CMJ Music Marathon, started in 1980 turns New York into the music mecca of the world for a week or so. Spread across 80 venues, it’s a hip-hop, metal, pop, dance smorgasbord of sounds, and pretty much makes it easy for anyone to find a brand new favorite act. Here are some of the dozens of bands we saw this weekend that stayed with us long after we lost our hearing.
Jennah Bell played Couchsessions own CMJ’s showcase, and we chose her for good reason. She’s diminutive in height but a towering stage presence; her voice and guitar just sooths the soul, and she’s a joy to listen to in any form. She tore the house down during the first day to the point where even the sound guy was asking for an encore. Just classic soul, just the way we like it.
Another band we saw and liked was King Dude. Despite it’s broham friendly moniker, King Dude is the deathly serious folk/rock side project of black metal musician TJ Cowgill. Dressed all in black (of course) he and his two compatriots switched between folky tales of dark kind of like Tom Waits if he side hustled as an exorcist. Best song of the night was them turning on full rock mode for their normally acoustic track, “Lucifer is the Light of the World.”
Usually when Speedy Ortiz gets mentioned they are tagged with the ‘indie rock’ label, which brings to mind barely distorted guitars, lots of harmonic singing, and drums beating softly in the background to form a song inoffensive enough to hopefully get picked for a car commercial. Speedy Ortiz sound owes more to the alternative nation era of MTV where rocking out was pretty much a given; guitars roar, drums pound, and front woman Sadie Dupuis verbally flips off the people that irk her.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan are another no-nonsense band. Dressed in ceremonial Chinese makeup they are a mix of performance art and hard rock by way of Canada. With 95% of the musicians playing CMJ dressed up in the uniform of dirty sneakers, trashed jeans and ripped t-shirts, it was nice seeing a band go for it as far as style was concerned. Their stage presence was intimidating, the music was dope and they left a hell of an impression.
Funny enough Australian native Courtney Barnett was probably the most ‘Murica sounding act we saw the whole week. There’s a southern sound thing going on in her music, but she’s smart enough to temper it was some solid harder edged guitar work lest she fall into that Nashville singer-songwriter trap. She was very comfortable on stage and a joy to listen too.
Kirin J Callinan gave a glimpse of where live rock music going as far as technology is concerned. He had 3 sets of guitar pedal boards and the sounds he generated (and looped) would beat out a large majority of arena rock acts. The drummer and keyboardist/bassists were forgotten compared to the full-bodied sonic battery he inflicted from just basically his guitar (and a shitload of analog and digitally triggered trickery). His throaty Tears For Fears meets early Nine Inch Nails might wear a bit thin on wax but in a live setting it’s phenomenal.