We saw 137 bands, but it is our journalistic duty to narrow them down into a small, opinionated list that you will undoubtedly disagree with. So for our final 2008 CMJ Music Marathon post, we asked our five correspondents to give us their top five bands from this year's festivities. To jump to a specific writers picks: Derek Evers, Zach Timm, Elizabeth Cawein, Will Suter, Jenn Misko.
Boo and Boo Too
MP3 Download - "No Tempo"
Francis And the Lights
MP3 Download - "Striking"
Parts and Labor
MP3 Download - "Nowheres Nigh"
MP3 Download - "7 Souls"
School of Seven Bells
MP3 Download - "Connjur"
MP3 Download - "88th Precinct"
MP3 Download - "Truck Sweat"
MP3 Download - "Black Rice"
I came into this CMJ with such low expectations it was almost impossible to not walk away impressed. But like I said before it all began, the best part about CMJ is being completely impressed by someone you had never heard before. In some instances I knew exactly what I was getting in to: Team Robespierre and Ponytail were two of my favorites last year as well, so while I included them on this list because they put on two of -- if not the -- best live performances I witnessed in 2008, I felt inclined to choose five (ok, six) other bands that left me smiling.
With so much emphasis this year put on the psych/garage sound (Muslims, Vivian Girls, Crystal Stilts) there was one band that, in my opinion, pulled it off better than any of the pre-hyped bands. Women seem to touch on the roots of their predecessors with a bit more authenticity, but more importantly, without trying so hard. Women was a band I wanted to see coming into the Marathon, but Boo and Boo Too on the other hand, was a total surprise. Featuring two members of another Midwest band I'm into, Baby Birds Don't Drink Milk, Boo hails from Kansas and brings less pop and more noise to their psychedelic tone. And unlike most of the bands this year who begged their sound guy for more reverb in the vocals, Boo and Boo Too were not ashamed to move and show emotion while performing.
One guy who never shows emotion while performing is Tobacco, but the Black Moth Super Rainbow front man's sound and visual repertoire is so unique, it's enough to just watch him and his partner in crime (and also fellow BMSR keyboardist) twist knobs and play the keys. They sound completely different, but I would classify The School of Seven Bells the same way -- less a visual experience than total aural enjoyment. A band I feel silly for not knowing better before seeing them, I fell in love with their sound from the first note.
All that aside, the two best performances I witnessed did not come from an iPod commercial (Chairlift) or a band that started out as a set of love songs to a girlfriend (Passion Pit) as it would seem most people walked away from this year's CMJ thinking. Nope, in fact, it came via a skinny white guy who dances like Michael Jackson and sounds like a mix between Prince and Phil Collins, and some Brooklyn stalwarts who were celebrating the release of their newest CD. The emotion both Francis And The Lights and Parts & Labor gave off while on stage was reason number one they stood apart this year. Reason number two -- the crowd fed off of this energy making it impossible to resist dancing or smiling along (note: this is the same reason I listed Team Robespierre and Ponytail).
In summation, I would say this year's CMJ left me more surprised than I had anticipated. Sure, maybe I'm sick of seeing bands for a while (or at least bands that are tired of playing at such a ridiculous clip), but I sat down on Monday morning and immediately uploaded about 20 new records from bands I saw. And that, my friends, is why I love this job.
It was a week jam-packed with music; some strange, some phenomenal and some just mediocre. Some of the strangest performances I witnessed were The Music Tapes who were like an indie rock symphony helmed by a seven year old -- they sang songs about aliens and had a machine named static that sang lead on a couple of numbers. Project Jenny Project Jan were another strange duo of white dudes who performed dance music filled with crunchy electronica grooves and raunchy rap lyrics. Some of the mediocre overrated bands included the Crystal Stilts who were my least favorite of the first named Crystal bands to play CMJ (Antlers and Castles were both awesome however), they just didn't play anything that completely blew me away. Kuroma was another band that I was pretty pumped about who ended up being just okay. In my opinion, the extraordinary bands most definitely were the quirky junkyard carnival pop group Drink Up Buttercup, who put on such an amazing upbeat show that I had to partake in it two times. Really great band, could possibly be the next Man Man. Chief put on a chilling performance with their full band harmonies and classic rock guitar riffs that mixed in perfectly with their new wave influence concocting an intoxicating and rather unique sound. All in all I was more impressed with the bands that I checked out than disappointed, so in my book it was a successful year at CMJ. I will now recover from the madness by sleeping for two full days straight.
Annie Lynch and the Beekeepers
The Jealous Girlfriends
MP3 Download - "Secret Identity"
The London Souls
MP3 Download - "Stand Up" (Live)
MP3 Download - "Do What You Like"
MP3 Download - "20 Dollar Bill"
With this being my first CMJ, there are plenty of things on which I don't necessarily feel qualified to be offering my wisdom or criticism. But I'll tell you what I do know. I know that I saw two dozen or so great sets of music this week, the majority of which were free. I know that there are a few albums that have recently risen to the top of my must-buy-when-not-dangerously-poor list, including Annie Lynch and the Beekeepers' self-titled CD and Passenger's Wicked Man's Rest. And I know that I'll be doing my damndest to catch Turkuaz again soon. The best thing about this past week was the amount of fantastic music I've gotten to hear for absolutely no money at all. I can't tell you the number of times that an album/single/show that I actually paid for turned out to be complete rubbish. And ironically, some of my least favorite sets of the week (Donovan Quinn, Viking Moses, Castanets) were the ones at which I had to fork over a cover. But hey -- since it's my first one, I can say definitively that it's the best CMJ I've ever seen. 'Til next year, at least.
MP3 Download - "Head Dress"
Awesome New Republic
MP3 Download - "Wheels, No Engines"
The Black Lips
MP3 Download - "Cold Hands"
The Gay Blades
MP3 Download - "Mean Muses"
MP3 Download - "Bright Side" (Live)
CMJ was full of buzz bands trying to instill their names in the hearts of bloggers and indie-kids. Most of the bands that I saw will not live up to their hype and their 15 minutes are just about up. That being said, there were some gems that stuck out and will hopefully still be around come March and SXSW. I saw very little dancing and showmanship at many of the shows I attended, but when it was there it was great. James Wells of The Gay Blades, Will Roan of Amazing Baby, and Michael John Hancock of Awesome New Republic are three guys who have something really special with their bands and are able to translate that to their crowds as front-men. Not a new band on the scene by any stretch, but still incredibly impressive were The Black Lips. Each of the members of The Black Lips is a spectacle on their own, but when you get those guys in a warehouse in Brooklyn, with free beer flowing, you're sure to come out with a memorable show.
My number one,The Muslims, played to a packed crowd at Pianos on Friday afternoon. They are a casually terrific band. It sounds like Ian Mackaye backed by the Descendents in an effortlessly engaging manner (with some crucial surf-solos). The Muslims wear their influences on their sleeves, but they aren't ripping anybody off. They are able to create an interpretation and progression of late 80's surf-punk that is accessible in today's musical climate and to those who may be so removed from that element. There's gotta be a Vans sponsorship coming through for these guys pretty soon.
MP3 Download - "Sunchips"
MP3 Download - "German Love"
MP3 Download - "It Gets Your Body Movin'"
MP3 Download - "Dirt (Featuring Aesop Rock)"
MP3 Download - Wallpaper's Remix of You Say Party! We Say Die!'s "Moon"
Aside from my top 5 artists of the week, I saw all kinds of bands who I'd qualify as runners-up, like the Ruby Suns, PWRFL Power, Pomegranates, Feral Children, Pattern Is Movement, Continental Divide and the Terrordactyls. Not enough space for everybody, and a few of those bands are close enough friends I don't feel comfortable including them on an objective list anyway, but all were actually really great. Yeasayer's Brooklyn friends Suckers were my only true, never-heard-of-before, stumbled-into-a-CMJ-set-and-they-blew-me-away band. Other highlights -- besides the never-ending supply of drink tickets and out-of-town friends -- included helping out at KEXP's Gibson Studios and eavesdropping on a few of their interviews (including Marnie Stern and the Ruby Suns) at the Kimmell Center booth, and stumbling into an open whiskey bar featuring the Rude Bear at 205 Chrystie. Lowlights -- aside from the constant sleep deficiency and sore feet -- included a 6-hour stint in the hospital looking after a friend with alcohol poisoning, and trudging around all day Saturday in NYC's dirty rain in flip flops. But hey, that's how I roll.