Top Picks From This Year’s CMJ Music Marathon

As NPR tastemaker Bob Boilen so pithily described CMJ: “60 something bands in five days. Lots of pizza & friends.” Though our tally of CMJ performances may not quite match his, these seven bands sufficed…

The Paperhead, CMJ Music Marathon

On visuals alone, the Paperhead easily fits in with Burger Records’ roster, given the trippy psychedelics that swirled from Union Pool’s projector. But the Paperhead digs deeper. Sure their sound could very well accompany Peter Fonda in Easy Rider, but they remember to throw a bone to today’s jaded music snobs.

Penicillin Baby, CMJ Music Marathon

You’d think five shows on both sides of the Williamsburg Bridge would leave Penicillin Baby strung out, but these guys were just getting started. Secure in a niche that eschews Nashville’s usual suspects, they get down in a dingy garage where fumes of familiar psych rock elevate the senses by way of angular guitar riffs and driving bass.

Concord America, CMJ Music Marathon

Perhaps fueled by the unfortunate slashing of their tour van’s tires the night before, Concord America performed with audacious fervor at Arlene’s Grocery. Crediting their sound to the gritty streets of Atlanta where bands like the Black Lips and Turf War have claimed popularity, they maintain that snot-nosed defiance we all wish we had the balls to imitate. Afterwards, in Bushwick, amongst billows of cigarette smoke and graffiti-lined walls, the band played one of those crazy ass house shows you wish you were invited to.

Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires, CMJ Music Marathon

How many CMJ performances left Universal reps in a trance? Flying high from their recent stint opening for King Tuff, Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires filled Knitting Factory to capacity with a crowd including more CMJ performing artists than fans. The ferocity that emanates from frontman Lee Bains comes from within, not from any stimulant or external source other than the crowd’s energy. Say what? He doesn’t drink? Then what was that pool of liquid surrounding his feet? Sweat, baby. That’s rock ‘n’ roll. And a half.

Ultimate Painting, CMJ Music Marathon

An offshoot of British indie-pop band Veronica Falls, Ultimate Painting rock considerably harder than the twee band from which they came. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t have an ear for melody. There isn’t a whole lot of feedback and noise to their sound, just sharp, solid songwriting. The obvious reference point here is the Velvet Underground, specifically the melodic nature of their last two albums. It’s a comparison that will likely tire the members of the band, but there are certainly worse things to be compared to. In time, their skills may end up rivaling Lou Reed’s and Doug Yule’s, but they’re certainly off to a good start. At Pianos, the band showed off many of the songs from their self-titled debut; copies of the album were likely a scarce commodity on the merch table by the time they were done.

Natural Velvet, CMJ Music Marathon

On the noisier side of things were Natural Velvet, a Maryland-based band who made ears bleed during one of Silent Barn’s not-quite-official showcases in Brooklyn. There’s a little bit of everything in what they do, and they do it as loud as they possibly can. It’s possible that a few of the “official” CMJ crowd wouldn’t know what to do with Natural Velvet, but the crowd at Silent Barn was loving every minute of their aggressive, confrontational live show. Call it music; call it art; call it whatever you want, but it fucking rules.

Ballet School, CMJ Music Marathon

At Glasslands, some hoping to see Ballet School had to be turned away at the door. The Berlin-based trio has won something of a cult following, and it’s not hard to see why: their icy-cold, shimmering guitars recall groups like Cocteau Twins. Singer Rosie Blair isn’t quite the ethereal waif that Elizabeth Fraser was, though. Live, Blair’s voice packs a punch, and her acrobatic vocal range left jaws on the floor. With songs like the driving, infectious “Heartbeat Overdrive,” Ballet School are the complete package. Theirs is definitely a name to remember.

– Melissa Caruso and Kevin Korber


Lee Bains III & The Glory Fires photo by Melissa Caruso

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  1. […] Elmore Magazine chose this Nashville-based group as one of their top picks from CMJ last year, and I’m following up by listing them as a must-see from SSO. Oklahoma-native Jon Conant initiated the band when he made the move to the music capital and recruited three other members. Their sound falls mildly in the vein on lo-fi surf rock with fuzzy guitars and psychedelic blues twang, making it somehow addictive and perfect for a ride to the beach or in the pouring rain. […]