CMJ 2009: Day 4 – Punch Brothers + Holly Miranda + Cymbals Eat Guitars

Punch Brothers

The Living Room, New York City

I’m an enthusiastic fan of Nickel Creek mandolin geek Chris Thile’s latest band, so being utterly transfixed by the shivering dynamics of the third movement from “The Blind Leaving The Blind” is a familiar feeling for me at this point. Equally impressive here were the new tunes: one billed as “both a celebration and an indictment of rye whiskey” and “Good Luck,” billed as “a Valentine’s Day/recession song (it’s a genre growing in popularity).” Bassist Paul Kowert’s occasional dashes into the foreground were a new twist–rumbling crescendo here, scalar run there, each time an unexpected highlight in the context of five sharply-dressed young shred hounds playing with such uncanny restraint. As one should expect with any venue in downtown Manhattan, the most enthusiastic cheers came with the Radiohead cover that gave them their big YouTube hit (“Packt Like Sardines In A Trendy L.E.S. Rock Club,” I think it’s called), but that’s just the familiarity factor, as it was no more or less fantastic than anything else they’d been doing all along. Which is to say, it was all fantastic. Thile’s roughshod percussive attempts to channel the glitchy side of the Brothers Greenwood–organically using his entirely unsuitable instrument–even prompted banjo player Noam Pikelny to comment: “Folks, you heard on that last song the sound of a warranty being voided on a mandolin.”

Holly Miranda

Le Poisson Rouge, New York City

In addition to providing half the glistening, intertwined electric guitar lines moping around everywhere like grounded little sisters, Ms. Miranda’s main responsibilities included howling out heartbreaks–not unlike those you might expect from Bill Callahan, My Brightest Diamond, or early Muse. Reflective dejection can collapse under its own weight pretty easily, but the occasional inflections here of the best practitioners (Thom, Björk) make Holly so engrossing that the heart-wrenching breakup required to fully embrace her tone just might be

worth it.

Cymbals Eat Guitars

Le Poisson Rouge, New York City

More than any one instrument gobbling others, the conflict here is one of form: choruses eating verses. Taking the loud-quiet-loud format generally attributed to the Pixies and Nirvana to its near-logical extreme, the most intriguing Cymbals Eat Guitars tunes alternate nonsensically huge riffs with somewhat more predictable indie-rocker weenie wobbling. Particularly during the former singer Joseph D’Agostino’s vocals seemed to draw from hardcore–specifically, its occasional flagrant disregard for actual melody. They’ll certainly hold your interest, but I wish they’d eat a chill pill.