CMJ. It’s here.

Well, here we go again. Another year, another never-ending line-up. I set out last night to make a short list of bands to check out, and here are just a few that stuck with me. There will be more to come!

Murals – Louisville, Kentucky

Photo courtesy of the artist Murals

a band that would have been in the Harold and Maude soundtrack had they only been around. Reminiscent of Vetiver… except you actually want to listen to them. I mean come on. There latest album is called On a Passing Cloud. The album art is terrible, but what it conceals is worth the listen.

“On a Passing Cloud”

Heavenly Beat - Brooklyn, NY

Photo courtesy of the artist Heavenly Beat

the part of Beach Fossils that didn’t become DIIV. John Peña creates “breezy, jazzy indiepop – complete with breathy vocals, sampled steel drums and pizzicato strings” (to commandeer the words of Bill Pearis, one of my favorite sources for all things pop). Yes, and yes. Captured Tracks did right to snatch this up. Stream the Talent EP.

“Messiah”

Opossom - New Zealand
anthemic and lo-fi, a rare combo, but one that should be invoked more. And they consistently nail it. Sublimely scuzzy. This trio also gets major points for traveling from New Zealand.

Foreign Fields - Nashville, Tennessee by way of, you guessed it, Wisconsin
A departure from anything else in this list, and likely, from anything else you’ll see at CMJ. This is good stuff, folks. Not flavor of the week. Gem Club with a Bon Iver-like back story – the record was created in part in an abandoned building in Wisconsin in the dead of winter… that and in a sweltering Tennessee summer. Sad bastard music for the best of us. Apparently the song below was already featured on Parenthood like that show needs any help when it comes to coaxing tears out of its audience.

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Other bands that are potentially worth checking out include, but are not limited to: Caged Animals, Foxygen, Mean Lady, Psychic Twin, Blonds.

I encourage you to check out the official CMJ site, where you can create a username and make your own schedule. And of course, there’s also Oh My Rockness, which never ceases to be helpful–especially when there are so many unofficial shows going on. Heck, even if you’re not in New York this week, they are both still great sources for learning about new music if you’re willing to do a little research.

Nils Frahm and his borrowed piano

It’s amazing how much tension can build with the repetition of a single note. I did not think I would make it through this 25-minute video, and now I want to watch it again. And then again for good measure.

From La Blogothèque:

We showed him the piano; it was as if we were introducing someone to him to the first time. He lifted the lid, hit a couple of keys, smiled and murmured, “He’s got character.” Later: “He’s unpredictable. I like it.” He played a little more, and called out to us once more: “Hmm… there’s a slight chance that I might break it. I get excited sometimes.” We didn’t tell this to our hosts; instead, we crossed our fingers.

On coming out: Frank Ocean’s note

A few days ago, Christian Bale visited a hospital in Aurora, Colorado, to check in with some of the victims from the tragic shooting that took place at the midnight screening of the latest Batman film.

Marketing ploy?

It’s getting harder and harder to tell these days. Marketing is getting clever. It wasn’t long ago that we used commercial breaks to jump up for a bathroom break or to grab a snack from the fridge. Today DVRs allow us to skip them altogether. And yet, companies have somehow convinced thousands to tune in to their spiel. McDonald’s has over 21 million likes on Facebook. Coca-Cola has twice that.

So when I heard about Frank Ocean’s now infamous “coming out” letter, I was skeptical. Not skeptical of the sentiments he expressed, his strength, or the authorship of the note. I was hung up on the timing of its release.

Frank Ocean (photo courtesy of the artist)

Though the letter was written last December, Ocean published it on his Tumblr account on July 3rd. His album, Channel Orange, dropped two weeks later.

Check out this screen shot (via the music tracking site Last.fm) of the chart for “Thinkin Bout You,” from his new album.

And lest you think the sharp increase in popularity coincides with the release of the album, here’s another screen shot, this time of “Swim Good,” the single that was released last fall.

Suspicious, no? The track nearly doubled in popularity at the beginning of July. Of course, proving Ocean’s announcement increased his listenership (in addition to garnering him a ton of press) doesn’t prove there was an ulterior motive behind it.

So I got my hands on the album.

Take a listen to “Thinkin Bout You,” the first full-length song from Channel Orange.

The words in the first hook are simple.

I’m thinking ’bout you (Ooh no, no, no)
I’ve been thinking ’bout you (You know, know, know)
I’ve been thinking ’bout you
Do you think about me still? Do ya, do ya?

But the emotion behind them is powerful. And the words in the verses have both a cool detachment (“No, I don’t like you, I just thought you were cool enough to kick it”) and a more vulnerable, heartfelt hope:

It won’t ever get old, not in my soul, not in my spirit, keep it alive
We’ll go down this road ’til it turns from color to black and white

And despite the straight-forward commentary on the plight of the poor, I can’t help but wonder if the track “Not Just Money” was also thrown onto the album with cynics like me in mind.

Please decondition yourself
It’s not just money
It’s happiness
It’s the difference between happy, being happy or sad

Despite the poignant announcement, Channel Orange is still rife with references to things like drugs, cops, and beautiful women with “big full breasts.” But I’m eager to hear what comes next. If it’s anything like the slow jam “Bad Religion,” which includes the line “I can never make him love me,” I’m all ears… even if the “him” in the song actually refers to God and not to a lover as many have speculated.

And one thing is for sure. Marketing ploy or not… I’m glad we now live in a world where coming out can boost sales instead of crippling them.

Keep it light with Celestial Shore

Celestial Shore (photo Amado Stachenfeld)

Look at these guys. They’re totally great, right? Their “About” section on Facebook reads simply, “fRiEnDs 4oReVeR.” And somehow that nonsensical mix of numbers and letters has the grammar stickler inside me smiling instead of cringing.

Check them out:

“Pals”

“16”

Brief and delightfully upbeat, Celestial Shore’s songs rarely hit the three-minute mark, but their pleasant melodies and quirky arrangements pour out of my speakers like cool, refreshing sweet tea on a summer day.

 

 

Ski Lodge in May

Ski Lodge – The Rock Shop, May 24th

I ducked into The Rock Shop last week for just long enough to check out a compact, 30-minute set from Ski Lodge, a band that arrived at its name mostly based on “how it looked and sounded” and for its double-duty as a metaphor, says singer/lead guitarist Andrew Marr in an interview with The Deli.  “It’s like an emotional place to escape to.”

Ski Lodge (photo Dominick Mastrangelo)

Primarily the project of Marr (previously of The Clementines) recorded, Ski Lodge expands to four on stage and boasts a fun, upbeat show full (what else?) of jangly guitars and retro swagger. Marr’s choice of what to bring with him to listen to on a desert island (“maybe The Smiths – The Queen Is Dead, Beach House – Teen Dream, The Walkmen – Lisbon“) reveals a lot about his sound.

Here’s “Chandeliers”

And “A Game”

You can stream (then buy) the s/t EP here.

Pop Fest and the Return of Saturday Looks Good to Me (with New Songs!)

Saturday Looks Good to Me + Wild Moccasins + Cola Jet Set – May 18th – The Knitting Factory

Last Friday I caught some super fun acts during the second night of Pop Fest. After listening to Orca Team all week, I was bummed to miss them. (They were apparently ahead of schedule at the Knitting Factory – what?) But I did see almost all of Cola Jet Set.

Cola Jet Set (photo courtesy of artist)

Hailing from Barcelona, Cola Jet Set predominantly make music in their home tongue, but I don’t have to dip into my high school Spanish much to know that their songs are infectious and upbeat. According to the group’s website: “their mix of surf, disco, punk, bubblegum and a lot of pop meld into an explosive cocktail that makes this disc more commonly prescribed than Aspirin” and though this is clearly the work of publicists, I have to say it’s a fantastic line and an apt descriptor of their sound.

Hear a couple of songs from Cola Jet Set:

But of course the big moment of the evening was the return of Saturday Looks Good to Me. I’ve listened to the band a lot over the years, but due to their retirement in 2008, I never had a chance to see them play until last week.

an old Saturday Looks Good to Me photo – they’re not that grumpy! (Doug Coombe)

Though they are clearly pros at crafting and performing distilled pop music, Saturday Looks Good to Me seemed genuinely excited to be on stage. Everywhere I looked there were big smiles, onstage and off. “How does it sound out there? Like 2004?” singer/guitarist Fred Thomas joked after a few songs. We had waited a long time for this.

“The last show we played in the United States before we stopped doing this was actually at the Knitting Factory downtown, or where the fuck Financial District, and it was weird. It was a little bit different than tonight.” singer/guitarist Fred Thomas revealed at one point to cheers.

Of course SLGTM played a number of old favorites (“Meet Me by the Water,” “The Girl is Distracted,” and “Alcohol”), but they also played a number of new ones from their upcoming album, to be released this fall.

Here’s a new one for you to hear. It’s called “Invisible Friend”

And of course, here’s “Alcohol”

A delightful show, full of crowd surfing on the part of many band members. Welcome back, guys.

Springing into Summer

The changing weather has me trading in my weepy winter jams for sunnier fare. Here are a few songs to help get you in the mood for the long, hot days.

Thieving Irons

Nate Martinez of Thieving Irons (photo courtesy of the artist)

The solo project of Brooklynite Nate Martinez, Thieving Irons crafted his upcoming album (Behold, The Dreamer!) from dreams and a found book. “We spend our whole lives amassing various experiences,” Martinez writes on his site. “Some traumatic, hopefully many more joyful. This album serves as a testament to my own.”

“So Long” by The Thieving Irons:

Eleanore Everdell and Jason Friedman of The Hundred in the Hands (photo courtesy of artist)

Named after a bloody battle in 1866 in which Crazy Horse led his warriors to conquer and slay 100 men, The Hundred in the Hands is a Brooklyn-based duo that specialize in dreamy electro-pop.

“Killing It” by The Hundred In The Hands:

Owen Ashworth of Advance Base(photo Marc Krause)

You fell in love with Owen Ashworth when he played under the cumbersome but endearing moniker Casiotone for the Painfully Alone. Owen’s back with a fresh project and a new album, A Shut-In’s Prayer, which just dropped this week. Close your eyes and picture yourself as a peanuts character as you listen to the intro to this catchy little ditty.

“New Gospel” by Advance Base:

Jessica Baldouf, Leif Anders, and Dwayne Paul Cullen of Orca Team (photo Ryan Furbush)

With their pleasant lo-fi/garage aesthetic , it’s not hard to see how Seattle’s Orca Team managed to nail a spot on the bill with veteran Ann Arbor group Saturday Looks Good to Me this Friday. Their new EP “Restraint” will be out this June.

“Vancouver B.C.” Orca Team:

Crinkles (photo courtesy of the artist)

Vermont-turned-Brooklyn 4-piece Crinkles have been making music together for years but just released their first LP in April. These guys impressed me when I saw them at opening night of Rooftop Films, and I look forward to hearing more from them.

“Elevator” by Crinkles:



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