Let’s start with the good. The Drums “surprise” show at Santos Party House on Night 2 was pretty epic. They brought a ton of energy to the stage (along with plenty of awkward dancing) and had the crowd going for almost an hour. The Smiths-esque tunes sounded great live, and the band did a nice job of switching things up so it wasn’t just a straight-from-the-record show. They’ve been receiving a lot of hype recently, and I think they live up to it, if only because lead singer Jonathan Pierce basically had a seizure on stage.
Also notable at Santos on Night 2 were Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. and Wild Nothing. As for the NASCAR boys, they came on super late, and the crowd seemed pretty annoyed when they went backstage to throw on their fire-resistant racecar suits. The cute pop songs cheered the crowd up, even if they sounded exactly as they do recorded (which ain’t too shabby). Wild Nothing I would have to place in the “sort of bad” category. It may have been the venue, but the crowd wasn’t into it. They band didn’t seem that into it either. Their music is sort of sad indie, which is just no fun at a party. They finally picked up at the end of their set, but it was too little too late.
I’ve liked Body Language for a while now, and I just don’t understand why they aren’t catching on. I saw them at the Highline Ballroom on Night 1 and thought they were great. Their sound is best described as jungle disco mixed with Gnarls Barkley. Angela, the singer, adds a funky edge with her Lauryn Hill voice. It seemed like each member of the band really added something, including the crazy Asian who simply killed the drums. This was the first show that got the audience to move to the front and dance (even if it was just a two-step). After the show, the band told me this was their second CMJ and they were “just waiting for the guys in the offices to listen to their music.” Unfortunately, it’s not looking too good. Show some support and check them out.
Night 3 brought two of my favorite shows. First was GROUPLOVE who played at Public Assembly. I’d spent quite a bit of time with their self-titled EP (“Colours” being one of my favorite songs this summer) and was anxious to see them live. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly was different than what I got. The lead singer sort of looked like Charles Manson. The bassist was sort of like a leprechaun in a top hat. The girl on keyboards kept experimenting with a gold mask. This was a band that basically formed overnight and you could tell by appearance. However, by sound, it seemed like they’d been playing together for years. The harmonies between Charles Manson (real name: Christian Zucconi) and Girl In Mask (real name: Hannah Hooper) were of the light, soaring variety. There was sort of a Death Cab for Cutie vibe going on with a punk edge (there was a lot of jumping). They might’ve been my CMJ favorite.
After GROUPLOVE, I somehow made it to Bowery Electric to see Jukebox the Ghost. Three guys playing catchy pop songs? There could be nothing better. The lyrics are as creative as the melodies, which sort of bounce all over the place. They definitely don’t stick to the simple pop song format with catchy hooks. Ben Thornewill’s smooth voice skipped happily through the tracks while his support made it seem as if there were many more men on stage. They remind me a little of Ben Folds, but not in a bad way.
I had heard a lot about DOM going into the show at Public Assembly on Day 4. Everyone painted the lead singer, Dom, as a sort of mysterious, bizarre guy. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a guy that just likes to play music and shake his long red hair (I didn’t see his face once). The music was very DIY, sort of garage pop, if there is such a thing. His squeaky voice was the perfect counterpart to the catchy high-school inspired lyrics set in movie-theaters and basements. Their best song, surprisingly, was their cover of Alan Jackson’s “Chattahoochee.” Slinging beers on stage mid-song, these dudes are still living it up.
After Dom, I headed over to the other stage just to check out Oberhofer. To be honest, they were completely new to me. So when the lights came on, I saw what appeared to be a stage full of twelve year olds. The lead singer looked identical to a Jonas brother (not sure which one). They were clearly very stoked to be there and jumped straight into “Shine Like Gold.” They played fast-paced and furious pop, with lots of “Oooooos” and “Ohhhhhhhs.” I’m not sure I liked that part, but check these guys out. They’re all talented musicians (though their songwriting could be better).
Now for my second favorite act, Kisses. I caught them at Glasslands on Night 4 and they were so much fun. The duo hails from L.A. and you can tell. Their melodies are sun-kissed and their lyrics are carefree. “Kisses” has officially become a new favorite of mine. With smart lyrics and sweet electro beats, it was also the crowd favorite. That might also have something to do with Jesse Kivel’s magical voice and on-stage person (which is adorable). All the other songs were pretty much of the same variety. I mean, c’mon, it’s electro-pop. Everyone’s doing it—that doesn’t mean these guys aren’t good at it.
I feel obliged to mention Everything Everything. I saw them at Arlene’s Grocery on Day 5, and though it may not be my kind of music, I still appreciate their talent. Of all the CMJ shows I went to, this was the only one with older people (age 30 +) in attendance. It took me a minute to realize that everyone there was a total music nerd. This is explained by the fact that the band plays densely layered and complex music. First of all, the vocal arrangements are incredible. All of the Everythings have interesting voices that they put to good use in every song, creating inspired harmonies. The sound as a whole is all over the place, ranging from New-Wave to electro-pop fantasy, with off-beat rhythms and plenty of odd key changes. It’s not for everyone, but something tells me they’ll catch on.
Saturday, Night 5, brought nothing special. School of Seven Bells has gotten pretty huge and I had never seen them live so I expected very good things. I was not impressed by their show. They lacked energy and the music sounded exactly as it did on the record, maybe even a little worse. As for Bikini, who played downstairs, don’t even get me started. Maybe it was the crowd, maybe it was the tiny space, but it was not a good show. Their sound was so off I couldn’t even stay the whole set.
Until next year, CMJ.