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Nice Try, Guy

...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (Myla DalBesio / Flavorpill)

Sometimes you have an off day. Other times you’re in an off band. Either way, these folks fell just short in the big grab for glory. Still, they did show potential, so don't be surprised if you see a few of these folks move up the ranks next year.

PopMatters CMJ crew: Stephanie Butler, Eddie Ciminelli, Dave Heaton, Katy Hershberger, Andrew Phillips, and Steve Stirling

Sometimes you have an off day. Other times you’re in an off band. Either way, these folks fell just short in the big grab for glory. Still, they did show potential, so don't be surprised if you see a few of these folks move up the ranks next year. After all, they've got 12 whole months to get their proverbial poo together.

Airtraffic, …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead, Black Kids, The Broken West , The Capitol Years, Dynasty Handbag, Enon, The Epochs, Foreign Born, David Garza, Golden City, Marla Hansen, Jeremy Jay, Jeff London, Loosiana Larry, Nick Marks, Neimo, Oppenheimer, Pattern Is Movement, Rocketship Park, Team Robespierre, The Teenage Prayers, Tulsa, The Walkmen, We Are Wolves, White Williams, The Wildbirds


AIRTRAFFIC
- Day 3 @ Blender Theater

Airtraffic aren't especially interesting out of context, but their fun, up-tempo rockers do bring a bit of mirth to a late-night showcase. The band delivers straightforward keyboard-laden powerpop with crunchy guitars and melodic vocals. Frontman Chris Wall’s voice is strongest when he’s pushing it high during rock ballads with pretty piano fills. His singing dominates the band’s sound, though, and the other instruments lost behind it -- with the exception of the occasional guitar solo or vocal harmony. (KH)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

I've always kind of passively brushed off all the hype surrounding these Austin veterans, to the point that I'd never heard one of their songs before Thursday night. And while I think it's super cute that they all decided to get the same haircuts (save for the drummer, that bald rebel), I'm not jumping on the Trail of Dead bandwagon anytime soon. They play with passion and are tight as a group, but there's nothing dynamic happening here. Playing loud and in time with one another just doesn't cut it. (SS)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

BLACK KIDS
- Day 3 @ The Annex

It’s not an easy position to be in, I know. Hot on the heels of some serious blog buzz, Black Kids took the stage with a lot to lose. The room was packed, people had heard good things, and the crowd was ready to be impressed. Unfortunately for Kids and audience alike, the band suffered a busted power cord and had to leave the stage after only two songs. The momentum died, and when the Kids finally returned after a 20-minute break, things got ugly. It’s a shame, because the band did break through and largely succeed in its attempts to update '70s style dance funk. But Black Kids were never able to fully recover, and their set was an unfortunate example of what can happen to a young group of musicians still feeling out their sound. Lead singer Reggie Youngblood pronounced the set “a goddamned train wreck”. No one in the audience disagreed. (SB)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

THE BROKEN WEST
- Day 5 @ Sound Fix

The Broken West had perhaps the friendliest stage demeanor of the festival -- as if your most good-natured friends formed a band for fun. The musical influences are even clearer than the band's affability: Gram Parsons-era Byrds, the Band, and a grab-bag of power-pop legends. Of course, there's such thing as too clear, and for all the band’s likeability, the end result was a clone of early Wilco or late Uncle Tupelo -- catchy and amiable, but not very distinct. (DH)

     * Down in the Valley MP3

     * Multiple songs MySpace

THE CAPITOL YEARS
- Day 4 @ Pianos

If you like the Kinks, you'll probably enjoy the Capitol Years -- they're very good at up-tempo pop-rock. But I can’t for the life of me recall anything outstanding or even interesting about their set. This is not to say that I wouldn’t enjoy their album, or that their show outside of the CMJ pressure cooker isn't any good. It’s just that I've heard this band or some permutation thereof 15 times in the last five days. (SB)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

DYNASTY HANDBAG
- Day 4 @ Knitting Factory

Who knew they gave subway crazies sets at CMJ? One-woman-show Dynasty Handbag has all the signs: smeared eyeliner and lipstick, nonsensensical mutterings, and a propensity for unstable solo serenades. All of her music is prerecorded with a keyboard and computer, and she sings to it in a warbling, childlike voice. It’s not just a concert, but something with an element of performance art as well: Dynasty's performance incorporates pre-recorded phone calls to herself saying to start the show, then ringing between songs to provide hokey pokey-like dance instruction. She answers it live, as if Dynasty Handbag and Jibz Cameron (her real name) are discussing the performance in front of the audience. You have to give her credit for being the most original act at CMJ. Unfortunately, originality and listenability aren’t always the same thing. (KH)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

ENON
- Day 3 @ Highline Ballroom

Eh. The fact that most of Enon's set has left my mind within 24 hours of their performance is probably the best indicator of how good they were. They weren't particularly bad, but they weren't really moving either. Enon are a talented group, and they bring a fairly unique sound to the table that reminds me of a kind of toned-down Stereolab. At this point, though, all that makes me want to do is dig up my copy of Dots and Loops. (SS)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

THE EPOCHS
- Day 3 @ Blender Theater

They warm you up with quickening keys and furious strumming, then mellow out again just before the implied climax. This is the way of the Epochs’ entire show. The vocals are raspy and seductive with a touch of jazz, and the keyboard hooks linger over deep guitar and bass. In every song, the band moves with a dynamic but maddening ebb and flow. The last song starts slow with a tapping drum beat, then hits a powerful note with a quick guitar solo -- like jumping out from underwater when you can’t hold your breath any longer. (KH)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

FOREIGN BORN
- Day 2 @ The Delancey

There is one problem with trying to recreate Morrissey and the Cure: Morrissey and the Cure already did it. For that matter, so did Interpol. While Foreign Born’s sound is more distorted and less dark than the New York gothsters they resemble, the group's members do attempt the same emotive baritone and full-bass foundation. The band implements big fuzzy guitars and an echo effect on the vocals: unnecessary, but -- along with the lead singer’s acoustic -- one of few original elements. Otherwise they're just another thick guitar-rock band -- proficient but boring. (KH)

     * Union Hall MP3

     * Multiple songs MySpace

DAVID GARZA
- Day 5 @ Living Room

Good for this guy that he's mastered the Beatles’ sound and that he's got the Paul McCartney swagger down pat. He's great at it. The problem is the Beatles happened a long time ago, and no amount of emulation -- good or not -- will increase your contribution to the advancement of music and art. You needn't look further than Noel and Liam Gallagher for confirmation on that one. (SS)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

GOLDEN CITY
- Day 2 @ Knitting Factory

Few bands working today would be thrilled to hear themselves compared to the Barenaked Ladies, but Golden City’s tuneful (if uninspiring) power-pop is impossible to describe any other way. Working with a drums-bass-two guitar setup, the band did better with the fast-paced rock songs than the slower ballads that peppered their set (and made them seem as if they were channeling that other '90s phenom, the Counting Crows). Only problem is, I had to constantly restrain myself from asking the bartender for a Zima. (SB)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

MARLA HANSEN
- Day 1 @ Glasslands Gallery

Literally thirty seconds before I catch my first set of CMJ 2007, a woman comes up to me smiling and quietly asks if the drink sitting in front of me is mine. I barely hear her question but shake my head. She grabs the plastic cup, turns toward the stage and grabs a violin. For the next twenty minutes, Marla Hansen plucks her instrument and sings in a soft murmur about lost love and rainy days, her eyes fixated on the back wall. The crowd is busy making small talk and drowns out her voice some, but a few of us are engaged. She doesn't possess the same technical skill as, say, an Andrew Bird, but that's beside the point. Hansen sings from her heart and the expression on her face makes me believe that hearing her thoughts sung out loud empowers her, whether or not the rest of the room is listening. (EC)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

JEREMY JAY
- Day 1 @ Glasslands Gallery

I’d assumed that there was a clever story behind this band's name, but halfway through the set it turned out that Jeremy Jay is simply the lead singer's name. That's no fun at all. During the melodic punk rips of his set's early section, Jay does his best Tom Verlaine impression, voice wailing, face all scrunched up. "Gallop" runs through a slick bass line as Jay slithers around the stage channeling his inner Bowie as he cradles his guitar in the midsection of his very tight jeans. The band breaks out the keyboards and I quickly become smitten with their new-wave sound -- Jay’s singing works twice as well when he tries half as hard. (EC)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

JEFF LONDON
- Day 5 @ Banjo Jim’s

At a festival, late starts make for close calls. Jeff London is an excellent singer/songwriter, but by the time he’s negotiated sound issues and gotten going, I need to be somewhere else for my #1 must-see. So the scene is this: me standing outside the club, listening to London give a great performance of one of his best songs, and then making a mad dash for a taxi. Unfortunate. (DH)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

LOOSIANA LARRY
- Day 5 @ Banjo Jim’s

Loosiana Larry, who insists on misspelling his home state’s name, is quite the personality, a Tom Waits character brought to life. A charming guy, he sang slightly skeevy, tough-guy Cajun-folk songs and ballads about the tears under macho veneers. His songs were simple, not incredibly memorable (the lonely highway and a foot fetish are the themes I'd recall without a notepad), but entertaining nonetheless. (DH)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

NICK MARKS
- Day 5 @ Living Room

It takes a lot, in this day and age, for a guy with nothing but an acoustic guitar to blow you away. Nick Marks was certainly competent; he worked through a full set of depressing ballads that were varied and well-composed enough to hold my attention. His banter with the crowd was endearing (at one point he asked 'the drinks-ordering lady' where his Guinness and glass of Jameson was, only to find out it was at his feet and sheepishly apologize). He's the kind of musician you wouldn't mind playing in the background at a New York coffee shop as you pined over a lost love, and the world still needs those. Just not too many. (SS)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

NEIMO
- Day 1 @ Arlene’s Grocery

Having heard fairly substantial buzz building around this French band, I hoped to make a certified CMJ find. All I got was the same old new-wave and punk influences, with a good helping of Blondie-riffic hi-hat and a lot of lead-singer posturing (think Mick Jagger at his most narcissistic). Neimo’s brand of dance rock is fun, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been done before, and more successfully, by others. (SB)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

OPPENHEIMER
- Day 1 @ Crash Mansion
The project of an unassuming bald man from Belfast, a guitar player, and a computer, this electronic outfit features light, tuneful electronic melodies overshadowed by heavy-handed drumming. If music can be bipolar, this is a great example: the dreamy electro lines seemed fresh off a Stars or Stereolab album, but the drumming and guitars seem better suited to Radiohead or Sonic Youth’s darker efforts. All in all, it made for a confusing, if intriguing, set. (SB)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

PATTERN IS MOVEMENT
- Day 4 @ Mo Pitkins

This was a sight to behold. Picture two big bearded guys: a guitarist singing operatically and a drummer pounding away like his life depended on it. It was late enough, though, that I felt like my legs were about to fall off (a health risk CMJ doesn’t tell you about). So I left early with an image and sound fiercely burned into my brain and woke up regretting my cave-in. In other words, this “Nice Try, Guy” is all on me. (DH)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

ROCKETSHIP PARK
- Day 1 @ Pianos

When Rocketship Park's unassuming frontman, Josh Kaufman, sings, "Let's slip away into the night," you can imagine listening to him during a late-summer evening in the country with your sweetheart by your side. He affects a powerful Ted Leo-esque falsetto with his band, giving the tunes an edge of '60s rock n' roll-inspired bluegrass-pop. In the slow songs he whispers over a pedal steel guitar that echoes like it's crying, while the more upbeat tunes add a bit of a rockabilly twang to the walking beat. (KH)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

TEAM ROBESPIERRE
- Day 2 @ Knitting Factory

Since they were playing their third show in less than 24 hours, I have to give these guys an A for effort. Slowly building buzz in their hometown of Brooklyn for energetic and uncontrollable live shows, Team Robespierre were fun as hell to watch. Unfortunately, their melodious version of old-school punk veered too uncomfortably close to the Sum 41 side of the alternative dial to maintain the cred they seem to be seeking. Nice try, guys. (SB)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

THE TEENAGE PRAYERS
- Day 1 @ Arlene’s Grocery

“We’re from New York, so we know what this sounds like.” That was the reaction of the Teenage Prayers' lead singer to the muddled and unbalanced sound during his band’s sole CMJ showcase. With harmonies that borrow as much from ‘60s girl groups and Southern soul as they do the Beach Boys, the Prayers managed to get their musical point across regardless of the poor sound quality that nagged them throughout the set. The bass player got his chance to shine, as his flowing and pumping lines came across sounding more than a little McCartneyesque. Unfortunately the rest of the band didn’t come across nearly as well. (SB)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

TULSA
- Day 4 @ Pianos

Tulsa played some of the best straight-ahead rock I’ve heard at CMJ. Their simple songs with atmospheric guitar noodling reminded me of some of the best bands from the ‘90s, including a pared-down Pearl Jam and Nirvana. No “alt” to be had here, no “electro” anything, and no beeps and twitters to distract you. That does not, however, mean that it was all that interesting to listen to. At a festival with so many different sounds to choose from, why settle for something that’s been done so many times before? (SB)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

THE WALKMEN
- Day 4 @ Mercury Lounge

Perhaps by Friday night, I was already spoiled by a slew of great performances, but something seemed off about the Walkmen. The band played tightly and lead singer Walter Martin showed off his trademark pipes, but throughout the performance, the band seemed distant. Something in Martin's eyes suggested that he was looking to get the show out of the way and get to something afterwards. It wasn't terrible, but it came off as a shell of the show the Walkmen generally put on. (SS)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

WE ARE WOLVES
- Day 3 @ The Annex

A band that’s been enjoying quite a bit of buzz lately, Canada’s We Are Wolves play relentlessly angular noise rock. Some nice '60s throwback sounds on keyboard made this band more interesting than most of their post-punk peers, but still not as much fun as dance party bands like !!! and Out Hud that both outnumber and outplay these guys. (SB)

     * Fight & Kiss MP3

     * Multiple songs MySpace

WHITE WILLIAMS
- Day 2 @ Bowery Ballroom

"What'd you think of them? I liked them a lot. They reminded me of New Order."

If that, as a semi-drunk dude at the Bowery put it following White Williams' set, were enough to vault you to the top of the pile, kids from Williamsburg would have solved the national debt long ago. Comparisons to '80s icons aside, these guys suffered from a serious lack of energy. For all the duds you can come across at CMJ (and there are plenty), there are just as many that could be completely effective, if not addictive, if they just gave the slightest inkling that they wanted to be there. To their credit, the band's simple, catchy melodies were awash with synths and effects modulators -- a generally pleasant combination. (SS)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

THE WILDBIRDS
- Day 2 @ The Delancey

All the members of the Wildbirds don hair past their shoulders, a look appropriate for their brand of loud garage rock. The lead guitarist’s melody stands out, especially during incendiary classic rock-style guitar solos. The drummer’s beats are often heavy and basic, but she can hold her own during her rolls and fills. There's a bit of a whiney edge in the singer’s yawp, which pushes through the muddy groundwork of bass and rhythm guitar. This makes for good summer party music: fun but forgettable, and best kept in the background. (KH)

     * Multiple songs MySpace

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