A_ A Classic Education
On their MySpace page, they describe their sound as, "Eating together like a big family. Reverb. Shoes. Dresses." Translation: They're from Italy. Slumberland Records should sign them. With pretty melodies and muffled organs and noise boxes.
In the hands of Montreal-based Braids, minimal dream-pop gently unfolds into seven-minute twinkling epics with the occasional snap-along worthy of a Target commercial. They've got the whole young, dewy-eyed thing going on, not to mention a singer named Raphaelle Standell-Preston, who could hold her own against any of the ladies in Dirty Projectors.
C_ Cloud Nothings
Yesssss! This type of catchy slop-rock is exactly what you'll want to be listening to at 1am at Cake Shop on any given night of CMJ. You'll be sweaty, tipsy, and have a strong urge to get in the face of main man Dylan Baldi and yell "Cleveland rocks!" mid fist-pump (he's from Cleveland). Go ahead, do it. That's the point of CMJ. (We think? No idea.)
D_ Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
See what they did there with the name? Made a joke, like there's nothing to it. Effortlessness seems to be their thing—adding drum machines to otherwise slow-moving folk music (complete with the occasional washboard) as if that's a normal pairing—creating perfect pop songs like there's nothing to it.
When a band has a song titled "I'll Die Young for Rock n Roll," they've pretty much sealed their fate as a must-see act during a five-day music marathon. It certainly doesn't hurt that the song in question smolders with an itchy, contagious energy.
F_ Fergus & Geronimo
Likely candidates to die young for rock 'n' roll. Hell, we're all going to die. You might as well have fun, get drunk, and make deliciously ramshackle pop music along the way. Fergus & Geronimo have it all figured out.
While we wait for the rumored RZA-produced Liquid Swords sequel now slated for December, watch the Wu Tang co-founder run through his consistently underrated catalog of creatively reinterpreted hip-hop staples. Unswayed by the sometimes subtle pleasures of GZA's solo albums? Then come for the very likely Clansmen cameos.
Houses stand as an exception to our "ambient bands are boring" rule by incorporating a surprisingly dominant backbeat to otherwise floaty songs like "Soak It Up." Ambient bands worldwide should get on that train.
I_ The Idle Hands
The Idle Hands probably won't be the coolest band you see all week, as they don't adhere to any particular set of trends or hang out with the boys in Real Estate. Instead, they do a loyal take on the British tears-in-beer punk songs of yesteryear. Somewhere, Joe Strummer is smiling.
J_Jenny and Johnny
We're positive that Jenny and Johnny's album, I'm Having Fun Now, sounds 80 percent better when blasting out of a car stereo on a road trip, but even still, their warm, worn-in pop is as perfect as two insanely attractive, immensely talented people dating. (Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice are dating.)
Kisses may be a chillwave band. We're not sure. There are definitely keyboards, and the cover of their debut album is definitely a vintage-looking photo of a hotel swimming pool surrounded by palm trees, but Jesse Kivel's Jens Lekman-channeling vocals sit high in the mix and elements of 70s disco are in there too. We're pretty sure disco is the opposite of chillwave.
L_ Lower Dens
Baltimore dreamers Lower Dens are giving Beach House a run for their money, elevating their game of gauzy, ethereal pop with strong, distinct melody. They'll surely rank among the festival's most-seen bands, with ten shows scheduled during the five days.
M_ Magic Bullets
Morrissey fronting a lo-fi pop band would be pretty great, if only to see how he would style his hair. As for how it would sound? Give Magic Bullets a whirl for a general idea.
Under the name Netherfriends, Shawn Rosenblatt and whoever he happens to be touring with at the moment delivers jumpy, orchestrated pop that sounds like a cross between Beirut and the Morning Benders. Also Weezer. You should really go see him.
O_ Oh Land
Robyn isn't playing CMJ, but her Swedish contemporary Oh Land is, and she essentially takes Robyn's shiny pop songs and skews them towards indie, and that's good enough for us.
P_ Pepper Rabbit
With only two members, Pepper Rabbit's songs are soft, haunting, and capture an old-world feel. Slowly but surely, they've been gaining exposure in the blogosphere.
Thank goodness for Danish electro-pop duos who are wacky enough to name their band a word that begins with the letter "Q." More so, thank goodness singer Coco and musician/producer Robin Hannibal are worth a genuine recommendation, infusing their poppy dance-alongs with 1960s soul.
R_ Reading Rainbow
Imagine if Joan Jett had said to Joey Ramone while hanging out eating ice cream one day, "The bass guitar is totally overrated." Blam. You'd have drum-guitar, Joan-Joey throwback Reading Rainbow.
S_ Slow Animal
Here we have a Jersey band playing druggy, hazy, blaring psych-tinged noise-rock that never lets a melody out of sight. They'll be signed to Woodsist by Thursday.
T_ Title Tracks
In 2008, John Davis of Dischord Records' cult heroes Q and Not U started writing songs under the name Title Tracks. The 90s remain an obvious influence to him, though here the melodic, jangly pop strain is represented (versus the post-hardcore strain), nodding to the likes of Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub and Superdrag, who—wait for it—was also led by a guy named John Davis. Mind=blown.
U_ U.S. Royalty
Under the words "About U.S. Royalty" on their MySpace page, there's a picture of a girl laying on her back with a bald eagle about to perch on her knees. Don't know what that's about. We would have put a picture of Local Natives or something. They sound a lot like those guys.
V_ Viva L'American Death Ray Music
First, let's toast to a kick-ass name. Viva L'American Death Ray Music does not sound like a band you'd want to bump into in a dark alley. Then let's toast to following the footsteps of DIY forefather R. Stevie Moore in his weirdo psych-dub-punk dabbling. And lastly, let's toast to them being at it for nearly ten (relatively thankless) years.
W_ Wild Nothing
Promise us you'll hear Wild Nothing play "Live in Dreams," at least once during CMJ. Hearing frontman Jack Tatum achingly sing, "Our lips won't last forever, and that's exactly why I'd rather live in dreams and I'd rather die," over a perfectly crafted musical homage to all the same bands that influenced The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, it's bound to be a highlight of the week.
X_ X-Ray Eyeballs
X-Ray Eyeballs are from Brooklyn, and they sing a song called "Egyptian Magician (Let's All Get High)." With knowledge of this, you can pretty much guess how they sound: like The Beets on cough syrup.
Y_ Young Man
When we heard Frenchkiss signed Colin Caulfield, aka Young Man, on the merits of his YouTube cover songs, we were suspicious. Then we listened to his music. Let's just say by the time the tribal drumming kicks in at the 1:30 mark of "Up So Fast," we were sold.
Z_ Zachary Cale
Cale has that perfectly imperfect world-weary voice—like there's a frog caught in his throat, but he has so much wisdom to share, he's not going to let that stop him from singing. It's paired with simple, down-and-out folk, subtly shaded by organ and piano.