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

CMJ 2012: SESAC Showcase @ Cakeshop

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Photo curtesey of
Psychobuilding performs.
Photo courtesy of

This year for CMJ  I dropped by my old standby Cakeshop to check out the SESAC showcase.  SESAC, an organization that represents musicians who seek compensation for having their music performed in public, showcased a cross section of their indie rock talent; and the groups were indeed a good match for the typical Cakeshop crowd.  Here is a review of four bands from the evening.

First in the lineup was the Wisconsin based duo Blessed Feathers, comprised of Jacquelyn Beaupre and Donivan Berube.  The pair constructs songs together, and consider themselves partners in music and in life.  Blessed Feathers’s sound was beautifully wrought with a strong emphasis on folk guitar style and soulful melodies.  Beaupre’s vocals add a harmonic layer that flesh the songs out and are indispensable to the music’s emotional depth.  If you’re a folk rock fan like I am, you may find yourself enamored with Blessed Feathers’s sonically expansive Red Hot Chili Peppers cover of “Porcelain”.

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Blessed Feather performs.
Photo courtesy of

Communist Daughter is also borne out of WI, and is fronted by singer John Solomon.  Grey’s Anatomy fans know this group for their song “Soundtrack to the End”, which made it onto season 7’s credit roll.  That said, they have many more notable songs to back themselves up, the latest hit being “Ghosts“.  This group is relatively new to the scene, with one EP (Lions & Lambs) and one full length album (Soundtrack to the End). They have a great live sound, with driving drum beats, catchy guitar lines, and expressive vocals.  This polish and care lends Communist Daughter a lot of potential.



[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Half Undressed performs.
Photo courtesy of

Half Undressed is a two man drum and guitar duo.  The group is self described as “indie/dream pop”, and with drummer Sam’s airy, laid back vocals, the genre seems an accurate description.  The relaxed vibe and surfer rock style guitar hooks set an easy going atmosphere.  I found I was immediately drawn in to Half Undressed’s sound, but after a few songs, I felt I’d heard everything they had to offer.  With such a specific vocal style choice, the songs needed more variation in instrumentation, or the drummer could have made more complex or varied choices.  Overall the tracks began to sound too similar to one another and too simple to support such an unwavering vocal style, and I began to think the group would be best on a soundtrack compilation rather than in a concert setting.  Chill out to their song “Demons” here.

Psychobuildings has a fantastic synth pop dance sound, and singer Peter LaBier’s voice has so much character and wildly distinguished style, he seems destined to be a pop icon.  Not to mention he has that fearless indie rocker aesthetic.  Listen to “Wonderchamber” and see if you can restrain yourself from dancing!  Psychobuildings has a great sense of musical composition and a full sound that builds with diverse instrumentation and classic synth sounds.  Yet, seeing the duo perform, I felt I was cheated of that live performance feel.  The group plays along with pre-recorded tracks they’ve written in the software program Ableton Live, adding only the drums and vocals in performance.  Hearing basic bass lines play out of a laptop made me question the reasoning behind leaving a real bass player offstage.  I certainly understand Psychobuildings is part of the DIY music movement, and they are able to bring a studio quality sound into the basement of Cakeshop.  But without more onstage investment in creating music in real time, I began to feel the show turn into a karaoke night.  More ownership of the songs and their creation was needed in order to engage the audience.  Psychobuildings is a great studio band, with some killer tracks to be found online.  I hope to see the group expand their live sound with an electronic artist who can give these stellar dance songs an edgy, real feel.

Content by Kat Tingum for AudioFemme[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

SHOW REVIEW: The Jesus And Mary Chain

Not shockingly the Jesus And Mary Chain concert a few weeks back felt like a strange clash of generations; a milieu whose parameters constantly shift and become obscured by its inhabitants’ conflicting schemata, or really, their respective ideologies around music.

Attending the show were those who remember Jesus And Mary Chain as a group of kids from the early 80s who would sneak into venues and fool sound engineers into thinking they were the opening act for the night, play a set, and then quietly leave. Or those who’ve been fans for decades, and who saw them in 1985 at North London Polytechnic right before they became huge. There were those who discovered them in the 90s during an angsty teen phase, perhaps, after Stoned And Dethroned came out and everybody had a crush on Hope Sandoval. And then of course, we were there in hoards: ah yes, the Millennials, who more than likely started listening to them during sophomore year of high school in 2000, well after the band’s hay day was up. By then, their music had taken on a new meaning, and was no longer shaped by the sociocultural context into which it was born, but rather occupied an ineffable gray area, one in particular, that exists between the realms of nostalgia and reinvention.

In the year 2000, we listened to JAMC albums not because they were novel for whatever reason, and not because they represented something bygone that we never got to know or apprehend. We were too young for the former and too old for the latter. We listened because the songs are timeless. Boring, a bit, but ever so resonant.

Removed from the culture that inspired their creation though, they both lose and gain certain dimensions, thus allowing for new ways of experiencing them. Which is what it’s all about, right? This is what separates music that is bound to its age from that which lives, and continues to influence and herald trends to come. My early experience with the albums was one of deep, and in hindsight stupid confusion, about why all the guitars sounded so loud. Then I came across tracks that transcended my distaste for noise rock, like “The Hardest Walk”, for instance, which follows a simple and pretty accessible chord progression, but contains endless seeming layers of heavy distortion. It wasn’t grunge music because there was no yelling, really. It wasn’t new wave because there wasn’t tons of synth. It wasn’t anything that sounded like what “the future” would bring, i.e. all the electronic music I was listening to. There was no band to go see, to make it all more palpable. Yeah, I was confused, but I found the space for it, and subsequently developed a more generous understanding and appreciation for their sound.

I didn’t start loving their songs until 2003, when Lost In Translation came out. I needn’t say much, I’m sure. But the first time I saw the final scene, as she’s walking away and the opening chords of “Just Like Honey” start, with that marching drum beat, as Bill Murray’s character catches up to her, and whispers into her ear, and Jim Reid’s ethereal voice starts singing the first line, about taking on the world…I cried through the entire closing credits. It was that moment when the songs acquired  context for me.

In any case, I still hadn’t actually SEEN this band until two weeks ago. They don’t release new albums. They don’t tour. I had always thought they were done. So I was excited, but had no idea what to expect. Their music had always been detached from even the idea of  live performance.

We got to Iriving Plaza, which unfortunately is my absolute LEAST favorite venue in NYC, and walked up stairs to the stage. The opening act, Psychic Paramount was playing  their set, shrouded in a haze of red fog, so heavy you couldn’t see any band members. Though I do like their recent album, I didn’t like how they sounded live because there was too much noise and no cohesion, and the mix in that room is always so muddy, it made it impossible to really hear anything.

Finally after what felt like eons, JAMC came on, Obscured by billows of multicolored smoke, apparitional, like ghosts of times past. It was exactly how I had always pictured them. They opened with “Between Planets”, which sounded pretty good for the most part, save some excruciating (for those of us with sensitive ears) feedback issues coming from the lead guitar, that ended up persisting for the whole show, that made me want to jump up onto stage and reposition the entire mic and speaker setup (please refer back to “Irving Plaza is my least favorite venue in NYC”). It ultimately didn’t distract too much from the songs, however, which sounded nearly identical to the studio recordings. This can be a good thing, because people generally like consistency,  and it demonstrates the band’s technical competence as musicians, but it can also be a bad thing. It can make the music sound formulaic and monotonous even to those who are playing it. This, if anything, is my one criticism of their performance. There were times when they seemed on autopilot, or maybe even a little bored with themselves. Also, Reid forgot the lyrics to “Happy When It Rains”.

They’re lack of energy aside, it was a cool night. The woman who accompanied them on “Sometimes Always” and “Just Like Honey” had a great voice, and brought a vibe to the stage and to the songs that made both duets highlights of the show. They mostly played tracks from Darklands and Automatic, saving the louder, more raucous and distorted jams of Psychocandy and Honey’s Dead for the encore, during which I almost got trampled to death, when the theretofore mellow crowd started a circle pit in which I found myself. Up until that point I had pretty much forgotten how truly fanatical people are about this band. It was both heartwarming and a little scary.

Throughout the entire night, all I could keep thinking was that even as I watched them play, I’ve listened to their songs so many  times without having a notion about what they’re like as a live band, that I couldn’t get specific references out of my head, that the tunes have always elicited–certain people, places, smells, drinks, etc.

And this alone made the whole thing so worth it.