As predicted, CMJ Festival was a little cray this year – and not just in Brooklyn. 5 days, hundreds of showcases, thousands of bands, and smack dap in the middle of Fall flue season, even veterans like us could barely keep up! Luckily, an an obligation to Bushwick Daily readers (aka a press pass) blazed our tissue-littered trail, and we hit 2-5 showcases a day, chasing that new music. Out in the peaks and valleys (well, gutters and rooftops) of the musical cradle that is NYC, we found it, in local groups to those hailing from Scotland. Here are our 18 favorites acts of the festival (spoiler: the ladies killed it this year) and a playlist to go along with it so you can let all your friends know that you heard of these soon-to-be big name artists first.
The Babe Rainbow (Australia)
This psychedelic trio (sometimes a 4-piece, depending on where the percussionist wandered off to) so convincingly embodies 1960s Aussie hippies in the getups of 1990s grudge rockers that I temporarily transcended space and time to join their journey, guided by a soundtrack jangly enough to get the whole crowd swaying.
“Angular art punk” never sounded so good as when Shopping rocks it out, spitting moody, political sentiments between teething guitar parts and sharp beats in their minimalist post-everything sound. This British 3-piece are positively infectious live and on record, as their edgy 2015 LP Why Choose demonstrates crystal clearly.
Michael Rault (Edmonton)
Looking like George Harrison and infusing his rock/pop songs with a Beatles-like psychedelia, Michael Rault is on his way to capture the hearts of rock’n’roll millenials whose speed is more Burger Records than Strawberry Fields with his excellent debut Living Daylight.
Great to hear that even at a progressive festival like CMJ there’s still some good ole punk rock, in this case brought all the way from Glasgow, heavy on the ‘tude and the cymbals. Signed to Kanine Records, this garage punk threesome is just the right amount of polished and noisey, and we hope they’re back in the US right quick.
The Big Moon (UK)
How much do we love this 4-piece from London? Enough to squeeze them in to our schedule twice in the span of just a few days! Their sound is as solidly rock as it gets, but there’s a uniquely feminine touch to the rich, crooning vocals and piercing guitar solos. Their live show is 100% badassitude: they bounce around the stage like naturals, busting out guitar solos, hairflips, and baring teeth; how could you not have a (girl)crush??!!
Drinks (Los Angeles)
Drinks is the delightful project of Welsh singer Cate LeBon and Tim Presley (White Fence). Their tunes are a little bit severe and minimalistic in all the right ways. Live, the music has a rougher edge and the shared stage presence is powerful.
Hooton Tennis Club (UK)
Alright, I didn’t expect to be blown away from a band called Hooton Tennis Club, but they weave an intelligence into their songwriting that I found in no other rock outfit at CMJ. Crafting nostalgic-but-upbeat rock tunes and with lyrics that force you to listen closer, we give them two hands in the air.
Gramma’s Boyfriend (Minneapolis)
What is with the twin cities and all the crazy good genre-bending bands they’ve been shipping out? Gramma’s Boyfriend collects a sound as charmingly random as their name is, with art-punk tendencies, 80s-dance overtones, built up onto a solid alternative base. It’s a riot, as are the costumes of lead singer Haley Bonar.
Cassandra Jenkins (New York)
Cassandra makes the kind of country-folk ballads that take you to another place – perhaps your summer home, hanging clothes out on the line and watching the sky fade to dusk. Or is that just us? Either way, her lush mix of slide guitar, violins, and light, fluttering vocals gives us shivers.
In between a punk’s dream and a shoegaze’s nightmare, Sweden’s Makthaverskan creates music that feels very alive, charged with pulsing beats, surging guitars, and wet, vulnerable vocals that spin tales of misunderstanding, longing, and growing up. Their tune, “asleep” is an anthem for the ages.
Miya Folick (Los Angeles)
Miya is a double-edged sword of a singer songwriter. Though on record her songs are sweet, beautifully-crafted electronic-tinged folk songs that speak romance more than anything else, her live show is a whole other thing. Halfway through, songs turn from sweet to scowling, guitars taking on a roar and vocals scorch the speakers. It’s a vibrant contrast to her recorded lullabies, one that explains a lot about her as an artist.
Probably the sexiest sounds we hear all week were from this British, ahem, outfit. Their discography traces them from intricate lounge electro pop on 2013’s Performance to the more evolved pan-genre sound of 2015’s scenic album Slowness. Sensual, drawn out vocals (think Alex Taylor of Hot Chip) meet choppy, precise beats, glimmering synth revolutions, and subtle, supportive guitar and bass parts. Wonderful.
Porches. (New York)
Despite the fact that Porches don’t seem to particularly like performing live, their sound is just too good to pass up. In newer songs, angsty vocal harmonies swell amidst electronic beat-bops and melancholy keys rise and fall to form a set of dancey folk tunes. Older songs are stripped down and acoustic but equally emotional. To make it simple: this band totally gets us and all the angst we go through, even on a generally happy day.
The first thing that comes to your mind when seeing them is the metaphysical- where did this brother/sister/sister trio, armed with an industrial electronic sound, pseudo-spiritual lyrical references, a yogic demeanor, and hairstyles from the gutter- come from? Why, Toronto, of course, the new HQ for all things weird and new and confident. Their sound ranges from cool and mysterious- “Waka Waka”- to more empathetic and tribal- “Two Way Mirror,” but throughout remains dedicated to some sort of magical inner pulse that we’re still trying to put our finger on.
Phony PPL (New York)
Straight outta Bed-Stuy, this collective of musicians samples hip hop, rap, and pop to form an impressive lounge/R&B sound. Their 2015 drop, Yesterday’s Tomorrow, is fresh and throwback all the same, a smooth listen with melodic key fills, relaxed rhythms and catchy hooks. Live, their show explodes, the energy of the 6 band members rippling out to infect the audience.
Another troupe of rangers on the New Weird Toronto frontier, Weaves don’t give a fuck what you think music is supposed to sound like. Screechy, fuzzy guitar riffs take center stage, Burke’s deep, lo-fi vocals fitting alongside dark layers of noise and thrashing drums; the sounds of an artsy (and noisy) genre-puddle. Live, the band is practically flamboyant, letting some levity shine into their misleadingly dark recordings.
Sweet Spirt (Austin)
The warmest we got last weekend was through the slap-happy sounds of Austin-based Sweet Spirit. Speaking to both thrashing rock and Americana soul, their sound is built with ripping guitars, honey-laced vocals, punk rhythms, and occasional doo wop. And the lyrics are no joke either; lead singer Sabrina Ellis tells it like it is in “Let Me Be On Top” crooning, “I’ve got something to cry about, always…. If I ask real nice / you’ll let me be on top.” Ah, she gets it.
The Jungle Giants (Australia)
Do you want to have a great day? Because we can practically guarantee you’ll be feeling 100 percent after a dose of Aussie sunshine via The Jungle Giants, who already have a following down under and looking to share the love stateside. Clever songwriters who met in high school in Brisbane, the group has a tender, familial vibe that permeates their cheery tunes and stage dynamic. Plus, crazy chicks rejoice! They’re also the first band to ever publicly share the sentiment of “my friends think you’re a psycho, that kind of makes me like you more though.” Oh, Kooky Eyes.
Til next year, CMJ! <3