Despite the bright lights of the big city, harsh reality can quickly creep up on a band at CMJ. Lost amongst the flood of bands featured here (there are reportedly over 1,000 groups performing), Faunts failed to even tread water. Their early-90’s alternative/shoegaze style wasn’t bad per say—they had a really tight sound musically—it just never picked up until it was too late. At a festival like this you have to deliver in the first ten minutes or else you will be written off by the audience, who, in this particular case, were a rather uncompromising bunch—especially when a girl giving away free drinks showed up.
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It’s so nice to see that someone like Shugo Tokumaru can still break into the musical market with a sound that eschews pretension and hype. His latest record came out of nowhere and is already one of 2008’s most highly regarded releases. There’s a reason for that. His hushed melodies and virtuosic guitar playing formed the basis of this low-key, but top of the line performance. Backed by a 3-piece band, and a vibrant mix of accordions, xylophones, bells, and whistles, Tokamaru not only left an impression, he left it in his native language (Japanese)—something not many people can break into the American market doing.
“This is the 4th performance we’ve had in three days, here at this venue, on this stage,” Women’s lead singer muttered into the microphone as the four-piece began their set. Really, I probably could have left then. The hype and subsequent overbooking that has surrounded Women at this year’s CMJ Marathon seems to have taken its toll. Throughout their performance, Women seemed tired and disinterested, and likely with good reason. Justified or not, their performance fell flat, sounding and looking more like a lethargic Interpol clad in thermals than the taut pysch/industrial rock they have come to be known for.
Adept may have the least literal band name of any of the groups I caught at the Subbacultcha! showcase. Throughout their 30 minute set, these fuzzed-out new wavers were the picture of inconsistency and at times gave the impression there was more than one band performing on the basement corner stage. Combining noise’s complex musical texture and new wave’s steadfast simplicity is a difficult balancing act. When they got it right, Adept were both intriguing and enthralling. But more often than not, the wall of caustic distortion created by the guitarist and vocalist broke free from driving drum beats and dissonant keys, creating a separation that pulled apart Adept’s delicate tailoring at the seams.
In her 45-minute long set at the Living Room, Theresa Anderson captured the most illusive and sought after element of a CMJ performance—complete captivation. There was a distinct buzz about Anderson on the Lower East Side tonight, but admittedly I had never heard of her. Yet, from the moment her bare feet stepped onto an off-white shag rug crowded with pedals and looping devices, it was clear she would deliver something special. Without a glance at the petite songstress, you would swear Anderson was operating with a full band complete with a slew of backup singers. She effortlessly looped drums, violin, guitar, and her own vocals over one another—patching together complete soundscapes that either glided over the audience with a subtle delicacy or bowled them over with the guttural power of a New Orleans soul singer. By the end of her performance, several photographers had put down their cameras, journalists had dropped their pens, and many in the packed house smiled sheepishly, their eyes all fixated on the powerful set Anderson was delivering.