CMJ: Blue Hawaii, Ballet School, Lydia Ainsworth @ Glasslands, Brooklyn 10/24/14

Ever since we named Lydia Ainsworth’s dual EP debut Right From Real Stereogum’s Album Of The Week almost a month ago, I’ve been hooked on it. Going into last night’s PopGun showcase at the not-long-for-this-world Glasslands, Ainsworth’s presence was the main hook for me. And, well, unfortunately I ran late and only caught the last couple of songs, which included the eerie “Moonstone” and her cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” (watch below) as a closer. From what I heard, her performance is as haunting and moving as you’d expect from the impressive music she’s released so far.

Blue Hawaii was the headliner of the night. The group is a duo, comprised of Braids’ Raphaelle Standell-Preston and Alex Cowan, and they took the stage and performed behind a large mixing board and array of synths. It didn’t make for the most dynamic performance when the show was more song-based, but at some point, roughly twenty minutes in, the set basically transitioned into being a DJ set. Throughout, the music was infectious enough that it was fine either way.

I’m relating this out of chronological order because, despite the fact that Blue Hawaii’s name dominated all the posters well above Ainsworth’s and Ballet School’s, Scott and I both walked away from the showcase having been floored by Ballet School, yet another of Stereogum’s recent Bands To Watch that have populated this year’s CMJ. Given, I should admit a bias upfront—the various strands of synth-pop, dreampop, shoegaze, and general ’80s- and ’90s-ness that Ballet School has built their sound off of are all things that it takes little effort to make me enjoy. But Ballet School’s songs are great, something that can sometimes get lost in all the textural fixations of those genres. While drummer Louis McGuire (who was celebrating his 26th birthday) was outfitted simply in a shirt emblazoned with the band’s name, frontwoman Rosie Blair and guitarist Michel Collet both cut something of a mystic presence. Blair threw her voice into all sorts of unexpected parabolic forms in prime dreampop tradition, and moved around possessed by the music, her blond hair streaking through the air as she threw herself (and her mic stand) into all sorts of different forms. Guitarist Collet, meanwhile, was cloaked in a black tunic situation, with his long hair cascading out from under a black bolero. There might be a bit of dissonance between how McGuire looks onstage and how his bandmates do, but overall it works to have someone look a little otherworldly when they’re playing guitar so drenched in effects that it hardly sounds like itself anymore. (In Chris’ Band To Watch interview with Blair, she even remarks about how she was drawn to Collet’s playing because it reminded her of the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie.) I left Glasslands cycling between having about five different Ballet School songs stuck in my head. The night was easily theirs.