CMJ 2012: Best Of, 1-3


CMJ is one of our very favorite music festivals of the year, because it showcases the best, brightest and unknown talents out there, hidden like diamonds in the rough. Over the course of five crazy days, NYC mines those diamonds for all the world to see. Though we witnessed an abundance of music-related shenanigans that we would love to tell you about, we wanted to first pay homage to the artists out there who we think, and hope, the world will soon experience much more of. Here’s a sample of 9 acts I liked best. Some are those diamonds, brand spanking new to the scene, and others are old favorites who continue to blow my mind every time I get to see them.



1. Chad Valley @ Le Baron


Chad Valley, the moniker of UK native Hugo Manuel (of indie rock band Jonquil), is a phenomenon that creeps up on you like a flash flood. Though I had heard a few of his tracks prior to the Ghostly/Cascine showcase, when I finally saw him at Le Baron my prior impressions were torn to shreds. He is possessed of an exceptional kind of talent that can only be apprehended through his live performance (one of the myriad great things about live performance). There are three aspects of his work that standout. First, he doesn’t really seem to give a fuck about how he’s perceived. He is accessible and unassuming, and doesn’t cultivate a hyper-stylized personae in order to distance himself from the audience—a commonly employed mechanism by “DJs” and other solo performers who lack traditional means of self-definition, like musical virtuosity for instance. This absence of self-consciousness, while it could perhaps be interpreted as impudence, is a breath of fresh air in this biz. Especially at festivals, you often feel like you might just choke on all the hubris floating around in the air. Second, his music is innovative but simple, in that the way that he creates an experience for the audience. You don’t grasp this from the recordings unless you are familiar with the fact that he doesn’t perform with a band. He stands behind a table of samplers and builds his songs from there, singing simultaneously into two microphones so that he can loop and layer his vocal tracks. Third, Manuel’s lung capacity alone transforms what could be formulaic electropop into true art, unrivaled by almost any similarly minded pop musician I can think of, save Antony Hegarty.

All this made for an impressive set of performances, which subsequently topped my list for the week. His songs are lush, melodic and complex, and each one gives audience members the sense that he’s intimating something directly to them about life, love and longing.

2. Doldrums @ PS1


Doldrums‘ Pitchfork gig at MOMA PS1 was a CMJ winner. Project of Airick Woodhead , Doldrums’ set brought visual art and inventive electronic music together seamlessly; and the performance was executed with an elegance that this particular genre often precludes, since it’s meant to challenge the musical aesthetic of the viewer in a way that can leave one feeling abandoned in the…um…doldrums. Doldrums’ set was entirely captivating though, accompanied by video installation that wrapped around the inside wall of PS1’s huge, white crystalline dome, in which he and his band performed. Though previously a solo project based out of Montreal, he played his CMJ shows as a three-piece. His music samples and layers together different, often opposing sounding percussion and a-melodic strings over (in this instance) live drumming, throwing in animal sounds, child sounds, the sounds of a modem starting, etc. Woodhead’s ethereal vocals tie it all together, and the result is tracks that are haphazard, yet never absent of a central thesis, which perhaps in his case is: controlled chaos is fertile ground for good music if you have the brains to compose it all well. And that Doldrums does. All of it makes for experimental electronica at its very best. We will surely continue to see more from this young talent, if he chooses to give us more.

3. DIIV @ Villain


Aside from nearly getting moshed to death at Villain, a pop-up warehouse venue on the Williamsburg waterfront where they performed, DIIV was an exceedingly good live band to watch.

Why there was a circle pit at a shoegaze concert at all is mystifying, and made watching DIIV feel like a weird dream that’s also kind of a nightmare. I know that shoegaze trailblazers like Jesus And Mary Chain have a whole damn album of super raucous jams that make people want to flail themselves at one another. DIIV, however—at least what I thought I knew of them—do not. All of the songs off their full-length debut Oshin, do not whatsoever betray a “fuck the world” ethos. Instead, listening to them makes me want to go for a run on a sunny autumn afternoon. But I don’t go for runs. I go to concerts. And this one got rowdy, it seemed, as soon as the opening chords were strummed. After adjusting my expectations and locking my knees, I began to actually “get it” though, because the songs themselves elicit an emotional reaction in people. It’s almost as if they were written to be experienced viscerally. The melodies are full of reverb, underpinned and carried through by jangling guitar riffs, making the vocals appear incidental. After listening for a few moments you do feel swept into their sound, until you’re completely out to sea, alone but happy, which I suspect could be exactly what Oshin is trying to achieve.


Chad Valley performs “Up And Down” @ Le Baron, 10/17

Coverage by Annie White,  for AudioFemme