New York City must have left a pretty incredible impact on Marty McKay. Though based in Zurich, his admiration for the City That Never Sleeps was clearly enough to impel him to create a conceptual rock album both set in and fueled by the Big Apple. Of course, it’s not necessarily the place itself but the stories the city hosts that lures in writers and artists. It is the new Paris in many ways, and with such a romanticized view of NYC in mind, it’s scarcely surprising that McKay’s album concept revolves around love. New York City Dreams tells an all-too familiar story of a man meeting a girl, falling in love, and inevitably losing her by the end. At the cost of a forsaken romance, this bittersweet end gives McKay sufficient opportunity to create a rock album that strikes around the emotional spectrum.
Marty McKay’s melodic, driving style of alt rock almost sounds like it came from a time when rock still topped the charts. Chorus-heavy songwriting, grungy guitars and crisp FM-friendly production are quick reminders of the alternative post-grunge sound that dominated the late 90s and early 2000s; his press release is quick to impress the same connections, listing 3 Doors Down and Linkin Park among the chief influences. To be honest however, when you throw in McKay’s quasi-nasal vocal quality and my personal musical background into the mix, I was actually most reminded of the pop-oriented material from Queensrÿche. Marty McKay has a definite closeness to Geoff Tate’s vocal stylings, and while they only have the clear grunge influence to bind them, I think early critics have been selling New York City Dreams a bit short when they start and stop with the obvious circa-2000 comparisons. The album is definitely more a part of that time than the present, but McKay’s work doesn’t have the cloying tough guy schtick some people might think of when they hear “mainstream alternative.”
McKay’s success and marketing seem fairly underground so far. His artistic choices however tend to draw upon mainstream fare with proven appeal. For some, that is probably grounds to turn away from New York City Dreams, but bear with me. While the album’s songwriting is largely based on tested rock formulae, that consistent foundation gives him a sturdy base to work off of; from there, he’s able to focus more wholly on making his personal statement through melody and lyrics. Love stories and NYC are both tried-and-true templates in their own sense, but I don’t think Marty would have done it any differently if they weren’t. Where the style itself can feel very by-the-numbers a lot of the time, McKay constantly sounds like he’s putting 110% of himself into the instruments and vocal performance. The production feels very warm and rich, even by the big-budget standards of his influences, and while the love story concept begins and ends much as you’d imagine, the way he describes the emotional arc with NYC as a recurring metaphor feels powerful and sincere.
It’s really surprising to me that Marty McKay was a hip-hop artist before switching fields for this album. Where most genre changes involve some sort of rocky transition, he sounds like he was instantly made to create this kind of music. Even if New York City Dreams‘ familiar, mainstream approach will snub the whims of artier rock fans, his professional execution and artistic honesty have an appeal of their own. McKay may be at least a decade late to capitalize on the popularity this style once had, but if the circumstances were right, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see this guy land some hits of his own.