Every October since 1980, the CMJ Music Marathon turns New York City into a tangled mass of official and unofficial events, overrun with more bands than any two-eyed, two-eared mortal could possibly see in a week. While well-established names like Slowdive, Low, Matthew Dear, Shonen Knife, The Kills, and reunited emo vets The Jazz June have festival-affiliated shows this year, the real action has always been in active bar-hopping and armchair trend-spotting. Even with most hotly tipped acts playing multiple shows, achieving schedule perfection can be tricky. We’re here to help. Below is the definitive, wholly objective list of must-see artists in town this week and where to catch them.
There should be plenty of opportunities to see Shamir Bailey play in the near future now that the delightful disco wunderkind has relocated from Las Vegas to Brooklyn. Still, that doesn’t mean you should skip his set at GODMODE’s stacked unofficial party (also featuring Courtship Ritual, Fitness, and Ejecta, among others). The young diva has enough natural charisma to play solo against a canned beat, but he shows up with a super-tight live dance band instead. 10/24 at Babycastles, 11pm (unofficial)
Considering her time spent studying film-score composition, it seems a little too cute to call this Canadian-born singer’s music “cinematic.” Still, her debut album Right From Real just so happens to excel at slow-burn drama and grandiose arrangement. Ainsworth’s songs feel uncommonly big even in their more sedate moments, combining pulsing synths with humming strings and her regal, Kate Bush-ish delivery. Theatricality bleeds into her live show, too—it’s recently featured interpretive dancers and even the occasional live snake. 10/21 at Union Pool, 10:45pm; 10/23 at Baby’s All Right, 1am; 10/24 at Pianos, 3:10pm; 10/24 at Glasslands, 8:15pm; 10/24 at Arlene’s Grocery, 11:45pm; 10/25 at Cameo, 8pm; 10/25 at Death by Audio, 9:45pm
Morby has a way with vowels. Still Life, his sophomore departure from co-fronting The Babies, has him flattening round sounds so that even the most defiant songs take on the lolling lilt of a bolo-tied crooner. The track list reads like plot lines and characters pulled from America’s tapestry, condensed into two-and-three syllable sketches: “Drowning,” “Bloodsucker,” “Parade,” “Dancer,” “Amen,” and so on, each one struck by Morby’s melodic ease. The fact that these songs didn’t already exist in the national canon, let alone the world, is a mistake. 10/24 at Rough Trade (w/ full band); 10/25 at Academy Records Annex (unofficial)
One might guess that sludge-mongers PC Worship and nouveau slack-rockers Parquet Courts have nothing in common but an area code. IRL the two Brooklyn rock crews are BFFs whose members occasionally merge into PCPC (a “NY noise-rock confederacy”). Almost immediately upon forming, the supergroup nabbed a spot opening for Thurston Moore’s latest tour. Curiosity about how well their distinct sounds splice arguably eclipses a check-in with the ex-Sonic Youth icon as the premier point of interest at Tuesday night’s show. 10/21 at Saint Vitus (unofficial)
A viciously loud gang of Japanese psych-rockers who’ve been rattling molars in the basement clubs of their adopted home of London for several years now. (A scene that’s welcomed them fully, as they’ve lately been collaborating with Savages singer Jehnny Beth.) They bend the churning riffs of classic heavy metal towards squealing pure noise, with the structural scaffolding of cosmic krautrock added to give the chaos some shape. Live, they’re a whirling blur of flailing limbs and luxurious, gravity-defying hair. 10/21 at Baby’s All Right, 6pm; 10/22 at Glasslands, 12:20am; 10/23 at Baby’s All Right; 10/24 at Pianos, 11:30pm; 10/25 at Baby’s All Right; 10/25 at Rough Trade, 8:15pm
Because Lou Reed, The Jesus & Mary Chain, and The Strokes will never go out of style, even in the post-Internet world, even for a band from Montreal. 10/21 at Pianos, 3:15pm; 10/21 at Union Pool; 10/23 at Mercury Lounge, 12am; 10/24 at Arlene’s Grocery, 7pm; 10/24 at Shea Stadium
The Manchester foursome seems less concerned with all-caps money than capital-A Art. This is inferred from frontman Jamie Lee’s essays with titles like “Madness and Modernity, Intoxication and Isolation,” a Facebook timeline speckled with poetry, and music video montages of ballerinas, a young man lying down on a street, a glam-rock transwoman, and religious imagery. What this means is MONEY makes pop music of the prettiest order. Every track on their debut album The Shadow of Heaven gracefully stretches into one continual movement with Lee’s vocals—less operatic than Antony’s, but less earth-bound than Majical Cloudz’s—driving the ebb and flow. Their reputation in the British press as a live band is “one of the best in the world right now.” Capital-A Art for the win. 10/21 at Baby’s All Right; 10/21 at Rough Trade; 10/22 at Pianos, 8:15pm; 10/23 at (Le) Poisson Rouge, 11pm
The combined voices of these two Los Angeles high schoolers form high, bratty harmonies that fall somewhere between a giggle and a snarl. Their short songs are funny but creepy, sexually frank, and a bit righteously peeved. Boys are regarded both as objects of lust and with deep suspicion. Their minimal setup—just a guitar, a bass, and two mics—sells the emotion in the writing. It’s raw-nerve, first-draft intimacy. 10/22 at Pianos, 2:40pm; 10/22 at Glasslands; 10/23 at Death by Audio (unofficial); 10/24 at Pianos, 7pm; 10/24 at Silent Barn, 11:15pm (unofficial)
It’s no coincidence that Damon McMahon’s clearest, most accessible record by miles is titled Love—proof that being in it opens you up to sharing feelings and experiences. Washed clean of about six of the seven layers of static that’s obscured McMahon’s previous work as Amen Dunes, his latest teeters between Edward Sharpe’s hippy-dippy euphoria and being strung out by downers. Still there’s the sense we have a reliable narrator on our hands, never too thrilled or too depressed for his emotion to steamroll logic. And so you believe him when he sings, “Today my love is gone,” but also when he sings, “I will surely figure it out.” 10/24 at Trans-Pecos
Australia-to-Stockholm transplant Kate Akhurst fronts this synth group, the latest in a long queue who’s turned the sleek and upsetting sounds The Knife left behind into a more obviously commercial sort of shadow-pop. While the aesthetic is slightly familiar, the execution is pretty immaculate. First single “Northern Lights” makes them seem like international chart stars from its first metallic seconds. New material from their anticipated debut record should be expected. 10/23 at Santos Party House; 10/24 at Knitting Factory; 10/25 at Glasslands, 11pm
But, wait! Also check out… Mitski, Cakes da Killa, Amanda X, Pity Sex, Tonstartssbandht, Beach Slang, Couch Slut, Cayetana, Krill, The Wytches, Nuns, Protomartyr, Dream Police, Flashlights, PAWS… and at least one band you’ve never heard of.
Follow Jeff Klingman and Lauren Beck on Twitter @jeff_klingman and @heylaurenbeck.