CMJ Day Two: Marnie Stern, Holy Ghost!, and Strife (yes, Strife)

Baths, ready to go at the Cake Shop

A panel discussion with some of the best and brightest in music writing, much disappointment, and an ex-straightedge legacy act. What is he talking about?

Curmudgeons of Rock

A panel discussion featuring Sean Fennessey of eMusic, Rob Harvilla of the Village Voice, freelance writer Maura Johnston, recently appointed New York Magazine music critic Nitsuh Abebe, Charles Aaron of SPIN, and moderated by CMJ's Mike Tedder. The topic of the hour was the why music criticism - who's reading this stuff, why are we writing it, and the modern difficulty of making it pay. Everyone on the panel seemed to agree that their jobs are awesome, confusing, maybe pointless, and perilously close to not existing. Aaron remarked at one point "I thought about the state of criticism more ten years ago than now. We're just trying to survive." A consensus emerged that the ideal music writing property can't really exist, hamstrung as the culture industry is by the whim and dollars of the mass audience. Watching Charles Aaron morosely stream his thoughts on running SPIN - "I started working for SPIN because they paid, not because I liked it" - could perhaps be the most effective deterrent for youngsters with an eye to the field.

Running on the minimal gear of a little Casio, an Akai MPC, and a Macbook, LA's one-man getdown Baths played an early evening set in the Cake Shop's basement aimed directly at the butt part of everyone's guts. Manipulating his gear at light speed (pressing buttons has never looked so practiced), Will Wiesenfeld took a half hour tour of particularly LA beats; gauzy, schizophrenic, danceable, and punctuated with a rather charming falsetto. Throughout the first half I was strongly reminded of the work LA's Leaving Records has been issuing on cassettes (and Nine Inch Nails for a few seconds), releases from artists like Oscar McClure and Ras G who make a not entirely enjoyable but darkly alluring type of music. Baths is cheekier and more charming than those artists, but don't fault either party.

Marnie Stern
"Nobody's been in my vagina for sooo long!" If you haven't been made aware of Marnie Stern's monotone hollers and fiercely angular guitarwork by now, then maybe you've just been purposely ignoring her. Again in the Cake Shop's sweaty, packed, and miserable basement Stern and her two bandmates gave the supportive crowd her thing just so - blast beats and rapid-fire guitar taps meet in perpendicular, with plenty of raunchy between-song banter from the infamously dirty-mouthed and adorable Stern. Now for martinis.

[Several martinis later...]

Lower Dens
Lower Dens are FUCKING BORING. The only people more bored at this band than the crowd was the band itself. Stop it.

This Chicago two-piece announced before beginning that this was their "first show ever," playing directly into the hands of at least three people (see here & here) and proving them exactly right. Their sound was thin and their presence nervous.

At least this Beach House rip is doing it with style. I guess? While the vocal melodies sound cribbed at points Tamaryn is nothing if not confident. Their recorded output pegs them (her?) as a Jesus and Mary Chain swell and collapse, thickly breathy voice and much style and presence. If you're going to listen to Interpol, might I suggest just listening to Tamaryn.

Holy Ghost!
After hearing their first EP, released on DFA (a match made in heaven) earlier this year, I was very excited to see Holy Ghost; their modulated uptown disco was the soundtrack to many a smiling bike ride for me, like something out of a 70's coming-of-age movie. That said, the live show was massively disappointing, their two-piece extended into a full band and their endearing vibe shattered into a million slick little pieces, positioning themselves tech-geek suave boys. If you'd like to judge, judge the record.

Wow. Wow wow wow. Twenty year straightedge-no-more hardcore vets Strife were playing to a massive circle pit while, uptown at Madison Square Garden, Daft Punk were performing with their countrymen in Phoenix and making headlines across the world. Only in New York is what you'd normally say under these circumstances, but fuck that. Stay evil.

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