the cmj marathon: a top ten list
  • WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2008

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cory chisel @ electric ladyland studio - chris gayomali

My first CMJ was a bit of an odd bird. Originally scheduled for the second week of September back in 2001, the annual barrage of bands on New York City's famed venues was, understandably, postponed after 9/11. Convening a month later to the date after the attacks, a skimpy slate of bands, a slew of usual professional types, and gaggles of somewhat-stunned-to-be-in-New York college kids ventured to the city to assure that the beat would go on. And though most of the marathon's high profile acts never reconvened in NYC that October, the calendar shuffle seemed to open the door for the little guy. Suddenly the four days of festivities belonged to young up and comers who, at the time, were probably not accustomed to grappling with the eyes and ears of an entire industry. That year, I recall witnessing live performance from Clinic, My Morning Jacket, Minus the Bear, Radio 4, and Ted Leo for the first time...not too shabby, right? And while I have returned year after year...often with gargantuan sets of expectations...it is always my hope that each new experience will, in some way, be an emulation of my original one. It is always my hope that the Marathon will unearth some unexpected, awe-inspiring talent.

Paging through this year's lineup, this hope beamed brighter than ever. With only a few marquee names (Lykke Li, Broken Social Scene, some others...I think) sputtered here and there, not to mention a severe glut of overly touted, overly buzzed about bands, playing multiple shows every single day, my hope going in was that someone, somewhere would pop out of obscurity, and dash across my radar in a triumphant, blaze of glory. And while it might have been tough to find something...anything, really...worth getting behind, CMJ '08 did manage to hide some pretty pleasant surprises in its' pockets. Of course, only time will tell if there were shades of my original experience wrapped up in the '08 edition.

The 10 CMJ artists listed below (in no meaningful order) are a collection of artists I, along with the rest of team Baeble, feel worthy of having the scales tipped in their favor over the next few months. Thanks to these 10 bands/musicians, CMJ '08 was a rewarding experience; one that assures our faith in new music will live long and healthy into a new year. - david pitz


the muslims @ the FADER Fort - stefanie giglio


Chairlift
Though it's been several months since first we heard the elegant, globe trekking ways of Brooklyn's Chairlift, the synth-pop trio has obviously used the bevy of show dates, not to mention premium I-Pod placements, to their advantage. Cramming into the FADER Fort with what seemed like half of the conference's attendees, Chairlift sounded fuller, richer, and more cinematic than previous recollections. Look for their momentum to continue a little while longer.

Cory Chisel
Yes, this pick is a little selfish considering we filmed this Wisconsin songwriter's intimate, cooler-than-thou showcase for Black Seal at Electric Ladyland Studios last week. But boy, does Chisel wrap himself some soul up in his breathless brand of acoustic balladry. His performance with singer Adriel Harris at ELS brought the hairs on the back of our neck to immediate attention. Planned work with famed songwriter Jesse Harris (Norah Jones) will only allow Chisel's mesmerizing music to age with perfection.

Crystal Antlers
This Long Beach CA outfit's emo-tinged debut EP is a beautiful mess of psychedelic fire and noisey passion...both of which garner equal billing over the course of the release. It sounded good before. Now, after witnessing one of the band's electric performances last week, it sounds utterly compustible.

Decon Showcase
It's hard to pick the winner of this bumpin' showcase at Sullivan Hall, so we'll just nominate everyone involved. 88 Keys is the current big man on Decon's campus, and the Kanye-produced protege proved why...even mimicking his mentor in mini-blind shades and his own version of Kanye's fancy footwork. Other MC's doing their part to blow the doors straight off of Sullivan Hall were the astronomically talented Izza Kizza, the old school spittings of LA's Aceyalone, and a special, tight flowing performance from Dilated Peoples' Evidence.

Happy Hollows
This performance from rambunctious LA power pop trio Happy Hollows left us wondering, "how great would this have been if this here venue was filled up just a bit more?". Maybe it was the lame weather, or the fact that...well, some folks were just done after 4 days of music. Regardless, very few made it to the Fanatic showcase on Saturday at the Blender, which is a shame. They'll be kicking themselves when they find out just how much of a rock star in disguise lead Hollow Sarah Negahdari is.


aceyalone @ sullivan hall - stefanie giglio


Johnny Foreigner
We were tipped on this British trio prior to this year's festivities, and we're glad we were. Yes, their somewhat predictable dance-punk tendencies are a little tried and true to this point. But where most bands get away with murder by hiding slap-dash and sloppy performances with unneeded fits of energy, this spunky three piece managed to bottle a tightly wound performance with all the energy they could muster.

Monotonix
You could cycle through video clip after video clip online, or even gawk over your friends' attempts to recount the rock and roll adventures of a typical Monotonix show. But you'll never know just how completely bonkers this Israeli band is unless you find yourself circling up around them, pelting all three members with beer, chasing them haphazardly around a concert venue, and/or chanting their name at the top of your lungs at one of their performances.

The Muslims
They might sport the kind of preppy threads Vampire Weekend have become accustomed for flaunting, but this San Diego outfit do sloppy and snarky rock, with memorable, melodic bite to boot. Think the Strokes, just a little more trashed.

Octopus Project
Yet another band that needlessly suffered from the wrath of an unfortunate turnout at the Blender. But I digress...this Austin outfit obviously didn't let it spoil their CMJ fun. Instead, they turned in one of the week's real highlights; a spooked out performance that set a heady tone with it's experimental cascades of instrumentation, and excellence use of the theremin. I think it's a rule that one must give it up to any band that knows a thing or two about harnessing such mysterious wave currents for good, not evil.

Passion Pit
Yes, they're on everyone's post-CMJ list. But if you happened to catch any one of their sets this year, you know why. There is just no mistaking these Boston Boys' ability to get the party started wherever they set up shop. The thick, synth-pop sound that is their Chunk of Change EP has been an office favorite for a little while now. We're just happy Passion Pit really know how to turn that material loose, live.


chairlift @ the FADER Fort - stefanie giglio

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