“I’m just tired man, this week is killing me.”
If you talk to just about anyone who takes part in CMJ in one form or another, you’ll likely hear variations of that same quote. While that one was pulled from a fellow press member, whether you talked to stagehands, or artists or even just concertgoers, it’s clear that the title of Music Marathon is entirely appropriate for such an event. With artists playing multiple sets across New York City, everyone seems exhausted, but at the same time buzzing with anticipation at the new music that they’re about to take in.
My CMJ journey started Tuesday night at Glasslands Gallery in Brooklyn for a showcase sponsored by Stereogum, and well, there were some pretty generic bands playing there for the most part.
Hollerado played a sort of Americana fairly typical of the post-millenial indie rock circles. Think like Blitzen Trapper, but not as developed. They certainly seem to have some talent though as their rollicking harmonies won over more of the crowd to head nodding and foot tapping than you generally see for opening acts like that. However, with their traditional band set up and straightforward songwriting that lacked any major hooks to speak of, their set was mostly forgettable.
A band called Cuckoo Chaos followed directly after. They noted early on in the set that they hailed from San Diego, California, and their brand of trop-pop definitely reflected this fact. Though they seemed to take many cues from the work of Vampire Weekend, their sound remained mostly fresh, due to an added electronic influence. They promised good things for the evening, but by the end of a set of mostly homogenous songs, I was certainly ready for another band to take the stage.
Mr. Dream provided some much needed relief. If nothing else, this power trio proved to be the loudest band I saw all week. Their brand of Gang of Four and Shellac indebted noise rock seemed to set the crowd off. Either due to a continued consumption of alcohol or due to the enthusiasm behind their 2011 effort Trash Hit, the crowd was whipped into action. Frontman Adam Moerder, a former Pitchfork Contributor, asked if the crowd liked “big, dumb rock songs”, and judging only by their physical reaction, it was very clear that the answer was a resounding yes.
It was clear though who the crowd was there to see. As the night went on the crowd became progressively drunker and beardier, signaling the approach of headliners Titus Andronicus. A crowd of nerdy drunks seemed to be entirely prepared for a set of hyperliterate pub rock, and they certainly were. From the opening moments, a circle pit threatened to unseat me from my long held perch side stage, and though I held out for most of the set, ‘A More Perfect Union’ finally sent me over the cinderblocks serving as stairs to the stage and tumbling toward the back of the crowd. Flipping the photographer is always a sign of a good punk show, and this was one of the better ones I’ve ever seen. The guitar attack that Patrick Stickles and Amy Klein provided fed the exuberance of the masses. The repeated rallying cry of ‘No Future, Pt. 3’ never felt more appropriate than at that moment as the crowd spilled back out onto the street. We would always be losers, and that was ok.
After a long day of midterm exams, I made my way back to Brooklyn. And with a proper photographer in tow, this Domino Records showcase was sure to be something special. Four Tet’s DJ set that started off the night drew on material much like his Fabriclive set earlier this year, and though much of the crowd seemed unimpressed, his set was something to behold. Though many of the acts billed as DJ sets this week were just Itunes Jockeys, Kieran Hebden’s set was strictly vinyl and completely free of the sort of struggles that often accompanies such a format.
Angel Deradoorian, of Dirty Projectors fame, followed that up with what she termed a “karaoke set”. This consisted of singing over prerecorded tracks, and though that often makes for an uninteresting set, Deradoorian’s new material proved much more compelling than when I caught her playing an instrument-led set opening for Animal Collective earlier this year.
Daniel Lopatin makes music that doesn’t seem like it would translate to the live setting terribly well, so seeing Oneohtrix Point Never on tonight’s bill was interesting to say the least. My fears were proven true as the crowd seemed to entirely disregard the fact that Lopatin was on the stage (though I suppose it might have been easy to miss him sitting on the floor), though this dismissal was entirely unfair. Lopatin’s loops proved to be one of the more compelling musical moments of the entire week, but you wouldn’t have been able tell it from the chatter that pervaded the entirety of his 25-minute set.
Twin Sister, however, was the first act of the night to truly captivate the crowd. There’s just something about lead singer Andrea Estella’s voice that draws attention despite its meekness. Tracks from last year’s Color Your Life really shined here, though the material from In Heaven, particularly ‘Bad Street’, seems to be coming into its own in a live setting as well. We figured the night couldn’t really get any better after the set from the Long Island-based indie pop band and decided to turn in.
Night three of CMJ had us headed even deeper into Brooklyn for the Yours Truly/Gorilla Vs. Bear showcase to Shea Stadium, which despite what its name might suggest is just an upstairs bar with a New York Mets logo on the wall. Starting things off were Los Angeles’s Bleached, a Best Coast-indebted punk pop band formed by two parts of the now defunct Mika Miko. They showed promise, but as a whole were much more generic in a live setting than their recent singles on Art Fag and Suicide Squeeze.
Some bands are just sandwich bands, in the sense that their sets make me want to leave the venue and go buy a sandwich instead. The Bins’ brand of Frat Boy sample based rock led me to do exactly that, but I came back just in time to hear a Dave Matthews-esque saxophone solo over hip hop samples. Needless to say, I’m glad I skipped out on that one.
Reactions on the debut album from Denver’s Gauntlet Hair have been all over the place, but I have to say their live show places me firmly in a supportive camp. Their particular style of noise pop is perfectly suited to the live environment, and set closer “I Was Thinking...” was a perfect example of that. Never has an electronic drum kit been so well used in a heavy rock context.
Main Attrakionz have made a lot of noise lately as major proponents of the new cloud-rap movement, but it just didn’t work tonight in Shea Stadium for a variety of reasons. They were a poor fit to the bill, and the venue’s sound system really couldn’t handle the bass on their prerecorded beats. That’s not to say that MondreM.A.N. and Squadda B didn’t try, their obvious enthusiasm brought smiles to many during songs like ‘Cloud Skatin’, but it just wasn’t entirely pleasant to listen to otherwise.
Closing out my night, though not closing out Shea Stadium’s night, was Archy Marshall’s King Krule. Marshall made some noise across the internet last year with his Zoo Kid moniker, and several of the songs from that project remained intact that night. New material seems promising, and the full band repurposing of older tracks like ‘Ocean Bed’ and ‘Out Getting Ribs’ were absolutely outstanding. Who would’ve thought that one of the most interesting sets of an incredibly busy CMJ week would come from a kid of only seventeen?