The Best of CMJ 2013: 10 Bands to Watch
Flung across a few hundred disparate bars, clubs and basements every October, over 1,000 bands from around the world descend on New York City for CMJ, the five-day music-industry and media conference that condenses and intensifies the city's usual atmosphere of convergence and discovery.
New York itself is too titanic to register the buzz of underground activity at a surface level— most non-music-obsessives here can make it through the week without so much as a deviation from their daily commute. But the acts vying for attention at showcases day and night, official and non, have often used the conference -- and its healthy draw of label executives, booking agents and publicists alike -- as a springboard to cultural resonance on a much larger scale. In just the past five years acts including but not limited to Passion Pit, Sleigh Bells, The xx, HAIM, Savages and Icona Pop all delivered pivotal early performances that presaged crossover success in the mainstream.
If there were any overarching narratives to this year's conference one was this: guitar bands are back, and in a big way. A glut of punk, noise-pop, and alternative bands ripped through many of the best showcases, perhaps signaling a pending tidal shift away from the synth and MacBook-enabled electronic music that has dominated the popular consciousness for at least the past few years.
Below, our picks of 10 superb young acts from CMJ 2013, organized by genre, to keep your eye on over the next 12 months.
The project of Yonkers-based 19-year-old Ellen Kempner, Palehound matches unflinching, whimsical lyrics with pleasantly off-kilter guitar work. Excellent debut single "Pet Carrot" is like early Weezer thrown into a blender with The Blow.
Krill's woozy, raw, rollicking garage rock gets in your head and stays there thanks to quotable riffs and the ecstatic humanity of frontman Jonah Furman's belted vocals.
Perfect Pussy delivered a 12-minute perfect storm of noise pop and heady punk with its self-released debut EP "I Have Lost All Desire for Feeling" in July. On stage, frontwoman Meredith Graves has the charisma of a star in the making.
Lovelorn Ann Arbor pop-punk outfit Pity Sex have a penchant for fuzzy guitars and dreamy shoegaze vocals. Black-clad and bespectacled singer Brennan Greaves wields an obvious gift for melody, as does co-singer/better-half Britty Drake.
Brothers Steve, Jon and Theo Hartlett comprise this savvy Connecticut punk trio that marries shredded guitar and flurries of drums with Steve's earnest, almost-wistful vocal cadence.
This Brooklyn-based, downtempo indie pop and R&B trio serenaded the first night of Fader Fort just two days after releasing a promising, self-titled debut EP last Tuesday (Oct. 15). Lead singer Kelly Zutrau's piercing, angelic vocals swirl with lush but thoughtfully restrained guitar and synth arrangements.
The sweeping, soulful folk of this California collective helmed by composer/producer Crooked Waters is captivatingly complex, with young singer Kristianna Bautista's husky voice floating on a sumptuous bed of cinematic strings, acoustic guitar and groovy bass notes.
Diane Birch's just-released sophomore album "Speak a Little Louder" is a finely crafted collection of warm, ‘70's-indebted rock and soul. Birch is a gifted piano player with a knockout voice, the crispness and twang of which has drawn favorable comparisons to hero Stevie Nicks.
Swedes Nonono continue Scandinavia's dominance of catchy, midtempo electropop with compulsively bouncy beats and sing-from-the-rooftop hooks.
25-year-old producer James Hinton weaves modern classic R&B touchstones (Usher, Aaliyah, Ciara) and obscure YouTube vocal loops into his shimmering and unpredictable soundscapes. Just-released sophomore album "Nonfiction" spirals from atmospheric to dance-floor and back again.
- Reggie Ugwu is Billboard's indie music reporter. Follow him on Twitter