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
1. Bleeding Rainbow