CD Review: New York City Dreams by Marty McKay
Zurich, Switzerland-based alternative rock artist Marty McKay released in February 2017 an album titled New York City Dreams, a collection of nine tracks that tell his very own New York City story, both the positive and the negative. It is a conceptual album—one that follows an overarching story and that is best listened to in chronological order.
Unsurprisingly, the concepts at the heart of this story are hope and despair, love and its loss, and the irresistible energy of New York City. Stating he is inspired by the likes of 3 Doors Down and Linkin Park, McKay uses a typical rock formula—driving beats, grungy or crunchy guitars, emotive vocals—as the basis of most of his tracks, using flourishes and, most importantly, his lyrics to set himself apart. They take listeners through an entire gamut of emotions, from the highest of highs to some pretty low lows.
The story starts with McKay’s “Escape” from a stifling life in a small town to New York City’s grandness, which offers him the space to live, to be, and to make his dreams come true. One point he stresses is the freshness that New York City offers to someone who feels caught in the sameness of small town life, in the repetitiveness of its negative aspects. Aptly enough, the track has a certain grandiosity to it, building up layer by layer from one verse to the next, energized by the possibilities this new life offers him. The beat is unrelenting and the chorus has a great sing-along quality to it.
Life in this new place is, as described in “Empire Town”, indescribable. All of life’s possibilities seem at McKay’s feet. The comparative mellow nature of this track seems to indicate his contemplation of these possibilities and a certain understanding of the demands of a life in such a place. There is still hope and energy here, but reality has also set in; passion still abounds, but as does a certain maturity. The sounds of 1990s rock come through here, balancing out the gruffer vocals.
As one would expect from such a story, as McKay settles into life in the city, “Out Of The Blue”, something happens—and that something is a girl. Heavy rock drives this story of a distracting passion that alters the course of one’s plans while also helping him out navigating other aspects of his new life. The intense “When The Lights Go Out” captures some of the energy in electropop, giving it a 1980s feel. In this ballad we are swept into the confusing mess that unhealthy relationships create and the ensuing confusion of how to deal with it all. Not to say that McKay is embittered, as “Into The Fire” confirms; while a passionate love affair has its attraction, we come to understand that, ultimately, he is looking for the real thing, i.e. an undying, enduring, romantic love that lasts a lifetime—if not beyond. Love lifts him high, and he once again has regained some of the sunshine-drenched optimism of New York City Dreams’ opening number.
But sometimes, despite having it good, one cannot but help commit “Love Suicide”—perhaps because, as McKay says, that all-encompassing, seemingly perfect love is too much to risk losing, and might as well cut it loose while we can still survive its lost. In an act that one who doesn’t trust himself or think of himself as worthy enough of such a thing, the relationship is sabotaged to a point of no return, and forced to start “Another Life”. The industrial rock inspired number is moody and reflects well the mental and emotional confusion one goes through after breaking up in such conditions. The urgency of wanting to figure things out for the sake of one’s own mental and emotional health is conveyed through the fast-tapping piano-led melody, with the anger and pain channelled through vocals that flit to the edge but never quite dive into screaming.
To be able to function in such conditions, sometimes you just have to put things “Outta Sight Outta Mind”—which McKay does, out of sheer frustration at not being able to deal with any of it. It’s interesting to note that the frustrations he thinks that moving to New York City will get him away of, as described in “Escape”, are in this track, full-force. But “Until The Pain Is Gone”, there will always be a darkness within us, despite whatever coping mechanism we might have put in place. But there is hope within this dark despair, which McKay translated into big sounds and a driving melody. This might not be where you would expect an album about New York to end, but it makes perfect sense and is probably the most realistic ending that can be found; because, let’s be honest, most people do not achieve their full dreams in New York City, but the pain will be gone and we can be happy. More information about McKay is available on his website and Facebook page.