New York City is pretty much already the definition of sensory overload, all by itself, on a random Tuesday, in the middle of nothing, when half of the city calls in sick. So when it’s time for the annual cluster-you-know-what known as the CMJ Music Marathon? If I were Johnny-Five, my circuits would have shorted. Lucky for you, I just eeked by in the “living to tell about it” category, so I here I am, living. And telling you about it! In no particular order, I present to you: my favorite finds from CMJ 2011.
It’s possible that when I saw Buxton at the Living Room on Thursday, I wasn’t even planning on staying. In fact, I think there might’ve been something upstairs or next door or across the street or in the ladies’ room that I’d actually intended to see — until I walked in and heard Buxton.
Most any six-piece can’t help but catch your attention by sheer size alone, but these guys caught my attention and kept it. Well, guy. Singular. Jason Willis, lead guitar, at your service for fast, effortless and wildly roaming guitar melodies. Right underneath them you’ll find a rich layer provided by two more guitarists and keys and these big, unabashed drums. And then, just fade it all out for a minute so you can sink into the unassuming vocal — sort of sweetly drunken, love-song-folk.
The Datarock set at Brooklyn Bowl Thursday night sort of happened to me, the way really good things often do. I’d actually come for the DJ set that was happening later but then there they were, in all their track-suited glory, like the uncle you should probably find creepy but is somehow pretty endearing.
Upon further investigation, I’m fairly sure that this was a legitimately impromptu-type situation. Not sure who was meant to be there that night, but after the guys reenacted the final scene from Dirty Dancing (complete with appropriate soundtracking) and had everyone sit cross-legged on the floor, I don’t think anyone cared. They sang “California” for the crowd that resembled, from my vantage point, an oddly grown-up-sized kindergarten class during music time. It was perfection. I only wish I could’ve joined them all down there, but the ensemble I’d chosen that evening would not have supported floor-sitting without me showing everyone my Britney Spears.
Alas. Next time, guys.
Never was a band better matched with its name and its homeland. (Okay, maybe once.) Danceable, surf-inspired rock with solid pop songwriting and just enough reverb on the guitar to never let you forget you’re in the Sunshine State.
The award for best on-stage banter definitely goes to the lead singer from WIM, who paused before the song “Moth” to remind us that a moth only lives for 24 hours. And a lot of stuff can happen in 24 hours. One can live, one can love, one can die.
One can buy shrooms?
Incidentally, though, I can’t stop listening to that very song. It’s got these big playful choral hooks and bouncy, jam-band-prog-inspired organ/guitar melodies with about three different movements that ebb and flow into each other — it wants to be its own little opus. When I listen to WIM I sort of feel like I should be at a planetarium. Or watching one of those weird shape-shifting screen savers from early versions of Windows.
One can buy shrooms?
Cities Aviv said “fuck all you bloggers” during his set more times than I can count (thankfully somebody did it for me), but you can’t really take it personally when he also did a few rounds of “fuck everybody here.” Fuck everybody? I’m not even special anymore. All fucking aside, I’ve liked this kid since I first heard Digital Lows and he’s one of the few solo rappers who rhyme with DJs that I even care to see live. Maybe it’s that fuck-all attitude or just the style of his flow, but I tend to forget there’s no band and just lay into the tracks. His CMJ show was no different, and I think the packed house at Pianos agreed.
Planet (ft. Clement Roussel x Alexia Gredy) by Cities Aviv
Army Navy was possibly the only band during CMJ that I saw more than once, and though I knew they would make this list I was having a hard time articulating exactly what it was that I liked about them so much — until I came home, starting writing and found the music video you see above. You’re welcome.
I had a 90s alternative rock dream, filled with the kind of music best punctuated by the rhythmic passing of streetlights on some interstate in the middle of nowhere. But then I woke up. Turns out? I was at The National Underground on Friday night, seeing A House for Lions. In my case (unlike Biggie’s) it wasn’t all a dream — but while there are flashes of Gin Blossoms or Toad the Wet Sprocket or Better than Ezra in there, there are also these lovely little patches of John Hiatt and veritable miles of Lyle Lovett.
All nostalgia aside, this is a band that has figured out how to craft a song, entirely in the present tense. The writing is simple, but evocative and intelligent. Mike Nissen’s guitar work is smart and versatile — warm where it needs to be, piercing through the texture where it needs to, calling up country and bluegrass on one track and settling into alt-rock reverb on the next. And on just about every track, my ear jumps at an inescapable comparison to Mark Knopfler. It’s these subtleties of tone that allow them to take their sound into a lot of different territories — so far they seem to be charting all of them with ease.
The CMJ Music Marathon is held every fall in New York City. Details are available year round at cmj.com/marathon