Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to… find the next great buzz band? Indie enthusiasts have ascended upon New York City this week for the annual CMJ Music Marathon, which kicks off today (Oct. 18) and runs through Saturday.
Will the proverbial "they" find the next big thing making a grand coming-out in the indie world? We'll just have to wait and see. Either way, there are plenty of events both official and unofficial to take note of -- from the reunited En Vogue to high-profile DJ sets and stacked showcases. Even if you're not CMJ'ing this year, check out our 15 can't miss events and artists at CMJ 2011, and don't say we didn't give you a heads up the next time they hit your town.
By now, you've already heard how, last year, erstwhile Sleater-Kinney muscle Carrie Brownstein (vocals/guitars) and Janet Weiss (drums) joined forces with Helium guitarist/singer Mary Timony and keyboardist Rebecca Cole (ex-Minders) to form Wild Flag. After touring off and on, honing their natural chemistry into a potent instrument and pouring their hearts out into a self-titled album out last month, you owe it to yourself to catch the band's fun, fierce action in person. Recordings can only catch a percentage of the riff-roaring, half-poppy, half-sinuous energy that pours off the stage when these four women plug in their amps and rock. By the end of [the earlier tour] we were just a unit," Cole says of the Wild Flag's live cohesion. "In a new band, it's a new conversation. We've all played a lot of shows, but to play together, only time can give you that sixth sense that you need to go out to these cool places and do something really amazing on stage." Wild Flag's CMJ stop (Oct. 18 at Bowery Ballroom) catches them in the middle of a U.S. tour that Cole hints will range much farther afield than the U.K. December dates they've already announced.
The '90s R&B sensation is back. And -- oddly but happily -- the ladies are hitting CMJ for a one-night-only showcase at NYC's B.B. Kings this Friday (Oct 21). Having first stepped back into the spotlight on the 2008 BET Awards, performing a tribute to '90s girl groups along side Alicia Keys, SWV and TLC, En Vogue toured through the U.S. in 2010. And they're bringing it all to bear at this special CMJ gig. With a have a handful of R&B/Hip-Hop Songs No. 1s under their garter belts --remember "Don't Let Go (Love)" and "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" ? -- they are sure to give an unforgettable performance.
KEXP Sessions: Zola Jesus, We Are Augustines, Portugal. The Man, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
Beloved Seattle alt-rock radio station KEXP is making its annual trek to NYC for CMJ 2011, and it may just have the coolest lineup of all -- if you're willing to wake up early. Open to the public, the intimate KEXP sessions take over the Ace Hotel on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (Oct. 19-21) from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Day one (Wednesday) features Zola Jesus (10:30), We Are Augustines (12:30), Portugal, the Man. (2:30) and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (4:30) kicking things off. You could, of course, just listen to the sessions streaming from KEXP, but isn't that may just be a smidgen too meta for a CMJ event?
Docs That Rock: Pearl Jam Twenty; Fix - The Ministry Movie; Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest; Freaks In Love; Run & Return
The CMJ Music Marathon may be primarily known for the sheer numbers of bands playing sets around New York, but you'd be getting a great primer on the must-see music documentaries of 2011 if you only went to see the movies playing at the fest. Opening night film (Oct. 18 at Clearview Chelsea Cinemas at 8:30pm), "Pearl Jam Twenty," which has already been in limited theatrical release since late September, chronicles the veteran Seattle band's tragedies and triumphs through its two-decade career. Directed by rock historian (and close band friend) Cameron Crowe, "Pearl Jam Twenty"'s CMJ screening comes just days before its broadcast debut on PBS as part of the American Masters series (Oct. 21 at 9pm ET) and its DVD release on OCt. 24. "Fix - The Ministry Movie," meanwhile, takes a closer look at the stalwart Chicago industrial group backstage and onstage. Director Doug Freel and Ministry's Paul Barker are doing a Q&A after the Oct. 19 screening (9:30pm at Chelsea Clearview), but the film will hit the road in limited release following the fest where you can also check out everyone from Trent Reznor to Dave Navarro singing the band's praises onscreen. Director Michael Rapaport will likewise be fielding questions after the CMJ screening of "Beats, Rhymes & Life: The Travels Of A Tribe Called Quest" (Oct. 20 at 7pm Clearview Chelsea Clearview), his gimlet-eyed look at the influential hip-hop group that's been making the rounds all summer. Much less obvious of a rock doc subject, 80s/90s alt-rockers Alice Donut go under the microscope in "Freaks In Love," directors David Koslowski and Skizz Cyzyk curious look at the band's hard-earned, van-worn career. In addition to the Q&A with the directors after the screening, the band will also be there to answer questions. Looking for something even more iconoclastic? How about "Run & Return," Michael Thelin's 14-minute short exploring Hasidic rapper Matisyahu's life on the road (Oct. 19, noon at Clearview Chelsea as part of CMJ Cine-mini Block 2).
Purity Ring, the synth-soaked, impossible-to-Google side hustle from former Gobble Gobble members Megan James and Corin Roddick is stirring the buzz pot across the interwebs pre-CMJ. Already dubbed "future pop" by the blogosphere, streams of only three tracks -- "Ungirthed," "Lofticries," and "Belispeak" -- with James delivering lush hooks and Roddick covering the glitchy beats, respectively, have leaked over the last six months. Unsurprisingly, they're already a Pitchfork and FADER fave. A rumored full-length is expected in January after the duo makes their NYC debut with Neon Indian on Friday (Oct. 21) at Webster Hall. Purity Ring will also hit the stage at Mercury Lounge later that night, sharing a bill with Small Black, We Barbarians, Gauntlet Hair and more.
Brooklyn Vegan Showcase: Weekend, Braids, Blue Hawaii, Pepper Rabbit, Active Child
Brooklyn Vegan wins hearts at CMJ every year with its free-to-all weekend shows -- which continue this year at Public Assembly -- but its official showcase on Friday night (Oct. 21) at Music Hall of Williamsburg is one not to miss if you're among the lucky ones with badges. The show may catch uninformed fans thinking it features mysterious R&B wunderkind The Weeknd, but have no confusion -- it's actually noisy rockers Weekend. (Just as excellent, just in a completely different way -- think: more Joy Division, less Drake.) Weekend's 2010 debut "Sports" received its fair share of critical love, so it seems only fitting that the elder buzz-men would play alongside Braids, harmony-heavy indie rockers just entering the hype lexicon stateside (though well-loved in their native Canada, where debut "Native Speaker" was nominated for the Polaris Prize). Blue Hawaii, Pepper Rabbit and Active Child round out the lineup.
A couple years ago, the artists formerly known as Natalie Portman's Shaved Head felt ready for a big breakthrough. After scoring a minor viral hit with "Sophisticated Side Ponytail," off their 2008 debut "Glistening Pleasures," and touring with Lily Allen, Matt & Kim and CSS, among others, the hyper-infectious Seattle electro-pop-rock group signed with Warner Bros. After ditching the moniker (and leaving Warner Bros.), they ventured back into the indie world, and now they're back with a new name and a new album, "Dark Past," due Nov. 1. With shimmering synths, multiple vocalists, and a knack for bouncy, sticky choruses, Brite Futures sound like the happiest pillow fight dance party of your life. At CMJ, they're playing Dominion NY at 8:30 PM on Tuesday (Oct. 18) for the All Things Go Showcase, at the Trash Bar at 10:00 PM on Thursday (Oct. 20) for the Williamsburg Showcase, at Tammany Hall that same night at 12:15 AM for the POPSHOP Showcase, and at Santos Party House on Friday (Oct. 21) at 6:30 PM for the New Shapes Showcase.
Ten tunes, 24 minutes, poppy co-ed rockers Young Evils released its debut, "Enchanted Chapel" a year ago, but the darkly-sweet tunes didn't find its way out of the band's native Seattle until this fall when they hit the road for the first time. Led by Troy Nelson and Mackenzie Mercer and newly rounded out by guitarist Cody Hurd, bassist Michael Lee and drummer Faustine Hudson, Young Evils' CMJ gigs (10pm Oct. 19 at Local 269; 9pm Oct. 20 at Arlene's Grocery) are only the band's second visit to New York, but they come bearing more of their darkly sweet two-minute confections. YE, which Nelson says came together after he asked fellow Easy Street Records employee Mercer to be the female vocal after an experiment with writing songs "kinda like Violent Femmes, kinda like Vaselines, a little bit of Magnetic Fields," have already written "enough for a whole new album." "Our set is full of material that's half from 'Chapel' and half stuff that's going to be on the next record," Mercer says. "We'll record the record done before the year is over."
Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch & More
Hip-hop legends, Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, Jean Grae and Buckshot close this year's CMJ fest with a jam session at the Music Hall of Williamsburg on Saturday (Oct. 22). With an album on the horizon "Habits of the Heart" (Nov. 1), Idle Warship, composed of Kweli and singer-songwriter Res,"are sure to perform new songs for loyal fans. Word on the net is that there will be special appearances at the Duck Down and Blacksmith hosted showcase. Let's cross our fingers and toes Mos Def hits the stage to perform classic and new Black Moon tracks alongside Kweli.
2011's CMJ could be a breakout opportunity for Brooklyn up-and-comer Class Actress. Elizabeth Harper will take her 80s-influenced synth act to Brooklyn's Public Assembly for a late night (1 AM) set Oct. 19, as part of the Carpark/Paw Tracks showcase.The following night, she'll take the stage at Music Hall of Williamsburg, for a non-CMJ show. "Rapprocher," the debut LP from the L.A. transplant, has already gotten favorable reviews from several publications, and even from Yeasayer vocalist Chris Keating, who profiled her for a recent "Dazed And Confused" feature.
Sub Pop/Hardly Art Showcase: Dum Dum Girls, J. Mascis, Still Corners
Dum Dum Girls had a big coming out at CMJ 2009, but the California noise-pop band makes perhaps a more triumphant CMJ outing this year -- a major push behind blissed-out new album "Only in Dreams." The girl group leads the Sub Pop/Hardly Art showcase on Thursday night (Oct. 20) at Mercury Lounge -- a roster upped by Dinosaur Jr.'s J. Mascis, Still Corners and more -- in addition to headlining other shows throughout the week (Bowery Ballroom on Oct. 21, to be specific).
DJ Sets Galore
Mountain Dew's Green Label Sound imprint has gone all-out this CMJ, boasting the three-night (Oct. 20-22) After Hours series at 131 ½ Chrystie St. in Brooklyn. Thursday features hip-hop acts The Cool Kids, Asher Roth, and Klever; Friday has synth-poppers Holy Ghost!; and finally, Wavves, Stephen Pope, and Group Tightener are slated for a Saturday night set. Each night, Fig. 19 will keep the party going long after the headliner, spinning until 4 am. Deakin and Geologist, aka two fourths of Animal Collective, will be bringing their psychedelic electronica to a DJ set at Brooklyn's 285 Kent Oct. 19, as part of the Domino/Ribbon & Stereogum showcase. Finally, Hipster Runoff's Bleepy Bloop Fest hits Brooklyn's Cameo Gallery Friday from midnight to 4 am. Blog favorites Neon Indian, Teengirl Fantasy, Beach Fossils, Dent May, and DJ Tao Lin are lined up for DJ sets, with blogger Carles rumored to be appearing as well. For this free show, Force Field PR and PopGun Booking are only asking, "leave your bad vibes at the door."
Billboard Battle of the Bands Bands: Gentlemen Hall, Lightning Love, Appomattox
Back in the spring when we plucked 18 unsung groups from around the country for an all-out Battle of the Bands competition, we were serious about finding new artists we wanted everyone to know about. Three of those groups are hitting NYC for CMJ and we're just as serious now that they deserve to be checked out. Boston's Gentlemen Hall, who won the competition with their fluent, melodic rock are at Arlene's Grocery on Oct. 21. Michigan indie boys and girl Lightning Love, who were finalists, play Le Poisson Rouge on Oct. 19 (11pm). And semi-finalists Appomattox, New Yorkers who rock as much as anyone, are right at home at Trash Bar on Oct. 20 (11pm).
Fool's Gold 4th Anniversary: A-Trak, Vega, Donnis, The xx's Jamie and more
A-Trak's Brooklyn imprint Fool's Gold helped launch the careers of artists like Kid Cudi and Kid Sister; this week it'll celebrate its second anniversary with a two-day CMJ showcase beginning Oct. 21. Wednesday night at Manhattan's 88 Palace, A-Trak will host a showcase featuring Vega, Donnis, and others. Thursday night, Jokers of the Scene, LA Riots, and The xx's Jamie xx highlight round two at N8 Studios in Brooklyn.
No, you haven't heard of him ... yet. But this New York guitar prodigy with an up, warm songwriting touch turns out inviting tunes with a little bit of 90s rock, a little bit of groove, and a whole lot of potential. Barely in his 20s, Watt's 2011 EP, "The Mulberry Tree" (available on iTunes), gives a taste of his style, and his frequent NYC club shows (he's even done a residency at John Varvatos) showcase his energy and surprisingly fervent fans. As part of CMJ, Watt and his band, The Dirty Touch, play Sullivan Hall at 11:30pm on Oct. 18.