CMJ 2009 Highlights
As usual, this year’s CMJ Music Marathon came along with a whole new slew of must-see bands. I missed some of the ones with the most hype (The xx, Neon Indian) but saw plenty worth checking out:
Fanfarlo is the next big thing in sweeping, orchestral indie rock. The British six-piece plays extremely well-crafted songs with strong melodies, rich coed harmonies, and a rotating selection of instruments.
Must hear: “The Walls Are Coming Down”
Philadelphia’s Free Energy keeps it positive with its high-powered, feel-good rock anthems. The band’s particularly lanky frontman shimmied and vogued his way through their set, making sure everyone had a good time.
Must hear: “Free Energy”
Hardcore hero Wes Eisold (American Nightmare, Some Girls) trades in screaming for synths in the impressive electronic group Cold Cave. Their brooding, intense pop is hypnotic and addictive, with Eisold’s Ian Curtis-esque vocals balanced nicely by Caralee McElroy’s sunnier ones.
Must hear: “Love Comes Close”
I caught The Antlers at their subdued “hangover show” the day after their big Brooklyn Vegan showcase, but was still impressed by the trio’s haunting, huge-sounding performance of songs from the stunning 2009 release Hospice.
Must hear: “Two”
Philadelphia’s Drink Up Buttercup is equally fond of noisy, exuberant rock and pretty vocal harmonies, and the marriage of the two was thrilling to watch. Their memorable set involved both a lot of banging on trash cans and an a cappella rendition of one song among the audience.
Must hear: “Even Think”
Vancouver guitar-and-drums duo Japandroids apparently played its first Brooklyn show a year ago, to two people. With the release of their well-received 2009 debut, Post Nothing, behind them, those days are long gone. Their high-energy performance of their earnest and immediately likable anthems had people singing along with glee–a rare sight at CMJ.
Must hear: “Young Hearts Spark Fire”
In light of the recent proliferation surf-pop bands, I was surprised to hear that Surfer Blood‘s music issn’t all that surfy. But the Florida band’s neat pop songs have that elusive stick-in-your-head quality that’s lacking in the music of many of their peers.
Must hear: “Swim to Reach the End”
Originally the bedroom project of one woman named Dee Dee, Dum Dum Girls appeared as an all-female four-piece (including Frankie Rose of Crystal Stilts on drums). Their sound is similar to the Vivian Girls’ fuzzed-out, ’60s-inspired pop, but with more memorable vocal melodies.
Must hear: “Jail La La”
Seeing Cymbals Eat Guitars reminded me that so little indie rock actually rocks these days–and if it does, it’s in a simplistic, retro way. This band rocks in the complex-yet-undeniably-catchy way, sort of like Modest Mouse.
Must hear: “Wind Phoenix”