With roughly 1,200 bands playing throughout the two boroughs, a fan can barely make a dent in the showcases. Ultimately, the best bet is to catch one band and hang around for the next couple of bands, and chances are they will be of an entirely different wavelength. To paraphrase the New Zealand CMJ band, Gosling, "One band will rock your socks off, another will put them back on." With a little patience you will be pleasantly surprised, and if you're lucky you might just catch the next Arcade Fire or Lady Gaga.
Half of the fun of CMJ is navigating the ins and outs of the city and lollygagging off the beaten path. Most clubs that participate in the festival stand merely as a small door with an address number vaguely etched above the door, so much time was spent walking up and down Bowery streets in search of that petite club barely able to contain the music. Of those hundreds of bands, here are several outstanding artists I discovered throughout the week in New York City.
With worldly rhythms, strutting guitars and sugary melodies, Australia's the Griswolds deliver a more sublime pop version of Vampire Weekend or the Strokes. Despite leaving a key member behind in Australia due to a snakebite, technical difficulties and extremely low v-necks, the Griswolds had no problem creating plenty of CMJ buzz this year. One listen to the contagiously charming, "Heart of the Lion" will you leave you hooked and craving more. Recently signed to Wind Up Records (home of everyone's favorite band, Creed), the band plans to release a debut in early 2014. Here's to hoping they can exceed the success of contemporaries like MGMT.
If you don't mind being led down a dark and desolate back street in Williamsburg, you may catch the pissed off and ominous throb of Brooklyn natives, Big Ups emitting from any under the radar club. While all the post-hardcore band's material thus far may sound like a feeble DFL or At the Drive In, they've since beefed up their raw sound with bleak social commentary, furious vocals and menacing riffs. The word confrontational does no justice to this Big Ups' live performances. Just be prepared for some interaction with their vocalist.
Rock 'n' roll will never die as long as bands like the Delta Riggs keep it boozed up and shaggy-haired. The Delta Riggs easily stole the limelight of any CMJ showcase they were included on with their lager drenched power chords and bratty attitude. Looking and sounding like a youthful New York Dolls, these guys are an urgent, genuine, and hilarious gang of mates from Australia.
Thankfully, emo (or "twinkly" as fans affectionately call it) is finally getting some love at CMJ. Dads is at the forefront of the newest wave of emo bands due to their tireless work ethic. Dads is living the "spill your guts onstage, load the van and drive to the next show" sentiment so prevalent in emo. And while on record the band sounds intentionally thin and twinkly, the duo sounded loud and heavy (probably due to their affinity for Pantera) at CMJ. Continuously releasing an abundance of material, Dads are bound to soothe all of our bleeding hearts, just because they care.
'90s R&B-revivalists, Shy Girls play hurtin' music for the lonely car ride home after a depressing night at the club. Morph Morrissey and R. Kelly, and there's no doubt you'd end up with Shy Girls. The reverb drenched sax solos and blatant lite-funk keyboards could easily be considered a gimmick if not done so well and sincerely. With the success of alternative R&B acts like Frank Ocean and the Weeknd, it'd only make sense for Shy Girls' sultry saxophone solos to gently soar into more ears.
Blurring indie rock, new wave punkiness and emo, guitar and drum duo, Steel Phantoms were one of the cleanest and crispest bands at CMJ this year. Deliciously warm and simple songs were delivered in rapid succession with every note pitch perfect and every snare right on cue. Steel Phantoms is a breath of fresh air in a sometimes smoggy genre.
Seldom do we witness an artist on the verge of erupting into the national consciousness as clearly as the girl group-inspired Lily and the Parlour Tricks. With a Motown work ethic, sensational stage choreography and a song featured in a BMW commercial, Lily and the Parlour Tricks are bursting at the seams to break through into Adele territory. Songs like "Made for Radio" easily fits the potentially massive hit frame of CeeLo Green's "F**k You!" a few years back.
Among the dire melancholia rampant in indie rock, Gang of Youths isn't afraid to kick it in high gear and pull out some U2-worthy moments of passion. Easily described as an aggressive Motion City Soundtrack or dynamic Bloc Party, Gang of Youths play every show like it matters, because they really do matter.
Pissed I Missed: Norwegian Arms and Legs Like Tree Trunks
Cleanest Bathrooms: Grand Victory
Sweetest Bartenders: The Cakeshop
CMJ Panel Key Point: Facebook Sucks, Tumblr Owns
Overused Noun Among CMJ Band Names: Ghost