totem; and later this month, painter Andrew Moszinski exhibits wallpaper of people in mid-coitus and paintings in gouache.

Valentine forged his curatorial program in the school of hard knocks by way of pure insight. The former co-founder of The Mustard Factory and Galapagos’ Curator, he came to Ridgewood in 1999 long before it was on the greater artworld’s mental map. (He came to W’burg in 1984.) Along the way he’s set up studios, raised a family, and found ways to give back to his artistic community. Valentine, at 464 Seneca Avenue, began in July of 2011.

In person, he’s a charmingly gruff sweetheart-of-a-guy, with some honest and brave ideas about where things have been, and where, if anywhere, they might be going. P.S. His only request, when we scheduled the interview, was that we refer to him as “ruggedly handsome.” Happy to oblige.

SS—Fred, I just want to start out by saying how ruggedly handsome you look today. FV—Why thank you. But you didn’t have to say that. I was just kidding.

We’re standing here in your gift shop. Could you point out some of the objects for sale? Tote bags by Jane Dickson for $20. A book of photography by Chris Verene for $65. Original felt-tip pen sketchbook drawings by Lori Ellison for $200. A Tamara Gonzales spray-paint on canvas for $350. The gift shop is six by eight feet right now, but we’ll be expanding.

Those are some amazing bargains. It’s sort of my version of the Flat Files without being a flat file. “Art for under $500” or something like that. For my part, I take 25% off anything under a grand.
A very compassionate profit ratio for artists; how do you pull that off? This way, an artist can easily walk away with $375 in their pocket, and that helps—buy materials, pay bills. On the buyer’s end, I’ve got a killer installment plan.

It’s called the Valentine Lay Away Plan. I have a number of people buying “on time,” and I’ll go up to three payments, so nobody’s hurting, everybody benefits. I learned that from Mary-Ann Monforton: if everyone involved is a winner and there are no losers, then it’s a perfect formula for success and everything’s right with the world.

Speaking of what’s “right” with the world, or just plain weird: what do you think of Williamsburg as a neighborhood lately? I walked down the waterfront, and I hadn’t been there in a while, and I didn’t even recognize it: glass towers, walkways, and people in their tennis whites. I don’t see a recession in Williamsburg. I mean it’s really nice and all. But, there’s a Rite Aid—on Kent Avenue. Before, I could never imagine anyone wanting to hang out there after dark.

How’s Ridgewood striking you of late? More of the same in store? I saw my first Trustafarian begging with one of those sad little pit bulls on Myrtle Avenue the other day. And I paid $10 for a pint of beer. So yeah, the same things are happening out here.

What made you start Valentine? After Galapagos I wanted to do something new. For my part, the way I see it is, on the one hand, there are so many artists out there that don’t deserve to be shown. There are so many art schools that just crank them out. Back when I was in school if you couldn’t cut the mustard you were asked to leave. They didn’t take your money. But that said, there are also so many artists that do deserve to be shown. So far my range of showing has been in the 30- to 60-year-old range. Older artists who still have a passion for making the work, but they have given up on pushing it, you know? Those are the people that I like to show—and maybe give then a little kick in the butt in the process.

Tell us about Williamsburg, c. 1990. We started Club Mustard. I had a studio on Lorimer and Richardson, and then on Metropolitan there was an old abandoned mustard factory. I had just returned from Dublin—a bunch of us had just gone to Ireland—to do a large brave performance called “Cat’s Head,” and we decided we wanted to do it here, do this art happening, not like a one weekend event, but permanently. It was at 60 Metropolitan, and at our first event we had over 2,500 people show up. It was called Organism. People from all over the world, mostly Europe,
came. We charged ten bucks to enter. And then we gave it ALL to the artists, split it up. [laughs]

Money for artists. Wow. Do you feel it was a success? Yes, a huge success. We had anything from live bands to dance parties to raise money for the space. I did a thing along with Jessica Nissen called “Paintings and Unrelated Stories” and it was two weekends of painting and storytelling—Bruce Pearson, Laura Newman, Chris Martin. They started up around 3:00 in the afternoon. I made a stage and grew grass on it so the storytellers would have actual grass to sit in. People would tell stories for families in the afternoon, but then, as the night went on, it became more and and more adult, until 3 in the morning it became like Charles Bukowski on amphetamines.

It sounds like you’ve always come up with unique ways to show art and promote artists. What sort of art-show format might we have seen at Galapagos? I had this thing called “Pek” [“peek”] where we would give an artist the space at Galapagos one day a month, and it was like a big giant studio visit, you could invite anyone you wanted. The artist had access to our lighting, our sound. It was a way to make money for the bar on a Tuesday, which was a slow night. I wanted everyone to be a winner. The artists invited friends, collectors, anyone, and after a while we started to get our own group of collectors. It gave the artists visibility and a chance for interaction. I remember visiting a girl living in a railroad flat, where she’d take her paintings off the stretcher and tack them over each other, and when I wanted to look at the paintings she’d would have to peel them off in layers. That wasn’t one of the most effective ways of looking at art. I figured we can do something else, better.

Name another Galapagos-era alt-show format. “Familiar Strangers” was a salon-style open call to anyone in the neighborhood. They could bring in any artwork under two feet and we would hang it. It was called familiar strangers because once they did that they were no longer strangers; everyone got to meet each other.

What kind of changes have you seen in the last couple of decades in the art scene, both here in Williamsburg, and in general? I think I see a hell of a lot more artists that approach it like a path to fame rather than a passion for making art—a necessity, a need. I see a lot of kids who wind up owing 50–75 grand and they got a degree in painting from School of Visual Arts and they can’t afford to live the Boho life. So they just have to start making stuff that’s “acceptable.” I believe it was Barbara Kruger who said, “It all starts looking like homework” and I think that’s what it is. A lot of artists want, need, to be surrounded by people who give them only positive reinforcement, and not the real world, not the world at large. That’s why I originally moved to New York: for the diversity. That’s what makes Queens so special.

I don’t want to sound like too much of a curmudgeon, though. There truly are a number of really good, dedicated, passionate artists in this little scene here. Young kids, older people. Ethan Pettit is opening a gallery here. I like what Kevin Regan’s doing. I like a lot of the artists at English Kills. Meg Hitchcock, she’s fantastic. Matthew Miller. It’s really an exciting time.
[pause]
Hey, do you want to hear a hipster joke? Okay.
How did the hipster burn his mouth? How?
He ate pizza before it was cool.

Andrew Moszinski, “Recent Work,” at Valentine Gallery
November 18–December 11, 2011
464 Seneca Avenue, Ridgewood, Queens 11385
valentinegallery.

Commentary: No Jail Time for Scarano, Business as Usual

I’m not big on conspiracy theories, though you’ve got to wonder if the mere slap on the wrist architect Robert Scarano received had anything to do with politics. Was the City using Scarano to accomplish their notsohidden agenda to remake Brooklyn into high density, highrise neighborhoods? The best the City accomplished was to take away Scarano’s ability to professionally certify his filings with the Department of Buildings. The City did not go after his architect’s license, which is what was demanded by the public. So in essence, the bad get rewarded; his license (017739) to practice architecture is still active.

Scarano attempted to have the punishment lifted. The case was heard by the New York State Court of Appeals on October 25th and was not successful for him. But the punishment never did fit the crime.

Over the years, Scarano has consistently flouted building laws and zoning regulations, as well as caused the destruction of numerous adjacent properties and allegedly the death of at least one worker. Now that the Buildings Department is suddenly aware of this the department’s commissioner, Robert LiMandri, said in a statement, following the ruling: “Today’s decision sends a clear message that there are serious consequences for those who flout the law to make a profit. In his attempts to circumvent the City’s Building Code and Zoning Resolution, Mr. Scarano showed a disregard for the laws that ensure safety and quality of life for all New Yorkers.” They should have revoked his license and put him in jail if they were serious.

Until now, it’s been apparent that the City has allowed the construction of illegal buildings from North Brooklyn to Red Hook, including the original plans for the infamous “finger” building in Williamsburg, which was supposed to be the equivalent of a 22-story building and which has since been capped at 14 floors by a new owner. The name stuck because the building is so out of context with the three- and five-story buildings surrounding it. The building, located on the Northside, also caused a whole new generation of activists to protest.

I was part of a group of community organizations and residents who started a group called Stop Our Supersizing, to derail the project. Ground was broken on the building just before the City approved a zoning change prohibiting tall buildings from going up on Northside.

Prior to this, a builder in Manhattan was forced to take down two stories on a building that was too big. This hasn’t happened in Brooklyn. Nothing was done to Scarano or any of his over 100 illegal buildings. There are dozens and dozens of them that don’t meet either code or zoning requirements, many of them in Greenpoint-Williamsburg. During the last construction boom, Scarano and his clients had a field day on the backs of the communities where they were building. Now the City is actually asking the tenants and owners of condominiums that were Scarano designs to correct at their own expense those things that don’t meet the building code, such as replacing circular stairs that connect to mezzanines.

Scarano’s meteoric rise as an architect (referenced by his website which showed a 700 percent increase in businsss over a short period of time) was caused because “he could work the magic.” His most common trick was to put up buildings with double-height living rooms, and then put in a mezzanine that didn’t count as living space. This allowed the developer to build and to either rent or sell more square footage than they were entitled to. That was his big trick.

So you were getting much higher buildings, getting illegal stairs connecting the main floor, using ship ladders (steep and narrow) as a way of accessing the “storage area,” i.e. bedrooms. He professionally certified that the mezzanine was only for storage and not usable living space, so he was creating buildings with too much square footage. He was not playing by the rule book. Donald Trump did this also in buildings by the U.N.

Our own elected officials also supported Scarano’s arrogance. Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz even presented a “Brooklyn Icon Award” to Scarano, saying he “truly represented faith in Brooklyn.” “And keep doing what you’ve been doing, creating a unique architectural statement for Brooklyn,” Markowitz said at the event, a gathering of developers, architects, and builders which took place at Scarano Architects’ dumbo offices. For me, the Brooklyn Icon Award was the hot knife in the back! Forget the buildings that collapsed, the workers that died, and the families he displaced, Scarano was brilliant that he got away with it for so long. This has fueled his arrogance.

Scarano signed a Buildings Department statement of responsibility for work at the 733 Ocean Parkway site where construction worker Anthony Duncan was killed by falling concrete blocks. Scarano was in charge of the underpinning shoring up a neighbor’s foundation during the excavation, which Duncan was working on when he was killed.

Though City regulations allow it, Scarano should never have signed off on the underpinning work because he is an architect and not a structural engineer. Scarano also failed to submit required plans detailing how the underpinning was to be safely done. Two other workers, Arturo Gonzalez and Heng Zheng, also were killed in accidents on Scarano projects. Yet Scarano kept getting the green light to keep going! There were even charges that the D.O.B. was helping Scarano cover up his mistakes.

In 2007, the top official responsible for enforcing building standards in the City signed secrecy agreements to hide a series of blunders that led to death and building evacuations. Patricia Lancaster, the former buildings commissioner, hid the mistakes made by Scarano.Lancaster signed a stipulation promising not to report the alleged misdeeds of Scarano to “any regulatory agency,” including one that could revoke his license.

Lancaster hid charges that Scarano signed off on unsafe conditions at the Brooklyn site where construction worker Anthony Duncan Sr. was crushed to death in a March 2006 building collapse. The victim’s family was outraged by Lancaster’s actions. Duncan’s son, Anthony Jr., said, “It’s like they’re laughing in my face. Scarano is still working, but my father is dead.”

The Department of Buildings hid problems in the self-certification program, a flawed Buildings Department honor code that allowed architects and engineers to sign off on their own work without independent review.

Countless homeowners suffered the consequences of this practice via code violations that undermined building walls and foundations, and even caused building collapses. Although Lancaster called Scarano “an egregious offender,” she repeatedly refused to explain why she struck the bargain.

So yes, Scarano can still work, but his reputation is so tarnished that most developers now avoid him because of the scrutiny he receives.

So in the end the arrogance that gave him his power was his downfall. What does it take for the City to recognize white-collar crime and do something about it to protect its citizens? This begs the question, how did the City protect Scarano—and not its own citizenry?

Still on Fire
Phil

Eating Around: Osteria il Paiolo

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Ossobuco alla Milanese (veal shank with saffron risotto) Photos By Benjamin Lozovsky

Osteria il Paiolo
106 North 6th St. (Berry & Wythe)
(718) 218-7080
Open 7 days a week

By Mary Yeung

A white tablecloth restaurant in the heart of Williamsburg. That is so rare. But chef and owner Alex Palumbo wishes to give his customers an elegant dining experience, although he is aware that this white tablecloth business is scaring away many young ones. He sees young people peeking into the window, spotting the tablecloths, the tasteful artwork, and the nattily dressed waiters, and sort of … freaking out.

“With this economy, everybody is nervous. They don’t want to go into a restaurant and automatically drop 60 bucks,” I explain.

“But they won’t have to,” he says. “My pasta is only $13.50 to $17.50 and my pizza is $10 to $20. They can easily walk out of here $20 a head.”

Since Osteria il Paiolo opened in the summer of 2010, it has gained a loyal following of gourmands who appreciate tablecloths. They come for the refined Italian cooking—dishes like potato gnocchi with lobster ($14), chocolate pappardelle with wild boar ragu (13.50), octopus and potato salad ($14.50), polenta with quail ($12.50), sea bass with black olives and baby fennel (24.50), and rack of lamb and lamb sausages ($25.50).

Alex recently added artisanal pizza, three days a week (Monday to Wednesday). On the weekends the restaurant is busy and brunch is very popular with the locals. In addition to eggs benedict and French toast, the restaurant specializes in Italian brunch that includes pasta, polenta, and Italian sandwiches.

One night, I sampled the tagliatelle alla Bolognese, the classic Italian meat sauce. This is a dish I rarely order in a restaurant, only because I can make a very good version myself. But I’m glad I had it here, because it was a lovely dish. The pasta is housemade, so the tagliatelle has the bounce and chew that make good pasta so addictive. The sauce has a well-balanced rich meat flavor, not too watery, not too thick, and the texture is very velvety. I asked him the secret to that velvety texture, and he just smiled and said it’s a secret. Not being a native New Yorker, he didn’t say the magic words that would have immediately shut down my interrogation. After a few minutes of prompting, he relented and revealed the secret ingredient, but then he swore me to secrecy. Hey, Alex, next time someone pesters you for a secret ingredient, just say, “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.”

“With food this good, you should be packed every night,” I say. “Maybe you should lose the tablecloth from Monday to Thursday. Turn this place into a casual pizza and pasta joint for young people.”  You know me, I’m forever helpful. He looked at me like I was a crazy person. He is the kind of guy who would sooner lose his shirt than his tablecloths.

Then again, one has to admire a man who is true to his own vision.

Alex came to New York 12 years ago. It was supposed to be a short vacation, but he fell in love with the city and just didn’t go back home. “I came from a small town. I thought New York was amazing! So many people from all over the world. It changed me; it changed the way I look at the world.”

Back home is Verbania, a mountainous region of Piemonte in Northern Italy. It is known for stewed meat, baby goat, wild boar, and polenta dishes. In fact, Il Paiolo means “the copper pot,” a pot that is used to cook polenta back in his hometown. His family is in the restaurant business, so he knew how to cook and how to run an eatery. In New York, because he didn’t speak English, he had to work his way to the top. He started out as a busboy, then a waiter, and eventually became manager of the celebrated, celebrity-packed Italian restaurant, Da Silvano, in the West Village. But it was always his dream to open an authentic Italian restaurant in his own neighborhood.

He is a hands-on chef and does all the shopping himself, driving to Hunts Point two or three times a week to get the freshest fish and produce. “I buy a lot of organic products, and buy only the best seafood. I am roaming the market at two o’clock in the morning, checking out the best stuff,” he says.

Alex and his wife, Amanda, are getting ready for the holidays. They will be open Christmas and New Years’ Eve, and there’ll be special menus. For Christmas Eve, he is offering the Feast of the Seven Fishes, an Italian Christmas tradition. The choices include crab cake, grilled octopus, lobster bisque, branzino al catoccio, risotto al nero diseppia, fancy desserts, and more, The prix fixe is $70 per person (check the restaurant’s website for complete details).

Before I left, he rolled up his sleeves and showed me an arm full of tattoos, as if to say, “See, I am part of the Williamsburg tribe.”

He’s got tattoos, he races motorcycles, he’s got a baby girl named Valentina, he supports local artists by displaying their paintings on the wall, and he lives in Williamsburg. He is only 34 years old. He belongs here, with us, not on some glitzy stretch of Madison Avenue. He just happens to be very attached to his tablecloths. Go check out that sublime Bolognese sauce. It will rock your world.

Trent’s Artsy Gift Guide

"Nicki Minaj" necklace by Victor-John Villanueva. Photo courtesy the artist.

Artsy Gift Guide

Despite its recent condo-fication, Williamsburg is still an artistic bastion at heart. Below, some of the neighborhood’s holiday gift offerings for the aesthete in your life.

Shag

Dutch artist Riekje Jongsma‘s ceramic sculptures at Shag are, in fact, fully functional butt plugs and dildos ($180–$333). The term “sex toy” doesn’t apply here. Each white or cream phallus has artfully applied glazes in black, gold, and blue. Some depict famous heroines from myth and history: Rapunzel swinging from her hair, Indira Gandhi pantless and squatting, Cleopatra as a cat beneath ribbons of gold and royal blue. For those looking for unique ornamentsYuliya Lanina puts baby-doll noggins onto bird bodies to form her creepy, kitschy decorations ($40 and up), and Dani Sigler fills clear Christmas bulbs ($18–$32) with pink feathers, locks of hair, tinsel, and condoms. (108 Roebling St.)

“Indira Gandhi” butt plug by Riekje Jongsma. Photo courtesy the artist.

About Glamour and AG Gallery

Victor-John Villanueva‘s necklaces ($68–$108) aren’t for the timid—or the weak of neck. Dangling from each silvery chain is a gargantuan mosaic medallion made of colorful beads coated in resin. These bulky pendants feature portraits of icons from the worlds of fashion, photography, and entertainment. There’s Anna Wintour in a bob and sunglasses, Nicki Minaj in a blond wig and green eye shadow, Bill Cunningham aiming a camera, and Miss Piggy smiling with glee. The pixilated effect of the beads gives these pieces the look of an eight-bit video game. Villanueva’s wearable artworks are part of About Glamour and AG Gallery‘s “Art in Boxes” holiday art gift show, through January 29. (107A N. 3rd St.)

“Nicki Minaj” necklace by Victor-John Villanueva. Photo courtesy the artist.

Art 101

Behind a hidden door in Art 101 lies a magical space called the Miniatures Gallery, filled with tiny art ($60–$750). Styles and mediums run the gamut in this cozy closet. Rose McShane renders animal faces and tiny landscapes on antique ceramic poker chips, Stephen White carves pencils into zany characters, Jenny Roberts paints pictures of gesturing hands before plain backgrounds, and Jean-Denis Cruchet sculpts tricycle-beast hybrids out of painted bronze. The main gallery currently spotlights the (full-size) work of local art-scene stalwart Ernest Marciano, whose stencil paintings, embossed paper, and cardboard constructions dance with weightless abstract shapes reminiscent of Miró, Calder, and ancient Chinese reliefs, on view until December 18. (101 Grand St.)

The Miniatures Gallery at Art 101. Photo courtesy the gallery.

Figureworks

Speaking of teensy artwork, Figureworks is showing Balinese miniatures ($150 framed) made by artists from the Ubud region of Bali, through December 18. The stylized ink-and-watercolor paintings are crammed with Hindu gods, naked babies, dancing women, shirtless drummers, and mustachioed swordsmen. In the pieces, Rangda the demon queen tries to make a meal out of children, who are fiercely guarded by warriors and Barong, a protector spirit that can take the shape of a lion or dragon. These mini masterpieces are a delight, especially the one with a boy eating a banana amid all the chaos. (168 N. 6th St.)

Balinese miniature by Wy Karma Kalusa, ink and watercolor. Photo courtesy Figureworks.

Brooklyn Art Library

The Sketchbook Project allows anyone to fill a sketchbook with any imagery they choose to create and have it be publicly displayed. The book is archived, library style, on the open shelves of the Brooklyn Art Library, meaning thousands of nosy New Yorkers can rifle through its pages. While you’re at the Art Library, grab some professional and vintage supplies: Prismacolor Art Stix, Staedtler pencils, Faber-Castell erasers, M. Graham gouache paints, Grumbacher brushes, J. Herbin fountain pen ink, and a set of 28 sign language alphabet stamps by Chronicle Books. The $25 entry fee for the project includes a blank sketchbook. (103A N. 3rd St.)

The Sketchbook Project, a collection of more than 12,000 artists’ sketchbooks at the Brooklyn Art Library. Photo credit: Sara Peterman.

Choplet

Muddy hands are good when it comes to crafting clay. Participants in Choplet‘s ceramics classes can build vessels, tiles, busts of friends, figurines of imaginary creatures, and perhaps, after much practice, custom dildos. Single classes cost $52, and eight-week courses are $290, clay included. (238 Grand St.)

Bill Hudnut and Leslie Steele in the hand-building room of Choplet Ceramic Studio. Photo credit: Nadeige Choplet.

New York Creative Arts Therapists

For the creative type who’s blocked, for the kid still learning to express herself, for the office drone yearning to make something tangible, art therapy can crack open under-used parts of the brain. Sessions at New York Creative Arts Therapists are $150 for 50 minutes but can be lower with insurance, student discounts, and sliding-scale rates. In the words of the illustrious En Vogue, “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.” (190 N. 10th St., Suite 301)

“Hurricane” was created by a participant in a professional burnout prevention workshop at New York Creative Arts Therapists.


 

 

Recipe—Landhaus Bacon

Landhaus Bacon    Photos Benjamin Lozovsky

Landhaus bacon. Photos by Benjamin Lozovsky

Landhaus is a partnership between Matthew Lief, a chef, and Jakob Cirell, a butcher from Arcadian Pastures farm. They launched their farm to sandwich business this summer at the Smorgasburg in Williamsburg. Thick slabs of grilled bacon, on a stick or in a BLT, quickly became a Landhaus signature specialty.

You can find Landhaus selling sandwiches and other treats at the Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg.

You can also try the recipe yourself, special to the WG from Matthew Lief:

1 2lb piece of skin-on smoky slab bacon
2 large sprigs of rosemary
3 sprigs of thyme
2 tbls smoked paprika
1 tbls fennel seeds
1 tsp salt
Black pepper grinder
3 tbls olive oil
Good quality maple syrup

I recommend making the bacon a day before you want to use it, as it is much easier to work with when it has chilled completely. Once the bacon is roasted it can be browned and used anywhere you would like thick delicious chunks of tender bacon: sandwiches, scrambled eggs, clam chowder, on macaroni and cheese—the sky is the limit.

1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees and set a pan of water in the bottom under the lowest rack

2. Using your hand remove the skin from the bacon, but do not discard it

3. Using a sharp knife, score the fat on top of the bacon

4. Grind some black pepper over the bacon fat

5. Place the herb sprigs on top of the scored fat and drizzle some water and the olive oil over the herbs and bacon

6. Place the bacon skin over the herbs

7. Wrap the slab of bacon tightly in plastic wrap, using several layers to form a parcel

8. Wrap the plastic covered bacon tightly in foil

9. Place the slab of bacon directly on the rack over the pan of water

10. After one hour at 300 degrees, turn the oven down to 250 and let the bacon cook for 3 more hours

11. While the bacon is roasting, put the paprika, fennel, and salt in your spice grinder and grind to a fine powder

12. Carefully remove the bacon from the oven (it may drip juices) but do not unwrap it yet.

13. Allow the parcel to cool on your countertop to room temperature before placing in the fridge

14. When your bacon has completely cooled, remove from the package (either discard the skin or save it for making soup or a dog snack). [There will be a translucent golden gel. This is the nectar of the gods and will add amazing flavor to anything you use it on.] Remove the herbs and discard them

15. Slice your bacon as thick as you like—mine usually ranges from 1/4″ to 1/2″ thick

16. Heat up your charcoal grill or a cast iron grill pan till it is raging hot.

17. Brown the bacon on each side till it is slightly charred

18. Slice bacon into bite size pieces, sprinkle with the spice mix and a little drizzle of the maple syrup

Your guests will love you forever.

— Matthew Lief

Landhaus Bacon.  Photos by Benjamin Lozovsky

Local Greek Bailout experiment continues…

Local Greek Bailout

Santorini Grill: “Pay what you feel the food is worth” starting November 4th for one month.

On Grand Street in Williamsburg, Paula opens her heart and her kitchen during tough times, and wants to wrap us all in warm phyllo dough of generosity.

Not all Greeks are looking for a bailout, and some are even giving one.

Paula Douralas is offering dinner and lunch to her customers at Santorini Grill on a pay-as-you-feel basis. She promises you she’s not crazy “yet.” The deal starts November 4th for one month.

Santorini Grill is a cozy Mediterranean restaurant with a small garden located on Grand Street, just steps away from the corner of Bedford Avenue. It opened on November 4, 2008, the same night Obama was elected president. And on that date, for the last three years, and to mark its opening, Douralas has offered the public a full buffet of her Greek specialties at no charge. This year, she plans to do it one step further.

When asked what happens if people come in and pay nothing, she replies, “That’s fine. If they’re hungry, let them do that. I’ve always fed people—the homeless, drug addicts, children—it’s what I do.”

“You know how much food goes to waste; it drives me crazy,” she adds. “And we all do it.” That’s the main reason she decided to take such a huge gamble—seeing a homeless person who is hungry, or those who are increasingly opting out of going to restaurants because they’re under-employed. Recently, she brought a man on the corner some food, and saw his eyes light up. It gave her the satisfaction that she’s in this business for. “That was worth more to me than all the dollars in the world.”

“I’m not giving away diamonds,” she says, “I’m giving away food.”

There are some ground rules. Beverages and alcohol are not part of the deal. “After all, I’m not that crazy,” she says. At the end of their meal, customers will receive a bill only for alcohol and beverages of any kind, and the customer can judge what they think the meal was worth. Tips for the waitstaff are still de rigueur.

“There will be some people who pay nothing, some who pay what the usual cost is, and some who pay more than the price on the menu. They can pay what they think the experience and the food is worth,” says Douralas. “It will balance out.”  She says if the event proves to be successful, she will extend the pay-as-you-feel deal. “If I can pay my bills, rent, telephone, and electricity, we’ll keep it going.”

Douralas came up with the idea herself. The philosophy is familiar to some of us from yoga studios, but for local restaurants, this is new—and may be as revolutionary as it is good public relations. After mentioning the idea to a friend, she learned that the pay-as-you-feel philosophy exists at several restaurants in Australia, with a slight difference; based on trust, people pay or donate into an anonymous box.

Hopefully she won’t need a bailout.

Co-Op 87 Putting a Good Spin on Vinyl

Co-Op 87 co-owner Mike Catalano is something of a music maharishi. Photos by William Hereford

The sidewalk outside the entrance to Co-Op 87,covered with crates and boxes of $1 records, feels like your old college buddy’s apartment: stockpiles of stuff that live where it lands. But inside there’s a sense of cozy calm, like a warm library. That is, if libraries played loud post-punk albums.

This new Guernsey Street record store is small but not sparse. Record bins flank visitors on all sides and new releases paired with rare lps line the walls. The back wall, painted like a chalkboard, features handwritten new release titles between two caricatured record store patrons. It’s all very, very endearing.

Behind the counter sits Mike Catalano, a bespectacled baby face despite his beard stubble, and one of many co-owners of this legitimate co-operative. Co-Op 87 is a joint venture between local labels Mexican Cousin (Washed Out, Best Coast) and Kemado (The Sword, Children) as well as Catalano and his two partners Ben Steidez, and Mike Sniper.

The shop originally opened last spring as a storefront for the labels offering only new releases, but that soon ended, and as Mike puts it, “The labels owned this space and decided they might want to let somebody come in and do a more traditional store with used records and new records, so we all teamed up.”

Catalano has been working in record stores in New Jersey and New York since he was in middle school. “Stores I consider to be classic, wonderful, important stores like Exile on Main Street in Mt. Kisco,” he says, speaking in a hurried vernacular. Having helped open Academy on North 6th Street.in 2000, and managing it for years before working to curate the records at Eat Records (now just Eat, no records), Catalano is something of a Williamsburg music maharishi. When asked if he’s a musician, he says, “I wouldn’t use the ‘M’ word but I pick up a guitar sometimes.”

Co-Op 87 co-owner Mike Catalano is something of a music maharishi. Photos by William Hereford

With plans to expand—the labels are relocating their shipping facility—Co-Op 87 will double in size and inventory by the end of the year. Patrons are invited to buy, sell, and trade any day of the week, and during my visit one of the owners of the Five Leaves Café came in to purchase Catalano’s personally curated selection of records to play in the restaurant.“People who are from the area, from the neighborhood, have been the consistent customers,” Catalano says, speaking quickly.

“Just their personalities and their acceptance of the store has been a really fun positive community feeling type of thing, as corny as that sounds. That’s been the reaction and it has been wonderful.”

The only moment Catalano truly paused to take time to deliberate was when I asked him what records he was enjoying at the moment.

“Uhm, uh, ok…” he stammered. “There’s a new Figures of Light record coming out that I’m really excited about; those guys are phenomenal… There’s a band from Sweden called Terrible Feelings that’s beyond the best thing going right now. I saw them in Germany and I haven’t seen or heard anything so fresh or so exciting in years and years and years… I’ll play it in a minute.

“No need,” I said. “I’ll just buy a copy.”

And he was right.

Co-Op 87
87 Guernsey Street
Brooklyn, NY
(347) 294-4629

Boardwalk Empire Leaves Its Mark On TV History

boardwalk empire

It’s not uncommon for an established, beloved and critically-acclaimed TV show to take a sudden plunge into generic, hackneyed, unwatchable dirge, never to recover. In fact, this is such a common occurrence on TV that there’s a term for it. However, from such depths or from a place of mediocrity, to one of sudden and undeniable brilliance, that is uncharted territory, until now.

Boardwalk Empire is a series that’s been met with major ambivalence from both TV critics and the viewing public. With its veritable dream team of HBO production mercenaries, spendthrift budget and ostentatious Marty Scorsese-directed premier, Boardwalk Empire needed to quickly make a splash in order to win over the public. It’s a condition being grappled with right now by NBC and Whitney Cummings due to their network’s overzealous support of her new sitcom, Whitney.  Americans like an underdog story, and in the generation of the 99 and the 1 percent, a non-underdog has perhaps more to prove to a potential audience than ever before. As the first season of Boardwalk Empire played out, critics were mainly lukewarm on it’s efforts and while ratings were mainly high, the show’s viewership seemed as if they were waiting it out to see if something big was going to take place.

Of course, the show had its victories. It was just about unanimously agreed that the ensemble of actors on the Boardwalk were more than pulling their weight, in particular Steve Buscemi as the street smart and politically wise Nucky Thompson, Michael Shannon as the stone cold, god-fearing agent Van Alden, and Michael Stuhlbarg as the stoic and sinister Arnold Rothstein. They were among the most convincing dramatic performances that year, however the consensus was that the Boardwalk as a whole just wasn’t up to snuff. Even the Emmy’s seemed a perfect reflection of the show’s public reception, garnering  a heavy plateful of nominations without winning a single major trophy.  Things seemed grim, the show that looked to rekindle the narrative brilliance of The Wire with the nostalgic charm of Mad Men had succeeded at neither.

At the end of Boardwalk’s first season there was a sudden glint of hope at the very end of the final episode. Nucky’s brother, Jimmy, the Commodore and a few more of Nucky’s closest were conspiring against him for control of the boardwalk empire and finally the series showed promise of a plot-line that paid off. But was it too little too late?  Newly won fans had a whole year to cool down before any more action was to occur.

Season 2, had it started immediately afterward, would have been fighting steady, albeit uphill, battle. Jack Huston’s portrayal of Richard Harrow, Jimmy’s half-masked do-anything solider and the addition of two major, historical Jewish mobsters (Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Seigel) along with a convincing war and some major character development channeled the kind of gusto that made The Wire a coup. Still, for many the show had yet to live up to its expectations.

All of this changed at the end of the recent episode entitled “Battle of the Century” in which an assassination attempt was made on the Manny Horvitz, the unkillable Jewish butcher, in the leiu of Jimmy’s liquor debt. This failed assassination attempt was a pivotal moment which set in motion a series of events that lead to the series turning point, the killing of Jimmy’s wife and her lesbian lover which resulted in the tragic Oedipal hell of Jimmy’s existence that closed last night’s episode. Put all these things together and you’ve got a series reborn. Boardwalk Empire “popped the butcher,” and in doing so, it went from a mediocre series to a brilliant one, the polar opposite of “jumping the shark.”

The term “jump the shark” was coined by Jon Hein to describe the moment when a series begins its downslide to the point of no return. The term was a reference to a Happy Days episode wherein the Fonz becomes a poor man’s Evel Knievel and jumps over a shark during a waterskiing stunt. This episode marked the moment from which Happy Days would being to rely on such outlandish plots to fill it’s final seasons. The term quickly found its way into the English lexicon to the point of overuse. In 2008, New York Times columnist Frank Rich used to term to refer to Barack Obama and more recently, Rush commented that Michelle Bachmann had “jumped the shark.”

Now that Boardwalk Empire has done the opposite of “jumping the shark” can it become the standard for the phenomena?  Is there a precedent for what Boardwalk Empire has done?

NBC’s Parks and Recreation was initially perceived by most as a sad attempt by NBC to further profit off the genius of The Office, and a poor vehicle for the better-deserving Amy Poehler. Then, drastically at the end of the first season, during the episode where Andy Dwyer accidentally falls backwards into “The Pit” the show seemed to suddenly have an emotional edge, that hadn’t existed prior.

However, “falling into the pit” seems less catchy than “popping the butcher” and the shift in Parks and Recreation wasn’t quite as drastic Boardwalk’s recent feat.

Boardwalk Empire in the last three episode has saddled itself up next to the greats of HBO original programming. With the exception of Mad Men, it’s hard to think of a currently running high-brow drama series with such an original and compelling plot-line. Thanks the show’s sudden and drastic shift, Boardwalk Empire will go down in TV history and most certainly survive it’s way through a long and healthily life as a series.

Music: In Search of That Brooklyn Sound?

By Keith R. Higgons

As we all recover from the CMJ Festival, which brings together bands from all over the world, I started thinking about bands like the recently retired R.E.M. and Pearl Jam, and I recalled the days when record companies had relevance and would look to regional acts to nurture and grow into stars—when A&R (Artists & Repertoire) people not only mattered, but also cared. Athens, Georgia, gave us R.E.M. and The B-52s, and Seattle gave us Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, just to name a few. And all of those bands had a distinct sound and sensibility that was a symbiosis of music and art with the intrinsic values of their region. Isn’t R.E.M. the perfect sonic accompaniment to Faulkner? Can’t you feel the weather in the sounds of Alice in Chains? Clearly the natural and cultural surroundings and history influence artists, specifically musicians, right?

So I started thinking about Brooklyn—specifically North Brooklyn—and how this place impacts today’s musical output. I wondered if it did, and if it did, how? Did the musicians playing at Glasslands, Death by Audio, or Pete’s Candy Store have a specific sound? I wondered why my girlfriend had not kicked me out for my endless prattling.

Long before the invention of electric guitars and amplifiers, Brooklyn’s history of artistic and eccentric personalities goes all the way back to Walt Whitman, perhaps the first real Brooklyn (dare I say it) hipster. If you doubt me, just take a look at Whitman’s photo on the Library of Congress edition of Leaves of Grass and walk out on Bedford Avenue on any Saturday afternoon. Let’s just say that look has stood the test of time.

Brooklyn during Whitman’s day, very much like today, was a confluence of ethnicities and cultures. The difference is that 150 years after Whitman’s seminal book of poems, the printing press has advanced to the point that technology now gives Brooklyn’s melting pot many avenues and methods of expression to give voice to artists’ many backgrounds, influences, and interests.

The new century put a stake through the heart of the recording industry and brought a radical paradigm shift, away from working with bands and artists so they could grow into a viable commercial act, and to the all-too-familiar business model of musicians being treated as products and line items on the balance sheets of the multinational organizations that own the labels. Hence the idea of a nurturing A&R department was obliterated and replaced by a sales and data driven “be good or be gone” philosophy. Oh yeah, and there was a little thing called Napster that the industry got all up in arms about.

But all was not lost in that tectonic shift in business practice. You might say it is the yin and yang of business. You see, while the companies shifted one way, toward the bottom line, the artists shifted another. With the massive advances in technology, the barrier to entry, across all media, have been lowered considerably; almost any artist can record an album for a fraction of what it used to cost and have it sound almost as good as if it had been recorded at The Hit Factory or The Record Plant when those studios were in their prime. Musicians suddenly were able to take the DIY approach and have it sound professional (if they wanted it to sound that way) without the help of the labels.

Of course the term “Brooklyn Sound” has been kicked around for a few years, with both New York magazine and the New York Times highlighting it in 2009. But if there really was a movement afoot, why hadn’t a cavalcade of A&R people, or what remains of them, come across the river to snatch up these bands, like they had in Athens and Seattle and almost every city in between? Yes, some Brooklyn bands had been picked up, like TV On The Radio and Interpol, but what about the others? What was it all about? Was there an identifiable Brooklyn Sound? I decided to pack up my messenger bag and go in search of the 2011 Brooklyn Sound.

I thought that picking the brain of Main Drag Music owner, Karl Myers, might shed some light on the matter. Maybe if I knew what equipment musicians are buying, that might point me in the right direction. Myers, a musician turned business owner, finds his customers looking for a “cleaner sounding” amp, like a Fender, versus the hard rock distortion that Marshall amps are known for. He noted that there’s an increased “interest in delay and reverb effects pedals” which lends itself to that “shoegazing” sound, like The Pains of Being Pure At Heart.

Myers was honest in saying he was “probably not the best guy to ask.” So I threw my bag over my shoulder and began poking around the neighborhood to see who was playing locally that might represent a sound indigenous to North Brooklyn. I quickly concluded that only a healthy mixture of MP3s and the Internet, along with a smattering of live performances, would work to assess the essence of the scene. Attempting to witness all that the North Brooklyn music scene has to offer would have required an epic amphetamine bender.  And that is not necessarily the best way to encounter and digest any music, or digest anything, for that matter.

I started by listening to some of the bands that had moved up beyond the local club scene: TV On The Radio, Vampire Weekend, Grizzly Bear, Yeasayer. I noticed two things. One: even with the technological advances, there was a prevailing DIY sound, which is really characterized by sounding as though they had recorded straight into a boom box. And two: I noticed, more than anything, how different the artists sounded from one another. I was struck by the musical bouillabaisse. There was an astute lyrical quality to the songs, which came as no surprise given Brooklyn’s wordy heritage. But there was no real discernable genre or sound. There was folk, blues, art pop, art noise, electronic, rock, and so on. And sometimes there was a mixture of blues and art pop or noise rock. But there was no identifiable trait like the jangly guitar sound of R.E.M.’s earlier work, or the crunch that defined the Seattle sound. All of these Brooklyn bands were distinct in their non-distinctiveness. How meta.

I wanted to know if the non-distinctiveness that identified these bands that had moved up the ladder had morphed into something a little more identifiable, so I decided to see some live music. The first stop was Pete’s Candy Store,where I saw the “band” Springs, led by Brooklyn-based guitarist and vocalist Michael Visser. That night, it was simply him and his guitar, so I was a little confused about why he was advertised as a band. Nonetheless, as I waited I asked the bartender if she thought there was such thing as a Brooklyn Sound, to which she shrugged, handed me my drink, and took my money. Apparently, she had no opinion.

Eventually, Springs took the stage. Seeing Visser perform alone with his electric guitar in front of a nominal 15 people reminded me of the mettle that it takes to get up there. His voice was decent, the songs were decent, but there was something nondescript about the performance. I didn’t feel he had a passion for his songs. His guitar playing was well above average and reminiscent of Roger McGuinn-era Byrds, sans the Rickenbacker jangle. The songs themselves were well crafted, but the performance seemed rote. Something was missing, which is not to say it was bad. It wasn’t. I just didn’t see a shine or real sparkle in what he was singing. I walked away thinking to myself that this couldn’t be representative of the Brooklyn Sound.

I decided to contact Jake Silver, the booker at Pete’s, to find out what he looks for and what his thoughts are about a Brooklyn Sound. Silver, like Karl Myers from Main Drag, is a musician. As he was explaining the challenges inherent in booking 100 artists per month, he admitted that, given Pete’s space and his own folk background (he played with Pete Seger and Arlo Guthrie), he tends to look for the more independent folky artists. Given the breadth of music he receives, he looks for the one song that grabs him and strikes a chord with his belief that there is a “stronger purpose” to making music. Certainly his ideology lends itself to the folk vibe. When I asked him about a specific sound, he noted that the one thing he’s heard most often is the DIY quality. Hmm, could this be the common thread?

Next on my 2011 Brooklyn Live Tour was the Warm Ghost album release party for the album “Narrows”. Full disclosure: I did not use any press credentials to get on the guest list. Not because I couldn’t have. I just think in order to maintain a level of objectivity it’s only fair to pay. It also allows the freedom to be honest without any sense of guilt.

Judging by the synthesizers and computers that were set up, I was pretty sure Warm Ghost was going to have a pretty technical sound. As I nestled into the corner and watched the local Goth crowd come together, the duo took the stage. And they did not disappoint. They were pretty technical, reminding me of Depeche Mode with a dash of The Smiths (sans guitar) and a touch of New Order thrown in for good measure.

But as their set continued, I was again nonplussed. Yes, they were more than capable performers, but they didn’t wow me. I wasn’t seeing any hunger in their performance. Warm Ghost was exactly what I had anticipated, which is to say they were a technical synth band. After they finished their set, I was again left scratching my head, thinking, “What exactly is this Brooklyn Sound?” I’d listened to a bunch of Brooklyn bands on them Internets (a series of tubes) , and I’d seen some live music. But I had yet to identify a specific sound.

Maybe I was crazy. Maybe it just didn’t exist. And as is the case when you start feeling a little crazy, you seek the advice of experts. Where years ago we had A&R professionals who went out and listened to bands, today we have a data driven A&R department manned by overeducated people who lack any sense of passion, the technological A&R found in the algorithms of Pandora and MOG, and what used to be the bastard arm of the music industry, advertising. Outside of bookers, music directors at ad agencies are the only humans willing to go out and look for new music. Algorithms aren’t physically mobile enough…yet.

So I contacted Josh Rabinowitz, SVP/Director of Music for Grey Worldwide, and fellow Brooklynite, to get his take on this whole thing. Josh said that North Brooklyn has “a vibe, an aura, a culture driven by music,” describing it as “a progressive and nurturing environment that has been a zeitgeist of hip for some time and shows no sign of waning.” When I asked if there was a sound native to Brooklyn, he replied, “There are just too many bands to define a sound.” I was beginning to think that this was turning into quite the Sisyphean task.

I reached out to former music executive and current music industry raconteur, Bob Lefsetz, and asked him if such a thing as a regional sound existed. He said he believes “it’s about the community of players,” that it need not be about location, but really “anywhere like-minded people gather.” So, yeah, when people form bands or create art it is only natural that the influences they bring help create a potpourri of music—some good, some bad, and some great. As Lefsetz said, “I believe a hive of players can inspire others to greatness.” Hindsight being what it is, perhaps a Sherpa would have helped me navigate the mountains of the Brooklyn music scene.

Suddenly, I began to wonder what had brought all these people here, to Brooklyn. Earwax Records’ Michael Evans moved from Boston in 1986 for the “creative music scene”. A musician himself, I asked him if there was any of that still going on. “Not so much,” he replied. Evans attributed some of this to a “removal from the experience.” He went on to explain that, as opposed to experiencing an avant-garde piece, the outstretched arms of the audience holding smartphones to record the event actually removes them from it. In his opinion, technological advances have actually hurt any avant-garde tendencies.

Before going to see the next band on my itinerary, Merrily and the Poison Orchard, I emailed the Portland native and current Brooklyn resident, lead singer Merrily, to ask her a few questions. I wanted to find out what musicians thought might contribute to this mythical Brooklyn Sound. Speaking of her band she said, “I’d imagine it comes from our each being new to New York and bringing along with us our own backgrounds.” Her band hails from Chicago, Phoenix, and Baltimore, and each member brings their city’s respective sounds and tastes, along with their musical influences. Merrily went on to say, “I’ve noticed bands from Brooklyn take chances and seem more into what they’re doing.” While I think it’s true that bands from Brooklyn take chances, I had yet to see a band that was really into what they were doing. Admittedly, my exposure was limited.

But then I saw Merrily and the Poison Orchard and realized why she said what she did. Her band is really into what they’re doing. They had an air of playful professionalism—beer drinking (not to excess), playful banter, good songs, and some feedback all made for a good little show. Merrily and the Poison Orchard sound a little like Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs, with a hint of Edie Brickell. They could be right at home in a Zach Braff movie or at the tail end of a “Grey’s Anatomy” episode. I can’t say I saw them playing as if their life depended on it, but it was a Tuesday night playing to 10 people. Once again, a testament to the mettle of any musician.

I asked Mike McCgregor , the guru behind the now silent, but still electronically live, ChocolateBobka.com, if there was a Brooklyn Sound. “Most certainly not,” he said. “The scope of things going on here is far too wide to cast real signifiers on it. Just about every style of music imaginable is being played, resurrected, and created in this borough, for better or worse.” Earwax Records’ Evans agreed, saying there are currently “pockets of scenes.” Well, OK then.

It occurred to me that this was really an existential exercise. There is no right answer, there is no wrong answer, there is only my answer, and I can honestly say, as far as my ears can tell, there is no definitive Brooklyn Sound. There are many sounds. Sure there is a literary sensibility that began with Whitman, through the pugnacious writing of Hubert Selby Jr., to the lyricism of Paul Auster. And depending on your mood, you can find any of those qualities, lyrically and sonically, in any number of Brooklyn bands. But to try to say there is a sound? Well, that is impossible. Brooklyn is a borough forever in flux creatively; it will always be an amalgam of so many different people, mixing their influences and experiences to create so many different sounds. I don’t think there will ever be one musical genre or sound that will come to define Brooklyn. I certainly hope not.

Our musical community can hold its head high because it is what it has been since the days of Whitman: a goulash of ethnicities, personalities, cultures, and tastes. And what remains of a recording industry known to bleed regions dry of talent like a vampire shows no sign of ever bleeding Brooklyn dry. The constant movement of people, ideas, and creativity will insure the original voices we’re known for keep progressing. It’s a giant ring of garlic keeping the bloodsuckers out.

Thankfully.