With 900-some bands playing this year's Music Marathon, you are never going to see all of them. Or even half of them. Or even a quarter of them. But 26 of them? One for each letter of the alphabet? Well, that you can do. And here's how we recommend you go about doing it.
Another offshoot of Dan Deacon's Wham City collective, one-man party band Adventure tweaks 8-bit twee with gothic undertones. Remarkable in its strange pairing — even more so in person, where he and his live band go batshit crazy without losing sight of the music at hand.
It sounds like a flute winding through Beat Connection's synth-surf exploration "Silver Screen." And this guy singing, the kid from Seattle? He sounds a little like Peter Gabriel. We think this might be the closest thing we'll ever get to Vampire Weekend doing chillwave.
On the occasion you get turned down by the cute girl at Cake Shop, the bummed-out pop ("Girls on Medication"), hopeful longing ("Teflon Heart"), and Spector-indebted dreaminess ("The NJ Turnpike") of Caged Animals make them the band you'll want to go see while licking your wounds. Chin up, champ.
DUM DUM GIRLS
As headliners of Bowery Ballroom's big Friday night spectacle, Dum Dum Girls don't need much press backing, but Only in Dreams sees girl-group ringleader Dee-Dee as the first of her many, many peers to step beyond the genre's kitschy woe-is-me emotional state and make something genuinely affecting.
Seeing Ms. Erika M. Anderson deadpan the lyric "Fuck California, you made me boring" while pointing two fingers at her head in a gun-like salute barely scratches the surface of dramatics involved in her live show, a juxtaposition between nervous stage banter and emotional carnage. Promise you this: If her throaty, whisper-to-a-scream vocals are in full effect, it will not be a performance you soon forget.
FACES ON FILM
When The Shins played Bowery Ballroom last month, Faces on Film came from Boston to open. Needless to say, they're a band that knows a thing or two about craft, scaling back Fleet Foxes/Band of Horses/Morning Benders-sized melodies with noir-ish tones for a more introverted strain of indie.
Sam McGarrigle's Gross Magic will make its NYC debut opening for labelmates Yuck this week, then stick around for few days to play a smattering of CMJ shows. The Brighton-based pop collagist does for the late 80s-early 90s what the Smith Westerns have done for the late 60s-early 70s. His Teen Jamz EP tackles detachment, sneer and mighty hooks. Think ELO and Mellow Gold-era Beck filtered through whatever drugs Ariel Pink is doing these days.
Update: Gross Magic has canceled all CMJ tour dates.
Heavy-hitting, jittery post-punk whose loudly chanting female-male singers remind you, amidst all the keyboards you'll hear this weekend, how good it sounds for someone to scream at you.
There's a timeless quality to Idiot Glee's LP, yet it's clearly a product that only a kid with a laptop could make in the modern age: glitch pop meets a 50s barbershop quartet, minus three people, might be the best way to describe it.
To do CMJ right, you should seek out a verifiable indie-rock legend to use as a benchmark for judging the billions of upstart bands you'll see during the week. For that, there's J Mascis, his guitar, and his hair, headlining the Sub Pop/Hardly Art party at Mercury Lounge on Thursday night. For everything else, we guess there's the Jacuzzi Boys?
And speaking of those billions of upstart bands, Southeast Londoner Archy Marshall — formerly operating under the name Zoo Kid, now as King Krule, still looking like Archie from the comics — has all the markings to be one of the festival's biggest breakouts: the so-cool elusiveness of not being listed on the official lineup, an EP coming next month via True Panther, a sudden spell of Pitchfork love, a Fader Fort appearance on Friday, and a secret warehouse show on Saturday.
We haven't heard much from Ben Schneider's Lord Huron since his Mighty EP threw a lot of critics for a loop towards the end of last year, its bongo drums, maracas and other percussion swimming in the same sphere as open-road roots music. Something evoking Animal Collective, Fleet Foxes and mystical wanderlust went bizarrely under the radar. Time to change that.
Hiding behind an inexplicable amount of electro-pop underdogs in the "M" category (Metronomy, Miracle Fortress, etc.) is the youngest member of Canada's squeaky clean Celtic-country jamboree-ing family, The Rankins. Molly's tongue-in-cheek folk touches on everyone from Regina Spektor to Camera Obscura.
Here we have one of only two repeats from last year's ABC recommendations, an honor that goes to Netherfriends, aka Shawn Rosenblatt and whoever he may be touring with at the moment, for an assortment of harebrained projects — an album composed entirely from Harry Nilsson samples, a year-long trek to write and perform in all 50 states, etc. — that somehow always end up sounding like a psychedelic version of The Blue Album.
At the hands of Houston native Giorgio Angelini (formerly of The Rosebuds' and Bishop Allen's touring bands) comes down-and-out odes to the lowlifes in us all ("Liar, Cheat, Jerk," "Scoundrel") from what sounds like a like dusty, reined-in version of latter-day Dinosaur Jr.
Among the comments under PUJOL's "Black Rabbit" video on YouTube is one fan's defense: "I'm just a 14-year-old from Arkansas who found him through Third Man Records." For all intents and purposes, this could fly as the band's bio too, though, technically, Daniel Pujol is from Nashville, and his Jack White-produced single will be followed up by an EP, not on Third Man, but on Saddle Creek, the week of CMJ.
Even with the not-so-stiff competition among bands that begin with the letter "Q," a recommendation for Boston-based Quilt comes wholeheartedly. Listening to them is perhaps the closest thing 20-to-30-somethings living on the East Coast will get to experiencing Haight-Ashbury in the late 60s. Cool lava lamp, man. What's the Internet?
Upon Lizzy Ellison opening her mouth to sing the opening line of "The Color of Industry," you will want to either be her or date her. The lovely voiced frontwoman of Portland-by-San Francisco foursome Radiation City slyly nods to bossa nova while shimmying between, gothic-pop and dream-pop in a killer combination of sexy and sweet, damn her.
When your ears can't take it any more, when you've seen one too many glitch-hop/funk-folk/Animal Collective ripoff bands, take refuge in the fact that there will always be skinny white boys in bands like Ski Lodge pouring their hearts out via candied melodies and Morrissey-coded lyrics.
It's been too long since you've seen Titus Andronicus play in a space the size of your parents' basement. Lucky for you, they'll start the five-day whirlwind off on the right foot at Glasslands; unlucky for the 900-some bands who have to follow them...
UNKNOWN MORTAL ORCHESTRA
Just the type of bleary, shuffling, groove-rooted rock you want stuck in your head while stumbling around Ludlow Street at 1am. Bonus: on songs like "Ffunny Ffrends," the words are already slurred for you.
Another hero out of New Orleans' Sissy Bounce movement, there is at least a 50 percent chance that Vockah Redu (born Javocca Davis) will be backed by a cheerleader-like pep squad; 30 percent chance spandex will be involved; 100 percent his buoyant, mile-a-minute rhymes will make you re-consider what you currently deem "cool."
Weekend, Wild Flag, White Fence, Wise Blood... This was a tough call, but we gotta give it to Chris Laufman, aka Wise Blood, aka the tiny firecracker of a performer with a possible Napoleon complex whose pastiche of woozy Panda Bear-esque synths and rock bits takes a backseat to his unpredictable live show. Not knowing what to expect at an indie rock concert is an exceedingly rare thing in today's world.
Since writing about these guys in this space last year, they might've released a proper full-length on Kanine Records, but we're pleased to tell you they sound just as irreverent as ever, churning out bratty Jesus and Mary Chain style garage.
In a field of bands claiming the word "young" in their names, Young Buffalo might come out on top this CMJ, as may their hometown label Fat Possum, who've been churning out an awfully good string of albums in 2011. Credit it to energetic, soaring rock well beyond their years. The cover of Broken Social Scene's "Anthems for a 17-Year-Old Girl" certainly doesn't hurt either.