Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CMJ in NYC

Well it's that time of year again: yes, fall, but also the season for the CMJ Annual Music Festival. For anyone outside of the Industry-meets-Indie Music Scene in New York (or non-avid readers of music blogs), CMJ (College Music Journal) puts on a five day festival featuring over 1,100 bands (many of them locals in NYC and Brooklyn) scattered throughout the city's best music venues as well as private lofts and random spaces (like clothing stores). It is, in effect, the New York version of SXSW. Maybe one day it will be as reputable and all-consuming, but for now, it at least provides for some good entertainment and yet another excuse for New Yorkers to rush all over the city.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------||| Detroit natives, The Silent Years, played the Hiro Ballroom on Thursday night. They were victim to some bad sound engineering which upset the balance of their somewhat experimental rock music, but luckily did not affect their gracious energy. Lead singer/guitarist Josh Epstein fashioned a microphone inside of a telephone receiver which lent a surprising box-recorded effect to his soaring vocals. At the end of the set, keyboard/violinist Cassandra Verras and Epstein, danced off the stage with their instruments and tried to rally within the extended crowd. There was a little too much empty space to achieve the desired effect, but it was a nice try.
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||| The Age of Rockets took the stage next. Their sound is about percussion (through a variety of elements), synthesizers, lulling bells and strings and melodic vocals. If only lead singer Andrew Futral wouldn't try to make jokes between songs: like slipping arsenic into a good glass of whiskey.
Photo from the band's Myspace album
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||| Things got a little more post-punk over at the Delancey when Brooklyn band Freshkills took the stage. The four member unit is tightly knit and near perfectly orchestrated, albeit a little intense. The stark contrast between lead singer Zachary's concentrated stillness and guitarist Johnny's risk of internally combusting from the sheer force with which he played was entertaining in and of itself.
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||| Gringo Star, from down south Atlanta, moved in on the stage at the Delancey next. These four guys are the ultimate definition of musicians. They cannot be labeled as 'drummer', 'guitarist', 'singer', etc. because, like a game of musical chairs (or instruments), they rotated roles throughout the set (which only made them all the more impressive both individually and collectively).
Their bright, upbeat songs have a bounciness, highlighted by the physical bouncing of these precise and perfectly synchronized young men on stage as they effortlessly and playfully blasted their way through the songs.
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||| Scouting for Girls opened the British showcase (yes, they are from the UK) sponsored by East Village Radio on Wednesday afternoon at Lil' Frankie's Pizza on 1st Avenue. With songs all about unrequited love and broken hearts, this band, who for obvious reasons are more reminicscent of the Beatles than the Beach Boys (who they feel their sound resembles), come across as your classic tale of grade school geeks turned rockstars. Their bright, poppy sound with fluid harmonies is pleasant and perfectly packaged for soundtracks on teenage dramas or chick flicks. Maybe their other songs, besides the three or four hits they played at the acoustic set, sound a little less safe and familiar (the short set list was limited, also, by the fact that lead singer Roy Stride was stricken to the guitar instead of his piano since they didn't have the necessary converter to plug in the keyboard they lugged across the ocean).
Photo from www.eastvillageradio.com
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||| No photograph could do justice to Mica Levi (in the yellow-square t-shirt), who took the stage next with her child-size guitar, its size proportionate to her figure but not to her bouffant of a haircut. She was joined by, aptly named, The Shapes: a young man in a t-shirt with a green triangle painted on it and a young lady whose shirt had painted red circles. They both crouched on the floor surrounded by conventional items such as glass bottles and jars, and asked the audience to loan them a set of keys, all of which were employed as percussion. The "band" goes by the name Micachu, and makes you wonder why you never pursued a music career with the imaginative if slightly unskilled kids you used to play with in your own basement or attic.
photo from www.eastvillageradio.com
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||| Emmy the Great, who has been getting a lot of press on blogs of late, followed Micachu with her more traditional band (though that's not saying much considering the context). Lead singer and songwriter Emma-Lee's gentle vocals and simple guitar chords floated the band through the first song, lovely but mysterious enough to catch the attention of the crowd gathering in the small garden room. She lost a little ground, and admitted it, with an attempt to cover a Weezer ballad with "an old friend" with whom she was recently reunited here in New York. Their effort was redeemed when she talked of another time they had done a Weezer cover, with the final lyrics "I'm sorry" and immediately afterwards, she had to say "I'm sorry." to the audience. Her humility and quiet charm, however, need no apology.
Photo from the artist's album at www.emmythegreat.com

1 comment:

Andrew said...

i will try and stop making jokes ... i promise.

- Andrew