CMJ 2011 Wrap-Up

I think this was the 19th CMJ I have attended and though they don’t call it the Music Marathon anymore, it still feels like it. SXSW is like that too, shows all day and night, but when you live in NYC and you’re expected to do work too… you’re running on fumes by the end. There weren’t as many big names this year which turned out to be good. Most of the bands I saw were either entirely new to me, or I’d never seen them live before. Here’s a rundown.

Top Five CMJ Performances

1) Metronomy – Music Hall of Williamsburg (Thursday Night)

Not only was this the best show of CMJ, it was the best show of 2011 so far. Their first sell-out show in NYC (about 500 more people than when they played Union Hall in 2008), the crowd were going mental for the whole show. As they should: Metronomy make savvy dance pop with high levels of wit and skill and very little attitude. I left the club genuinely euphoric. What a show!

MP3: Metronomy – The Bay

Hollerado – Arlene’s Grocery (Friday Night)

If you miss the days big riff guitar pop, the kind that was all over alt-rock radio in the ’90s, Manotick, Ontario’s Hollerado are doing it with equal amounts of hooks and humor, both of which were on display at the M for Montreal showcase on Friday night. Arlene Grocery kept bands to a strict 25-minute set time via a countdown clock on a big flatscreen beside the soundboard. Hollerado treated it like an action movie, complete with special effects: confetti cannons went off every few moments. And the soundtrack: crank-it-up, top-down scorchers with choruses the size of Lake Ontario.

MP3: Hollerado – Juliette

Radical  Dads – Bruar Falls (Saturday Night)

Wild Flag’s show at Bowery Ballroom during CMJ was one of the fest’s toughest tickets. At about the same time over at Park Slope club The Rock Shop, locals Radical Dads were mining similar indie rock territory and I’d say they do it just as well though they’re a lot less hyped. The bloggeratti may not care, but this trio is one of Brooklyn’s best bands right now. Their set at Bruar Falls Saturday night was tight, energized and, though there are ’90s touchstones for sure, totally in the now. They were also bearers of good news: their debut album, Mega Rama, is getting a belated vinyl release in December. Have you seen the Awesome cover art? Also, new single out soon.

MP3: Radical Dads – New Age Dinosaur

4) Street Chant – Public Assembly + Bruar Falls (Saturday)

I wasn’t the only one watching Radical Dads with a giant smile on my face. Street Chant, who played right before, were up from and totally into it, man. Street Chant, three young New Zealanders, are fantastic in their own right — owing a little to their country’s indie rock past and making a lot of it up as they go along too. The songs are great, you can tell they love to play and their drummer is amazing. They were first band on at BrooklynVegan’s day show, a tough slot when few are there, but they did just fine and there was good crowd by the time they finished. The Bruar Falls set was better as people were awake, maybe a little (but not too) buzzed, and ready to hear some music.

MP3: Street Chant – Scream Walk 

5) Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – Cameo Gallery (Saturday)

In a world of increasingly awful band names, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosuars is knowingly ridiculous. But the dance music Orlando Higgenbottom makes  is sublime, even while wearing a stegosaurus costume as he did late Saturday night, the last performance I saw at CMJ. Cameo was so packed there wasn’t much room to dance, so the audience just sort of bobbed up and down. Sometimes you just gotta make do.

MP3: Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – Garden

And some other stuff I saw after the jump:

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CMJ ’09: Dum Dum Girls | Mercury Lounge | 10.24.2009

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This was the first day of Dum Dum Girls existence as a live band, but clearly they spent a lot of time working out the details, from the look — bangs, gorgeous Silvertone guitars and bass, extremely short black dresses and stockings — to the sound, which is somewhere between the Velvet Underground and '60s girl groups. It was an impressive debut, hot and cool at the same time. I kept thinking, "this is what the Velvet Underground might sound like if all the members were Nico."

Now technically Dum Dum Girls played before Saturday, at the Woodsist / Captured Festival, and some West Coast dates, each with different line-ups. Which could happen again. But this felt like the first real version. The Woodsist fest Dum Dum Girls featured Crocodiles' Brandon Welchez on guitar, Blank Dogs' Mike Sniper on Bass and Dee Dee (who is Dum Dum Girls on record and is married to Welchez) not donning a guitar. That version, which you can see video of, was much more a post punk / goth sort of sound; here the songs felt like a dream, an ethereal haze of reverbed guitars and pristine harmonies. An impressive debut.

Apart from Dee Dee, the only constant between the two line-ups is drummer Frankie Rose who brought some new beats to the mix, along with her signature driving motorik style she perfected in Vivian Girls and Crystal Stilts. She'll play some East Coast dates where Dum Dum Girls will open for King Kahn and the Shrines. She's old pals with Dee Dee, but Frankie's got her own band now so don't expect her to be a regular member.

Also, if you missed Dum Dum Girls on Saturday, they're playing tonight at Bruar Falls with Girls at Dawn (not bad when the opened for Fresh & Onlys recently) and Reading Rainbow. Now the BF website tries to be sly about it — "EXTRA SPECIAL SMART SMART GUEST BAND" — but both Girls at Dawn and Dum Dum Girls' have it on their MySpace pages, so the cat's officially out of the bag.

MP3: Dum Dum Girls – Jail La La

Jail La La

Look for DDG's Sub Pop Debut sometime early 2010. Also at the show: Music Snobbery, Amrit of Stereogum, and the NY Times. A lot of people kept saying this would be hard to get into, but I think there were so many things going on Saturday night it kept attendance down.

One more interesting note. On my way into the city to head in for the Brooklyn Vegan day party on Saturday, I walk right past a Dum Dum Girls photo show under the JMZ. Of course, I snapped a quick pic:

 Dumdumgirls_JMZ 

Tour dates after the jump…
 

Dum Dum Girls 2009 Tour Dates

Oct 26 BRUAR FALLS w/ Reading Rainbow & Girls At Dawn Brooklyn, New York
Oct 28 PEARL STREET NIGHTCLUB w/ King Khan & BBQ Show Northampton, Massachusetts
Oct 29 MIDDLE EAST DOWNSTAIRS w/ King Khan & BBQ Show Cambridge, Massachusetts
Oct 30 BOWERY BALLROOM w/ King Khan & BBQ Show Manhattan, New York
Oct 31 BELL HOUSE w/ King Khan & BBQ Show Brooklyn, New York
Nov 1 FIRST UNITARIAN CHURCH w/ King Khan & BBQ Show Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Nov 12 BELLY UP TAVERN w/ The Raveonettes & Crocodiles Solana Beach, California
Nov 28 SPACELAND

Friendly Fires | Pianos | 10.23.2008

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Of all the bands I saw at CMJ, Friendly Fires were the only ones to play thier guitar with a Dustbuster. As I've said before, these guys know how to make studio-created dance music interesting live, with loads of live percussion, unusual instrumentation and singer Ed Macfarlane's appealingly new romantic vocal style and spastic dance moves. The songs are pretty good too: the super-funky "On Board"; "Paris," with it's Us-against-the-World romanticism; and the dreamy "Strobe." They continue to refuse to play "Photobooth," maybe their best song, the hope of which will probably have me seeing them again.

MP3Friendly Fires – Photobooth (buy it)

And here's the Aeroplane remix of "Paris" featuring vocals by Au Revoir Simone…

MP3Friendly Fires – Paris (Aeroplane Remix) fdd

And visit Gorilla Vs. Bear for Friendly Fires' cover of Lykke Li's "I'm Good I'm Gone"

Crystal Stilts + Los Fancy Free | The Fader Fort | 10.22.2008

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The Crystal Stilts were scheduled to play but it was clear to me that they weren't going on next. I said as much to the girl and she said, "I think that person is in the band," pointing to a girl on stage wearing what looked like a paint-splattered chef's jacket. "No," I said. "This is definitely not the Crystal Stilts."

Two people took the stage and looked around nervously, and conferred with one of the stage managers at the Fader Fort, who took to the mike and announced for the drummer to please come to the stage. After a couple minutes, one of the two grabbed the mike and said, "We are Los Fancy Free from Mexico City. Our bassist is stuck at the airport and our drummer is here but missing so we are going to just go ahead and play."

What they lacked in members they made up for in enthusiasm. Singer Martin Thulin ran around the stage throwing flamboyant rock poses, climbing on the drums, the speakers, and jumping into the audience. The crowd was baffled but immediately won over, and when the drummer bounded onto stage midway through the second song it errupted in whooping and hollering. And Los Fancy Free reciprocated with hooping and hollering (and banging) of their own — not unlike the weird, sneery L.A. new wave of 1980. The crowd errupted again when the bassist made it from the airport to the stage for the last song. Thulin was beaming. From a technical standpoint the show was a disaster. From a rock n' roll one, it was a rousing sucess. 

MP3Los Fancy Free – Beatles Suit 

No idea what happened with the schedule but the Crystal Stilts did show up to play after Los Fancy Free. Maybe they were getting in an extra hour of sleep after playing till around 5AM the night before at Stereogum's party at Studio @ Webster Hall. Singer Brad Hargett seemed like it was the last place they wanted to be, but it was a pretty good short set nonetheless. In particular, they've got this new songs that I've heard four or five times now but have no idea the name of that is like goth Bo Didley, a 2/4 time bone-rattler that I don't seem to get tired of. Definitely the highlight. Anybody know the name of this one? Stereogum actually caught it on tape at their event:

Crystal Stilts are taking a break from allowing me to stalk them here in NYC to head out on tour with their Slumberland label-mates caUSE co-MOTION for a tour of the West Coast. Go see them if you can. Their debut album, Alight of Night, came out yesterday and is one of my favorites of 2008. 

MP3: Crystal Stilts – The Dazzled

Oct 31 Kenji Shack  Oxnard, California

Nov 1 Che Cafe  San Diego, California

Nov 2 The Echo  Los Angeles, California

Nov 3 House of Nostromo  Oakland, California

Nov 4 Bottom of the Hill  San Francisco, California

Nov 5 Luigi Fun Garden  sacremento, California

Nov 6 Samurai Duck  Eugene, Oregon

Nov 7 Holocene  Portland, Oregon

Nov 8 The Big Room  Olympia, Washington

Nov 9 Chop Suey  Seattle, Washington

Fanfarlo + Real Ones | Fat Baby | 10.25.2008

Fanfarlo
Fanfarlo were one of my most-anticipated shows of CMJ 2008 and they did not disappoint. I've been a champion of the band for some time, saw them at SXSW and basically planned the last day of the festival around seeing them. The band — mostly Brits though singer/songwriter Simon Aurell is Swedish — took a day our of recording thier debut album in Connecticut with producer Peter Katis (The National, Interpol, Mates of State) to play their first NYC show at the teeny tiny club Fat Baby.

There were technical issues — they played without an actual bass amp — but I don't think anyone noticed.Fanfarlo's songs are lovely in a Belle & Sebastian sort of way but less Velvet Underground and more sweeping drama (which is probably where the constant Arcade Fire comparisons come in). And Aurell is a unassuming but charismatic frontman. We got about seven songs, including previous releases "Fire Escape," and "You Are One of the Few Outsiders Who Really Understands Us" plus a few new songs I didn't know, including this one…

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Realones

I was actually concerned that Fat Baby, which holds about 75 people at max, would sell out and showed up way early. It was fortuitous as I got to see Norwegian group the Real Ones who turned out to be one of my favorite surprises of the week. (Norway did very well at CMJ if you ask me.) Real Ones, who hail from Bergen, are kind of Jens Lekman-y, but in a David Byrne-meets-CSNY sort of way. Just lovely stuff and I had a giant smile on my face the whole time and bought two CDs. Also, they had a sitar player. So do you cart your own sitar from Norway or just rent it here?

MP3Real Ones – Lonesome Town

MP3Real Ones – Ballad of an Old Man

CMJ 2008: Brooklyn Vegan Showcase | Music Hall of Williamsburg | 10.21.2008

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Shearwater

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This was a great way to kick-off CMJ with a solid line-up of up-and-comers, older favorites (relatively speaking) and a few curveballs. I'm a bit biased as a Brooklyn Vegan contributor but this really was the place to be the first night, especially for me as I live mere blocks from the venue.

I've written about Emmy already, so straight to the North Carolina's The Sammies who were odd men out on the bill. They reminded me a lot of stuff I used to play when I was a college radio DJ, the many bands who formed in R.E.M.'s wake. (In fact, their new album was recorded at Mitch Easter's studio, he the man who produced Murmer and Reckoning.) The Sammies don't aspire to be anything more than fun, riff-heavy rock n' roll and in that they succeed. An image makeover could help their rep a bit but it might also make them seem like phonies. I say stay just the way you are.

Speaking of late-'80s college radio, Shearwater are just a smoke machine and some eyeliner away from being a goth band. As a closet goth, I appreciated thier grandiose sound and the melodramatic, operatic vocal stylings of Jonathan Meiburg. They're better live than on record, partly because of drummer Thor, who looks like a Thor and is a multi-instrumentalist who seemed to be a crowd favorite. Not something I'd sit around listening to but they are very good live.

Next up Ponytail. I've seen them a few times and I know some people love them. People who's opinions I respect. But they are not for me. I've actually grown to not hate them since the first time I saw them. But they are not for me.

Passion Pit have gotten pretty popular in the last six months and have a feeling a bulk of the crowd were there to see them — which makes me feel slightly vindicated about my review of their Pianos show where I said "These Bostonians are going to be big." (I got lambasted in the Brooklyn Vegan comments section for that.) Catchy dance music with a strong '70s soft rock undercurrent (Jeff claims they're are basically Chicago; the bassist kind of looks like Rupert Holmes) and a charismatic frontman who should really take singing lessons. He's going to blow out his vocal chords if he keeps up his now-signature shout-yelp-falsetto. But the crowd loves them.

"Singing DJ Jens Lekman" followed — emphasis on "DJing" and not so much on "singing." Once people got their heads around that, they let their hips take over and the dancing commenced in full. When he dropped Mariah Carey's "Fantasy" the whole crowd went nuts and, actually, it was one of the most genuine moments of the night.

The show, like all of them at CMJ this year, was running an hour late and I was intent on hitting too more shows (yes it was after Midnight) so I left after two Phenomenal Handclap Band songs. They were good, what I saw, and look forward to catching a full set soon.

Tons of pictures at Brooklyn Vegan (here and here and here) and reports from all over.

Sky Larkin | Public Assembly | 10.25.2008

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This was the best show I've seen Sky Larkin do yet. The Leeds, UK trio were back in the NY area to film another video from thier anticipated debut album, The Golden Spike. (That is what the internet tells me it's called at least. Certainly no one in the band revealed this.) It was the opening slot on Crashin' In's 12-hour unnofficial CMJ party that boasted perhaps the single best line-up of the whole week. It would've been nice to have them play later in front of more people, but they just sounded great, confident and ready to finally show the world what they've got when the record comes out.

Fossili
Speaking of things being out, you can now get the first fruits of The Golden Spike, their new single, "Fossil, I." The 7" is absolutely gorgeous, on white vinyl with an inner sleeve! The arwork is a bit New Ordery if you ask me, which is a good thing. As for the song and recording…what can I say? I rocks. Here's the video which they shot here in NYC this summer:



CMJ 2008: Emmy the Great | Pianos + Music Hall of Williamsburg | 10.21.2008

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"Whoa, she's got a keyboard player," I remarked as Emmy the Great was setting up for her first of many CMJ shows at Pianos Tuesday afternoon. I'd seen Emmy play four times previous and at none of them did she have more than a second guitarist and a violin player. But here she had three people backing her. No, four. Wait…five. Oh my god, Emmy the Great are a six piece?

My first thought was "Isn't this overkill?" I always compared her to Billy Bragg or Mary Lou Lord. One of those "less is more" types who just need their well-written songs, a guitar and a voice to win over audiences. Won't drums and a bassist and a keyboard player just make it more difficult to focus on what makes her special? 

Well, yes and no. While there was all that instrumentation, it's not like Emmy became Joan Jett or anything. Drumming was gentle, embellishments tastefull, favoring the song. At Pianos, during the Music Slut party, where the mix was a bit in flux, the vocals got lost a bit in the mix but having heard most of her songs before I didn't mind so much; he set sounded much better at Music Hall of Williamsburg, though her's is really more of a sit-down kind of show.

The band sounded great and it was nice to hear the songs I knew so well in bare-bones form fleshed out a little more, but I don't think I'd have wanted it to be my first impression. She is capable of such turns of phrases, clever but often sad and hit straight to the heart of it, that's what you should hear above all else. But as Heart on a Stick said, any day you get to see Emmy twice is a good one.

Emmy's new single, "We Almost Had a Baby," is out on November 10 and her debut album, First Love, will drop in January. Here's video of Emmy doing "Easter Parade" at Pianos:

CMJ 2008: The Dears | Hiro Ballroom | 10.23.2008

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It may be an almost entirely new line-up but The Dears still got it. Murray Lightburn still gives it his all, and if the new band doesn't quite have the swagger of the line-up I loved of the last four years, they are getting there. It helps that this Dears is touring behind the just-released MISSILES which is light years better than 2006's rushed and murky-sounding (yet still good despite) Gang of Losers, the making and touring of which caused its meltdown. Only Lightburn and keyboardist (and Lightburn's wife) Natalia Yanchak remain, though some of the band played on the new album. 

So here were are at one of NYC's cooler-looking clubs with pro lighting, sound and smoke machines — all of which aid in the Dears' air of epic grandeur. The new band is tight, especially on the MISSILES tracks which make up the bulk of the set. "Dream Job" and the Lightburn-Yanchak duet "Crisis." It was when they dipped into material from the last two records that the difference was apparent. While "Lost in the Plot" and "The Death of All the Romance" sounded right, but without George Donoso going Animal-style on his kit and Patrick Krief's emotive guitar-playing style (again, swagger) you realize what you're missing.

The difference was underlined by Patrick Krief standing at the side of the stage the whole time, singing along to all the new material. He was loving it. I kept wanting him to jump up on stage and grab a guitar. Glad to know there are a few unburnt bridges in the Dears camp. Now I don't want to dis the new lineup — they're very good, especially guitarist Jason Kent who brings the visual panache needed to be in The Dears — it's just when you've seen one band blow you away time and time again for three years, a rebuilt engine takes some getting used to. But when epic MISSILES track "Lights Off" hit the midway point where it takes off into the stratosphere of solos that The Dears are still capable of making the hair stand up on the back of your neck. Like I said, they've still got it.

SETLIST: Disclaimer / Money Babies / Berlin Heart / Crisis I & II / Lost in the Plot / Bandwagoneers / Lights Off / Demons / Whites-Only Party / 22: The Death Of All The Romance / Meltdown in A Major

MP3The Dears – Crisis I & II (Buy MISSILES)

I would also like to say Hiro Ballroom is a great place to see a show — it's a beautiful room, with awesome sound and even better lighting. (Why do most clubs have such crappy lighting?) But with $7 beer and the dreaded Bathroom Attendents, it's not a place I want to hang out. More reviews: Brooklyn Vegan | NY Mag

I shot video of "Dreams" too… take a gander:

CMJ 2008: Casiokids | Cake Shop | 10.25.2008

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I do understand when people say Cake Shop is the best venue in the city. If you are at the very front of the stage and the band you're watching is is bringing it, it can be an amazing show. I experienced a little Cake Shop Joy on Saturday night watching Norway's Casiokids which was maybe the single funnest show I attended the whole week of CMJ.

In Norway, Casiokids' shows involve props, shadow puppets, papier mache heads, streamers and balloons, but judging by this show they don't need all that to make a great party. Armed with a bunch of bargain basement keyboards (most of which were, yes, Casios), homemade shakers (that I thought were bottles of some weird creamy drink till they started shaking them), and a whole lot of enthusiasm, Casiokids barreled through a 25-minute set — once they finally got all their equipment to work. While I'm not so crazy about their 2007 debut, Fuck Midi!, they did mostly new material at Cake Shop and all of it was great. Poppier, funkier, better. 

We got both sides of their new Moshi Moshi double A side, "Gront Lys I Alle Ledd" and "Togens Hule," which is apparently the first Norwegian language single ever released in the UK. Um, hooray? Don't understand a word, but you can dance to it.  My favorite, though, is what will be Casiokids' next single, the name of which I don't know and probably couldn't pronounce if I did. It was at this point that Ketil squeezed through their wall of keyboards, past the monitors and got face-to-face with the crowd, basically standing directly in front of me the whole time. My friend Erin said it looked like I was being serenaded. I don't know about that but this video is pretty up-close and personal. And far too short — my memory card was nearly full:

Here's a MySpace rip of another of the show's highlights, an instrumental called "Fot I Hose":

MP3Casiokids – Fot I Hose

You can download Fuck Midi! from Emusic. I've searched for download stores that have the Moshi Moshi single but nothing's turned up yet but you can stream it on their MySpace, and there's a live version on The Ivy League Sessions. Casiokids, please come back soon!