The sprawling mess that is the CMJ Music Marathon has been going on for about a week in clubs, hotels, and anyplace else that can fit a musician and a monitor, and is ending this weekend. Like South By Southwest in Austin, TX, CMJ is an exercise in sensory overload. Recognizing that, many bloggers, critics and random observers have helpfully weighed in with their picks for the festival, so you can have a somewhat curated sense of what’s going on. Many of these lists have focused on the same bands: Wild Flag, Dum Dum Girls, Shonen Knife, the return of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah… The point isn’t so much to get you to go see these bands – very often, you can’t, because industry-types with CMJ badges have already filled the space – but to alert you to worthy artists whose names you might not pick out of CMJ's list of over 1300 participants.
Obviously, we like Wild Flag too. And those other bands are definitely worth checking out. But here are 5 CMJ acts who I haven’t seen mentioned much, if at all - acts I’d like to bang the drum for. In no particular order:
An Horse. Aussie duo reverses the White Stripes formula (so, girl singer/guitarist, guy drummer) and plays honest, sinewy rock. Check out their Soundcheck appearance last year.
King Fantastic. Yes, the super-hyped LA rap collective Odd Future was here for CMJ, but spare a moment to check out this young LA hoodlum and his knowing, subtly melodic take on gangster rap. Just maybe don’t do it at work.
Zola Jesus. Well, now I see that she’s on Sophie Harris’s list today too, but hell, I’m still gonna include her here. Dark, dramatic rock with elements of glam, goth, and industrial. If you liked Dead Can Dance in the 80s/early 90s, this one’s for you.
Emmy The Great. Young English singer/songwriter has the goods: sharply observed lyrics; lovely, light voice; and a knack for hooks. Check out her contribution, “Seattle,” to Norman Cook’s Brighton Port Authority project.
We Are Augustines. Don’t know why every blogger hasn’t zeroed in on this Brooklyn band, built on the earlier group Pela. Their eponymous debut album is simply one of the best records of 2011, and some of the most emotionally-charged, melodic indie rock I’ve heard in years. (Also on Soundcheck back in August.)
Who’s your pick from the CMJ pack? Leave a comment.