LIVE REVIEW: CMJ 2015-Cosmo Sheldrake


On my second venture to Williamsburg’s Living Room, I encounter an even stranger sight than the Anglomania days prior. A lanky, rather stunning gentleman is flung upon a couch like the lead dandy of an Oscar Wilde play. He wears foppish Chelsea boots, a rust red sweater with a hole in the elbow and a slate, Nehru-necked vest. A conical birthday hat tops his mop of curly hair, making him look like a dunce or the subject of some Balthus painting. At a glance, one would reasonably question his country (or era) of origin.

This could only be Cosmo Sheldrake, a man whose name and music are as eccentric as the scene I just described. He’s also one of the acts I was most thrilled to see this year. So why was the headlining act sprawled flat on a sofa? Was he drunk? Ill? Strung out? I suspect he was just trying to squeeze in a bit of shut-eye before his set-which didn’t start until 1:30 am.

But, as things go at these sorts of events, Sheldrake’s set didn’t actually commence until 2:30 am. The vibe at this show was quite different from when I saw him at Piano’s two nights before, where a packed crowd beamed and shouted “Cosmo!” long before his set time. Instead, as Sheldrake parted the curtain to enter the listening room he muttered: “oh fuck, there’s like no one here.” He turned and looked to his friend with a nervous but lighthearted chuckle: “shitballs!”

At Piano’s, Sheldrake had come on stage wearing the exact same outfit, sans birthday cone. He spent a good half-hour setting up keyboards, sequencers, a laptop and some semblance of a Kaoss Pad or effects station. I remember thinking that it may have been more useful for Sheldrake to perform in a dog pit so onlookers could gaze down and see what the hell he was doing.Having read that Cosmo has savant-like musical abilities, (he plays around 30 instruments and having composed film and play scores by age 24) I was really hoping he’d be outfitted with a full band, or at least juggle a few different instruments. I’m sure both scenarios would have been a logistical pain in the ass, so the electronic motherboard it was.

Despite the one-man-show feel of the gig, I certainly can’t say Cosmo disappointed. He’s so engaging, charming and humble that it’s mildly infuriating; this level of talent is supposed to be reserved for the unattractive and socially inept, both of which Sheldrake is the opposite. He takes the time to introduce certain elements of his compositions, all of which are comprised of self-recorded sound bytes (a couple are borrowed) and oft-improvised vocals.“These are some sounds I want to introduce,” he says sweetly like a 3rd grade science teacher. “This is a sheep I recorded in Bulgaria.” Sheldrake presses the bleat button and glances sideways, making the crowd giggle. “This is a recording of me breaking some rocks in Wales. This is the sound of the sun sped up 42,000 times. These are some sounds from a cave in Bulgaria-there’s a rabid dog in there if you listen really close.” I don’t hear it. Sheldrake’s arrangements are so densely woven that you wouldn’t necessarily guess what the component parts are. But I like it that way. An enigma, much like Cosmo himself.

At Living Room Sheldrake mostly improvises. He is still wearing the birthday hat, with one helium balloon fastened to his keyboard. As it turns out it’s Luisa Gerstein’s (of Landshapes) birthday. I’m less taken with his improvisational vocals as they tend to venture on the scat/beatbox side of things, but I appreciate where he’s coming from. At one point he says that improvising is how he centers himself, and I find that as inspiring as I do rare. Making up a song in front of a bunch of strangers sounds more like a nightmare to me than a spiritual device.

Sheldrake is someone who seems constantly inspired, almost plagued by creativity. I imagine him finding a perfect rhythm while sweeping his flat, or hearing a rhapsody in rush hour traffic, or chewing to a beat. And just as I begin to cast off these thoughts as ridiculous, Sheldrake pulls the balloon towards him: “this should have helium in it!” He bites a tiny hole in the rubber, sucks in, and sings a song in a whole new key.



CMJ 2015: Bands to Hear

CMJ Music Marathon 2015 is here. With an overwhelming abundance of artist to sort through, we made your life easier by providing you with a list of a few can’t-miss bands to hear. Read on.

Cosmo Sheldrake

Cosmo Sheldrake

Rare is the mere mortal who can play more instruments than years they’ve lived. Cosmo Sheldrake is such a human (though I’m convinced some dealings with the devil are at play here). At 25 Sheldrake has scored films, composed music for a series of Samuel Beckett plays, and given a performance at TEDxWhitechapel entitled “Interspecies Collaboration.” Oh, and, you know, he plays over 30 instruments. Piano? Check. Drums? Check? Didgeridoo? Mmhm. Sousaphone, penny whistle, Mongolian throat singing, Tibetan chanting, computer? Yup.

I’m not sure how Sheldrake will get all this gear from London to Piano’s this Tuesday, but I am certain there will be an intriguing performance in store. While Sheldrake’s resume can leave us fearing overwrought and un-listenable prog rock, I can assure you that his sound is nothing short of delightful. His technical ability is matched by a penchant for catchy, beautifully textured songs that venture on the Baroque and folk corners of pop.

Cosmo Sheldrake:

Tuesday 10/13 @Piano’s 5:30pm



Ezra Furman

We’ve sung his praise before, and we’re not finished. The cross-dressing troubadour plays a vigorous set, spits a mean lyric, and looks a hell of a lot better in a frock than I do. Riding on the warm reception of his latest release Perpetual Motion People, Furman will be here by way of London, San Francisco, St. Paul, and lord knows where else. Expect manic folk, mangled vocals, doo-wop croons, punk rock, lipstick and plenty of saxophone. If you long to move this CMJ, but don’t have the taste for late night EDM, I assure you there will be sufficient dancing at the Ezra Furman gig.

If you’re schedule’s pretty full-up, worry not; Ezra is playing four dates next week. Though if I may recommend one above the rest it’s his headlining gig at Knitting Factory, where Juan Waters, Slim Twig and Drinks-among many others-will share the bill. Don’t miss it!


Ezra Furman:

Wednesday 10/14 @Knitting Factory 7pm (Juan Waters, Slim Twig, Drinks)

Thursday 10/15 @Rough Trade 4pm

Thursday 10/15 @le Poisson Rouge 10pm

Friday 10/16 @Baby’s All Right 2pm



Sean Nicholas Savage

Where Cosmo Sheldrake can be measured in instruments, Montreal’s Sean Nicholas Savage can be measured in albums. At 29 he’s released 11 studio LPs in a span of eight years. His latest record Other Death surfaced just last month on his Alma Mater Arbutus Records, home to fellow Canadians TOPS, Grimes and Doldrums.

With the guise of a shadier Morrissey, Savage’s music is at peace with sorrow, his signature crooning falsetto wavers over hushed keys and papery drums. His vocal range reaches heights that one might find unlikely from a live performance, but trust me, I’ve seen him pull it off on the spot to an even greater effect than his recordings. He’s a humble, somewhat shy performer, but a captivating one nonetheless. And if it’s charisma you’re looking for, he’s got that in spades.


Sean Nicholas Savage:

Thursday 10/15 @Silent Barn 8pm

Friday 10/16 @Arlene’s Grocery 8p



Miya Folick

Resting somewhere between balladeer folk and dream pop, Miya Folick‘s latest EP Strange Darling is nothing short of mesmerizing.  There is a sweet sadness at play here that stabs pretty deep.  It’s a far cry from other music coming out of Los Angeles right now, which is often sun-bleached and relentlessly up-tempo.  Folick’s sound, while beautiful and fragile, is also haunting and morose.  There is an eerie quality to her which sets her apart from the crowd.

If you’re into Cat Power, Beach House, Hope Sandoval, etc, Folick is well worth your time this CMJ.


Miya Folick:

Tuesday 10/13 @Cakeshop 9pm

Wednesday 10/14@The Flat 8:15pm


Phony PPL

If I had to describe Brooklyn’s Phony PPL in one sentence it would read thus: late 70s Stevie Wonder has a hip hop group. I like both of those things. Mixing jazz fusion arrangements, R&B rhythms and rap vocal stylings, Phony PPL’s latest release Yesterday’s Tomorrow is already dotting some year-end lists. You may even remember seeing the boys on Jimmy Kimmel Live in June, standing in as Fetty Wap’s backing band for “Trap Queen.”

It’s not too often you come by a hip hop group that is a proper band. This is no discredit to the genre, which is heavily reliant on brilliant producers and session musicians. But the rarity of Phony PPl’s musical fluency is part of their appeal, aside from being fantastic songwriters, and, let’s face it, adorable.


Phony PPL:

Wednesday 10/14 @Arlene’s Grocery 5pm

Friday 10/16 @The Wick 6pm



Hooton Tennis Club

 While the U.K. once spat out its best music draped in a Union Jack, our friends across the pond seem to be peeking at our back catalogue for their latest inspirations. Hooton Tennis Club may be a British Pop band, but they are certainly not a Britpop band. Instead these Wirral four would sit more comfortably next to your Deerhunter and Pavement than your Blur and Suede.

Having just released their debut record The Highest Point in Cliff Town on the reputable Heavenly Recordings, Hooton have been on the tour circuit for quite some time, made an appearance on BBC Radio 6, and were featured in NME’s “New Band of the Week” column. Not bad for four lads from Wirral.


Hooton Tennis Club:

Tuesday 10/13 @Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2. 5pm

Wednesday 10/14 @Cakeshop 7pm



Kamasi Washington

You may have not heard of Kamasi Washington, but you’ve probably heard him. He wrote most of the arrangements on this little record called To Pimp a Butterfly by some guy named Kendrick Lamar.

Washington is a man of many talents. A saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist, he has performed and recorded with the likes of Thundercat, Broken Bells, Stanley Clarke and Snoop Dogg. Though his credits as collaborator and contributor finally gave way to a headlining title with the release of his LP The Epic this May. Epic is no understatement-the album clocks in just under three hours and has a transcendent quality to it. This is textured, full-bodied jazz with elements of gospel, funk and soul. What’s not to like?


Kamasi Washington:

Thursday 10/15 @BRIC House 7:30pm

Friday 10/16 @Le Poisson Rouge 6:30pm




Another U.K. band (we can’t help ourselves!) Landshapes merge noisy psych rock with pop-punk tempos and infectious melodies.  Originally called Lulu and the Lampshades, a Paris venue misspelled “Lampshades” as “Landshapes” and a new moniker was born.

Signed to the influential Bella Union label, Landshapes just released their second record Heyoon in May and it’s a rip-roaring slice of sound.  There is a bit of the odd in their music for sure as the band’s influences would have us believe.  Take the album’s first single lead single “Moongee,” a song inspired by a tale by 17th century Bishop Francis Godwin.  I hope their live show is as bizarre as their references!



Wednesday 10/14 @Palisades 10pm

Thursday 10/15 @Le Poisson Rouge 9pm

Saturday 10/17 @Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1 7pm




Whether it’s Manchester or Sheffield, the North of England seems to have a penchant for churning out great bands. Outfit is no exception. Originally from Liverpool, Outfit are only two albums deep in their catalogue, but quality is shouting louder than quantity in this case. Slowness, their latest LP, is a study in subtlety, drifting between melancholy and melody with a sophisticated ease for such a young band. To me they sound like a drowsy Prefab Sprout, so you can expect masterfully constructed pop songs that verge on the edge of bizarre.

More frequently Outfit is compared to Hot Chip, though I’m not hearing this so much, save for the fact that lead singer Andrew Hunt does sound oddly like Chip’s Alexis Taylor on a couple of tracks. Either way, Outfit is a band worth hearing.



Wednesday 10/14 @Passenger Bar 9pm

Saturday 10/17 @Pianos (Upstairs) 8:10pm




In the broadest of terms, Protomartyr is a punk band from Detroit. Though listening closer you’ll discover a group with far more depth than that description. Piloted by singer/songwriter Joe Casey, Protomartyr exude a dark pensiveness akin to The Minutemen with swaths of aggressive post punk coating discordant melodies – if you can call them melodies.

Despite occupying a genre often bound by obscurity, Protomartyr have a decent following under their belt. Signed to Sub Pop imprint Hardly Art records, the foursome just released their third record The Agent Intellect today. What better way to celebrate their new LP than to catch them live next week?


Wednesday 10/14 @Santo’s Party House 11:15pm

Friday 10/16 @Rough Trade 7pm (with Drinks, Mothers, Car Seat Headreast, Modern Vices)