Every year the death knell drum beats a little louder around CMJ. By 2007 the NY Times was well practiced writing that sort of piece — when the author of that year’s article Melena Ryzik asked for comment I said that the festival had become less about discovery and more about “due diligence”: kicking the tires on bands the blogs had beat to the punch. Sites like this one were/are partly responsible. That said, my own feelings (and thoughtful words in other corners of the internet) notwithstanding, if you throw yourself into CMJ as I did last week — seeing some 40+ bands from 2PM to 2AM every day but Thursday (collapsed after dinner) and Saturday (Kanye and a PopManifesto loft party kept me out until untold hours) — you will walk out referentially richer if physically worse for the wear. It’s the normal show-going experience in NYC gone steroidal, or at least adrenal: ramped up set counts, each hour with six worthwhile options instead of the usual three, an artificial urgency to catch these bands before the fest ends, as if they will all not be back before the year is over (they will).
Even if the idea of true CMJ discovery and consensus kingmaking in 2010 is myth, many can’t help but temporarily buy into it during a week of nonstop hopping, and the way that artifice frames conversations with friends, in town for the time from around the world, about a week of showgoing which otherwise would go by without meta-commentary, does illicit some good conversation. There are tips traded between sets. There’s a real sense of word-of-mouth, existing off of Twitter and IM.
So what we have here is this: nine bands I enjoyed this week. They are largely bands I knew well going into it, but shows that spoke to me in some way nonetheless, either because I hadn’t seen the artist live before, or because they were playing new material. Many of them are technical adepts, tricky musicians; perhaps I gravitated toward them in light of the new simplicity. It’s important to note that, because it would be somewhat unfair to do so, I am not including bands that played our show. Assume I loved all of them, because that is a fair assumption.
Not for everyone, but certainly for people who went to music school, or think what indie music is too often short on is, well, music school. Or sensual fusion, filled with nods to Michael McDonald and early Prince, slaps/pops and sax solos, Steely stops and trench coats, repeated rhetorical questions from stage said with an accent that was all studied sexual nerdery. Sat pretty at the intersection of instructional DVD chops and hopeless libido. The people that sought this band out this week, liked what they saw, told others the same. A breakout for me, personally.
HOORAY FOR EARTH
One of my very first sets of CMJ, one of the best. At Pianos, on this new song “True Loves” in particular, Hooray For Earth framed themselves as proper players, stewing electronics, nimble but unpretentious guitars, a sense of progressive psychedelics and percussive progressions. Their friends from Zambri joined for a song, and the sound outstretched the room; it was early in the day, early in the week, but it felt afterward CMJ had properly begun. Dovecote’s releasing a full-length in 2011. This song will tide you over until then, or make the wait unbearable.
The new(ish) space next door to Glasslands on Kent St., called Pyramids, hosted sissy bounce ambassador and booty-clap pied piper Freedia, whose set was meant to start at 1AM but naturally did not until 2:45. That’s a form of natural selection, though, safeguarding against and sending home those that might have a hard time watching an onstage lapdance gone a little too far, or find it difficult to participate in the human pyramid of azz that wound up being constructed onstage an hour in. Liberating, liberated, sweaty, wonderful. Don’t miss the photos up in that gallery. Or this video:
One of those artists you attend because the CMJ streets suggested you do so, and one of those times that the return on investment was substantial enough to include in a roundup like this one. Porcelain Raft is Roma-via-London’s Mauro Remiddi, a one-man operation whose guitar and simple backbeat pop wafts ebbs and shimmers in proper proportion to his chosen stage name. By the time I saw him, late Saturday at Glasslands, my head had begun rejecting unfamiliar indie sounds/craving Hot 97 jams, but Porcelain Raft’s coolly tossed off melodies and easily digestible song constructs were a perfect foil for ears gone sour. He’s prolific — lots up on Bandcamp — and his blogpost on CMJ likened the inside of Glasslands to the “insides of a white whale,” a comparison I quite like, and also the title of a forthcoming Porcelain Raft song you’ll be able to download here as soon as he tells us it’s OK.
This band played as a trio at our Gummy Awards show in 2008, that we are fans is a foregone conclusion. This day, at Pianos, they were a quintet. Their drummer was Lev Weinsten who puts in time with NYC black metal heroes Krallice — he is a man who punishes his drums when they deserve to be punished, but carries a fluid, soft touch when necessary, a versatility due in no small part to years of far-flung session work. With him behind Jorge Elbrecht’s newer material, pulled from their long-awaited forthcoming full-length debut, Violens’ meticulously composed new romantic jangle-pop had, in proper places, muscle, visceral noise, and tricky chordal inversions and trickier shifts. Here’s “Acid Reign,” for now:
An artist I saw once, and decided to stalk around the rest of the week, starting with a set at the Cake Shop on Wednesday, then Pianos on Thursday, finally Pitchfork’s #Offline fest at Brooklyn Bowl on Friday. Will Wiesenfeld wooed each room with emotional music built of hearty beats, occasional glitch, helium-huffed vocals. This much we knew, the surprise was how compelling it was to watch the material’s construction live. “I’m not a rock star, in case you were wondering,” the 21-year-old said through a teddy bear smile at Pianos (a reference both to his sampler/laptop setup as much as to his teddy bear smile), but the dynamic, danceable way he works that sampler in concert with his impressive vocals and intelligent, endearing banter and charisma made him the best sort of rock star of all: one you want to listen to and chill with.
At only 19, Dylan Baldi is prolifically pumping out singles and 7″s (now collected on Turning On) at a rate and with a precocious precision unfair to folks trying to do the same, but his kinetic pop nuggets, rife with throaty emotion snot up with snot, are almost always bullseyes. Live, somehow, he’s gone from a debut show at Market Hotel last winter to a properly impressive live show, in part because of the inherent likability of his songs’ sweet-hearted sneer and his voice’s nasal vulnerability.
The Australians’ Church With No Magic, out on Warp, comes with a new resistance to vowels (the band is formerly known as Pivot); with that shift comes a taut, restrained dance and sample-heavy emotional epics that did spellbinding things to the Delancey basement on a Wednesday afternoon.
With fingernails cracked from a style of guitar that blends reckless strumming and occasional taps for frenetic effect with no guitar pick in sight, young Brad Oberhofer and his band were beat up from nine shows through the week, though you could only tell if you caught them off stage. On it, their jagged, simple, earworm indie rock either impressed (Pianos) or riveted (Public Assembly) the crowds I was in, with a voice like Avey Tare if he was young and rambunctious and paired with overdriven guitars muddled with minimal effects. The songs are all downhill rush, simple enough to get lodged in your psyche but peripherally nuanced to keep your ear. Makes sense, Brad’s a music comp major at NYU. He juggled classes with shows, and came out of the week better for it in at least one respect.
OTHER THOROUGHLY ENJOYABLE SETS
Presented in run-on list form:
- SALEM‘s show at IAMSOUND, my third time seeing them, now a properly theatrical live show with dramatic lighting, evident rehearsal, and evident backing tracks (why not, pop music makes it work).
- Diamond Rings (StereoGun alum) whose strutting synth pop, gawky dance, and Toronto pride was irresistible (also I’ve never seen a 76ers jacket look so fabulous). Stream the Diamond Rings album in full at Soundcloud.
- Young Prisms at Pianos
- Highlife‘s one-man reedy soul and bent blues at Brooklyn Bowl
- Tanlines new material at Brooklyn Bowl
- Marnie Stern at any of the many times I saw her through the week (though our show was particularly wonderful)
- Wild Nothing, repeatedly
- Class Actress‘s new material at Pianos
- Cults at Glasslands and Brooklyn Bowl
FROM THE CMJ SIDEWALKS
These bands seemed to impress those that I spoke to, so if you notice an uptick in coverage in the coming months, maybe CMJ is quantifiably good for something after all:
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., whose shticky NASCAR outfits offended some but were a direct hit for others, presenting a blue collar rock with art on the edges (worked for me) and some tunes that steeped a bit in Americana (that didn’t). Undeniably well put together and dynamic live for such a new band.
- Teen Inc.
- Porcelain Raft
- Keepaway seemed to win fans
- Lower Dens were often a topic of conversation
- Das Racist were always a topic of conversation
- The Blow only had one show, but the Lindsay Lohan fantasy is winning fans
Did you book your hotel for SXSW yet?