CMJ '08: All Over But The Shout Out Out Out Out
My last night of CMJ started with a trek through a torrential rainstorm to catch the IHeartComix showcase at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. L.A. scenester Franki Chan has a pretty high batting average, having put out Matt and Kim's first record and some excellent tracks by ice-cream slingers HeartsRevolution. The first band on the bill was Edmonton-based dance-rockers Shout Out Out Out Out (pictured), who always put on a good show. It was the first time I'd seen real dancing all week, and the first time I felt myself relax and enjoy a show. They played a few tracks from a forthcoming album, as well as their most excellent track "In The End It's Your Friends That'll Fuck You Over." They need to record a clean version of the song and start licening it to "Gossip Girl," stat.
I stuck around for two more bands, the horrendous hipster-rap nightmare Juiceboxx and the Dan Deacon-esque Totally Michael, before heading next door to Public Assembly, aka Galapagos with a new name. The first band was was Cut Off Your Hands, whose gory and derivative name and shoegazer sound did nothing for me. I'll award a few points for an attractive frontman, but that's about it. Next up was Johnny Foreigner, a pretty good band with a pretty bad name. A cross between Elastica and the Foals, the band was hampered by technical difficulties thoughout its set, but managed to entertain the small but enthusiastic crowd.
Another CMJ over, and we're all just a little deeper in debt. This one was a rather tepid affair overall, but then again, I could just finally be reaching the stage where watching a bunch of 22-year olds score a bunch of ink and then sell 20,000 records just isn't much fun anymore. -- Cortney Harding
CMJ '08: Workin' For The Weekend
Another CMJ Music Marathon is in the books, and sadly, actually listening to live music this week was probably only the fourth most enjoyable thing about the experience. Besides a band we're about to discuss below, we just weren't blown away by anything, and there was a general feeling of apathy about the event permeating the proceedings. As usual, it came down to spending time with close industry friends more than wedging in to see the flavor of the week at 1:30 in the morning at a crappy venue.
It took until Saturday for us to see hands down our favorite thing of CMJ, the fresh-faced Oklahoma-based sextet the Uglysuit (pictured) during a day party at Music Hall of Williamsburg. One of Thrill Jockey/Overcoat Recordings vet Howard Greynolds' first signings since starting in on A&R at Touch & Go, the band sounds absolutely nothing like any other band that has ever recorded for the famed Chicago indie: there's a three-guitar majesty to their sprawling epics, which have the emotion of Sigur Ros and the grin-inducing riffage of Built To Spill.
Two seven-minute jams book-ended the set. "Everyone Now Has a Smile" set the tone with powerful downstrokes and moments of piano-enhanced calm, while "...And We Became Sunshine" brought it all home with an insistent chiming guitar motif and a melody that never faded despite the lengthy running time.
The band was genuinely chuffed to be playing its first shows in New York this week, especially since it had gotten to see and open for Annuals, whom frontman Israel Hindman told us later were his favorite band. The members were also unafraid to flail their My Morning Jacket-length hair while rocking out, or tell the audience that "Brownblue's Passing" was about a flying whale. The Uglysuit have come out of nowhere to produce a delightful new form of psychedelia. We give them our highest endorsement.
On Friday, we stumbled into a true treat: a solo acoustic from Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan as Portastatic, in front of no more than 50 or 60 people at the KCRW/Paste party room in Soho. When McCaughan began releasing this kind of music in the mid-'90s, he was a lone acoustic voice in a sea of distorted, lo-fi indie rock. Of course now, every emo kid wants to play acoustic ballads and Dashboard Confessional has taken this style to the bank many times over. But Mac still does it best to our ears.
The set included originals like "The Summer of the Shark," "Isn't That the Way" and "I Wanna Know Girls," plus two excellent covers: Bruce Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark," which was completely un-ironic and a definitely "holy crap" moment, and Edison Lighthouse's one-hit wonder "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)," which McCaughan said he'd learned after hearing it on the radio while driving his daughter to school.
We went to see Portastatic again Saturday night at Mercury Lounge, and although some of the songs were the same, this time they were enhanced by a second guitarist, violinist and, for "Sweetness and Light," two guys from the audience on shakers. But at a certain point Saturday, our brain's ability to hear any more music shut off, and CMJ was dead to us. Until the resurrection ... -- Jonathan Cohen
CMJ '08: Murphy's Law
After being shut out of Broken Social Scene's show at the Brooklyn Masonic Temple on Friday night, I decided to check out Irish singer Roisin Murphy across town at the Mansion. Her 2007 album "Overpowered" was overlooked by most critics, but featured some of the best pop cuts of the year. Part of the fun of the show had nothing to do with Murphy: the Mansion, with its sparkling chandeliers, neon lights and mile-long bar, provided the perfect posh atmosphere for the event.
Murphy was making her U.S. solo debut, but the packed Mansion gave her a superstar's ovation when she took the stage, decked out in a shimmering black coat and futuristic sunglasses. It would be one of many costumes that Murphy would sport during the show, and while some were more gimmicky than glamorous, the audience ate up her deliciously loud fashion selections.
Sharing the stage alongside two backup singers and a full band, Murphy ran through most of "Overpowered" with a notable air of confidence. Almost everything worked, from the stuttering jam "You Know Me Better" to album centerpiece "Let Me Know," which featured a gorgeous, elongated ending. Even the cheesy choreography Murphy incorporated with the backup singers felt appropriate. She exhibited a classiness that was refreshing to see in a female pop star, and the Mansion was the perfect home to her brand of austere dance music. -- Jason Lipshutz
CMJ '08: Spanish Castle Magic
Sounds From Spain, a promotional organization for the Spanish music industry, cozied up at Ace of Clubs Wednesday for CMJ to showcase some of the best music I've seen in a while. I caught Depedro, Aaron Thomas and the Right Ons, each representing a different sound on the spectrum. Because of a lot of music is so niche-specific these days, Sounds From Spain was an excellent addition to CMJ. Aside from the music having a different cultural appeal, much of it fused genres perfectly.
The Ace of Clubs is a small place with little tables crammed against the walls and adorned with flickering candles and beer bottles. People crowded in to dance to the mellow Latin groove Depedro delivered; the sound was a savory fusion of haunting folk and blues steeped with that special Latin brand of sensuality. I definitely heard strains of Calexico as the band played, ornamented with the use of a cello, but leader Jairo Zavala's energy is what really stood out. His eyes lit up with every chorus, prompting the sitting to stand and the standing to dance.
While Depedro was mellow, the Rights Ons turned up the dial. I heard traces of Led Zeppelin and the Stooges in their sound, though they were totally modern. Sort of like Jet if they were out of Madrid, their youthful energy set the tone. Between the drummer/singer and the guitarist/singer, they screamed the classic one, two, three, four! and mastered the call and repeat. These guys were funky.
I caught Aaron Thomas and his band at the second day of Sounds From Spain at the Annex, and this show really solidified the experience. Unlike The Right Ons, whose youth and energy seemed a little forced and unlike Depedro, who were especially accessible to people who have a penchant for calmer music, Thomas had a handle on the wild and passionate as much as he did the mellow.
Besides Thomas on acoustic guitar, the band consisted of a cello, keys, drums and back-up female vocals. They had that special capability of building such a thick, lush wall of sound that is seemed impossible it was fueled by only five individuals -- and only one acoustic guitar. Cracking a few jokes in his Australian accent and playing "the only positive song I have," which he dedicated to his wife, Thomas seemed unaffected by the glamorous appeal of CMJ and sincerely enjoyed performing for the 3 p.m. crowd. -- Lisa Marie Basile
CMJ '08: Conversion Time
Unlike South by Southwest, where my main activities are pretty much limited to seeing shows and drinking tequila, CMJ happens in New York, and thus has to be incorporated into my real life. That real life includes time at the office and things like showing up at a hotel at 8 a.m, to interview Debbie Harry on a red carpet. Tough life, sure, but it does cut in to one's late night party plans a bit.
Thus, I've been hitting a lot of day shows, and have managed to see one band three times in last three days. L.A.-based band the Muslims sound like a more punk-rock version of the Kinks, are being buzzed about on a number of blogs, and have a name that lends itself to any number of witty headlines.
The first time I saw them was at the Fader Fort, a packed sweatbox that has duct-tape art on the wall and a stage so low I could only see the tops of the band's heads. Despite being packed in, the crowd seemed to respond well, and a friend I ran into remarked he'd heard more people talking about the Muslims than Chairlift, the iPod-endorsed band that had played before them.
The second and third Muslims shows I saw were at Piano's, in a tiny room that was definitely not created with loud rock bands in mind. The crowd had to stand a few feet back from the stage, making things feel even more crowded. Now that I could see the band, I discovered just how charismatic they were on stage, and they ripped through short sets with songs that ranged from straight punk tunes to cheerful Britpop tracks. While they could stand to work on their stage banter a bit, they definitely demonstrate potential. I've loved them three times, though, and that's probably enough for now. -- Cortney Harding