Though sometimes buried in an avalanche of free pizza, promo beer, and press releases, CMJ Music Marathon’s guiding principal has always been the discovery of new music. In that spirit, we decided to kick off coverage of the mega-fest’s 35th year with a countdown of 15 must-see bands you may have not heard, but need to. So even if your fav Tinder hook up’s lo-fi power pop thing didn’t make the list—sorry, we have 75 venues and 1,000 bands to keep track of here—sit down and give it a skim. Who knows, you might even find something worth seeing.
Acid Dad: With three shows on the roster, Acid Dad are one of the hardest working bands at CMJ this year, offering up a convenient alternative for show-goers of who want to trip on skull-warping noise but have already seen Destruction Unit like nine bajillion times. Sure there’s no full length yet, but if Acid Dad’s grip of recent singles is any indication, these NYC psych punks are well worth taking a flier on this week.
Greys: Scathing post-hardcore from Toronto? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, METZ fans. But where METZ specialize in one button-mashing melee attack after the next, Greys temper their aggression with dynamics, melody, and honest-to-goodness songwriting. You probably saw these dudes at Shea Stadium once when you were super faded, but since you don’t remember, take this opportunity to reintroduce yourself.
Where To See Them: Palisades – Friday, Oct. 16, 8:30pm
Black Fast: In CMJ’s usual sea of silly-to-mind-numbingly-stupid band names, Black Fast have by far the most literal, spitting up a highly contagious strain of blackened thrash metal that has earned comparisons to the likes of Skeletonwitch and Death. With hesh options more scarce than ever this year, consider these St. Louis speedfreaks—and their ripping new LP, Terms of Surrender—officially elevated to must-hear status.
Where To See Them: The Acheron – Friday, Oct. 16, 8:00pm
Worriers: Sure, pop punk might be a dried-out husk of its former self, but Worriers—the Don Giovanni-backed, Mikey Erg-featuring outlet of The Measure’s Lauren Denitzio—aren’t, well, worried, flying the flag for three-chords-and-a-cloud-of-dust as high as their half-mast worldview will allow. A supporting slot on Against Me!’s latest tour should give you a pretty good sonic starting point, should you need one, but remember: This is CMJ. If you’re not sure, get off the couch and see for yourself.
Sheer Mag: These punked-up Philly garage rawkers are no secret, but if you haven’t seen them live, there’s no way you can understand the hype. So get out there, get your face melted, and in 15 years, when your children ask why dad looks like the Brundle Fly, tell them it’s a long story that begins with a little band called Sheer Mag…
Evans the Death: It would be slightly remiss of me not to highlight at least one British band making the journey to New York, although they only seem to have one show scheduled so far, I would hope that would change considering the distance they’re traveling. This London-based quartet are signed to Fortuna Pop! in the UK and Slumberland Records in the US, and have two albums out to date; a self-titled release in 2012, and Expect Delays, from May this year, which is a little more melancholic.
Where To See Them: Big Booty Judy Records showcase at Niagra on the 16th of October with Plains and The Bennies.
Cool Ghouls: If you want west coast, 60s-infused garage-psyche then look no further than San Francisco’s Cool Ghouls. The band’s last album, A Swirling Fire Burning Through The Rye, was released on Empty Cellar Records, but below you can check out a brand new tune that is set to be released on Dizzy Bird records later in the month. The group manage to hit all the sunny, poppy notes, without sounding sickly and they know how to turn up the psych dials at just the right moments too.
Where To See Them: Float Upstream showcase with Heaters and more on the 15th at Berlin (doors 5pm), Burger Records and KXLU showcase at Palisades (doors 8pm) and Noise Love showcase at Our Wicked Lady, also on the 15th!
Solids: This Montreal band make a hell of a racket for a mere two-piece. While the 90s seem to be enjoying something of a comeback with grunge and shoegaze bands bursting through the woodwork, Solids come from the scuzzier end of the scale, teetering on the edge of falling off the tracks but keeping it all together. They have their hands full at CMJ this year, playing five shows.
Where To See Them: Topshelf Records Showcase at Shea Stadium (9pm), Arlene’s Grocery (1am) on the 16th, Cake Shop (4pm) with Eternal Summers and Expert Alterations on the 17th, The Studio at Webster Hall at 9pm on the 17th & Aviv at Midnight.
Slow Down Molasses: Another Canadian band, hailing from Saskatoon, the quintet have more than a hint of Slowdive and Bedhead to them, and that’s not a bad thing to these ears. The band released Burnt Black Cars, in May this year, and it’s a record that knows when let its pop-side shine through on the odd occasion, but within a slower, shoegaze framework that at times feels reassuringly bleak.
Where To See Them: Leftfield Bar at 9:30pm & Arlene’s Grocery – AB Co & Big Picture Media Showcase at 1:15am – October 17th
Cheatahs: Saying that Cheatahs are from London is not quite telling the whole story, given that the band members are from Canada, USA (San Diego), Germany and England. The band sound like something a little closer to home for me (Oxford, England), rewinding the tape about 25 years to what is probably the least appreciated musical city of the UK; the one that gave the world Swervedriver and Ride. Cheatahs can certainly be filed in that category; grandson-of-mustang-ford, if you will. The guitars have a metallic crunch and a bit more bottom end to them but also know when to soar. They are certainly keeping busy during CMJ, playing 7 shows at my latest count. Check their schedule here.
Where To See Them: The Studio Webster Hall (9:30pm) & Cameo Gallery (11:30pm) on the 13th, Pianos (5pm) on the 15th, Berlin (7:10pm) on the 16th, Bowery Electric (3:45pm), Rough Trade (6pm) & Pianos (midnight) on the 17th.
Destruction Unit: If you’re reading this, odds are you don’t need me to indoctrinate you into the cult of Destruction Unit, but for the uninitiated; Destruction Unit are the best live band on the CMJ placard. The psych-punk’s new record, Negative Feedback Resistor scales back the noise JUST a bit from the pummeling auditory assault of Deep Trip, but they are every bit as ruthless live as ever. I don’t care if you’ve seen them nine bajillion times already. Your Macbook’s speakers or your shitty, overpriced Beats headphones don’t do D-Unit justice. They are not to be heard, they are to be experienced, and there are several opposites to do so during CMJ week.
Where To See Them: Baby’s All Right – 10/16 with The Men, Michael Rault, Celestial Shore, Dirty Ghosts and Beach Baby; ALPHAVILLE – 10/17 with Pawns; Adhoc Car Wash (non CMJ) with Perfect Pussy, Porches, Downtown Boys, Pity Sex, Potty Mouth, Protomartyr, Sheer Mag and Whitney
Protomartyr: If I had to pick one band to make a Parquet Courts-like leap into minor-mainstream relevance this year, it’d be Protomartyr. There are moments of brilliance on 2012’s No Passion All Technique and last year’s Under Color of Official Right, but their (very) recent release The Agent Intellect is the band’s magnum opus; a consistent and cohesive package of jangly, literate post-punk that just might be deserving of a spot beside aughts-era genre standouts like Turn Out The Bright Lights and Is This It? It may be premature to make such a bold claim, but this is a band at the peak of its powers and they should not be missed.
Where To See Them: Santos Party House – 10/14 with Perfect Pussy, Dilly Dally, Downtown Boys, Yung, Shopping, Seratones, Nico Yaryan, Car Seat Headrest, Hooten Tennis Club and Yak; Knitting Factory – 10/15 with Strange Wilds, The Gotobeds, S and Mass Gothic; Rough Trade – 10/16 with Omni, The Lemon Twigs, Drinks, Yoko and the Oh Nos, Mothers, Car Seat Headrest and Modern Vices; Adhoc Car Wash (non CMJ) with Destruction Unit, Perfect Pussy, Porches, Downtown Boys, Pity Sex, Potty Mouth, Sheer Mag and Whitney
Creepoid: CMJ is a bit heavy on high-octane punk bands this year, so if you’re looking for a temporary reprieve, Creepoid’s visceral, dimly-lit stage show will do the trick. Their mid-tempo hybrid shoegaze and psych rock set is a warm cocoon awash with smoke machines and red lights; an enveloping atmosphere of morose and melancholy. Very few bands I’ve seen this year command a room like Creepoid.
Where To See Them: Collect Records showcase at Baby’s All Right – 10/14 with No Devotion, Wax Idols and Foxes in Fiction
Palehound: Ellen Kempner, the creative force behind Palehound, is the unsung hero of Exploding In Sound Records, the Brooklyn label responsible for keeping INDIE ROCK (all caps) alive with releases from the likes of Speedy Ortiz, Krill, Big Ups and Flagland. Fans of Waxahatchee and Built To Spill will find a lot to like in Kemper’s earnest, guitar driven songs. Forget about the emo-revival, Dry Food is the saddest record of the year, and Kemper will be playing it basically non-stop from Tuesday through Sunday, as you’ll see below. Call it therapy.
Where To See Them: Cake Shop – 10/14 with Worriers, Diet Cig, The Ghost Ease, Sweet Spirit, Beverly, Gramma’s Boyfriend and Morgan Erina; Pianos – 10/15 with Methyl Ethel, Cheatahs, Michael Rault, Landshapes, Weaves, Palehound, Hockey Dad and Yung; Union Pool – 10/15 with Line and Circle, Death by Unga Bunga, Worriers, Gospel Machine, Laura Gibson, Great American Canyon Band, Valley Maker and Ursula 1000; Baby’s All Right – 10/16 with Drinks, Stealing Sheep, Hooton Tennis Club; Palisades – 10/16 with Big Ups, Spirit of the Beehive, Greys, Palm, Stove, Washer, Dirty Dishes, Swings, Flagland, Leapling and LVL UP; Pianos – 10/17 with Cheatahs, Palehound, Michael Rault, Dirty Ghosts, Wildhoney, What Moon Things, Gramma’s Boyfriend, and Mothers
The Gotobeds: These guys seemed tailor-made for What’s Your Rupture? but they went and jumped over Andrew Savage’s head and signed with Sub Pop, and it’s easy to see why. The songs are certainly there – we’re talking straightfoward, catchy, anthemic indie rock (along the lines of Savage’s band Parquet Courts) – but it’s the Pittsburgh band’s attitude and personality that really make them stick out. They bring a certain playfulness and tongue-in-cheek snark to their stage show that is slightly off-putting at first, but oddly charming as the set progresses in a “we feel sorta uncomfortable on stage so we’re riffing on each other and the crowd and everything around us the whole time” kind of way. They’re entertaining as hell, I guess, is what I’m trying to say; the kind of dudes who have been friends since high school you’d see at the local dive bar watching a Pirates game, but also play really fucking good punk songs.
Where To See Them: Knitting Factory – 10/15 with Protomartyr, Strange Wilds, S and Mass Gothic; Cake Shop – 10/16 with J. Fernandez, The Gotobeds, Eaters, Turn To Crime, Tweens and Spray Paint; Union Pool – 10/17 with Big Quiet, Snowmans of Love and Spray Paint