Jay Does CMJ 2012 – FRIDAY REPORT!

October 22nd, 2012

So after two days of ambling around New York City with only a set of directions and two bottles of water to my name, I was reaching the end of my time at CMJ. I had already seen 16 performances between Tuesday and Thursday, and I still had six more on the agenda before I went back to my ol’ Poughkeepsie home. After eating an awesome bagel at Robert’s apartment, I worked my way back down to Lower Manhattan to catch a few indie heavyhitters.

By the time I got to the venue at Union Square, the place was about half-filled to capacity and Wild Nothing was in the middle of their second song. Led by Brooklyn singer-songwriter Jack Tatum, the band played a series of songs from his sophomore LP Nocturne, out now on Captured Tracks. Similarly to the record, the full-band live performance meshed winding guitar hooks and woozy synths on top of motorik beats to culminate in an indie pop dreamland. The group swayed and bobbed their heads lightly to the tune of their music, seeming simultaneously engaged and sleepy. It was a super-ethereal set and the most chill way to start off an afternoon. Plus, I really dug Jack Tatum’s ski hat. STYLE POINTS!

Since KEXP was live broadcasting each band during the showcase, every set lasted for exactly a half-hour, followed by a 90-minute break between one act and the next. In short, waiting for the next band to play was awkward. During this period, the venue would transform from a concert into a mixer. It was similar to sitting around at a dull family reunion, but knowing that if you stick around long enough, you’ll see your endearingly psychotic great-aunt Ethel who lost all her teeth but “doesn’t need no damn dentures, because dentures are the devil’s work!”

That analogy fell apart quickly. So Kishi Bashi took the stage at exactly 2:30. A touring member of the psychedelic group of Montreal, Kishi Bashi (real name K Ishibashi) manages to produce sweeping orchestral pop with just a violin and his voice. His set-up consists of a loop pedal, pedals for his violin, a mic for clear vocals, and a second mic for distorted vocals that he uses to beatbox. The distortion of this second mic causes his beatboxing to sound almost identical to a drum machine, which amazed me time and time again. It was unbelievable to watch him execute such intricate compositions with only a few minor hitches throughout the entire performance, especially when he would break into a virtuosic violin solo while remaining in total lockstep with his loops. Undoubtedly the most technically impressive act I saw at CMJ, and one worth checking out!

Fast-forward through a rather dreary performance by The Antlers and a set by a tragically hoarse Cities Aviv (who threw out his voice at a previous showcase), and we arrive at my final highlight of CMJ, Talk Normal. It was now around 9PM and I was at the Knitting Factory once more. The lineup was far less stacked than the Sub Pop showcase from the night before; as a result, there were way fewer people in the audience and the atmosphere was completely different. Only a couple of us were up front for Sarah Register and Andrya Ambro’s set, primarily consisting of material from their new album Sunshine, out today (10/23/2012) on Joyful Noise. Their visceral, screeching songs were marked by abrasive guitars, militaristic drum patterns that were sometimes impossible to follow, and quasi-melodic vocals that sounded like possessed incantations. At points, Andrya would stand up at her drumset to tap out her more complex beats, putting her entire body into the performance. I found myself stamping my foot in time with the music, eyes closed, and trying to sort out exactly how they made music like… that.

After New Zealand indie rock trio Ghost Wave played a sloppy and poorly received set, I left the Knitting Factory, then left Brooklyn, and then left NYC, finally making it back to my dorm room at the early hour of 2:30 AM. I had conquered mild confusion, tired legs, and worn-out ears to survive my first music festival. And it was awesome.

Top 5 favorite acts at CMJ 2012:
5. Wild Nothing
4. Royal Baths
3. Talk Normal
2. Metz
1. Bleeding Rainbow

 

Jay Does CMJ 2012 – THURSDAY REPORT!

October 21st, 2012

After taking Wednesday off to give my ears a break after Tuesday’s awesome showcase, I was rigged and ready to spend all Thursday navigating Brooklyn and checking out some more showcases! After catching an early train into the city, I managed to arrive in Brooklyn at 1PM, a half-hour before Royal Baths were supposed to begin playing at Public Assembly. As soon as I got off the subway, I ran into Riley, No-ViCE chair and host of “Spring Break!” (11p on Wednesdays). It turned out that we were both heading to the same showcase, so we walked to Public Assembly together. Once at the venue, we were also joined by Alex, WVKR’s tech director and host of “The Olive Garden” (10p on Tuesdays). Vassar was SERIOUSLY representing at this concert.

When we got settled into the venue, I began taking in our surroundings. Public Assembly is starkly minimal in its design; a winding black corridor leads to a sizable all-black room, complete with dim lighting, a bar in the back, and a highly-raised stage. I thought of it as an upper-echelon DIY venue — there were signs of polish, but the grit was impossible to ignore.

Very few people were milling about this space at the beginning of Royal Baths’ set, which got underway a little bit after 2PM. They proceeded to pummel the room with roaring, droning psych-rock. The tempo was never fast but the noise was always enveloping and hypnotic; the drums sang out intricately moody beats, the guitars shimmered and exploded with a melodic dissonance akin to Velvet Underground’s finer freakouts, and the two voices chanted into the void. Bassist/vocalist Lesley Hann would occasionally make unwavering eye contact with specific audience members, which added a layer to the unsettling nature of their music. It was a weird but amazing experience; I highly recommend catching them live if you’re into the whole doom and gloom thing.

The next act I caught at Public Assembly was Wild Yaks, with music-director-partner-in-crime Thea. The band showed off a set of scrappy, anthemic punk tunes that sounded like a slightly crustier Titus Andronicus. The four people on stage sang almost every lyric together, which made each word sound like a beer-soaked battle cry. There was jumping around, there was pounding fists into chests, and there was a constant percussive roll being tapped out by drummer Martin Cartegna. They were a really fun act to watch, but the crowd at Public Assembly was spread thin and it therefore didn’t feel like the full experience. Unfortunate. In any case, they have a new album coming out November 20th called “Million Years” on Ernest Jennings Record Co. (same label as O’Death, who paid a visit to our campus last year)  — check it!

Wild Yaks were followed by The Intelligence, a name that kinda sounds like it would fit on a bill with names like Dashboard Confessional and The Bravery, amirite? Of course, they didn’t break out into emo-pop when they started their set. They instead hit us with some awesomely neurotic post-punk. The songs worked in energetic short bursts, falling in line somewhere between Thee Oh Sees’ knack for catchy guitar hooks and Gang of Four’s call-and-response shouts.

I was to find out afterwards that this band’s been around since 1999, and that they’re currently touring their seventh LP, out now on In The Red. This all makes sense in retrospect; they gave off an air of seasoned professionalism during their set, cracking jokes and entertaining the crowd in-between songs while knowing exactly where they were taking us next. It was a breathless performance that somehow didn’t feel rushed. I totally want to see them again, ideally in The Mug with a whole bunch of people there (*cough cough* No-ViCE *nudge*).

Then came the Sub Pop showcase at the Knitting Factory, which was possibly the pinnacle of my CMJ experience. While the first three acts ranged from agreeable to abysmal (people really like Daughn Gibson?), the next two acts were unreasonably good. Fourth on the bill that night was Metz, a noise-punk trio from Vancouver who could possibly be the best new band of 2012. As soon as they started in on their first riff, I began nudging into people because I knew that we were about to be assaulted with glorious ear-splitting mania that would inevitably induce a pit.

Surely enough, as soon as all three members began slamming their respective instruments, the densely-packed audience got aggressive fast. It was an unrelenting maelstrom of feedback, distorted minor chords, and POUNDING drums that can only be explained with CAPITAL LETTERS. Their last song was an extended version of album highlight “Wet Blanket” which went on and on and on and on. Guitarist Alex Edkin took the time during this breakdown to throw his guitar all over the place and intermittently banshee-scream into the mic, while the noise and energy kept building and building for what felt like an eternity. Best eternity ever!

King Tuff followed with a set that was less intense than Metz, as expected. I had to give my body a break after getting the wind knocked out of me during the last band’s performance, so I hung towards the back to watch this quirky, handlebar-mustachioed garage rock outfit from Vermont. Most of the crowd somehow had reserve energy left over from Metz and formed an even bigger mosh pit that consumed the entire front half of the Knitting Factory. The audience’s excitement was completely justified — King Tuff played the longest set out of anyone I saw at CMJ, and they were breaking a sweat throughout.

Their music exuded a glam flamboyancy; the all-American guitar riffs and King Tuff’s nasally upper register called to mind acts like T-Rex and Hunx. Their personality was thrown into even sharper relief when they’d take breaks in-between songs to tell us about how they saw a cute moose on the side of the road, and about how Shirley Temples are the best drink in the universe. They were having a good time, and we were too. But, unfortunately, their set had to end eventually. One of the last songs they played was their standout single  “Bad Thing” from the new album. I had no choice but to rush towards the front and sing along for one last hurrah.

After King Tuff ended around 1AM, I started my long odyssey from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side, where an air mattress with my name on it awaited my arrival (shouts out to Robert for letting me crash). Thursday was a long and adventurous day, and I still had one more to go.

Jay Does CMJ 2012 – TUESDAY REPORT!

October 17th, 2012

Hi! I’m Jay, one of the two music directors here at WVKR (alongside Thea ’13, wassupppp). As music directors, we bring new music into WVKR and report to people in the music industry about what the station is playing. In order to stay on top of “what’s hot” in the independent music sphere (and also do some casual networking), we take the opportunity every year to head down to CMJ, one of the biggest music festivals in the country. Hundreds of artists storm Manhattan and Brooklyn to perform in showcases over the course of five days, and it ain’t nothin’ but a good time.

Tuesday marked the first proper day of CMJ, and since this is my first music festival ever (!), the first day was a remotely confusing one. My girlfriend joined me for the first day (thx Gianna!), but since we’ve only been to the city a handful of times, getting from Grand Central to Washington Square Park was a tiny victory in itself. Once we finally made our way to the park, I registered and we celebrated by grabbing some t-t-t-t-TASTY falafel from Mamoun’s. Because most CMJ events are 21+, and neither of us are 21 (bummer), the showcase portion of our day didn’t actually get going until around 6:30. Until then, we strolled around the city and checked out a couple of record stores. I picked up the new Mac DeMarco album for the station. Gianna donated a dollar to diabetes research at a Duane Reade. It was chill.

Since it was the first day of the festival and I still have a couple more days of concerts to attend, I decided to take it slow and stick to a single showcase for the night. It was held in The Marlin Room at Webster Hall, a modestly sized space with lounge chairs on the perimeter and sexy red lighting. Nine bands played there over the course of roughly six hours, but we only caught the first eight due to how late it ran. Here’s how that all went down:

The first band to play was Grand Resort. They’re fresh on the Brooklyn scene, and (to my surprise!) managed by a friend of mine. At this early phase of the showcase, there were only a few of us standing around to watch, which was a shame, because Grand Resort tore it up. They performed a garage-tinged form of dream pop that I might’ve dismissed as a bit familiar, if it weren’t for an outstanding performance by the drummer, who absolutely exploded on the drums throughout the set. His aggressive style reminded me a bit of Brian Chippendale from Lightning Bolt — a bit more reserved, but just as sweaty. Many of the performances of the night were bands from the Captured Tracks roster, and I could totally see Grand Resort’s sound fitting in with that canon. It’ll be interesting to see where they end up in a year or two — keep an eye out!

The Young Evils followed them, a 5-piece that was decked out in all black (the guitarist had a Black Lips shirt on — respect). These guys pumped their brand of blues-punk out of their amps for a solid half-hour, almost instantly bringing to mind a young Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. While a little bit rowdier than Grand Resort, their sound also had a certain indie rock flavor to it; their harmonies in particular were reminiscent of Darlings’ boy/girl stylings. They lost me at a couple of points when their set began leaning too close to biker-bar rock’n'roll for comfort, but otherwise, I thought that this night was off to a great start. My only problem was that the crowd felt so dead; Gianna and I were the only ones really moving around to the first two acts, and while we had a good time nonetheless, the dynamic felt kinda weird.

But this dynamic between us and the rest of the crowd reached an entirely new level when BLEEDING RAINBOW CAME ON NEXT, OH MY GOD. The 4-piece from Philly successfully brought our energy levels WAY up, and we quickly found ourselves convulsing to their immense, feedback-riddled fuzz-punk. At one point, guitarist Sarah Everton came down from the stage and began bashing into Gianna and I mid-song. I soon found myself thrashing about on the floor next to her, while people took a whole lot of pictures. DON’T CARE; It was possibly one of the most cathartic concert experiences I’ve ever had, and I was fresh off seeing Total Slacker destroy the roof of The Mug only a few weeks prior. No-ViCE is bringing them to Vassar at the end of November — all I can say is get ready.

Naturally, that was where the night peaked for me, but there were still many more bands to come on. Dent May came after Bleeding Rainbow with some funky disco-pop to bring me back down to earth. These guys showed off possibly the best musicianship of the night; the bassist in particular was pumping out complex-yet-catchy riffs left and right (and he also had awesome hair [bonus points!!]). At this point, the crowd was filling up and drinks were settling into peoples’ stomachs, so people began loosening up and grooving. Their set was possibly the shortest of the night, but they still packed in a lot of songs, including one that I’ve definitely heard in my time spent working at Old Navy. Although they were arguably the chillest band to perform up to that point, they broke into a punk frenzy at the very end of their set, jumping on equipment and storming about on stage. I dug it quite a bit — check out the new album Do Things!

The other highlight of the night, and where I’ll end tonight’s post, was Mac DeMarco‘s set. This night marked the release of his new album 2, so he and his band seemed to be in the best mood ever. Their set consisted of incredibly well-crafted indie pop, with slight nods to jazz and country here and there. Mac was a remarkable character to watch, breaking out into weird faces, funny poses, and cartoony voices throughout. His eccentricity felt authentic, which is what made the band that much more enjoyable to soak in. Near the end of one of their tracks, they abruptly broke into “Message In A Bottle” by The Police, only to cut it off halfway and finish the previous song as though nothing had even happened. It was moments like these (including one point where Mac stage dove at possibly the quietest moment of the performance) that put a massive smile on my face.


Those were my favorites of the first night. I’m going to be hitting up four more showcases over Thursday and Friday, so I’ll be reporting back soon!

-Jay

The Campus Current Gets Political

April 10th, 2012

This week on the Campus Current we explore politics on all scales. First, Molly interviews Monica McWilliams, co-founder of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, who was one of the two women to the sign the Good Friday Agreement. Next, we hear from two campus organizations, the Vassar Democrats and the Moderate Independent Conservative Alliance (MICA) to talk about party politics on campus. Next, Sarah interviews award-winning author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson, who visited Vassar to give a lecture on her recent book, “The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.” Finally, we take a look into the Vassar Student Association electoral process, just in time for the end of filing. Tune in from 5-6pm!