CMJ: Night Four and Night Five

Andy Stott

You’ll have to forgive the lack of updates from my CMJ adventure… it feels like you’re just going to a couple of shows then all of a sudden it’s six in the morning and you’re waiting for a subway train back to your friend’s apartment so you can get a few hours of sleep before more shows.

Since my last update it’s been a whirlwind adventure through Manhattan and Brooklyn and there’s almost too much to recap. While I’ll leave out some stuff here’s what happened:

After a pleasant semi-romantic day of walking around with Fast Forward Weekly contributor Mark Teo (my efforts to woo him didn’t pay off at the end of the night though) it seemed most logical to return to Panache Booking’s showcase at Public Assembly where I was happy to watch Mac DeMarco and co. perform for a second time. (An aside: nothing pairs better than drinking a giant $2 beer by the river then checking out some dirty yacht-rock.)

While their prior show was full of rock star moves due in no small part to their metal-friendly backline this set saw the band playing more true to their smooth sounds with smaller amps and plenty of swooning crooning vocals. Perhaps the real reason Mac’s work is so appealing is that he clearly understands the difference between songwriting and performing. At home or in the studio he’s mastered the art of sultry sweet love songs. But seeing a band live demands at least some semblance of entertainment which the band offers plenty of (in the juvenile variety). At one particularly impactful moment before the incredible Peter Sagar launched into a gentle guitar solo Mac approached the mic to punctuate a chorus by grunting the word “balls.” Some might cringe at such rampant immaturity but me? I’m in love with it.

Up next was Mississippi indie rock dude Dent May who has ditched the ukulele schtick that got him signed with Animal Collective’s Paw Tracks imprint and expanded his act to a full band. While they were undoubtedly talented – particularly the bassist who was near hypnotic in his fretwork – they didn’t come close to capturing my attention like the band before them. Perhaps if I knew the songs I would’ve been more interested but in this case being good simply wasn’t good enough.

The final act worth mentioning was Violent Bullshit if only because their frontman is Jayson Green from unimpeachable ’90s post-hardcore mainstays Orchid. Part early 2000s Three One G and part Har Mar Superstar the band’s goofy antics were not saved by middling unfocused songwriting. Sure there were sections that resembled breakdowns and some of the more straightforward bits were okay but I left less interested in Violent Bullshit than when I went in. I’m all about the hipster hardcore bands who offer bursts of energy for otherwise bored indie rock goofs but Violent Bullshit need to hone in on their violence and tone down the bullshit.

That was approximately the point where I called it a night and for good reason as Saturday offered a truly packed schedule of live music.

After mind-blowing chicken and waffles at Williamsburg’s busy haunt Pies and Thighs I made my way to the Cameo Gallery for the Pop Montreal showcase.

First on the docket was an appearance from Braids frontwoman Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s side-project Blue Hawaii . While I’d heard some recordings catching them live was a whole other story as the subtle crystal clear beats and Raffi’s angelic vocal delivery created an instantly engaging environment. It was about 3 p.m. but in the dark intimate venue it felt like midnight. Smooth enchanting songwriting was benefitted by the staccato snare rolls and deep heavy bass. This whole thing of Enya-esque vocals atop banging beats is certainly starting to feel like the new garage rock or something but as long as the individual artists in the movement continue to make music as exciting as this it’ll be totally fine to work within those parameters.

Equally if not more zeitgeisty was the sampler-based tracks of Montreal local and Shapes & Sizes guitarist Caila Thompson here performing as Mozart’s Sister . After a truly haunting opener comprised entirely of looped vocal tracks she kicked into full-on weirdo electro-pop mode. While it would be easy to note the obvious Grimes influence in her outsider aesthetics and bedroom dancing the songs were so well-written and dripping in pop appeal that she came across as more of a weirdo Robyn. In other words Mozart’s Sister was a welcome surprise.

A quick subway ride later and I was standing at the remarkable modern-meets-vintage architecture of MoMA’s PS1 where Pitchfork were throwing one of their many official parties. Fortunately and unlike the Death Grips show the night before this one didn’t have a lineup around the block. Instead the Biodome -esque venue was full of curious open-minded fans who wanted to hear the busy textural sounds of Manchester’s Andy Stott .

The venue was so breathtaking with stunning visuals and a piercingly loud soundsystem that it would have been satisfying to listen to someone belch into a microphone (wazzap Mac DeMarco). Instead Stott’s set was a masterfully crafted dynamic and fascinating mix of Oneohtrix-leaning soundscapes piercing white noise and impossible to resist house beats. By drawing on the past while sounding so so much like the future Andy Stott kept the crowd going for a solid 90 minutes or so.

Over to Jewish community centre 92Y Tribeca where I caught some of the Life or Death PR showcase. Best known for repping acts like Odd Future Wavves and other hype machines the publicists had assembled a bill of upcoming acts.

Australian group Twerps channelled Flying Nun pop via Gun Outfit-esque minimalism for a set that sounded intentionally boring with just enough going on to suggest that they’d grow on you with repeat listens. Josef Van Wissem ’s mastery of a super medieval-looking lute was technically good I guess but not interesting enough to compete with the fatigue of watching a million better things. Other Aussies Slug Guts got real scummy with their dense post-punk adding layers of grime thanks to a constantly bleating saxophone and tinny guitar leads making them the best that I saw at that showcase though far from a fest highlight.

A few blocks away Le Poisson Rouge was hosting a DJ night from Macauley Culkin and Adam Green though I went to the venue’s other room for the eighth anniversary of Fixed NYC. Coming from Austin Texas and featuring an Old Navy model for a frontman Orthy channelled Kraftwerk and The Human League for a mediocre set that was made worse by their onstage whininess. Bands let this be a lesson to all of you: shut up about your monitor mix. If the sound man fucked up I’m sorry but you need to tough up and get through it. Now all I can remember from Orthy is watching their tall Conan O’Brien-esque frontman point frantically at the monitors during songs and complain to the sound man in between. Unless they were trying to come across as crybabies it’s not a good look.

After that I was tempted to leave but I’m so glad I didn’t as Autre Ne Veut produced some of the sexiest music I’ve ever heard. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised considering their most popular release has a macro-zoomed photo of a shiny labia on it but this band was on a more hip Justin Timberlake tip with every song eventually reaching its own “Cry Me a River” climax. The frontman belted out the hits with extreme R. Kelly levels of melodrama while his live drummer pounded away as he gave the sad guy R&B face as if every hit was packed with “feeling.” At one point a dude walked on the stage to mop up a section presumably to clean up all the sex so the band could finish their set. It was another highly memorable set from the fest.

The last act to capture and keep my attention though for entirely different reasons was Vatican Shadow the electronic moniker of Cold Cave/Prurient mastermind Dominick Fernow. From the first blast to the very end Fernow carved out a sinus-clearing set with bass so heavy and distorted that I could feel my body shutting down. It wasn’t a welcoming invitation to dance either but a vicious mind-melting attack on the senses as impossibly loud distorted bass managed to get louder and more distorted. Touching on aspects of industrial harsh noise black metal and house the monstrous set mostly devolved into a blur of heartless distorted static. The tribal pulsating beats certainly felt a little workmanlike after a while but Fernow was putting all of himself into it. For someone who was only turning knobs he sweated and danced more than any artist I saw all week. It was a nuclear explosion of a set and a perfect way to end a very productive trip to CMJ.