Our eyes are held open by matches and our ears have taken a hell of a pounding, but DiS has survived the annual five-day multi-venue reign of terror that is the CMJ Music Marathon 2009. This 29th incarnation of the festival was marked by the usual hype and rumors, and DiS fought off torrential rain, huge queues, and a brush with the NYPD to bring you part two of this report. Read Part One of our coverage here.
It’s a beautiful Friday afternoon in Brooklyn, and a few world-weary souls have headed over to the Knitting Factory for the Village Voice showcase. New Thrill Jockey signings Javelin play to a barely mobile crowd, even offering to do a Q&A if anyone gets bored. Thankfully, there’s no need, as their shrill vocals and glitchy electronica brighten up the small audience. Javelin are likely to make a far greater impact when they get a chance to play at a decent time to a bigger crowd.
At Bruar Falls, just down the street from the Knitting Factory, a truly eclectic lineup brings Friday afternoon to life. James Husband has spent much of his career to date in the sizable shadow of Kevin Barnes as a sideman in of Montreal, but here he steps out alone, bringing some propulsive power pop to a small crowd. Sadly, there’s no room for Husband to ride a big white horse onto the stage, as Barnes so memorably did a while back. His buddies in The Ladybug Transistor step up next to deliver a compelling psych-pop set, which is often complimented by trombone and vibraphone from a heavily mustachioed fellow.
Things take a turn for the weird after this relatively straightforward fare. Sean Lennon has turned up at the venue with former Cibo Matto memberYuka Honda to perform with the Japanese band mi-gu. Lennon is dressed in a bowler hat and flamboyant jacket, which is at odds with the dingy surroundings and meager crowd. The band are a two-piece led by Yuko, who has some serious form as a member of the Plastic Ono Band and Cornelius’s group, and delivers a mixture of soothing dreampop and strident, Sonic Youth-y dissonance. Lennon adds howling guitar solos to a few tracks, which seem a little out-of-place, but he forces the audience to pay attention by blocking off the route to the toilets with his big Marshall amp. Lots of leg-crossing ensues.
The final act at Bruar Falls is Fake Male Voice, the solo project from Tunde Adebimpe from TV on the Radio. Adebimpe, who now sports a rather natty moustache, although not quite as great as the one sprouted by the guy from the Ladybug Transistor, is joined by Gerard Smith from his other band for this show, which is a short and sweet set of electronics and vocal manipulations. Various FX boxes are twisted and kicked into gear by Adebimpe, who loops and distorts his live vocals, gradually building up a collage of sound while Smith adds subtle bloops and beeps alongside him. Amazingly, there are only about 10 people in the venue for what ultimately ended up being one of the most surprisingly tender and pretty sets of the whole festival. The Paw Tracks showcase at the Cameo Gallery in Williamsburg is up next. Initially it’s just Avey Tare and a few other people watching Drawlings, the solo project of Abby Portner (Avey’s sister, and the provider of much Animal Collective artwork and set design). Her music is slow, delicate, full of space and intricately woven samples. At one point she even drops in a snatch of a Beach Boys vocal harmony, which might be a reference to the fact that her brother’s band are always compared to them, but more likely just something that worked well with the music. Keeping it in the family, Kria Brekkan follows, delivering a low-key set of bonkers helium-vocaled tracks with occasional accordion accompaniment. It’s difficult to see what she’s doing as the venue fills up and she crouches on the floor, lost in her own peculiar world and seemingly wrapping her head up in a long, clanging necklace.
Excepter are the joker in the Paw Tracks pack, but their larking around on stage, and the endless, formless, joyless racket of their music leaves most people distinctly nonplussed. Salvation arrives in the form of Tickley Feather, a.k.a Philadelphian Annie Sachs, who is performing off the back of her excellently dazzled and queasy Hors D'Oeuvres album. Sachs is joined by two other musicians and a drum machine that sounds like it’s wrapped up in cotton wool, which helps add that great feeling of displacement and other-ness that is deeply embedded in her music. Like her kindred spirit, Nite Jewel, Sachs often sounds like she’s performing in a lonely bar at the end of the world, where the future is steadily blurring out of permanent focus.
Video: Tickley Feather: 'Fancy Walking'
At the other end of the spectrum, and away from the womb-like Paw Tracks showcase, it’s quickly apparent that big hair, big amps, big guitar sounds (big everything, basically) are the hallmarks of Brooklyn duo Sisters. Their music is a great celebration of rock stripped down to its rudimentary core, with singer/guitarist Aaron Pfannnebecker ringing great blasts of distortion from his instrument and drummer Matt Conboy shaking his afro and pounding away at his kit. Highly recommended.
Your intrepid DiS reporter gets a ticket and a court summons from an NYPD cop in a quest to cycle through the rain to catch Japandroids in south Brooklyn, but turning up at the venue soaked and angry is exactly the right way to approach their show. Guitarist Brian King says he’s feeling poorly and encourages the audience to occasionally fill in for him, which they do, heroically. Much stage diving and moshing ensues, and ‘Heart Sweats’ and ‘Young Hearts Spark Fire’ are met with a predictably raucous welcome. But the sound at the cavernous and echo-y Bell House doesn’t suit Japandroids, and like many two-piece bands in bigger venues, the mix is reedy and thin without any bass to hold down the low-end. It’s a shame, but they’re clearly a band who will thrive in much smaller locales—apparently their CMJ show at the intimate Glasslands Gallery was far better.
People are seriously flagging when Saturday comes around, but there are still a number of bodies out at the Brooklyn Bowl to check out buzzed-about locals Grooms. Their sound is a hardened, shoegazer-y noise with a little Pavement influence thrown in for good measure. A short trip down to the Music Hall of Williamsburg afterwards offers a chance to see Seattle band The Dutchess & the Duke, a stripped-down three piece who do a neat line in punk-infused country that is distinctly out of place in a venue where half the audience seem preoccupied with trying out a demo of Rock Band.
New Sub Pop signings Dum Dum Girls follow, and look like the first proper pop band of the festival. The group is ostensibly a solo project for singer Dee Dee, but she’s assembled an incredible all-girl lineup, who sport short dresses and don’t-fuck-with-me stares, for this recent spate of shows. Their music is nothing new—melodic, heavily reverbed, ‘60s influenced garage rock—but they deliver it with such style that it’s hard not to be impressed. Anyone searching for a Carrie Nations for the noughties has just found exactly what they were looking for. Lightspeed Champion follows, with Dev Hynes clad in a full wizard outfit (complete with long, flowing grey beard) and offering some new, power-poppy material.
Le Poisson Rouge presents an early evening of Icelandic music that offers respite from the noisier fare elsewhere. Sin Fang Bous is the alter ego of Sindri Mar Sigfusson, who provides some charming, folk-influenced pop tunes. It’s all going swimmingly, with most of the audience swooning along to Sigfusson’s gorgeous melodies, until a fight breaks out in the front row. Sigfusson seems visibly rattled, and this might be the least likely concert to ever feature a bout of fisticuffs, but he calms everyone down by simply plowing on regardless. Former temporary DiS editors múm are an appropriate follow-up act, although opening with a song about “tired eyes” is surely their idea of a cruel joke on the ragged CMJ attendees. Their hazy, fractured melodies wouldn’t have sounded out of place in the Paw Tracks showcase on Friday, and are greeted with considerable enthusiasm from the now (thankfully) becalmed audience.
After being suitably soothed by múm, Brooklyn band My Teenage Stride blast through a hurried set across town. One of the perils of CMJ is finding bands pelting through brief sets so they can get to another location, as is the case here, but the furious canter actually works in My Teenage Stride’s favour. Singer Jed Smith is one of the hardest working men in the Brooklyn indie scene, always doing sound or some other favor for bands—and it’s high time he got some payback of his own. The opening ‘Theme From Teenage Suicide’ is the most perfect pop song of the festival, with clattering Wedding Present guitars and Smith’s undeniable songwriting talent vying for space before they steam through the rest of the set.
Video: My Teenage Stride: 'To Live And Die In The Airport Lounge'
A mob scene outside the Sub Pop showcase at the Mercury Lounge offers an unsurprising climax to the festival. Who wouldn’t want to end all of this with a great raucous punch to the face from Pissed Jeans and Obits? The former are fantastically unhinged, with singer Matt Korvette grabbing anything he can to use as a prop (water bottles, electrical cables, a frisbee) and very visibly antagonizing his own bandmates. Guitarist Bradley Fry clearly has a hard-on for Duane Denison, but the band are so well drilled and bursting with such expression that it’s impossible not to succumb to their sound in a live setting. Korvette and Fry look like they might come to blows at the end, and it’s a welcome sight to actually see some tension on stage amid the ineffable cool on display elsewhere. Pissed Jeans are the delicious sweat on Satan’s ball-sac, and they need to get a U.K. tour sorted out pronto.
Obits close out the festival, opening with a cover of Graham Nash’s ‘Military Madness’, which also recently decorated Woods’ excellent Songs of Shame album. For most of the punk diehards here, the chance to see Rick Froberg of Drive Like Jehu/Hot Snakes on stage is worth the price of entry alone, and he doesn’t disappoint. Froberg is a picture of cool at the side of the stage, and while the members of Obits may be getting on a little, they’re proof positive that the urge to do this doesn’t always dissipate with age, and talent doesn’t always dry up and wither away. It’s a tired but happy audience that greets them, and more music follows, but this was the end of the long, hard, enjoyable CMJ road for DiS.