Now into its 3rd decade of existence CMJ Music Marathon has earned a reputation for picking largely unknown acts and ushering them towards imminent success. With 1400 acts playing across 80+ venues in Manhattan and Brooklyn there really is something for everybody.
Here are our personal highlights:
Ben Caplan | Arlene’s Grocery
Ben Caplan is a man equipped with a striking appearance and a voice to boot. His massive beard is potentially only outdone by his huge charisma and today at Arlene’s Grocery this is no different. The canadian troubadour commanded the room ranting and raving between songs before breaking into his passionate mini folk epics. Short of his usual backing band theses songs took on new meanings with their lyrical wisdom resonating particularly well thanks in large part to Ben‘s unique booming voice. This man was born to perform.
In The Valley Below | Pianos Upstairs
Los Angeles based In The Valley Below‘s civil war evoking outfits are stylistically eye-catching but their music is no less imposing. The meeting of Michigan born Angela Gail and Memphis raised Jeffrey Jacob has produced an elegant mix of organic sounds and just the right amount of electronic influences. Their unique vocal stylings complement each other wonderfully and the on stage chemistry is evident as glances and knowing smiles are frequently shared. At one point Gail produces a chain which she uses as an added percussive sound; the result manages to be both haunting and beautiful.
Dorine Levy | Fat Baby
The last time we caught Dorine Levy live was at this year’s SXSW where she debuted her new touring lineup (essentially consisting of Dorine and her talented jack-of-all-trades husband Eitan). A few months have passed since then and the Israeli will soon be releasing her debut LP ’Diver‘ (review coming soon) meaning this set is a superb indicator of the progress she has made so far this year. It’s immediately evident that the entire live experiences has been sharpened over this time as newer songs have become fixtures in her set and there is a sense of momentum throughout. Notably Dorine has toned down her personal interaction with keyboard, laptops and other gizmos leaving much of this to Eitan. This new found freedom results in more audience participation and eye contact and allows the songstress to fully launch into each performance. Her next stop is Nouvelle Prague festival in the Czech Republic and after that the world.
Adi Ulmansky | Fat Baby
Adi Ulmansky is a veritable burst of color on stage at Fat Baby tonight. This is Adi‘s North American debut and after playing a triumphant set at Filter’s Culture Collide festival in LA she’s ready to take over NYC as well. Rocking her newly braided (but always multi-colored) hair and a scanty outfit her allure offers a false sense of security much like a praying mantis. Once she starts performing the transformation is evident and it feels she could literally bite your head off. Over a backdrop of self produced kaleidoscopic 8-bit epic beats Adi raps and croons with the best of them switching from being extremely menacing one moment to highly vulnerable the next. The aforementioned ‘Hurricane Girl‘ EP was one of the great suppress of this year and we expect great things from this girl in 2014.
ASTR | Pianos
After ASTR‘s lead singer Zoe, announced that it was her birthday, it was apparent that the people who managed to get into the backroom of Pianos were in for a great show. Singing her heart out and whipping her long red haired ponytail around the stage, Zoe‘s energetic performance echoed throughout the packed room. Her partner in crime, Adam – a fluffy haired dude with Buddy Holly glasses – handled the high powered beats by banging on drum pads (strongly resembling the set from the game Rock Band) with effervescence. Their electro-pop track “Razor” had the crowd dancing and sweating along with them, though ASTR still displayed their range of abilities with a cover of Drake‘s “Hold On We’re Going Home.” The overall great performance left the crowd wanting more, and I’m excited to see what other dance tracks are to come from this group.
Mean Creek |Pianos Upstairs
Last for the night was Massachusetts garage rockers Mean Creek who were basically the antithesis of much of what we had seen so far solely on the premise of having a real live drummer. There is a really endearing underdog quality to this Boston gang’s repertoire that translates instantly and makes you want to root for them. The band are gearing up for the release of their 4th LP ‘Local Losers‘, the first for Old Flame Records, in early 2014 with a set that incorporated material from that upcoming release. The sense of excitement at airing these tracks is palpable as the four piece launch into each new song with extra enthusiasm. There is also time for a particularly spot on cover of The Descendents ‘Silly Girl‘ which leaves those in the know particularly pleased. ‘Local Losers‘ can’t come any sooner.