CMJ: Day 3 Review

by Steven Spoerl

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After a loaded schedule on what was my first full day of CMJ, I probably should have tried to get more sleep but CMJ doesn’t really play by a logical set of rules and it demands the same from the people committed to covering the various goings on of the week, so as soon as I was up, I was running out of the door to rough trade to catch Shopping at Rough Trade for the second time in two days. The band didn’t disappoint, jumping into another wiry set delivered with verve and a casual ease that clearly demonstrated they weren’t anywhere close to succumbing to fatigue.

After a brief pause between sets, Ezra Furman (who has replaced The Harpoons with His Boyfriend) took the stage with a maniacal energy that translated into a surprisingly compelling live show. I hadn’t seen Furman’s live set for five years or so and the songwriter’s grown considerably as a performer in that time. Emphasizing the bluesier elements of his band, it seemed like every other few songs was a solid highlight and the band’s heaviest moments also tended to hit hardest. It was a memorable set that showcased Furman’s stray dog voice and zippy wordplay with enough force to make it stand out pretty easily.

Of course, that energy can also turn a little sour if things start going wrong and while Furman and his band never fell victim to that dynamic, it was difficult not to at least be a little frustrated with the massive assortment of technical difficulties that delayed Georgia’s set by approximately 40 minutes. Going from relatively contained (but very apparent) to volatile bursts, it was the kind of setback that left both the artist and the crew more than a little flustered.

Finally, after what seemed like two dozen patches, Georgia’s set started in earnest. It was something of a homecoming for the UK songwriter, as she’d previously worked at Rough Trade’s London location. Exhibiting impressive musicianship, the project (which currently plays out as a duo), put on a very convincing show and likely created a few converts. At the tail end of the set, there was some endearing fawning over the showcase’s next act: John Grant.

Grant’s a subversive songwriter, utilizing levity, pathos, and directness in ways that are frequently as disarming as they are entertaining. Playing out on his latest collection, the fantastic Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, Grant found a myriad of ways to make sure his singular voice was heard, loud and clear. Close to every song in Grant’s set straddled an enviable divide and would have worked as well as an opener as it would a finale. Of course, none of them would have been effective in the latter slot as the set’s rightful final number, “Queen of Denmark”, a wry, sprawling ballad punctuated by staggering walls of sound that find the band digging into the heaviness they’re capable of conjuring.

With “Queen of Denmark” bringing things to a tremendously satisfying conclusion, it was immediately back to organization and preparation before running out to Aviv for an unofficial show presented by Exploding in Sound, Gimme Tinitus, and Ipsum, featuring a characteristically stacked lineup of bands that aren’t afraid of embracing music’s inherent noise. Video Daughters were first up and content to dive headfirst into long noise explorations that eventually culminated in a chaotic, piercing number that likely came close to blowing the PA speakers.

It was a fascinating set that set the evening up nicely, acting as a perfect lede for What Moon Things, who are coasting on a perpetually-building wave of buzz and capitalizing on every opportunity with significant force. Mixing elements of grunge and post-punk in a way that feels unique is no easy task but the trio manages to pull it off with aplomb, ripping through sets of memorable songs that don’t back away from left turns or relative fearlessness. More thTuran a few pairs of notable ears were piqued by their final song’s ultimate descent into feedback.

Mumblr and Meat Wave took the next spots, in an eerie, déjà vu-inducing reprise of this site’s first official showcase almost exactly a year ago to the date of their appearance at Aviv. Only, this time, their roles were switched and both bands have shown exceptional growth in that time. Mumblr have been gradually settling into darker territory that slowly unfurls, effectively wrapping listeners up in its coils. While their old songs remain favorites, their new artistic direction’s a fascinating one with seemingly endless possibilities and quite a bit of potential.

Meat Wave, for their part, have been not-so-quietly putting together one hell of a year. The trio’s released an acclaimed record, gone overseas a few times, signed to SideOneDummy and sharpened their live show’s claws into something significantly more intense. All of the new songs the band played sounded considerably heavier and a lot more foreboding (and, as Exploding in Sound founder Dan Goldin mentioned, a lot meaner). Their five-song set (the planned schedule was kept to on a pretty severe level) was a definite highlight for me and I’m positive that’s true for a handful of others as well. After all, it’s hard to argue any Meat Wave set that includes the explosive, jaw-dropping outro of “Panopticon”.

Painted Zeros took the stage after Meat Wave cleared out, eager to continue to test material from their full-length debut (their first effort for Don Giovanni). The level of affection the band has for their new material is palpable and that affection was definitely channeled into their performance, which felt like an improvement on the last set I was able to catch them play (which was fairly impressive in its own right). The slowest, most delicate material played best in a setting that had almost exclusively disallowed anything resembling that band of music through four acts. It would have been a nice reprieve even if it hadn’t been deeply impressive.

Effectively bridging a gap and providing some much-needed air (while still managing to get in a few vicious punches), Turn To Crime and Yvette dragged things back into more primal territory. Turn To Crime did this on a slow-build basis (Meat Wave correctly noted their set’s hypnotic, trance-like effect) through songs that could simultaneously feel meandering and extremely calculated.

Yvette, on the other hand, made the most of their headlining slot by diving into their characteristic insanity. Over the course of the past few years, Yvette have released a handful of very good to great records, including Time Management, their most recent (and a 2015 highlight). The duo’s built up a solid following in that time, who revere their live show- and for good reason. The duo committed themselves to their performance, letting their clothes soak up their sweat and turn a few shades darker. Equal parts performance and process, it was a nearly non-stop barrage of searing noise-punk at a punishing volume that was never anything less than gripping and likely left a few people reeling. As they packed up, it was hard to imagine anything could follow, making it the perfect endcap to another very full day.