CoSigns at CMJ Music Marathon 2012


cmj watch yr skull CoSigns at CMJ Music Marathon 2012

Maybe there’s a way to actually see a band at CMJ Music Festival without any previous knowledge — to really discover a band like Wolf Parade or Surfer Blood or The Beatles or whoever came before 2012. There was the joke going around about who was “going to be the next Surfer Blood” this year, and to be honest I don’t really know if there’s a clear frontrunner for that kind of singular standout band this year.

I don’t even know if the CMJ machine — which is enormous by the way, as evinced by the CMJ guide book which would take up a significant amount of room on your coffee table  – is rudimentary enough to propel a batch of  unknown bands to indie stardom. There’s so much press that a band can get before they hit a tiny venue in the Lower East Side or Williamsburg, and if you play nine shows, then sometimes you become de facto buzzed about simply due to odds/exposure. Music is everywhere, hype is everywhere, but to think of CMJ as a place where bands are suddenly escorted to the Top of the Pops is absurd.

If anything, CMJ is fun. Managers take meetings, booking agencies throw showcases with free tacos and rum drinks, and hundreds of great bands play great shows.

Ben Kaye and I saw, collectively, over 50 bands at CMJ, which in complete honesty isn’t a whole lot compared to the thousand-some bands that played. We viewed it as a way to check out some bands we’d liked before, some bands we’d never heard of, and some bands with storied live performances that just couldn’t be missed. Some were perennial favorites (Local Natives), most were very, very good (Metz, Royal Bangs, The Luyas), and only very few were cringe-worthy (Kitty Pryde, although to be fair I was told her show at the afternoon Brooklyn Vegan party that I saw was not as cringe-worthy as her others.) Here are 10 acts that were something to write home about, acts you should check out, acts you should see live, and acts you should start going to bat for.

-Jeremy D. Larson
Managing Editor


cmj 2012 2 CoSigns at CMJ Music Marathon 2012

Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Big Snow Buffalo Lodge – Thursday, 10:00 p.m. – In my ongoing obsession with watching some of the best drummers beat the hell out of their kit, Caddywhompus aligns real nice. Sean Hart buries his head in his kit and together with Chris Rehm on guitar and vocals, they dug out the poppiest gems from the noise-rock genre. It’s like if Japandroids drank half as much at music school, but with the same amount of grit and fun still coming through. On the tiny stage at the Big Snow Buffalo Lodge in Brooklyn, they balanced high brow riffs and time signatures with a low brow metal-club edge –the kind of edge that made two dudes try to start a mosh pit in a tiny room of about 25 people. It can make you move, if you ever want to close your jaw from marveling at the teamwork and musicianship of the two.  -Jeremy D. Larson

Death Grips

Video via FREEwilliamsburg

Villain – Saturday, 2:30 a.m. –  I put Death Grips on here with somewhat of a caveat but it’s also not a caveat and it’s a really small caveat. “Are Death Grips hip-hop?” is a rather common question that gets bandied about and I’d like to think they’re not . Industrial noise rock is more fitting, especially when you have Zach Hill on the drums, or in this case two snares and a drum pad. But there was a backing track that ran through the whole show and, yes, it was 2:30 in the morning and hell if I had any energy left to give, but the backing track aesthetic still makes me think that Death Grips want to be identified as hip-hop — which was why I didn’t mind it as much. I also didn’t mind it because Death Grips’ show was like an actualization of an insane future unfolding in front of you. MC Ride is the physicalization of a vertical accordion on stage, expanding and collapsing his thin and shirtless torso and getting all of the very rowdy venue into it.

The crowd barriers collapsed, security guards gave up, photographers looked scared, and Ride — in a moment of pure rage — threw a dumb kid who decided to dance on the stage into the crowd right when the crazy synth part arrived during “Guillotine”.  ”No Love” might have been the best sounding out of all the new tracks off of NO LOVE DEEP WEBand “Takyon” turned the place into a riot. Pools of Hill and Ride’s sweat surely must have accrued on stage, but the pools of liquid on the floor during the mosh pit were far more dubious. –Jeremy D. Larson

Daniel Ellsworth and the Great Lakes 

daniel ellsworth and the great lakes 1 CoSigns at CMJ Music Marathon 2012

Photo by Ben Kaye

Trash Bar – Thursday, 9:00 p.m. / Rockwood Music Hall Stage 1 – Saturday, 2:00 a.m. - Another band I made a point of seeing twice after unexpectedly stumbling upon them. Bored by an over-hyped country crooner before King Tuff, I strolled up Grand Street and into Trash Bar. I was greeted by a glasses-and-bow-tie wearing Daniel Ellsworth pounding out Tennessee-bred piano rock from his keyboard like J. Roddy Waltson does his standing piano. He and The Great Lakes mix Waltson’s barroom swagger (“Take Your Time”) with Jukebox the Ghost’s pop (“Shoe Fits”) and M. Wards indie-folk ambling (“Only One For Me”). Even at two in the morning, on guitarist Timon Lance’s birthday, during their fifth CMJ showcase, they played their hearts out in pure joy, indulging the crowd with an encore covering Paul Simon’s “Kodachrome”. Though selling CDs next to free download cards may not be a great sales strategy, the way those postcards disappeared after the set shows a solid performance is the best marketing. –Ben Kaye

Deap Vally 

deap vally 1 CoSigns at CMJ Music Marathon 2012

Photo by Ben Kaye

Public Assembly – Thursday, 1:45 p.m. / Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 – Friday, 9:15 p.m. - One of two acts I actively sought out twice, Los Angeles’ Deap Vally provide something rock music didn’t even know it lacked. We’re inundated with noisy, guitar-rock duos, from Black Keys to Sleigh Bells, but where are the all-female duos? Deap Vally fills that role with panache, from the booty-revealing cutoffs to the feather-shouldered mini dresses. Sonically, Lindsey Troy’s guitar licks lead to an unavoidable White Stripes comparison; “Gonna Make My Own Money” could be mistaken for an early Jack White-penned number. It’s also a battle cry, with the chorus’ “Find a rich boy if you can/ but daddy, don’t you understand/ I’m gonna make my own money, gonna buy my own land” an echo of their “we’re women and we’re gonna rock your face off” attitude. These girls are gunning to be the queens atop the bluesy garage-rock throne, and you best gird your loins. –Ben Kaye

King Tuff

king tuff 1 CoSigns at CMJ Music Marathon 2012

 Photo by Ben Kaye

Knitting Factory – Thursday, 12:00 a.m. - King Tuff’s sweat-drenched, beer-battered rock comes stuffed with raucous guitar lines and choruses begging for scream-alongs. It also comes served with a Shirley Temple, Thomas’ drink of choice. With Mitch Hedberg’s delivery, the absurdist frontman dedicated “Freak When I’m Dead” to a “fucking cute” moose he saw on a Canadian road and rebuked the bartender for leaving the cherry out of his drink. Southern-fried and garnished with scissor kicks and spit, Tuff’s rowdiness stirred up a pit that made the one for METZ seem like an amuse-bouche. The band carries an aura of those early rock bands conservative parents protested against, the kind that inspire movies like Almost Famous or Detroit Rock City. After the show, much of the crowd headed for the exits, full-up on party-first-ask-questions-later rock-n’-roll, and looking forward to whatever the King cooks up next. –Ben Kaye

Mac DeMarco 

mac demarco 4 CoSigns at CMJ Music Marathon 2012

Photo by Ben Kaye

Pianos – Saturday, 12:00 a.m. - If the lipstick-smeared glam shots he used to promote this year’s Rock and Roll Night Club didn’t make it obvious, Mac DeMarco really doesn’t give a damn what anyone has to say about him. He’s just going to play his laid-back, tongue-in-cheek troubadour tunes, and you can either come with him or not. “I know not all of you are in the music industry,” he told the crowd. “Feel free to move a little.” The jams may be best suited for an easygoing porch party, but he treats them like something far more furious, crowd surfing during a particularly mellow number, whipping out his testicles from atop an amp as an encore. With his grungy style and gapped-tooth grin, you might want to pass this man off as a clown. But give him a serious listen, and you’ll see he’s smarter than he looks. -Ben Kaye


cmj miguel larson 2012 CoSigns at CMJ Music Marathon 2012

Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Public Assembly – Saturday, 4:45 p.m.  – Miguel showed up about 40 minutes late, played only three songs without his band, just with only one guy who played the backing tracks on an MPC, and sure enough it was one of the best 15 minutes of the whole week. Miguel is a package, maybe the package of a pint-sized, pomp-adorning showman. He has all the soul of Prince, hold the self-obsessed sexual performance, and all the moves of Justin Timberlake, and hold the unnecessary winks. Miguel doesn’t need to engage in coitus with a mic stand, he just sweats sex through his voice, his fancy footwork, and his overall effervescence on the stage. He laughed at his own bad jokes, he apologized at his tardiness, and he used the tiny stage as if it were Madison Square Garden, getting the crowd to sing along in some totally un-singable falsetto call and response after “Sure Thing”. He obliged us all with “Adorn”, just as (yup) Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire pushed his way to the front of the stage and watched, doe-eyed and dumb-struck. -Jeremy D. Larson

Royal Canoe 

royal canoe 14 CoSigns at CMJ Music Marathon 2012

Photo by Ben Kaye

Arlene’s Grocery – Friday, 9:00 p.m. - Royal Canoe wasn’t on my radar, but some friendly folks from Savannah Stopover Festival recommended them, and I’m glad they did. Hailing from Winnipeg, the six-piece is the first non-Montreal band M for Montreal has booked for a CMJ showcase, and that alone says something about their appeal. There’s a lot going on in this band’s dance-y synth-pop, with hints of Spoon (“Show Me Your Eyes”) bumping up against everything from island harmonies (“Hold on to the Metal”) to Gotye-bred hip-hop (“Nightcrawlin’”). All that music is as exciting to watch being made as it is to hear. Two percussionists alternate between electronic pads and a regular kit; multi-tiered keyboardist Matt Schellenberg tweaks peddles and knobs for two-mic singer/keyboardist Matt Peters; and at one point, I swear there were two basses being played. These Canadians own a sound that’s at once incredibly intricate, and simply enjoyable. –Ben Kaye


skaters 1 CoSigns at CMJ Music Marathon 2012

Photo by Ben Kaye

Bowery Ballroom – Wednesday, 11:00 p.m. - Local Natives’ return was a treat, but it was also a great excuse to check out New York’s SKATERS. On record, the boys come off as a polished garage-pop group. Live, there’s a punk rawness that more closely reflects the devil-may-care culture of their namesake. Shades of The Strokes and The Clash are apparent on stage and in studio (“Fear of the Knife” sounds like a Joe Strummer tune), but a The Walkmen-esque coloring came into vivid relief in the performance. Frontman Michael Ian Cummings is a skinny Silent Bob possessed by Hamilton Leithauser, from his vocal cadences and mannerisms to his baggy olive trench coat. The band’s energetic blend of all these influences grabbed the audience and shook them on their feet. “I’ve been playing in bands for 10 years,” Cummings proclaimed. “This is the best CMJ show I’ve every played.” SKATERS might actually be the best band he’s ever played in, period. -Ben Kaye

The So So Glos

cmj 2012 5 CoSigns at CMJ Music Marathon 2012

Photo by Jeremy D. Larson

Public Assembly – Saturday, 10:00 p.m. – The So So Glos are the reason I would move to New York City. It’s the one and only time that I felt out of the loop, like I was behind on something I needed to be at. And I only say that because I wished I knew every single one of their songs by heart so I could sing along with the four guys while they poured their bleeding DIY hearts all over the stage. Their cahoots with Titus Andronicus draw a decent parallel, but it’s more of a house party with The So So Glos, who together look like some scuzzy ’90s boy band wannabes, complete with bleach-blond hair and gold necklaces.

Okay, so maybe it’s like ’90s Brooklyn boy band punk satire, or like a kind of homeless Beastie Boys thing. Anyway, that look was in concordance with their who-gives-a-hoot attitude. They worked hard shilling their pop-rock beer-punk and shout-choruses with hooks for days, bouncing around on stage, trying to literally stir up the crow by asking to form a circle pit. ”We run an all ages venue  and we’re sorry for all the under-agers who couldn’t make the show. Come by [Shea Stadium] and take your shows off and dance.” Shout out to the two kids who were very clearly underage dancing in the front row for them. Adults are boring. -Jeremy D. Larson


Photographer(s): Ben Kaye, Jeremy D. Larson

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