The CMJ Marathon: music’s fashion week. Congested lines, congested venues, a genuinely unnavigable Lower East Side, severely reduced bands who are playing their third show that night, etc. There are also a lot of wonderful bands playing in unusual proximity to each other – but like any radically compressed “festival” composed of mildly unknown bands, occasionally guidance is welcome or necessary.
I don’t claim to have sampled every band in the lineup (according to the CMJ website there are more than 1,300, a number that suggests there are enough bands), but I know a lot of these bands through the enthusiasms of my friends and colleagues, or from seeing them open a show and mistaking them, in their dynamism and self-possession, for the headliner.
Amanda X play a loose, oceanic form of punk where all the instruments merge and stain each other like watercolours. The Philly band’s harmonies seem to hover over their songs, as if their mingled voices were the smoke of the guitar tone, and occasionally they articulate a tension between menace and gentleness that’s reminiscent of early Cranberries records. They perform at Cameo Gallery on Tuesday 21 October, 8pm, and at the Knitting Factory on Saturday 25 October, 8pm.
The individual musical components of this Berlin synthpop band sound gathered together by a diffuse fog. Guitars and synths echo themselves like the movement of legs beneath a sheet. In their gentlest modes Ballet School stir their synths and guitar together into something resembling the diffuse blooms of the Cocteau Twins. Ballet School play the Studio at Webster Hall on Wednesday 22 October, 12:15am, Le Poisson Rouge on Thursday 23 October, 10pm, and Glasslands on Friday 24 October, 9pm.
Philly band Beach Slang meticulously recreate the mentholated punk of the Replacements and Hold Me Up-era Goo Goo Dolls, merging aggression with a lived-in feeling of resignation. They feed their songs through enough reverb to give them a delayed, ghostly quality, as if there are nameless things in the trailing echoes of their guitars. Beach Slang will play the BrooklynVegan CMJ show at Baby’s All Right on Saturday 25 October, 7pm.
Totally delightful, New York-based Charly Bliss produce acute power pop that’s nimbly wrung from their instruments. Their uneven, woozy song structures feel like ecstatic shifts in gravity, power chords leaping over each other like frenzied tectonic plates. Charly Bliss perform at the Knitting Factory on Tuesday 21 October, 10pm, the Delancey Upstairs on Wednesday 22 October, 12:45pm, Spike Hill on Thursday 23 October, 10pm, The Studio at Webster Hall on Saturday 25 October, 2pm, and Shea Stadium later that night, 11pm.
Brooklyn-based Eula play harsh, dissonant punk with a harrowing sense of space, as if their method of composition is to draw together extreme dislocations. The guitar riffs fall into the track like raining debris, and vocalist Alyse Lamb sings as if she’s conveying an unspeakable dare. Eula play Left Field on Saturday 25 October, 10pm.
Fort Lean play indie rock carefully, which sounds boring but in practice is convincingly pastoral and expansive. Their songs go through slow evolutions; they never quite stop opening up on themselves, blooming new, gentle phrases. Fort Lean perform at Pianos on Tuesday and Thursday night, at the Living Room on Friday 24 October, 3:10pm, and they play on Saturday twice, at Arlene’s Grocery at 1:30pm and at Brooklyn Night Bazaar at 2:15pm, which sounds brutal.
Since 2000, Alison Mosshart and and Jamie Hince have as the Kills produced four alternately mean and tender records of raw, bluesy guitar and minimal percussion. The spare, almost lunar backing tracks make it so the guitars and Mosshart’s precisely conducted voice impact the song like craters. Their live show is transformative, creating something massive and enveloping out of what on record seem very private, insulated sounds. The Kills perform at the Bowery Ballroom on Thursday 23 October, 11pm.
Beloved Boston band Krill perform indie rock that constantly wavers between loose and tight, as if constantly knitting back into itself. This gives them the kind of generously controlled sprawl previously exhibited by bands like Silkworm. Krill perform at Trash Bar on Friday 24 October, 12:15am.
New York trio New Myths just released their debut album, Give Me Noise, a collection of darkly embroidered rock and synthpop, composed of drum hits that cast long shadows and synth tones that radiate an inner glow. Their guitars are supermassive and seem to suck away the air around them, and above this precise, conducted darkness their voices weave into gorgeous arabesques of harmony. They play at Union Hall on Tuesday 21 October, 9pm, at Niagara on Wednesday 22 October, 8:30pm, upstairs at Pianos on Thursday 23 October, 8:30pm, at the Delancey Upstairs on Friday 24 October, 2pm, and at the Mercury Lounge on Saturday 25 October, 7pm.
Somehow both propulsive and relaxed – so, stoned – Brooklyn band Nude Beach play a kind of power pop that revises Big Star as a garage band, dirtier and crunchier but with precise songcraft gleaming up through the sediment. Throughout their upcoming double album 77, their songs communicate a languid surface with a combustible centre, like a neutron star. They play at Union Pool on Friday 24 October, 10:45pm.
Pity Sex began as an expansive, lopsided emo band in the vein of Rainer Maria, but with 2013’s Feast of Love they fastened their focus on shoegaze. Their song structures are designed around open spaces in which their guitars can bloom like electromagnetic fields. Pity Sex will play the BrooklynVegan CMJ show at Baby’s All Right on Saturday 25 October, 7pm.
Austin indie rock/emo band Pompeii have been around since 2004, and their discography is a collection of deliberately assembled, cinematic music. Their new album Loom is perhaps their most refined, guitar and drums weaving into each other like landscapes viewed from a moving train. Pompeii perform at the Delancey on Thursday 23 October, 6:45pm, and at Passenger Bar later that night, at 12:45am.
Northampton band Potty Mouth play punk music that feels both exposed and fiercely guarded, intensely felt songs occurring in a narrow, three-chord cosmos. The songs individually are sort of unyielding, unwilling to reveal much of themselves, but together they conduct a slow, cumulative devastation. Potty Mouth are playing at Radio Bushwick on Friday 24 October for the BirdDog Unofficial CMJ Party, which starts at 6pm.
This is a very good band from Brooklyn. Their songs are good. They tend to begin modestly and slowly accumulate mass, sometimes building entire mountains of phosphorescent tone, through which Lindsay Baker’s voice impressively slices. Radical Dads play the upstairs lounge at Pianos on Wednesday 22 October, 7pm, and Left Field on Saturday 25 October, 9pm.
Shark? are based out of Brooklyn and their guitar lines unspool out of each other like a tangled mass of thread. This makes even their most straightforward indie rock songs sound like densely woven spiderwebs. Shark? play in the upstairs lounge of Pianos on Wednesday 22 October, 8:30pm.
Slothrust’s album Of Course You Do is one of the most surprising records I have heard this year. Their songs heave themselves around like giants and are constructed with a tilted gravity, as if they have assimilated a fundamental imbalance. Absolutely crucial lyric: “I like cats / do you like cats / of course you do / you sassy motherfucker.” Slothrust are playing the Bowery Ballroom on Thursday 23 October, 8pm.
Two Inch Astronaut
Post-hardcore! I remember this. Maryland band Two Inch Astronaut play their guitar riffs from oblique angles, like light bending menacingly through glass. It is to their credit that all of their misdirection tends to cohere into really absorbing songs. They play at Trash Bar on Friday 24 October, 11:30pm.
Former My Chemical Romance singer Gerard Way released his debut solo album Hesitant Alien earlier this month and it ended up being an entirely compelling synthesis of glam and Britpop fighting through a moving gloss of guitars. As the frontman of MCR his performances were deeply inhabited and dramatic, a sensibility he retains when performing his decidedly more buoyant solo material. He performs at Webster Hall on Thursday 23 October, 9pm.
Toronto band Weaves sound like five bands sewn together, pop music as mosaic. Sounds are immediately traded for knottier sounds, creating what resembles a series of fragmented blooms. Occasionally the band relaxes and it is no less oblique. It’s like Prince relaxing. Tensions are threaded into the discursive spine of this music. Weaves play Shea Stadium on Thursday 23 October, 11:30pm.