Walking into the Fader party I was just hoping to get one of their delightful free drinks, but actually ended up forcing myself up front to see what was coming from the speakers. Fast, uncompromising beats started off minimally and built, layer upon layer, until you couldn’t avoid the sound. With a heavy implementation of laptop rock, this Brooklyn duo also used constant guitar lines to provide their sound with more substance. Even reverb soaked vocals would wind their way in from time to time and fit the musical meld perfectly. One of the better finds at CMJ, hands down.
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If I knew anything more about Pela outside of their Thursday night performance at Mercury Lounge, I’d probably hate them. Pela strike me as a glorified bar band that—as evidenced by a small horde of young girls that lined the front of the stage—has a following. They put forth a brand of unapologetic, straightforward rock led by a charismatic frontman whose ambition likely outweighs his ability. That said—these guys can play. At face value, they gave one of the best performances I’ve seen thus far at CMJ. Pela galvanized a crowd subdued by the quieter Frances, utilizing a phenomenal group chemistry to lift the Mercury Lounge from a state of suspended animation. In a city where a holier than thou attitude can often reign over a performance, the unabashed lust for rocking Pela brought was refreshing.
Frances matched my expectations almost exactly, which isn’t to say I was incredibly enthralled or disgusted by them. Heading into their set at Mercury Lounge, the only thing I knew about them was that they were an indie-pop outfit fronted by a Columbia Ph.D. So when a meek looking cat in glasses took the stage alongside a nerdy looking bassist, an energetic plaid-clad guitarist, and a pair of women who promptly picked up a violin and a melodica, I can’t say it was the shock of the century. Musically, Frances put forth a solid, albeit unremarkable product. Building tension through a minimalist string and faux-brass section served as Frances’ greatest strength, as they utilized the oft-overblown musical supplement with an artful restraint. Frontman Paul Hogan’s light, melodic voice was supported well by the cast of characters around him, who together create cohesive and pleasant tunes befitting of the college campus that birthed it.
Scouting for Girls sang about heartbreak. But they were never serious about it. In fact, they mostly found it funny in a self-deprecating way. Accompanying their amusing tales of unreciprocated love and envying James Bond’s libido were terse, tart tunes, readily consumed by a sizeable gaggle of enthusiastic girls. The London four-piece found humor in the present too, mocking the inevitable CMJ tech problems. Joking that their bass player was without an amp, Roy Stride, lead singer and keyboard player, said, “it’s only four strings.” Still, they were genuinely taken by crowd’s loud singing, and in the end their satisfaction and genuineness were a refreshing change from the surrounding parade of self-aggrandizement.
Piano pop and rock music, under the singer-songwriter genre umbrella, took a blow to its reputation thanks to people like Daniel Powter—which is totally fine if you enjoy listening to music at the hair salon. Nobody takes it seriously anymore. But we owe a lot to the genre (i.e. Stevie Wonder, Billy Joel) and Nathan Angelo could provide a boost to its reputation. He boasted an incredibly clear and powerful voice: As malleable as a Jason Mraz but infinitely stronger, yet not as weightless as Jay Kay’s of Jamiroquai. With a backing band that included another pianist, playing mostly organ, he added subtle touches to his funk sound, like curious syncopations, accents, and stops. When he wanted to, he serenaded with American-Idol vigor, but he seems to have his head on straight, opting for the low road. “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”, played near the end of his set, was a simple reminder of why this genre is still so great and why it shouldn’t ignore people like Nathan Angelo.