Another year has mostly gone by and another CMJ Music Marathon is in the can. We had four of our esteemed bloggers on the ground for this year’s festivites: Chris Quartly, Coleman Bentley, Carly McAlpine and yours truly. We drank many dranks, ate free pizza, stumbled drunkenly across bridges, fought the urge to get free tattoos and watched some pretty cool bands play some pretty great sets. For the most part. Here’s our takeaway:
Peter Rittweger: When you book 900,000 bands like CMJ does every year, there’s bound to be a few… or let’s be real, 512,431 or so of them who are only marginally better than your little brother’s post-screamo vaporwave bedroom project. Then there’s another 382,111 that are pretty fucking talented and are on the precipice of making it, whatever the hell that means in this day in age, if only they got picked up by the right blogs/become a viral meme/change their sound completely and become soft as fuck and uninteresting via focus group-fueled marketing machines. That leaves something like 6,000 or so bands that cut through all the bullshit and just fucking SLAY.
If there’s one band that did that this year at CMJ, it was Meatbodies. Not that I should have been surprised. The LA psych-rock act is fronted by Chad Ubovich, whose CV includes: touring guitarist for Mikal Cronin and bassist for (one of) Ty Segall’s stoner rock side project, Fuzz. Like every top-shelf psych-rock band that has blown your crappy earbuds over the past decade, they brought their ear-splitting set to Death By Audio this past Thursday night and thoroughly outclassed every other band on the bill (no easy feat.) Ubovich had the crowd eating out of his palm. While everyone was nodding and swaying along to the band’s soft and melodic builds, people were clearly ready to lose their shit following a somnambulant set from Girlpool. And they had opportunities aplenty to do so as basically every song in the limited Meatbodies catalog seems to sneak in at least one Mascis-grade guitar solo. I’m sure the dudes in White Reaper were watching on in awe thinking “We gotta go on after THIS?”
Honorable mentions: Inter Arma, Titus Andronicus, King Parrot, Beach Slang, Lazer/Wulf
Chris Quartly: This may almost seem like a bit of a copout as it was the flagship show, but seeing Slowdive was a genuinely thrilling, almost surreal experience. I hate Terminal 5 as much, if not more, than the next person, but I got there early and found a decent spot and it was fine, the band are obviously meticulous about their sound and that helps too. It’s hard not to sound like you’re high when describing the experience of hearing those gorgeous songs, the shimmering guitars, the quiet/loud/quiet transitions that defined their sound. It was a rare opportunity that could not be missed and it fulfilled all hopes.
Honorable mentions: Springtime Carnivore, Tweens, Purling Hiss
Coleman Bentley: Given Inter Arma‘s genesis in the hotbed of the so-called New Wave Of American Heavy Metal back in the mid-oughts, not to mention their regency at the foot of last year’s Deafheaven throne, there’s no question that the Richmond, VA-spawned metal mutants have wedged in their tour van, alongside 15 gallons of PBR and enough wattage to flatten a small nuclear test village, some pretty serious expectations. If last week’s crushing Metal Injection/MetalSucks CMJ Showcase at The Acheron—highlighted in particular by T.J. Childers’ weaponized drumming—was any indication, however, Inter Arma, on the back of their new one-song, 40-minute EP, The Cavern, may be ready to take up the American metal mantle. Consider yourselves duly warned.
Honorable Mentions: Meatbodies, Titus Andronicus, Beach Slang
Carly McAlpine: I know, I know. Zola Jesus doesn’t exactly fit the bill of a “CMJ artist.” And I know, I know, Le Bain in the Standard Hotel doesn’t fit the bill of a “CMJ venue.” BUT Zola’s energy during this free performance was unparalleled to anyone else I saw last week. Just watch this video of her absolutely tearing shit up on stage as if she was about to rip her hair out and attack us all. Her new songs may be her poppiest yet, but she still brings emotional intensity like no other. I was really happy I trekked into Manhattan and into this fancy-ass bar for this set. She was worth it.
Honorable Mention: PAWS @ Knitting Factory
SPECIAL GUEST! Megan Venzin: I gotta give it up for Tokimonsta for bringing that trap heat to Output during MeanRed’s CMJ showcase. Amidst other great talents like Spazzkid and Saint Pepsi, Tokimonsta brought a seasoned and confident set that spanned her discography, specifically highlighting her newest release Desiderium. Fans of Tokimonsta were graced by her signature energy, yet were introduced to a whole new range of sound with bigger drops and more booming bass. Glitch Hop fans were appeased by classics like Go With It while new fans were entranced by the smooth hip-hop stylings of new singles like Realla. We are watching an artist come into her own and transform into something quite great. And yeah, I probably shouldn’t have tried to chat with her after her set while wearing a dubstep hat, but dammit, I just had to tell her how great she was.
Peter Rittweger: Blah blah blah hipster black metal blah blah blah bullshit blah blah haircuts blah blah fashion blah shoegaze blah blah emocore blah blah whatever. If more people commented on this blog they’d probably say something along those lines about my endorsement of Brooklyn-based “post-metal” act So Hideous, the band that surprised me the most this year at the Music Marathon. I’m not here to argue about semantics and the ethics of being METAL. I’m here to acknowledge how amazing I thought these guys were at The Acheron last Tuesday as a part of the Metal Sucks/Metal Injection showcase. Anyone who enjoys heavy music that is equally inspired by the likes of Death, This Will Destroy You and My Bloody Valentine would be similarly in awe of these guys who yes, do sound a bit like Deafheaven. Is that such a bad thing?
Chris Quartly: Like a lot of people, I think I keep my ear to the ground, but always searching for those rare moments where, from a position of ignorance, one is blown away by something. I can’t honestly say I had that at CMJ this year. The best I can say, is that I wasn’t quite expecting the experience of seeing Dinner (who was one of my pre-CMJ recommendations), to be what it was at all. I knew and liked the songs, but Anders Rhedin plays the role of a one-man master of pop/workout/meditation. It’s an odd mix and in lesser hands could be off-putting, but the Dane finds a way to be inclusive, charming and funny. I hate audience participation but suddenly I’m willingly holding hands with strangers and reaching for the ceiling with strangers at Cake Shop.
Coleman Bentley: Rock n’ roll is actually dead, no matter how many times Ty Segall and his mischievous band of garage troubadours hide the corpse’s toe tag. Live-wired Alabama quartet Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, either haven’t heard or don’t care, however, bringing a much-appreciated dose of southern-fried riffs and whiskey-soaked lyrics to an otherwise indie-fied CMJ. They are still an extremely raw product, but with continued Sub Pop support and the help of a good producer, could well become a name to watch in the coming years.
Carly McAlpine: Hearing Beverly on record, you may think that they would be more of a light, fun, poppy lo-fi set. But live, they were far more impressive than I was expecting. Shades of Best Coast and the Vivian Girls for sure, but Beverly’s mixture of garage rock and sweet harmony were on point. I’m going to go back and give Careers another listen.
Peter Rittweger: Okay, so take a bunch of emo dudes from France, two bands who are labeled as emo because they’re from Philadelphia in 2014 and play some derivative of punk, a post-Saddle Creek indie band and some legit emo OGs, and throw them on a bill at after another showcase that had ample free liquor. What you get is a packed house of sorta awkward late twenty-something guys excitedly singing along to songs they may or may not know the words to. You get Sport, Cayetana, Beach Slang, Pity Sex and The Jazz June (respectively) at Baby’s All Right this past Saturday night. You get, from top to bottom my favorite showcase at CMJ this year. While I went into the set most pumped for the smooth, sensual jams of Pity Sex, they mostly underwhelmed. It was Beach Slang who truly stole the show, and nearly stole my CMJ. The band is a vehicle for James Snyder, who co-fronted Weston for the past fifteen or so years. While he’s joined admirably by NONA bassist Ed McNulty and Ex-Friends drummer JP Flexner, Snyder is the one who grabs your attention – strumming his guitar with his beer bottle and cracking jokes to the crowd in between sets. They sound a little bit too much like The Replacements (or if I want to be harsh, the GOO GOO DOLLS) on tape for my liking, but in person, they’re a force to be reckoned with and the closest thing to a “breakout” band I saw this year. At least I hope so, I drunkenly nudged my friend during their set and told him that “these guys are going places,” and I like to be right about these things.
Chris Quartly: Frustratingly my choice is based solely on the lineup because it clashed with Slowdive’s show and I had to make a choice (albeit ultimately justified). It had to take something special for me to miss Rough Trade played host to Austin Psych Fest’s showcase. Just rattling off the names is expanding my mind, man – A Place to Bury Strangers, Moon Duo (see below), King Gizzard, Bo Ningen and more.
Coleman Bentley: Panache always brings their A-game to CMJ, and this year was no different, with Friday night’s garage rock throwdown at Baby’s All Right clocking in at or near the top of my still-fluctuating showcase power rankings. Headlined by Philly psychers Purling Hiss and featuring sets from OBN IIIs, Hunters, Dune Rats, Calvin Love, Meatbodies (by consensus, probably our band of CMJ), and more, this one would have blown the roof off the South Williamsburg upstart if there had been any roof left at all. If you missed it, make sure to get out to 338 Moffat on Friday, where Panache is bringing back both Purling Hiss and Meatbodies for a killer Halloween bash also featuring sets from King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard and Tonstartssbandht.
Carly McAlpine: I don’t think there’s much of an argument to make against Brooklyn Vegan’s CMJ day parties. For the four years I’ve attended this festival, it’s always a highlight. So it’s no surprise that my favorite showcase was their Saturday party with the aforementioned Beverly, the nearly-always-naked and raucous Fat White Family, and the ever-solid Titus Andronicus.
Best booked venue
Peter Rittweger: I hate to say it, but it wasn’t even close. Baby’s All Right absolutely murdered everyone AGAIN this year. There was the aforementioned Jazz June show and the one that preceded it, with Titus Andronicus (who played new songs!) There were free shows with King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard, Tonstartssbandht, Widowspeak, Juan Wauters, Dinner and Protomartyr. Meatbodies played there. Saint Pepsi DJ’d there. Oh, and they had more free alcohol than everyone by far. I wanted to vote for Death By Audio, guys. I really did! But I was at Baby’s All Right for probably 40% of my CMJing.
Chris Quartly: I’m on-board for the Baby’s All Right praise for this year, but I think the venue that seemed to fly under the radar is Cake Shop, which, when I think about it, is probably my favourite venue in Manhattan. I also think that the Knitting Factory did a sterling job as well, which just makes me wonder what has gone wrong with their booking this year in general. I wanted to go there more times this last week than I have the last couple of years. I hope CMJ can be a spark for them.
Coleman Bentley: Obviously DBA, you corporate slugs. (Though, in reality, Baby’s All Right, who emerged the big venue winner for the second CMJ in a row, hosting the likes of Widowspeak, Purling Hiss, OBN IIIs, Titus Andronicus, Bully, White Fence, Beach Slang, The Jazz June, and more as part of their chummy and no doubt lucrative partnership with Brooklyn Vegan.)
Carly McAlpine: Baby’s All Right, no question.
The One That Got Away
Peter Rittweger: I was originally going to say Hank Wood and the Hammerheads, but while they’re always awesome, they play all the time. So I’m changing my vote to Slowdive, because like you, I love Slowdive, but there was no way in hell I was going to Terminal 5.
Chris Quartly: No contest here, I was desperate to see Moon Duo this year, but it just didn’t work out at all. From failing to get in to Trans Pecos for the Sacred Bones showcase (even though we turned up early), to conflicts in my schedule, they played with enough regularity to make it even more frustrating on my part.
Coleman Bentley: After stumbling dazed and deaf out of DBA on Thursday night following the blunt force trauma that is Meatbodies’ live show, the plan, however naïve, was try to try to shoot over to Shea Stadium for sets from two of our CMJ Artists To Watch, Vulture Shit and HSY. After ineptly leading our cab driver through the tangled neighborhoods of East Williamsburg (see: our previously described condition, plus beer), we arrived at the Meadow Street oasis laughably late and appropriately bummed. Some awesome Vulture Shit merch and an early bedtime helped to soften the blow, but we will carry this one next to our hearts forever.
Carly McAlpine: I missed Moon Duo at least two times that I know of last week which was a real bummer. I suppose it’s a testament to CMJ’s lineup this year that both times it was because I was going to a different show.
Peter Rittweger: I know that a small part of this is just me getting older and having gone to CMJ a bunch of times, but man, this year’s CMJ was sorta underwhelming, wasn’t it? Granted, the whole “industry” is changing because THE INTERNET makes it kinda unnecessary to get a bunch of bands together to play 17 sets each at a bunch of venues scattered across the cool and formerly cool neighborhoods in New York for a week, so HEY, lots of them don’t. But man, if there was ever a year where I really, really felt like I didn’t need a badge to have not just a decent CMJ experience, but an AMAZING CMJ experience, it was this year (plz still give me a badge again next year.) Outside of a couple of big acts like The Kills and Slowdive whose tickets were $30 or more, virtually every act could be seen for free. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have a great time. I love music. I love LIVE music. And my days were filled with live music every day from when I woke up until I went to sleep last week. So it was great, but maybe a little less great than past years where there were more bands to get excited about. I just hope that CMJ keeps going and doesn’t fade away or become some tech summit where Palo Alto bros and venture capitalists masturbate all over each other for a week.
Chris Quartly: I fully immersed myself into CMJ this year, taking the week off work meant I was watching bands fairly non-stop from midday to 2am whilst drinking enough alcohol to put down an elephant. I think I enjoyed the events during the day more than the evening showcases and while I had a great time in general, I do feel like it was missing an emerging talent on the verge of exploding. I saw dozens of acts, but almost everyone I was at least familiar with.
Coleman Bentley: While I certainly second the sentiment that so many of the week’s best shows didn’t even require a badge—calling into question the business tactics of CMJ more than their musical acumen—this year seemed, to me, like a return to form for a music festival whose biggest draw last year was a little-known Canadian prog-rock band. I will always question the need for a major music festival in a city where every band has already toured five times, and always be a little queasy about the hype machine environment (did anyone else not buy stock in Girlpool?) it fosters, but overall, the week, despite the rolling blob of free pizza and promo booze it threatened to make of me, offered just enough great music to get by.
Carly McAlpine: As much as CMJ could be described as NYC’s SXSW, this year definitely proves that its a bit more unique than that. Yes, there is an abundance of free booze and food to entice you, but there’s a lot that goes into choosing who to see and where to go. I kinda like that NYC’s hectic lifestyle is a part of CMJ. As much as it can be a hype machine, it’s a fun (read: exhausting) week to be a part of. As Coleman said, the amount of good music slightly outweighed the corporate undertones.