This week, I'm in New York City for CMJ, otherwise known as the CMJ Music Marathon. College Music Journal started the festival, now scattered in clubs around lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, more than 30 years ago. There are something like 1,200 bands playing around town, so it's a chance to see and hear a lot of new talent over the next five days. There are also panels geared toward musicians and industry folks, and I usually walk away knowing more about new technology, websites and, most importantly, new music.
Tackling CMJ, a festival with so many choices, is a mix of strategic planning and being open to random chance. I spent time this weekend listening to a few hundred new bands and thought I'd pass along five of my top choices. I asked some other music writers and college journalists to do the same.
Zola Jesus will be at (Le) Poisson Rouge in New York on Wednesday at around 8 p.m. ET. Her industrial electronic music is at the top of my list of shows to see. Next week's All Songs Considered will be a wrap-up filled with other discoveries from the festival.
I'm making my rough schedule public (you can see it here), so if you're in town looking for a guide, this should help. If you're a fan of All Songs Considered and see me around, please stop me and say hi.
Bob Boilen's Top 5 CMJ Shows To See:
1. Zola Jesus
Zola Jesus is the stage name for Nika Roza Danilova, a 22-year-old singer raised in rural Wisconsin. She's an intriguing lyricist who makes compelling, dark, electronic-based music with lots of punch.
A dubstep producer who, over the past five years, has proved to be talented and surprising with his remixes and sound choices.
Erika M. Anderson is from South Dakota and, like Zola Jesus, is a powerful singer whose music leans toward heavy guitars. "Heavy" is the right word — big on drones, with a commanding presence and demanding lyrics. She's been talked about a lot this past year. I've yet to see her.
4. Cuckoo Chaos
I'm basing my choice on one song called "Jesus Flag American Fish" from this San Diego band. With lilting South African guitars and lovely dynamics, this will be a refreshing band to hear in all the dark and garage-friendly clutter. These guys should be a bundle of cheer.
Figuring that the list of suggestions will be filled with outrageous music, this is the most radio-friendly band that I heard and liked. They're Montreal brothers along with a harpist. I like their songs a lot, so I'm curious.
Rachel Kowal writes for Brooklyn Vegan, and is a former All Songs Considered intern. Here are Rachel's Top 5 CMJ Picks:
This Norwegian collective may not usually sing in English, but the language barrier will hardly register once you start dancing to the buoyant melodies and group vocals.
2. Headless Horseman
Living in the city, I typically try to see as many visiting and foreign artists as possible during CMJ. But the well-placed handclaps, sick beats and exuberant vocals place this New York duo high on my list.
3. A Lull
For having such a light, whimsical sound, this Chicago quintet exudes an impressive amount of confidence and power.
4. Teen Daze
For this solo act from Vancouver, dreamy vocals and shimmering synths combine to create a richly layered sound that's as invigorating as it is relaxing.
Hazey, Hope Sandoval-esque vocals and minimal but moody guitar-centric melodies make the music of this Brooklyn trio the perfect escape from a hectic week.
Honorable mentions go to: Braids, Capybara, Grass Widow, Hallelujah the Hills, High Highs, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, The Loom, Pree, Sea of Bees, Still Corners
Maura Johnston is the music editor of The Village Voice. Here are her picks:
Woozy nighttime music from Brooklyn, with big-sky riffs and sad guitar lines.
2. Beast Make Bomb
Indie rock that turns its hooks on its head. RIYL Pod-era Breeders.
Metal that grabs from all over the spectrum of dynamics, with shredding for the purpose of melting faces.
Shambolic and skronky, sounding just a measure away from falling apart at all times (in a good way).
Bringing back the twee revival with solid basslines and fuzzed-out vocals.