CMJ 2014 Postscript: Slowdive, Happyness, Purling Hiss,...
CMJ blazed through our lives last week, bringing 1300 bands into 80 New York City venues for innumerable showcases (including FUV Live at CMJ with Horse Thief, Son Little, Elle King and Happyness). The Alternate Side's Alisa Ali and Kara Manning set out to see as many bands as they could and report on the highlights of a dizzying five day marathon.
Alisa Ali (Host of The Alternate Side, Producer of FUV Live):
This was the year of punk rock at CMJ and, specifically, female-fronted punk, which brought me much "happyness," but that's a different subject (and band that I'll get to later). It's funny because about a year ago, I remember bemoaning the lack of female rock bands when I interviewed Luscious Jackson and Warpaint at FUV. I guess these things go in cycles (in typical lady style), but now is the time for sisters to shine. Here's a list of bands that I really enjoyed during this year's CMJ. A few are indeed female punk bands, but not all. Don't try to put me in a box, man!:
This band from Brooklyn is led by singer Leah Wellbaum, a very witty songwriter who also happens to shred on guitar. Drummer Will Gorin is fast and furious and Kyle Bann got booties shakin' with his bass lines. Punk is not usually known for having the most complex sound, but these guys actually pull off some very interesting arrangements. Not surprising when you consider that all three of them have music degrees from Sarah Lawrence College.
These guys are more shoegaze than punk, but that's okay, because I like that too. I was immediately drawn in by frontwoman Drew Citron's dreamy vocals, but I remained entranced for the whole set by the strength of the band, which includes Chairlift's Jamie Ingalls on drums, The Beets' Scott Rosenthal on bass and Caitlin Frame, of Frame, on guitar and synth.
This is the L.A. duo of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad who both switch off on guitar and bass. They also trade off on vocals to great effect, finishing off each other's sentences and screaming into the mic. If you are averse to that kind of this kind of thing, they will obviously not be your bag, but if you dig a raw and minimalist punk sound like me, you'll be into it.
Jack & Eliza
Childhood friends Jack Staffen and Eliza Callahan have been making music together since they were 13 years old. They're still pretty young though; both are in college (NYU and Columbia University respectively). These guys actually brought something to the CMJ mix this year that was kind of lacking: harmony and melody. They both play guitar and sing beautifully together. Their music has a surfy '60s vibe that is so tantalizingly sweet, it's hard to resist.
Okay, full disclosure: this is not actually a new band and we do already play them on The Alternate Side. I'd never seen them before so I caught them at The Cake Shop during CMJ and I am so freaking glad I did. They put on one of the best shows of the festival, in my opinion. The main guy in this band is Mike Polizze and he is an insanely good guitarist. Unfortunately, I couldn't always see what he was doing because half of the time he was on his knees shredding. But I could still hear, and what I heard was a blistering, high energy grungy-yet-melodic sound.
Kevin played in the bands Woods and The Babies. He also puts out music on his own. Just a couple of weeks ago he released Still Life which I'm quickly falling in love with. I saw him play a very intimate and stripped-down set at Academy Records and even in that raw form, his songs sliced through my soul. This guy is a huge talent. I love his songwriting. But just as I am really getting into him, I find out he recently left NYC for LA. Oy! At least I've got the record right here. So I guess it's all good. You can watch him here.
These guys make music that is right in my '90s rock sweet spot. How could I not love them? You can hear their whole set from our FUV Live at CMJ showcase.
King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard
This is a seven-piece psychedelic rock band from Melbourne, Australia. I actually learned about them through fellow Aussie, Courtney Barnett, during an FUV Live session she did with us. They were a pretty hyped band during CMJ, playing a ton of times during the week. The good news is that they lived up to the hype. They put on a really frenetic and dynamic show that was exhilarating to watch. The have two drum kits, three guitars, a bass, harmonica, maracas, tambourine and even a flute. Amazingly, the band manages to layer all these sounds in a way that actually works. These guys definitely rocked. it. Quite literally. Watch video of them below.
They are insane! I felt like I was tripping on acid while I was watching them. (I wasn't though, for the record). They are a Japanese psychedelic metal band, as far as I can tell. I had no idea what they were saying—the music was so loud, plus I think they were singing in Japanese which unfortunately I do not speak. Their performance was also accompanied by a very intense light show. The whole thing was a bit of a sensory overload for me but I'm still really glad I saw them because I have never seen or heard anything like that before and I doubt I ever will.
Kara Manning (Host of UKNY, TAS and FUV Content Producer):
A busy work week in the Bronx truncated my CMJ adventures. So, I missed many bands that I'd hoped to see, like Literature, Adult Jazz, The Crookes, Gulp, Flowers, The Rua, Bo Ningen, Little May, Casual Sex, Protomartyr and Slothrust. However, I did catch a batch of very good bands, including one group that I've waited for 20 years to see live:
I've been smitten by Happyness since I first played a single of theirs earlier this year on UKNY. Since their debut album, Weird Little Birthday, is one of my favorite releases of the year, I caught this terrific London trio twice: at FUV's own showcase on Tuesday night and at Rough Trade on a raw, rainy Thursday afternoon. Everything about the band's eclectic record, a hazy, but crafty collection of wistful daydreams and fuzzed-out, punk-lashed pop, is invigorating and smart. The mix by producer Adam Lasus, instrumental behind great albums by Yo La Tengo, Madder Rose and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, is perfect. Plus, two of the unreleased songs Happyness played at Rough Trade were incredibly catchy. Immensely promising band and they win my "best new band of CMJ."
Close on the heels of Happyness as a "best of CMJ" is Cymbals, a band I've tried to see every time they've come through New York and always stupidly missed (although Jack Cleverly of the group did write up a Five Essential Albums for The Alternate Side earlier this year). I finally caught them in the dungeon of The Delancey and was promptly blown away by their exhilarating set, gleaned mostly from their excellent second album, The Age of Fracture. There's a streak of New Order's vim and velocity that blows through Cymbals' dystopian, fluid dance rock, but the London quartet brings other hues to their visceral set. Fantastic ... even if they did admit to being exhausted.
Although plagued by a mediocre sound mix in the cellar of The Delancey, Ireland's September Girls kicked out a vivacious set, one that stirred up comparisons to the brighter pop tangents of Siouxsie and the Banshees or Sleater-Kinney, meshed with dirty bass guitar licks and sweet vocal savagery as four of the five members traded harmonies and leads while Sarah Grimes assaulted her drums with deft muscularity.
This Limerick-born, London-based trio bashed out sinewy, punked-out, boy-girl missives. Somber, Susan Dey-lookalike and bassist Aoife trades off vocals with her counterpart Niall, who primarily focuses on guitar, but who was a tad more steady as a singer in tonight's set. Definitely a band to watch; there's an explosive prettiness to Sisters' wiry aesthetic.
The impact of Kristian Bell's cauterizing yowl of a voice isn't fully appreciated until you hear The Wytches thrash their way through a live set. The Brighton trio might channel Nirvana or Soundgarden in their vigorous head tossing and thicket of brutish guitar, but their sound is as wild and eerily gothic as the hound of the Baskervilles galloping over the moors. You just hope that Bell is taking care of his voice.
It took twenty years, but Slowdive, reunited and reinvigorated, returned to New York for a stunning show at Terminal 5 on Saturday night. The quintet's masterful set, all building tension and distorted, beautiful release, drove home the visceral majesty of Slowdive's richly layered, dreamweaving sound. Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell's murmured vocals hazily shimmered like refracted light. Songs like "Souvlaki Space Station," "Catch the Breeze" or "Machine Gun" reverberate throughout your body, a heady rush as if you're falling slowly through the air; this is music that is both cerebral and physical. Considering all of the bands at CMJ this week that owed so much to a forebear like Slowdive, the band's triumph, in a completely sold out venue packed with acolytes, was quite emotional.