CMJ Music Marathon 2008: From Top Draw to Taco Bell

Thomas Hauner, Steve Stirling, John Bohannon, and Vijith Assar

Whether they were looking for a quick blast of blog action or a record deal, over 1,000 bands poured into New York City looking for that elusive ounce of praise that could elevate them from a gaggle of fans to the Gossip Girl soundtrack.

The Worst


Saying that a singer sounds as though he swallowed the microphone during a performance could be seen as something of an insult… in this case it’s actually kind of true. The singer bounced around with the mic hanging out of his mouth, creating a hazy harsh fuzz over the simple new wave melodies being cranked out by the rest of the band. This duo (supported by members of Bonne Aparte) were decent when they were on point, but those moments were scarce. (Steve Stirling)


Boo and Boo Too

Lose the echo-soaked voice and the A Place to Bury Stranger rip-off riffs and we might have ourselves a band. These guys weren’t terrible, but the singer obviously had no confidence in his voice and the guitar riffs were about as mundane as Johnny Foreigner’s haircuts. There is at least potential here, and I would love to see this young quartet act on it. They just have to start being themselves instead of the sum of their influences. (John Bohannon)

Chester French

Aren’t those the Harvard dudes who got signed by Pharrell? They are indeed. And it seems signing a major-label deal prematurely already swelled their heads. Not only was singer D.A. Wallach miserably off-key and his vocals muddled -- a bad thing if your style is saccharine lounge pop -- but he was also dictatorial from the beginning, demanding the meager crowd put their “fucking hands up!” in a fascist fist just like him. They kept screaming orders, everyone shifting awkwardly each time, matching their desperate attempts at creating some sort of live experience. (Thomas Hauner)

Die! Die! Die!

Sometimes playing as if you were in front of a packed house can elevate your performance. Not here. These generally furious rockers looked confused and dejected by a meager crowd, who acted similarly towards their scattershot set as Die! Die! Die! romped and rolled around the floor, trying to play off a vibe that didn't exist. (Steve Stirling)


I'm throwing every band that performed this evening under the “Worst” banner since it seemed like none of them would let me in. Save for a single lackluster set from Portastatic at the top of the evening, I spent all night walking around lower Manhattan from one club to the next only to be told that it was sold out or find an impenetrable wait outside the venue or learn that my supposed all-access pass was no longer being accepted. The only saving grace was a trip to Taco Bell. (Vijith Assar)

Johnny Foreigner

After going back and listening to this English trio, it’s hard to take anything they did seriously. Maybe it’s the fact that they were ten years too late coming to America with a sound that was already worn out by the time it worked its way into the mainstream here, or maybe it’s the fact that the songs were just plain boring. Either way, I’ll steer clear of any future American appearances. (John Bohannon)


When roughly 95% of your sound is genuinely banal, it takes one hell of a live performance to make up for it and convince people you are in fact singular and worthwhile. But alas Longwave fell pathetically short. Aside from their striving frontman -- who was unassuming enough to simply blend in -- they were depressingly listless and completely void of expression. I get that you’re from Brooklyn and playing in NYC for CMJ is no pithy achievement, but surely performing means something, anything, to you! Best to step aside for the dozens of other Williamsburg bands who are willing to play with some alacrity. (Thomas Hauner)


I don’t even know where to get started with this. What a train wreck of a set and an even worse portrayal of an MC way out of his prime and his realm. Go back to the drawing board and get off the Wu train. (John Bohannon)


Hype is a terrible thing, and I heard it in spades for Women in the weeks leading up to CMJ. They had performed a ton of shows in a two-day period and unfortunately I saw the last one in this series. It sounded distant and uninspired and while I'm willing to believe they're a better band than that, they weren't on this particular evening. (Steve Stirling)





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.