ZOLA JESUS (Le Poisson Rouge)
Watching Zola Jesus from the audience at Le Poisson Rouge, it was difficult to comprehend that in person, Nika Roza Danilova stands at 4-foot-11. Her presence, rooted in a mournful and urgent, opera-trained chest voice, wholly captivated the audience, and her sound, carried by thunderous percussion, pressed into every wall and nook of the room.
On stage, Danilova directed a symphony of computers, live and electronic drums and electric violin with undulating fingers and fists. She’s got quite the myth on her, a performer paralyzed by anxiety in her youth, (and unable to sing because of it) who has now orchestrated what some argue to be one of the most compelling sonic experiences of the year. Much of the performance sounded almost identical to her third LP that came out this year, Conatus, but the album didn’t, couldn’t communicate the intensity of her live show. Alternately davining, heaving and still, it was hard to make out where one “song” ended and the next began. Instead, Danilova sort of swallowed the audience whole by bringing us into her dark interior world, guiding us down a narrow, torturous path articulated only by her voice. NPR should be posting their live coverage of the show soon, if their cameras and recorders didn’t fritz from the intensity.
FIDLAR (Cake Shop)
Do you remember that kid from grade school who had a knack for breaking himself every other week? Just from doing stupid things, like jumping off the monkey bars, riding a skateboard off a cliff, or sticking forks in electrical sockets? There’s something kind of cool about the brazen problem child, and whatever it is, Fidlar has it. Fidlar, short for “Fuck It, Dog, Life’s a Risk,” is made up of four kids from L.A. who have channeled their raw adolescent energy into some undeniably catchy garage punk.
Most of the songs they played at Cake Shop seemed to be about their drummer, Max, not getting laid and not being able to surf. Is it a new development in nihilism, narcissism or irony to sing about things that are sort of anti-substance? I don’t think Fidlar’s thinking too hard about it. By the second song, singer Zach had launched himself into the crowd at Cake Shop (I found myself on the floor, untangling my CMJ badge from the neck of his guitar), and not too much time had passed before the basement scene had turned into one of the liveliest mosh pits I’ve seen down there. They even played a song about Bushwick, which was short, but a definite crowd pleaser with the chorus, “FUCKING BUSHWICK KID!” One more thing to know about Fidlar: They have a really neat music video where their drummer, Max, is wearing the rest of the band’s clothes and is playing every instrument. This makes it look like Fidlar is a band made up of four identical Ronald Weasleys.
BLEACHED (Cake Shop)
So, I guess the first thing to know about Bleached is that, ha ha, the lead singer and lead guitarist are two cute blonde girls, sisters Jessica and Jennifer Clavin (ex-Mika Miko, Cold Cave). Bleached, like hair, get it? Okay. The second thing to know is that it’s really difficult to dislike them, given that they play a type of crunchy, surf-y garage rock that sounds like the Vivian Girls, or Best Coast with more bite. But perhaps that’s the problem with this band. It’s a blonde eat blonde eat female harmonies eat surf rock eat beach themes world out there. If we lived in a world where Bethany Consentino hadn’t drilled familiar paths in the brains of listeners to the point of eye-rolling repetition, this would be really cool. To conclude: Bleached played a great set, and certainly stuck out as a band to watch. Still, maybe these two need more time to bake in the new ideas oven.
At 1 a.m., Piano’s back room is curiously unfilled. The band WIM is setting up, and the first thing the lead singer—who, with his scruff, ripped jeans and a belt of jangly hippie detritus, looks like he just came back from a vision trip in the outback—does is take off his shoes. The guitarist does the same.
I once dated a guitarist who never liked to wear shoes. Now I distrust the type, and curse silently, fearing that WIM will certainly suck.
Luckily, I’m proven wrong on all counts, and almost immediately. The set begins with soft, harmonizing moans from lead singer and guitarist, and a slow, building, rhythm from the kick drum. There are hand claps, mantra-like melodies and weaving, gorgeous psychedelia, broken up by tight, Mean Mr. Mustard types of poppy interludes. The lead singer may look like a space cadet, especially with his bejeweled fingers and curling wrists doing a flighty sort of choreography to illustrate his words, but he’s got the voice of a strong frontman—Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson comes to mind with his esoteric, lullaby croon. And the set—a teaser ranging from the softest harmonies to tribal drumming freakouts to heavy, sensuous use of the bow on an electric guitar—left me wanting more. WIM is sticking around New York for the next month or so, with an album release on label Modular People (and a show?) November 15th. It’s tempting to carve out one of those stupid pigeonholes and call these guys the Australian Grizzly Bear, but out of respect for the original Grizz, alas, I cannot. Still, definitely my favorite surprise act of CMJ so far.