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Friday, November 7, 2014

CMJ 2014 - Early Week

In spite of what seems like an endless wave of other deadlines and immediate crises to deal with, I’ve managed to cobble together the first half of my CMJ experiences this year.  New York’s gargantuan music festival ran from Tuesday, October 21 through Saturday, October 25, 2014. Presented here are the first two days of this event (Tuesday and Wednesday) of what one of my more clever friends has dubbed CMJ = Croms Musical Journey.


As the festival has grown, it is essential now more than ever to secure these credentials.  Credit given to Big Picture Media for handling what is surely a monumental task with efficiency and professionalism.


Following the same script as last year, everything kicked off with the Press Party at The Hotel Rivington on their Penthouse level - which has been renamed the Artist and Press Lounge.

Engaging in the enthusiastic chatter and complimentary beverages that so often come with this sort of environment, the two hours from 6 to 8 pm whizzed by before heading out to the actual shows.

My destination was Brooklyn to catch a number of bands I had targeted early on as "worth checking out."


When I finally made it to Cameo Gallery, old friends Mannequin Pussy were just about to being their set.


I've always found their edgy punk rock to have the right kind of qualities, and this show reinforced those notions.


Marissa fronts an abrasive little trio that in spite of not having a dedicated bass player (many bass notes emerged from the second guitar) did not lack for bottom in their sound.   It was cool to catch up with Marissa throughout the night (chatting and commenting from time-to-time throughout the other bands sets) and finally have a good talk outside after it was all over.

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After having been hyped a bit earlier in the year with PR blasts about them, my curiously to see what The September Girls was all about would finally be satisfied.



Their initial PR went like this:  "Drawing inspiration from the likes of Phil Spector, The Velvet Underground, The Cure, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus And Mary Chain, the five-piece play reverb-soaked noise-pop of the finest order, with distant layered harmonies, swirling organ and distorted guitars once described as "sounds from a transistor radio abandoned in a rural cinema."


That sort of description will get me every time.  Combine that with pretty girls and I'm already half sold.  Only thing left is to check out the live show.


Although I liked them (a lot) I didn't really hear all that much of a "Phil Spector, The Velvet Underground, The Cure, My Bloody Valentine and The Jesus And Mary Chain" sound.  Or "sounds from a transistor radio abandoned in a rural cinema" (oh, how writers do love to wax on).



It has been written that they chose their band name from a Big Star song via The Bangles - and that's who they reminded me more of.  No, not Big Star - but The Bangles.  Or The Go Gos.  Which is to say - that's not bad - it's good for what it is - if your goal is to make accessible pop music - with a slight edge to it.


They were definitely fun to watch - fun to listen to - and fun to be around.


Great looking young women who play their instruments well and sing wonderfully.  Both in harmony and each taking a lead vocal on alternating songs.  Very much a band.  You couldn't pick out a clear cut "leader."





I really liked taking their picture - so I took lots of them.



The room was packed and everyone seemed to be enjoying the show.



Afterwards I flagged down Vox guitarist and vocalist Caoimhe for a bit of a press chat.  She was very sweet and accommodating.  I mentioned that I didn't hear all that much of a "JAMC/MBV" sound and she indicated that their newer material was moving away from that.  Although somewhat disappointed by that prospect, they have to make their own decisions about what kind of sound they want to pursue going forward.  Anyway, it's not like their is a lack of bands that mine that particular influence these days.  In fact, Brooklyn is full of them.

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This night's headliners was a band from Manchester, UK called PINS


They took to the stage with a confidence and command of a band that appeared quite comfortable to be there.


The four distinctly unique visual images of each band member made the experience immediately appealing.


With instantly likeable songs, from left to right here, guitarist/singer Lois, singer/guitarist Faith, drummer/singer Sophie and bassist/singer Anna put on a dynamic rock show.


Bassist Anna was particularly cool, and provided a most informative chat after the show.


Faith did most of the lead singing and provided a visual centerpoint for the group.


Lois provided most of the lead guitar work and was also quite friendly and engaging during our post-show chat.


There is an exciting and magnetic quality to their live show.


Having great songs and the ability to execute them goes a long way in that regard.


During one of their songs (later in the set) Lois ventured out into the audience and riffed away, much to the delight of us all.


Faith also worked the crowd late in the show, coming out to the edge of the stage and engaging various people up close.

Most entertaining, I enjoyed PINS a lot.

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Wednesday October 22nd began in the afternoon at Pianos for the Kanine Records Day Party.


Ironically, the first band I arrived in time to see were the previous nights co-stars The September Girls


As this days events also served as an unlikely reunion between myself and a fellow bandmate from days gone by, I was able to take in the September Girls experience with a second opinion by my side.


Bassist buddy Brett gave them the thumbs up, and - not surprisingly - declared the bass player (on this occasion, the leather clad Paula) as his "favorite."


Overall the band delivered an equally engaging, tight set.  I would give the nod to Pianos for a slightly overall better sound.

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It wouldn't be CMJ if you didn't have to immediately scurry somewhere to catch the next act on your itinerary.  Lucky for us, all we had to do was go upstairs.


The adorable Beach Day were set to perform in Pianos upstairs location, and we made it there just as they were about to begin.


Fronted by the super cute Kimmy Drake, Beach Day has a lot of wonderful qualities to them.


None the least is Kimmy's charm, style and unique-hook-sound of merging Ronnie Spector-style vocals within garage rock punky songs.


The whole band has great style and presence, and in this intimate setting it was a real treat to take in their show.


Moving over to the side couch, we were able to get direct views of the bass player (for Brett) and drummer (for me).  I never noticed those beach pictures on the wall over there before.


Kimmy has got this really great voice and the songs are all well crafted.


A "Brett's eye view" of essential bass guitar throttling.  Kimmy rips a riff as well.



To know Beach Day is to love them.


Taking a break from the tunes for a few, two friends catch up on the corner of Ludlow and Stanton.

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Saying our goodbyes (or rather, catch you laters) I headed back in to hear one of the true iconic bands of the 1990s.



Due to heavy MTV rotation of their debut music (at a time in history when that channel was important and really helped to establish a band) The Ocean Blue are permanently embedded in my musical dna.


Led by Pennsylvanian’s David Schelzel and still with original bassist Bobby Mittan, the band burst onto the scene after being signed to Sire records by the legendary Seymour Stein.


They opened the show with their glorious 1991 hit Mercury


Mixed in was material from their most recent record Ultramarine


And although those songs are also really good, long time fans want to hear what made them who they are.  Fortunately they did not disappoint and played true classics like (my personal fave of theirs) "Ballerina Out Of Control" and "Between Something and Nothing."


In the audience was a woman dancing to the set that had the most unique outfit on.  If you look closely at that "jacket" you'll see it it made out of those plastic tie-seals that come on loaves of bread.  Speaking with her afterwards she said she made the entire thing herself.


My set list signed by David Schelzel.

* * * * *

Having been sent a personal invitation (although may have been somewhat automated) to "stop by The Orchard office from 6-9 pm for drinks, DJs and a chance to see our newly expanded space.


Apparently more than a few of these "invites" were sent out as the place was absurdly packed when I arrived.


Still, I managed to have yet-another quality chat with the creative genius that is Richard Gottehrer

That alone is always worth the effort.  I even managed to put a copy of the current Deli Mag issue in his hand.

* * * * *

However, having to get out of that crowded scene, I checked my options for the night and proceeded up to Webster Hall for one of the bigger shows being presented at CMJ this year.


Making my way past all the checkpoints and security personnel (badge waiving all the way) I bolted upstairs to the left (VIP) side balcony and sidled into a private viewing area that was apparently reserved for a certain PR agency.  No need to mention who here, but the prospect of seeing Courtney Barnett up close and on the big stage was too enticing not to try some bold moves.



CMJ has had a big hand in raising awareness about this artist, as it was their track sampler mix that contained her brilliant song  "Avant Gardener."  You could immediately sense that song was a cut above all the others.


Telling the story of having an allergic asthma attack during an Australian heatwave, the near spoken-word lyrics go "The paramedic thinks I'm clever cos I play guitar, I think she's clever cos she stops people dying."


Webster Hall is a great venue to see a show.  The lighting create mesmerizing effects and the sound impressively big and booming.


Having reached this level of success has allows for a higher level of quality side musicians.  The three bandmembers with her were all extremely accomplished, fluid players.




Moving to the center back of the balcony area for the final encore, I was able to take in another perspective.  Sandwiching this larger arena event inbetween my usual smaller club fare also afforded a different point of view for my CMJ experience.

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Chugging down the rainy streets of New York City, I arrived at Rockwood Music Hall for The Deli Magazine's Roots and Alt Rock/Pop stage presentation.



Having written a number of features printed in the current issue ( No. 40) of The Deli Magazine (which can be read in full right here), the next act up was one I had profiled.


Combining the formidable forces of three seasoned female singer/songwriters, Secret Someones create a soaring vocal rock sound that can’t help but impress.


Already working as solo artists, Bess Rogers, Hannah Winkler, and Lelia Broussard joined together with drummer Zach Jones to create a band with classic Americana rock roots.


The title track from their Cherrytree/Interscope Records debut EP, “I Won’t Follow” presents a crystalline vocal quality in both individual and blended cascades of harmonizing.



They claim Weezer as muse, but polished pop acts like Wilson-Phillips or The Pierces come closer to their huge vocal sound.

Currently on tour, the band is preparing to release their full-length debut in early 2015.

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The partnership between creative singer/songwriter and dedicated producer/engineer is a winning formula for quality recorded music.



Brooklyn’s Stone Cold Fox delivers this with Kevin Olken’s songs and Ariel Loh’s studio savvy on their 2014 album “Memory Palace.”


Expanded to full band with bass, drums, guitar and backing vocals, Kevin’s songs and voice are enhanced by Ariel’s surprisingly rich keyboard textures.



Many of the songs have that easy going early 2000’s Strokes feel, in both sonic textures and vocal phrasing style.


While other tracks evoke the lyrical imagery of Bob Dylan and the emotional drama of The Killers.



With influences from multiple genres and decades, the roots-oriented songwriter and electronic sound designer have put a fresh twist on this combination of popular styles.


The venue was completely packed for their headline appearance.

You can read my full interview with them over on The Deli Mag's Website right Here

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Appearing there later on that evening (now early morning) was another band I profiled for the print issue - HITS



Building a modern sound off an early 80’s synth-pop blueprint, New York City’s HITS present a charming soundtrack you can dance to. Singer/guitarist Louis Epstein embraces an era that saw MTV’s beginnings, helping to launch the careers of bands like Tears For Fears, Haircut 100 and Icicle Works. Keyboardist Erik Tonnesen’s deep bass synth can be heard all over the bands self-titled debut EP, and in particular on standout track “Madness.” Other cuts like “Veins” benefits from a clean chugging guitar sound, while “Singularity” echoes the cadence and feel of early Talking Heads. Lush, buzzy keyboard washes on deeper track “Twin Peaks” perfectly underscore its romantic vocal delivery.

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