10:24 am Oct. 15, 20121
For years now, the going line on CMJ, the music festival that descends on New York every fall, is that its star has slipped. When it began in 1980—a full seven years before South By Southwest—it was more or less unprecedented, a way for writers and industry types to compare notes and trade bets on what's next in the world of independent (originally “college”) music. Because that influence has been ceded mostly to blogs, and because the geography of New York is not as friendly to venue-hopping as the main drag in Austin, CMJ has lately seemed both unwieldy and unnecessary. But jaded naysayers ignore the fact that there's still plenty worth seeing this week, most of still flying comfortably beneath even today's wide-range radar.
One of those is the Portland group Wooden Indian Burial Ground (Oct. 17, Piano’s; Oct. 20, Left Field Bar), whose arresting forthcoming debut is a kind of sonic Tyrannosaurus Rex. Combining rockabilly swagger with gutbucket sub-basement garage, the group has all the ferocity of mainstays like Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall, but spikes it with a distinct and irresistible sense of menace. The sprawling, seven-minute album opener goes from black-hearse careen to pinwheel-eyed psych and back again, and the lurching "Bryant St. Death Cult" is full of gloomy, hanging-stalactite guitars and horror-film feedback shrieks. The result is music that thrills as it threatens—strange shadows cast in dark back alleys.
The Australian group Slug Guts (Oct. 17, Home Sweet Home; Oct. 19, The Acheron; Oct. 20, 92nd St. Y) match them scowl for scowl. With its clawing riffs and bellowed vocals, the group's hastily-recorded debut, Howlin' Gang, often recalled the deep Satanic sleaze of the Birthday Party. This year's Playin' in Time with the Deadbeat is more propulsive, relying on clobbering rhythms to generate its Black Death mood. Vocalist Jimi Kritzler delivers his lyrics like an occultist auctioneer, rattling off a list of grisly objects up for grabs. Roomrunner (Oct. 16, Cameo Gallery; Oct. 17, The Rock Shop; Oct. 18, Public Assembly; Oct. 20, The Paper Box) are just as noisy, but more direct; their 20-ton riffs feel as if they're glued to the herky-jerk drumming, and the combined impact feels fantastically disorienting. Scattered moments recall hazy early-'90s alt-rock glory, but Roomrunner's edges are rougher and their snarl decidedly is more pronounced.
Parquet Courts (Oct. 18, Death By Audio; Oct. 21, Shea Stadium) don't snarl so much as smirk. A kind of punk rock take on the Modern Lovers, the group's addicting debut, Light Up Gold, pairs sharp riffs with sharper lyrics, delivered in a classically disaffected rat-a-tat by frontman Andrew Savage. Opening track "Master of My Craft" sets the tone immediately, runaway-train riffs propelling a salty narrative about a self-involved and morally bankrupt member of the upper class—its hook isn't a riff or a refrain, but Savage's impeccably tossed-off and frequently repeated, "Forget about it!" EULA (Oct. 16, Legion; Oct. 19, Rock Bottom; Oct. 20, Delinquency; Oct. 20, The Paper Box) are more emotionally invested. Their firebomb post-punk could pass for leftover B-Sides penned by Rid of Me–era P.J. Harvey, and frontwoman Alyse Lamb exudes the kind of riveting charisma that is generally only found among industry vets. She hurls herself across the stage in time with the group's cometlike songs, a dervish dressed in homemade costumes. Butter the Children (Oct. 20, Legion Bar) are just as ferocious, but they balance their four-track rattle with tart vocals.
Death Grips (Oct. 17, Le Poisson Rouge) aren’t quite as scrappy—their debut album The Money Store was released by Epic Records earlier this year—but that doesn't mean they're not fiercely independent. They brazenly made planned follow-up NO LOVE DEEP WEB available for free download on their own website amidst rumors Epic had rejected it, and emblazoned the cover with a picture of an anonymous erect penis, on which the album title was scrawled with a Sharpie. Their CMJ appearance will be among the first shows after a planned-but-cancelled summer tour, and if their live performance is as turbulent as their throat-throttling hip-hop, the potential for chaos is high. Where Death Grips are relentlessly futuristic, Roc Marciano (Oct. 19, Gramercy Theatre) is unapologetically nostalgic—both his relaxed cadence and scratched-vinyl production owe a clear debt to rugged early-'90s hip-hop pioneers. The same is true of Ka (Oct. 20, Drom), whose Grief Pedigree is cut from the same cloth as Raekwon's classic Only Built for Cuban Linx. The music that accompanies Ka's grainy rhymes is just humid as Marciano's. It often feels like a '70s New York crime film, tales of crooked cops and hardened criminals playing out on a yellowed screen.
The screens will be more literal at BEAM (Oct. 16, Knitting Factory), an event designed to showcase Bristol's burgeoning street art scene. The artists Inkie and Nick Walker both make striking work defined by startling blasts of color. Inkie's work is more fantastic, based on spiraling, multi-color, comic-like characters where Walker's is sparer and more cutting, frequently depicting crumbling urban landscapes drizzled with splashes of red and green and yellow, blurring the border between reality and fantasy. The show will be accompanied by a series short films and music from Brooklyn and Bristol-based D.J.s.
The lines between music and visual art are also blurred by the duo Prince Rama (Oct. 17, Cake Shop; Oct. 18, Cameo Gallery; Oct. 19, 285 Kent; Oct. 20, Knitting Factory). The group's hypnotic live set typically includes eerie, haunted-house lighting, mystic-cult costumes, dead-eyed dancers, and projections of phantasmagoric films. All of which is perfectly suited to their music. On the chilling, forthcoming Top Ten Hits at the End of the World, they stretch ghostly vocals over trance-inducing rhythms and goth-club keyboards. It all feels decidedly ritualistic, the soundtrack to some ceremony practiced by some deep-space cult. ERAAS (Oct. 17, Cameo Gallery) is just as spooky: on their self-titled debut, disembodied voices twist like strange gas clouds in a dark galaxy. Their songs are built on a queasy bass pulse and ornamented with wraithlike keyboards and guitar, and the combined effect is distinctly disturbing. There's something disturbing too about the music of Daughn Gibson (Oct. 18, Knitting Factory; Oct. 19, Villain) as well. His stylistic juxtaposition is more daring and more pronounced: his deep-set rockabilly voice could have been lifted from an early Elvis Presley Sun single, but it's nestled deep within twisting, Lynchian synths. It functions as a kind of bold reinvention of country, the weary traveler of '50s ballads stranded centuries in the future.
The music of King Tuff (Oct. 18, Knitting Factory) is made for late nights—the kind where last call is a myth and leather jackets are required. His self-titled debut is all sneer and posture, ragged guitars butting up against Tuff's Johnny Thunders whine. There's a kind of slackness to King Tuff's music that separates it from the new generation of garage bands; those bands set up midnight drag races. Tuff is the disaffected onlooker smoking on the sidewalk. Metz (Oct. 18, Knitting Factory) are far more forceful—their self-titled debut is one long brawl, a mad, spiraling tornado of sound that bulks up punk's fast fury with punishing power and volume. "Sad Pricks" could almost be proto-industrial, its drill-press riffs boring angry holes through the center of the song. The Tampa band Merchandise (Oct. 19, Villain) is noisy but gloomy, recalling the best of bands like Echo & the Bunnymen, but outfitting the songs with more clatter and feedback. Heliotropes (Oct. 16, Delinquency; Oct. 17, Knitting Factory; Oct. 20, Paper Box) are more lumbering, recalling the sluggish lurch of bands like the Melvins, but offsetting the guttural riffs with Jessica Numsuwankijkul's dreamy vocals. The Ohio group Gap Dream (Oct. 19, Villain; Oct. 20, Big Snow Buffalo Lodge) go back even further, merging the loose jangle of '80s Paisley Underground bands with the stoner haze of their '60s precursors.
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