The 50 Best Bets Of CMJ 2013 (Part 4)
Who doesn’t love a music festival, right? It’s all the best parts of a concert–music, friends, alcohol and drugs…just lots and lots more of them! Each year, more and more of them are popping up all over the place. The CMJ Music Marathon began in 1980, growing each and every year. Created by The College Music Journal, the 33rd annual event has hundreds of bands and artists playing at various venues throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. It’s essentially the SXSW of the Northeast.
No matter how bad the U.S. economy might be doing, there are always certain things you can depend on. We will always spend money on food, technology and electronics, vacations, and music. And you can certainly count on the festival scene to not only continue, but to expand and grow.
Anyone who has ever been or considered going to experience a massive event like this knows how overwhelming it feels like when looking at the schedule. It can almost feel like reading a foreign language, seeing bands listed that you have never heard of. That’s where we come in to help. Live music festivals are still, despite all the advanced technology of 2013, one of the best methods of discovering new music. Essentially every artist plays here at some point. Some bands that have previously played at CMJ have been Vampire Weekend, Arcade Fire, Kendrick Lamar, Wavves, Danny Brown, Mumford & Sons, Purity Ring, Tanlines, The XX,Cloud Nothings, Sleigh Bells, Local Natives, Alabama Shakes, Waka Flocka Flame, Walk The Moon, Titus Andronicus, Two Door Cinema Club, Grimes, Future, Surfer Blood, Gotye, Ty Segall, Freddie Gibbs, A-Trak, Theophilus London, and A$AP Rocky.
This can be used as a planning guide for deciding who to catch for those of you lucky enough to be able to attend. For everyone else, this is intended to be used as a primer for diehard music fans to discover some of the best new music before everyone else! Many other music websites and blogs list a top 10 or top 12 picks, but with so many artists there are too many great choices to have a list that small. And sure, everyone is excited to see already established, well known acts like Here We Go Magic, Father John Misty, The Head & the Heart, Porcelan Raft, Stalley, Godflesh, Real Estate, Saul Williams, Yuck, Schoolboy Q, The Dismemberment Plan, Pusha T, and The Neighbourhood.
But for each of these, there are a ton of massively talented, vastly underrated artists they don’t get the attention they deserve, or that most music fans simply don’t know about yet.We have decided to put together our list of choices for The 50 Best Bets Of CMJ 2013. This is part one in what will be a five part series. The list includes everything from pop to hip-hop to rock to EDM to folk. And yes, we know it’s impossible to see all 50 acts during these few days. But these are the takeaways we believe you should most be familiar with. If these up and comers aren’t on your radar yet, they should be now. These are who most of us will all be listening to in the soon to come weeks and months from now.
So in our best and on going effort to cover the best in indie music, we present our picks for The 50 Best Bets Of CMJ 2013! The list is not presented in any logical or sequential order whatsoever. There is a Spotify playlist containing one song from all of the bands at the very bottom. You can see our Part 3 of our series here.
Long Island Rock outfit, NGHBRS, released their debut LP, Twenty One Rooms, on July 16th via Paper + Plastick Records. After the band’s debut 2010 EP, Hellomind, received critical praise from The New York Times and Alternative Press, NGHBRS’ highly anticipated full-length was one of the most buzzed about records of the summer. They have already been championed by the likes of NYLON, All Things Go, The Wall Street Journal and more. The band’s innovative Instagram music video for single “Hold Up Girl” was recently premiered on The Wall Street Journal, who dubbed the video the “cleverest DIY video since OK GO,” and its views continue to skyrocket. USA Today included the video in its Pop Culture Picks of the week.
For Fans Of: Ghost Beach, Manchester Orchestra, Bad Rabbits, Bear Hands, Sleeper Agent, Scattered Trees
Originally hailing from Denver, Colorado, Pictureplane (real name Travis Egedy) was a driving force in making the city one of the most influential DIY towns in the world; thanks in large part to Pictureplane’s legendary shows at his former Denver home Rhinoceropolis, his raging club night, “Real is a Feeling”, and his constant stream of mixtapes and remixes. In 2012 he moved to Brooklyn, NY and quickly established himself as one of the figureheads of a revitalized electronic/punk scene. Egedy’s growing influence can be felt in ways that are both trivial and significant: Pictureplane’s punk rock-like approach to the production and dissemination of his work is democratizing electronic music the same way the Ramones, Minor Threat, and Black Flag liberated rock music in the 70s and 80s.
Produced and recorded by Egedy and mixed/co-produced by Jupiter Keyes of HEALTH, his 2011 record Thee Physical is a celebration of human touch in a digital world. The album is also unquestionably Pictureplane’s best and most assured record to date: his vocals are confident and unnervingly sexy, the instrumentation is at once both purely electronic and surprisingly human. Pictureplane has managed to make electronic music deeply emotive—a synthesis of the human and the machine both in lyrics and sound.
“Brilliant? Yes. The guy has true production and compositional skills and has found a uniquely compelling way to merge a deep blend house, noise, synth pop, darkwave, psychedelia, world music, and trippy new age space-time theories into emotionally compelling soundscapes.”
“Pictureplane, a one-man knob-twiddler…might succeed where many others have failed: making shiny, thumping, ecstasy-appropriate dance music palatable to indie fans whose comfort with electronic jams extends about as far as Hot Chip or Girl Talk.”
– ONION A/V CLUB
“Colorado art-guy Pictureplane packs a ridiculous amount of contagious energy into this club ready debut. This is music for a new-age junkyard rave: stinky, sweaty, and way too much fun.”
For Fans Of: Small Black, Elite Gymnastics, Ssion, Blue Hawaii, Teengirl Fantasy, Craft Spells
3. Royal Bangs
Royal Bangs has always been a band going in two directions at once. Over the course of three full-lengths, the Knoxville, Tennessee band has kept pace with the indie rock vanguard, maturing through leftfield guitar pop and MIDI dancefloor theatrics to 2011’s freedom-prog fuzzfest FLUX OUTSIDE, which found the band pared down to its creative core of Ryan Schaefer, Chris Rusk, and Sam Stratton. But the through-line of all these songs and sounds is a seemingly immovable youth: in Rusk’s playfully precise drum arrangements, in Stratton’s everywhere-at-once (and nowhere twice) guitar leads, and in Schaefer’s soulful, sky-eyed hooks lay an ebullience that hasn’t dulled since the trio first plugged in together as highschoolers. Call it a restless maturity: the songs take on the wisdom in boredom, misgivings and regret, but the sound is forever high hopes and thick skins.
It’s appropriate that the band’s fourth album BRASS (September 17 on Modern Art Records) finds new destinations along those same two paths. Following FLUX’s creative throat-clearing, Royal Bangs found an ideal collaborator in Knoxville multi-instrumentalist Dylan Dawkins and found their process evolving as they welcomed him. The resulting album – produced with the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney, whose Audio Eagle Records first introduced the band to national audiences – is the work of a group at home in its own songs and skills, trading sonic fussiness for an organic sound, nailing down who they are as a rock band without skimping on the adventure.BRASS still splits its time between barreling rave-ups and expansive pop suites, but more than ever, each song sounds most of all like Royal Bangs.
For Fans Of: Black Keys, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Maps & Atlases, Guards, Wolf Parade, Yellow Ostrich
4. Vic Mensa
Vic Mensa is 19 years old, but it is clear as soon as his unique sound hits that Vic is a veteran in the booth. Not many high schoolers claim a delivery that can shut down live venues yet simultaneously challenge even the most avid hip hop heads lyrical standards.
His first hip-hop project, the EP “Straight Up,” was released as a Ruby Hornet exclusive and has garnered significant buzz across the internet. Vic is a true student of the game and his commitment to uncompromising creativity on the mic is a refreshing change from the watered down acts that are currently flooding the market.
Don’t be surprised to see Vic Mensa as the next breakthrough young artist from Chicago, but you better “savemoney” because he’s focused on churning out insane music and bringing the rest of Hyde Park with him to the top. You may have already heard him rap and not even knew it. He is featured on the Chance The Rapper track “Cocoa Butter Kisses” from the Acid Rap mixtape.
For Fans Of: Mac Miller, Chance The Rapper, A$AP Ferg, Flatbush Zombies, Travis Scott, Vince Staples
HAERTS is a band from New York hailing from Germany, England, and the United States. The group consists of Nini Fabi, Ben Gebert, Garrett Ienner, Derek McWilliams, and Jonathan Schmidt. The band’s first single, Wings, was produced in collaboration with Jean-Philip Grobler (aka St. Lucia). HAERTS’ debut album is due in 2013. They have released an EP entitled Hemiplegia, and have performed at the Gorilla Vs Bear Festival. They have also toured as opening support for Washed Out.
For Fans Of: Blue Hawaii, Duologue, holychild, The Colourist, Pure Bathing Culture, Haim
6. Strange Talk
“It was a long journey, making this record – we really challenged ourselves. It’s odd: you’ve got a classically trained violinist, a dance producer with a DJ background, and two funk/soul musicians. It’s weird how it all gels together, but that’s the unique flavour of Strange Talk.”
Commanding, crisp, and perfect for summer: Cast Away is the highly anticipated debut by Melbourne electro-pop charmers Strange Talk. Following up on the international buzz brought on by 2011’s self-titled EP, Cast Away is 11 tracks of indie-meets-electro gems: relentless, hook-laced hits (breakout single “Climbing Walls”), rave drenched anthems (“Falling In Love”), big tom dancefloor bangers (“Another Day”) and minimalist electro ballads (“Come Back Home”). Packed full of shimmering synths and pulsing pop beats, Cast Away is one epic, dazzling listen.
Off the back of killer singles like “Climbing Walls”, “Eskimo Boy” and “Sexual Lifestyle”, Strange Talk – frontman Stephen Docker, producer/DJ/bassist Gerard Sidhu, Travis Constable (drums) and Gillan Gregory (guitar) – have already made their mark, both in Australia and beyond. They’ve joined the line-ups of festivals Parklife, Stereosonic, Future Music, Soundscape and Falls; opened for The Rapture, Neon Indian, and Marina and The Diamonds; hit the #1 spot on Billboard’s Uncharted Chart; and wowed New York City at 2011 and 2012’s CMJ Music Marathon. Now comes Cast Away – named after the first song written for the album, and their biggest move yet.
In October 2011 Strange Talk decamped to a friend’s farm in Castlemaine, VIC, 90 minutes north-west of Melbourne. In between breaking to play headline gigs across the country, over the next few months they wrote, laying down synth lines on their Korg Triton, or Moog Voyager, a Roland Juno. Inspiration came via albums by M83, Justice, Digitalism, Daft Punk, Michael Jackson, and Queen.
“The farm was amazing,” remembers Stephen. “It had moose heads on the wall, an amazing veranda which overlooked a huge field with cows, a big lake, a gym so we could keep fit (laughs)… After a while it was sad to come back to Melbourne, because when you’re being creative like that it’s hard to leave it behind.”
There was, says Stephen, “mood talk” about the direction of each new song – “For example, should it be a big club banging tune, or even a ballad, which is something completely out of our realm.” The singer took heed of advice given by the Presets’ Julian Hamilton. “He’d said to me, ‘If you’re onto an idea, roll with it – whatever comes out you’ll most likely stick to.’”
After the Xmas break, in February 2012 Strange Talk headed for the coast, Gerard’s sister lending them her beach house in VIC’s Mount Martha. Here, the second half of Cast Away fell into place. On the recommendation of pals Van She, Strange Talk had fallen in love with the gritty, digital workhorse sounds of synth the Dave Smith Poly Evolver. Six songs in, they replaced older beds with their new favourite toy. By April, the record was complete. Enter mixer Tony Hoffer (Beck, Ladyhawke, Phoenix).
“Tony was the perfect man for the job, he brightened everything up,” enthuses Stephen. “We record and produce everything ourselves, so over that whole process we really learnt what works for us and what doesn’t. The thing that sold us on Tony was what he did with M83’s ‘Midnight City’ – I haven’t heard a song with such glitz, but at the same time such gritty sound.”
On Cast Away Strange Talk have widened their scope, reaching back into influences past and present to create a whole new sound. Basslines are deeper; melodies even more euphoric. “For the first EP we were heavily into Phoenix, Passion Pit, Two Door Cinema Club,” Stephen admits, “but growing up, our biggest influences were people like Michael Jackson, the Police, Queen – all of which I think you can hear more of on this record. We’ve stepped away from the ‘indie’ thing somewhat; the album’s a lot more complex, and really shows how we’ve progressed as producers and musicians.”
A year of shows and Strange Talk has morphed into one of the country’s most exciting live acts. It’s long way from the bedroom duo Stephen and Gerard envisioned when they met on MySpace, almost three years ago. “We all know each other a lot more now,” Stephen laughs. “It’s weird how it works with such a diverse mix of backgrounds, but I think that does the project justice. ‘Climbing Walls’ was when the penny dropped for us. Now, we just want people to have fun, lose themselves in the songs. Enjoy the journey, from start to end.”
For Fans Of: Alpine, Little Green Cars, Gold Fields, Penguin Prison, St. Lucia, Miami Horror
7. Ghost Beach
Ghost Beach are the latest pop pioneers to set the internet ablaze with only a couple singles floating around and without any major label backing. The New York-based duo of Josh Ocean and Eric “Doc” Mendelsohn take their ’80s influences one step further with Ghost Beach. Only a few months old, they’ve already perfected a retro-future aesthetic that sounds like the holy trifecta of The Police, Depeche Mode, and Daft Punk, with a little Passion Pit sprinkled on top for good measure. Josh plays the jilted lover with vocal panache as Eric’s soaring synths, guitars and forever young harmonies are plucked right out of Neverland. Ghost Beach is more about a time than a place, and that time is now.
They are seductively good, with endless factors shaping their sound. In parts it sounds like synth-laden ’80s pop, and on others resembles a punk-rock vibe with lengthy guitar solos, like on single “First Time”. Their confused adolescent genre is a result of influences from the likes of Depeche Mode, Daft Punk and The Police. The American pairing are reminiscent of an early Hot Hot Heat, with a semi-fem vocal, unashamedly bathing in a pop bath – and I don’t mean the bubbles. They produced something that’s a lot more grown up. Saying that, they have the fun factor, the nonchalant attitude, and a contagious “let’s not stop partying until we throw up” glitter factor.
Their music has been described as tropical-grit pop. In the Spring of 2013, they were selected to have their music featured in an online commercial for American Eagle Outfitters. That resulted in an opportunity to also be featured on the retailer’s giant digital billboard in Times Square. Rather than just promote their latest single, they worked an advertising agency to launch a campaign called Pick A Side, highlighting the still controversial subject of online music piracy. They tried to open an international conversation on both sides of the topic, using hashtags #artistsagainstpiracy and #artistsforpiracy.
For Fans Of: Pacific Air, Superhumanoids, Robert Delong, Papa, Lorde, Chvrches
Swedish threesome NONONO, aka vocalist Stina Wappling, and production duo Astma & Rocwell formed in Stockholm during the spring of 2012, following Stina’s return from Brighton where she had spent three years studying for a degree in psychology – a subject which might have indirectly impacted her songwriting.
“I don’t know about songwriting rules, and I didn’t go to music school,” Stina explains. “It’s more about a feeling I want to get out. i don’t do that much active thinking when writing music but Psychology has probably influenced me because it gives you so many tools to think about life and situations”. Stina now works in a mental hospital alongside making music. “I like to have that world alongside the music, because it is quite ease to get wrapped up in the music industry and lose sight of why you are really doing it- the love for music.Working with something completely different reminds me of how amazing it is that I get to work with my passion. This in its on turn makes me really happy and pleased on the inside, and thus hopefully doing a better job at the hospital, it´s a win win situation!
Despite her laid-back attitude, Stina threw herself into songwriting projects when she returned to Sweden during her long university holidays, having signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell at the tender age of 21. In fact, it was through her publisher that she was introduced to Tobias and Michel aka Astma & Rocwell. Having worked together for ten years, primarily on hip hop, the production duo were looking for a vocalist for a new project. The three found instant chemistry, and soon became the trio now known as NONONO, a name which highlights an important philosophy for the band.
Having been pushed into musical projects that they didn’t want to do, it became clear that in order to do the music they really wanted, they would have to start saying no, no, no. “We look at it as something that is really positive… to have the courage to say no to things you don’t really want to do. If you say no to a job, or finish a relationship, it is often viewed as a negative thing, but it means you can start something new,” Stina muses. She adds that it has now almost become her life motto.
This thoughtful sensibility is reflected in their much-hyped debut release “Like The Wind”, to be released in the UK in early May through Best Fit Recordings. Described by Popjustice as “a song you are going to listen to once, then immediately feel like listening to again, setting in motion a repeat listening frenzy that will last well over three hours,” it has also been championed by tastemakers including The Guardian, Notion and The Quietus.
“Like The Wind” is to be preceded by the anthemic “Pumpin Blood”, set for a Scandinavia release this week. Having previously been described by The Guardian as “the kind of percussion-heavy, gloom-tinged pop which brought Niki & The Dove to the masses last year”, this track swerves the group in a new direction, with its overwhelmingly positive sentiment and rousing whistling hook. In fact, we expect the track to be universally adopted as the far superior “whistle song”. With its instant appeal and summery feel, expect to see this track propel NONONO to anthemic status.
The band are currently finishing their debut album, which they describe as “dark and beat-orientated,” for the most part, although the mood will likely improve as the seasons change in Sweden. The aim? “We would really like if someone gets a feeling that they can take from it. We want to make an impact and for people to be touched,” says Michel. “Most importantly, it is going to come from the heart”. You should definitely pay attention since their video has already over a million views in 6 months.
For Fans Of: Icona Pop, Night Drive, The Colourist, ASTR, Banks, Smallpools
9. Night Drive
Night Drive is not a band. It’s a mission. 2 secret agents sent out to recalibrate the future of electro pop. Although Rodney Connell and Brandon Duhon started as frontmen for two different bands, MoTel Aviv and Glasnost, their mutual respect and similar passions brought them together after their respective bands broke up. While supporting artists like Yelle, Digitalism and Neon Indian with their previous acts, Rodney and Brandon worked together on original music, visual concepts and screenplays alike. This creative collaboration left them with the collection of songs from which Night Drive was born.
Night Drive is the type of music you would hear on a car stereo if Giorgio Moroder and Ray Bradbury were driving late at night through a buzzing metropolis. Inspired by bygone era of glamour and excess, kalioscopic neon lights, Studio 54 and Tony Wilson’s Hacienda, the band pulls influence from acts such as Brian Eno, New Order, OMD, The Drums and LCD Soundsystem to name a few. Night Drive rides a nu-wave of fast-tempoed, synth-based electronic sounds driven by rich guitar melodies and arresting vocal hooks.
The Austin/Houston based duo of Rodney Connell and Brandon Duhon began after a young woman they were both unknowingly dating at the same time was killed in a car crash. The tragic event bonded the two men, and shortly afterwards they began a musical collaboration.
Inspired by dark, synth-heavy electro pop, Night Drive released their first EP, Position I. Their singles “Drones”, “After Dark” and “Young Rivals” have been featured in film and radio stations nationwide. Touring with international bands such as Tesla Boy, Gold Fields and Jupiter, they’ve quickly garnered a reputation as a must see, high energy live show.
For Fans Of: Gold Fields, Betty Who, ASTR, nonono, Banks, Owl Eyes
In today’s fast-paced world time is precious. Some bands deserve your time, and this is one of them. Duologue are the antithesis of pop music’s current disposable cultural impasse. Their debut album is an immersive experience intended to be absorbed and cherished with repeated listens, not to be heard once on laptop speakers and disregarded. Much like a great novel, this one is hard to put down and will stay with you forever.
The London five-piece are a product of the modern world and its easy access to music. Bonding over a mixture of the best in electronica and guitar-based music, they’ve fused this eclecticism into a truly inimitable sound of their own. “You could pick some songs and we’d be likened to a folk act, another few and we’d be called dubstep,” explains front man Tim Digby-Bell. How many bands can you say that about? Their cerebral experimentation may not be mainstream, but it’s fast becoming a favourite among the cognoscenti. The journey began with two original members – Tim Digby-Bell and Toby Leeming (vocals/live programming and beats) – producing on a computer whilst at Edinburgh University. Both realised what they were creating was too big for just a couple of people to play. Seb Dilleyston was brought in to add emotive atmospheres on violin having previously trained with world renowned violinist Maria Eitler. Toby Lee was next on guitar, and then bassist Ross Stone completed the line-up.
Early gigs in their nascent career were explosive in more ways than one. Aside from gaining a scintillating live reputation they were also becoming known for having things blow up onstage. A show at London’s Shepherd’s Bush saw the lights shatter above their heads as soon as the set began, and at The Barfly in Camden Town there was an electrical fire halfway through their performance. Whether or not the crowd thought these mishaps were all part of a unique live show will remain a mystery but one thing is for certain, their status on the road grew exponentially and support slots for everyone from Matthew Dear to Clock Opera have followed.
What makes the band so compelling is that they are just that, a band. Refusing to rely too heavily on programmed elements, each layer comes to life in the live arena. “We wanted to have moments where we can strip it down to the bare essentials, really intimate moments, and then to build up to these epic electronic parts too. It needs to feel like a real journey,” says Tim. Their debut album is the culmination of a year’s preparation honing and self editing their eclectic sound and huge catalog of demos in preparation to record. Having already self-produced and released two EP’s showcasing their ability to encompass a wide range of sounds and references the final piece of the puzzle came with the introduction of producer Jim Abbiss (Adele, Arctic Monkeys, Ladytron). In 2012 the band and Jim holed up in a Chatham studio and began work – with many of the parts already formed and recorded, Jim took on a co-production role, intuitively helping them further enhance their sonic make-up. Digital synths were replaced by richer analogue gear, real strings replaced programmed ones, and even the inclusion of a church organ. “The church was really chilled. I slightly lied. I said we’d dropped £15 in the collection box,” laughs Toby. Nonetheless they’ve been blessed with a great collection of songs from the process.
‘Push It’ is the lynchpin. A four-four dance beat gives structure to a hauntingly atmospheric six minute epic of lyrical self-doubt. Soaring strings and guitar melodies combine in the pinnacle which sees the guys playing to the limit, giving their all in a song replete with daedal rhythms. ‘Escape Artist’ shows they’re equally adept at the other end of the scale. At their most stripped back, this one is rooted in simple harmonies combining live vocals and looped brass samples, yet carries as much emotive weight as the more layered moments. ‘Gift Horse’ is a beautiful lullaby mixing swooning strings with electronic glitches in a contrasting way that will leave audiences rapt. It’s a debut showing courage, refusing to take one path or another, daring to avoid being pigeon-holed yet cohesive enough to stand firmly as an impressive body of work.
Tim’s powerful voice ties all the diversity together, a rich falsetto, he floats effortlessly amid an ever changing backdrop of beats, synths, and strings, molding his own melodies on a patchwork sound-mosaic already replete with creativity. ‘Constant’ sees his melismatic vocal style delicately accompanied by lilting guitar picking in a real highlight.
Out now, this record Song & Dance is the culmination of a journey, yet it’s just the beginning of one too for an intelligent group of musicians intent on longevity. Such experimentation, bold self-belief, skillful songwriting, and unique fusing of musical genres are incredibly rare, and this is only the first album.
For Fans Of: Bastille, Kodaline, Dan Croll, ON AN ON, PYYRAMIDS, The Eastern Sea
You can see our Part 3 of our series here.