CMJ 2010: A wrap-up of highlights and lowlights

The Body prepare to pummel the raddest drum kit

The Body prepare to pummel the raddest drum kit

Between Pitchfork's eyeball-stealing #Offline Fest and the unmitigated excitement surrounding Kanye West's surprise appearance, the runaround given to badgeholders (the things cost $500 and come with no guarantees), the far-and-wide distribution of the most desirable shows (Chinatown to Brooklyn to LES to Brooklyn to LES to Brooklyn...), and the overwhelmingly tepid waters of Lake New Music 2010, CMJ's 30th birthday and it's unaffiliated lampreys were at least underwhelming, if not frustrating.

[jump] The opportunity is a bit of a no-brainer, really. "Run around New York City and see bands." And it's exciting sometimes, and you surely expect to hear some amazing new music, and even if it's not new you are guaranteed some amazing shows (like the Blow).

"Listen, everyone comes and tries to 'win' CMJ, to find the next Surfer Blood or Best Coast or whatever," said the Village Voice's Music Editor Rob Harvilla during a panel discussion last week. It would be disingenuous to say that's not part of the plan, and it would be folly to say that there were no exciting new bands at CMJ this year. The New York Times' Ben Sisario noted via Twitter this morning:

By my count I saw 44 bands at #CMJ. Assuming a full roster of 1,000, that means I experienced 4.4% of it. Or, didn't experience 95.6%.

The math is daunting and actually weighted more against the attendee than Sisario notes -- there were 1,200 official showcases and at least a couple hundred unofficial gigs throughout the week. So for me to say that "CMJ was a wash" is a bit ridiculous given the capacity one person has for the intake of live music and the statistical probability that one out of 1,500 was fresh and talented and maybe a bit genius. But that's pretty much what I'm saying. Most, if not all, new bands seemed to hew closely (like bedbugs) to the gauzy, droney, fuzzed, reverbed, smooshed-up and diaryetic mien that floods the inboxes of the dozen or so most influential music blogs every morning of the week. The bands bled together as much as their songs did. Below are some of the least and most exciting bands I saw, the difference between I'll leave to you to suss. Here's to 2011.

Young Adults

Playing Spike Hill early Friday afternoon, this band was so fucking loud (there's a difference between awesome loud and asshole loud) and the sound so fucking shitty in that venue that to say they weren't properly represented is a bit of a joke.

Young Adults, "Rip It Up"

Pepper Rabbit

While their laminate-fresh and plentiful gear (the guitarist was rocking eighteen pedals, my sightline didn't let me count the bassist's) screamed bourgeois rich kids, that's absolutely me projecting.

Cloud Nothings

From my notes: "I can't be the only one thinking of New Found Glory right now."

How To Dress Well

I know earlier I said I'd leave it to you to suss out, but this was fucking terrible.


One of my favorite records of the past year, one-woman overdub-fest Glasser has a haunting live show that left my friends completely underwhelmed; while working out live instrumentation for songs as dense as hers would be a serious hurdle, she herself is so magnetic I thought it was well made up for.

Zola Jesus

Someone compared her to Axl Rose. They were wrong.


My god, the wall of gear behind these guys was breathtaking, all Sunn and Orange and Marshall and denim. Loud and long and stonery.

The Body

After being lauded by much-respected (and extremely wordy) far-left-of-field record store Aquarius Records The Body seemed to draw in the exact crowd they deserved: serious "extreme music" fans that not only get down but feed off of brutal brutal music. It's a testament to my exhaustion that I began to fall asleep standing up somewhere near the end of their red-lined set.