CMJ was pretty OK

Death Grips

Employing a divide and conquer strategy, Metro let its music-loving writers loose on the streets of New York City for the past few nights to hear what the future sounds like. Among the thousands of bands playing as part of the College Music Journal’s annual blow out Music Marathon, these are the ones we’re feeling right now.

We can’t pretend that we saw anything that will change everything you thought you knew about music, but here are 16 of the ones you should definitely hear.

Death Grips
With a lineup that focuses on an MC and a drummer, Death Grips grabbed the audience by the neck and wrangled sweaty, writhing dance moves from the mosh pit. The feel was primitive and honest, the genre a blend of drum and bass hip-hop and tribal hard core. The crowd fed off vocalist MC Ride, who spit lyrics over slowed growly samples mashed into a rock dirge and punctuated by a popping drum kit. The laptop pushes a wall of sound through the audience with a bass so heavy it puts your innards into overdrive.

One of the biggest buzzes of this year’s CMJ was Savages, four London women whose punctuated attack on every song is every bit as vicious and thrilling as their name implies. Gemma Thompson plays guitar like she’s the runaway teenage daughter of The Edge. Yes, she learned a lot from her old man, but she’s still rebelling against him with the way she draws abrasive and occasionally atonal sounds out of the instrument. It’s not easy to make out the subject matter coming from singer Jehnny Beth, but it’s unmistakably angry, as she flails about like every convulsion is choreographed to the beats of drummer Fay Milton, who just wails on her kit. Holding down all the chaos is bassist Ayse Hassan, who closes her eyes and lets the beat coarse through her. The sound is what’s traditionally called post-punk (sounding like a cross between Joy Division and the aforementioned early U2 thing) but the energy is 100 percent punk.

Little Green Cars
First impressions aren’t always reliable, but that Little Green Cars singer Stevie Appleby wore a Ramones shirt, and that the Dublin band began their set on Saturday with an acapella song in five-part harmony were good indications of what LGCs are all about. They can weave their voices together as beautifully as any esteemed practitioner of the traditional music of their homeland, but they combine it with a crushing angst and the joy of rocking out. The clip below doesn’t quite do justice to the frantic energy we saw them exhibit on Saturday, but it gives you an idea of the impassioned songwriting and performing that you’re dealing with here.

King Tuff
Did somebody say rocking out? King Tuff was all about that during a set Friday night in a Brooklyn warehouse called Cheap Storage, which was the perfect setting for the jubilant mosh pit that his band set in motion with their four-on-the floor classic punk rock sound.

IO Echo
IO Echo were another big draw at this year’s Marathon. This Los Angeles four-piece play romantic melodies housed in synth and drums. Singer Ioanna Gikas, like a denim Florence (with men in skinny jeans and black leather as her Machine) frequently raised her arms throughout the set in what seemed to be some sort of sorrowful pleasure.

Grittier than their live recordings, Foxygen might not put foxy into punk the way you might wish, but in-your-face singer Sam France does a worthy Mick Jagger impersonation regardless. Guitar licks and ’70s style garage rock place these guys right in with the punk aesthetic of the unmarked Chinatown bar where they performed a long, raucous set, which took the crowd right back to the New York aesthetic of old.

Flying Lotus
Flying Lotus took the stage to headline a CMJ showcase that was webcast via NPR. His expansive smile and wide range as a DJ kept pace with a crowd still feeling the highs of Death Grips. His set was big and sticky. The DJ/producer managed to blend Radiohead and Erykah Badu, both are frequent collaborators, with his own mellifluous rhythms.

Mykki Blanco
Mykki Blanco, the alter ego of Michael Quattlebaum Jr., mixed a helping of tribal beats with her radical rap to a young face paint-laden crowd at the FADER Fort pop-up space in Williamsburg. The solo artist follows in the nontraditional path of recent indie hip-hop a la Odd Future, successfully dipping into punk and electro while retaining individuality.

Cody ChessnuTT
Cody ChessnuTT provides the type of socially consci-ous lyrics that Gil
Scott-Heron perfected, but with the type of warm and beautiful timbre
that Marvin Gaye perfected. Sitting with a cup of tea by his foot,
wearing a blue army helmet and playing a vintage Gibson, ChesnuTT
treated listeners to tunes from his long-awaited “Landing on a Hundred,”
which comes out Oct. 30, almost exactly 10 years and one month after
his last full length album. With subject matter ranging from a
disrespectful nephew to the challenges of making a marriage work to the
redemption of somebody who “used to smoke crack back in the day,” this
is sociopolitical soul.

MS MR have a live sound that melds synth and Gregorian chant. The singer wore comic print tights and a cropped red leather jacket, bringing grit and vigor to lyrics, “We fear rejection, prize attention, crave affection,” getting the crowd to sing and clap along. Her vocals were especially haunting during a performance of their single, “Hurricane.” Picture the conviction of early Sinead O’Connor paired with a lean, male power source generating a throaty, turbine engine of sound.

Let’s call these guys The Strokes 2.0. Dressed in slick skinny-tie
suits, these Seattle transplants peddle pure melodic rock, with catchy
hooks that recall the best moments of The Killers and the fuzzy vocals
that remind us of a more cheerful Julian Casablancas. With their videos
getting top-ratings on, soon everyone will have some Motive of
their own.

Sharing a bill stocked with female rockers, Toronto band METZ brought testosterone-fueled guitar and crashing drums. Theirs is a driving rock; bass up front with thick, distorted guitar and abbreviated solos. Frontman Alex Edkins screams over monster Black Flag choruses, but addressing the crowd, he has an innocent, courteous manner, like a Buddy Holly for the new millennium.

Deap Vally
Considering the oversaturation of bleeps and bloops lately, Joan Jett-esque grrl rock duo Deap Vally are a welcome change. Skimpy, sequined outfits, long hair and heavy rockin’ are the name of the game for these L.A. women who are already signed to Island Records and will open for Muse in Europe later this fall. Throw on your jean jacket and get down with Lindsey Troy’s raspy vocals.

Jinja Safari
The Saturday night Aussie BBQ showcase embodied the crux of CMJ — buzzy, exciting bands who take full advantage of their time in NYC. Sydney-based Jinja Safari mix afro-pop and twee fit for the New Zealand forest.

Nina Sky
The Albino twins are identical, but they are not albino and they are very different personalities. Nicole pumps up the party while Natalie handles the pretty melodies. Together they have an infectiously fun energy and harmonize and dance while singing lines like “Let’s keep going ’til we’re comatose.” While on record, the songs sound like anything on a hot hits radio station, in the club, the twins are a vicious party machine, with a DJ who delivers decimating sub bass beats and a live drummer (this lineup may be the CMJ 2012 innovative approach of the year, see Death Grips). They also win points for covering Cyndi Lauper. Yes, these girls do just want to have fun, but they chose the less expected, “Time After Time.”

Mother Feather
It’s no coincidence that lead singer Ann Courtney has a background in theater. The songstress behind this glam “pop cock rock” outfit, as she calls it, not only belts out some raging anthems, she is also a showman in the first degree. Her sweaty, swaggering delivery evokes some sort of awesome demon woman ascending from the gates of hell to deliver unto us a sinfully amazing performance.

Contributed by Pat Healy, Heidi Patalano, Chris Leo Palermino, Eve Hyman, Peter Haslanger


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