This is what CMJ is all about: A band I’d been hearing about for a few years that hadn’t really captured my attention… until now. Jagjaguwar’s Parts and Labor are bound to make an extremely lasting impression going into 2009. Their sound was dense and intelligent, not banking on a bunch of imitations to create a solid sonic aesthetic, but based on noise built around brilliantly written songs. That’s the problem with a lot of the so-called “noise” bands today. They don’t stand for anything. Their sound is shallow, but Parts and Labors’ sound had depth—and there’s a clear demarcation between the two.
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Kicking off their tour in proper fashion, Brooklyn’s Flying was a relief to say the least. Based around off-kilter synth with guitar parts that are reminiscent of their upcoming touring partners, Deerhoof – their set was a pleasant surprise and a band I will keep an eye on in the coming months. Some moments reminded me of Akron/Family, while others featured harmonies constructed around very structural riffing interplay. Not exactly taking on the role of the Brooklyn hipster, this trio looked like the music was the only thing they came to deliver—part of the appeal for me as soon as they walked onto the stage. My friend even looked at me and said something along the lines of, “these guys (and girl) look like they actually know how to play their instruments.” Well put.
Lawrence, Kansas noise-rockers, Boo and Boo Too were a bit overambitious to kick off CMJ musically for me. Trying a bit too hard to sound like the band whose venue they were playing (A Place to Bury Strangers), their songs came off as a watered down wall of noise. As the set went on the music gained more composure, and the rhythm section held it down while the guitars and vocals relied on the high end for an unpleasing static freak-out. Don’t get me wrong—that sound is right up my alley (I plan on attempting to withstand the brutal assault of Psychic Paramount later this week), but this music had no life to it.
Hip-Hop Renaissance: A Cultural Rebirth @ NYU Kimmel Center (Ft. Q- Tip, Jon Carmanica, Amanda Diva, Chuck Inglish, Nekessa Moody, Mikey Rocks, & Asher Roth
Although the panels weren’t at the top of my priority list this week, a chance to see Q-Tip and the Cool Kids speak together about the cultural rebirth of hip-hop is a no-brainer. The most interesting aspect they tackled was the impact of the internet within hip-hop, and how it can create illusions of grandeur—i.e. with the Cool Kids. They spoke about how, despite all their MySpace hits and the hyped reviews of their record, going out into the real world and playing was the actual test for them. Q-Tip spoke a lot about wishing hip-hop would get back to the music and stop being so much about the big business and the empire it has created. All in all, a worthy first stop in the CMJ Marathon.
The Swedish siren Lykke Li arrived at CMJ on a wave of anticipation and praise. Her debut album, Youth Novels, was produced by Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John, warranting some attention. So her headlining showcase—emphasis on headlining—was greeted by throngs of teenage girls eager to sing along with their musical muse. (Fittingly she dedicated her last song “Breaking It Up” to all the girls, and gay men, who had dumped bad boyfriends.)
Though Li’s album—aside from her voice—is full of wistful but stripped-down melodies and rhythms, live she was as rhythmic as a Stomp understudy, marching around the stage in ankle boots and trashing an adjacent cymbal during “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Let it Fall”. (She had a drum stick in her hand for the first half of the set.) The music was also noticeably rhythm oriented, with a resounding live drummer. Still, her three band members propped up Li’s innocuous vocals so that they could shine in their doll-like idiosyncrasies. Onstage, however, Li is dominating, showing sass and control, even whipping out a bullhorn at one point into which she sweetly sung for a rotary-speaker type effect.
If anyone questioned whether her album had enough depth or not, this live performance quickly silenced them by showing off her fragility, playfulness, and might all at once. Moreover she ended the night with “Can I Kick It?”, a surprising cover for a Swedish pop starlet, winning over the home crowd.