CMJ Thursday Highlights, 10/21/10
Two themes emerged among some of the bands playing CMJ on Thursday: powerful female vocalists with interesting, percussive instrumentation, and happy dudes rocking out.
In the first category, Braids opened the M for Montreal showcase with their intricate and layered Animal Collective-influenced jams. Their music relies heavily on guitar and keyboard effects and has a ton of things going on at any given moment, with soaring female vocals holding it all together–at least in theory. The young band has clearly put a lot of work into its music, but still needs to work on its live show, because it’s hard to engage an audience when you spend the whole set tinkering with your instruments and staring at your bandmates.
Brooklyn duo Buke and Gass had no problem engaging their audience as they cooked up a joyful racket on the unique instruments that give them their name (a baritone ukulele and guitar-bass hybrid). Arone Dyer belted out strong melodies while Aron Sanchez played the drums with his feet and attacked his gass, wrenching out surprisingly harsh, intense sounds that I’ve never heard either a guitar or a bass make.
Some people run away at any mention of a female singer-songwriter, especially one who dares to play under her own name rather than a band name. Don’t make that mistake with Anni Rossi, or you’ll be missing out. Rossi is a trained viola player who makes up her own rules about how the instrument should be used; most often, she plucks it or strums it like a guitar while unleashing her sultry, slightly breathy voice on a diverse array of quirky (but not too quirky) pop songs.
Icelandic folk singer Olof Arnalds is another captivating artist who shatters the girl-with-guitar stereotype. The otherworldly vocalist mostly sings in her own language while plucking a variety of stringed instruments. She has received comparisons to Joanna Newsom and Vashti Bunyan, but has created a sound all her own.
Moving onto the “happy dudes rocking out” category, Chicago’s Light Pollution rocked Cake Shop with songs like “Good Feelings” and “Drunk Kids.” They start with straightforward songs with catchy melodies, and then spice things up with warm layers of reverb and synthesizers.
The guys in Philadelphia’s Drink Up Buttercup really dig The Beatles, particularly their gorgeous multi-part harmonies. But they also dig a lot of other things, like noisy guitars and synthesizers and hitting things (including trash cans) with other things, so the result is a singular experience that’s beautiful, messy, and thrilling. Watching Drink Up Buttercup may inspire thoughts such as “I wonder if they did a cappella in college” followed by “I wonder where they buy all the trash cans they smash up on stage.” I’m betting on “yes” and “Home Depot.”
Finally, Jukebox the Ghost closed the night at the Bowery Electric with its super-enjoyable piano pop. We can all use some well-crafted, feel-good piano pop in our lives, can’t we? It’s always fun watching Ben Thornewill effortlessly attack complex piano and synthesizer lines (he often plays with one hand on each) while singing in his peculiar bug-eyed, melodramatic way.