don't you tell me how i feel.

CMJ 2011: mostly meh by don't you tell me how i feel.
October 27, 2011, 8:31 am
Filed under: guest post, New music, Shows

CMJ-goer Lehtola fills us in on the highs and lows of this year’s music marathon.

I have mixed feelings about CMJ 2011. It marked my fifth march through the annual five-day cavalcade of bands that blankets New York City every October… and it might have been the weakest. Don’t get me wrong — I bore witness to some intriguing new sounds — just not as many as in years past. This could be the result of a weak lineup overall, but it could also mean I didn’t go to the right shows (specifically, I regret missing bands such as DIVE, Laurel Halo, Dustin Wong, Trash Talk and Purity Ring). But it was still a memorable experience. Here are a few highlights:

Chad Valley @ Pianos
This was the first good CMJ show I saw. It took place on day one of the music marathon, and I hoped this promising beginning augured well for the rest of the week. Chad Valley is a one-man project out of the United Kingdom, helmed by Hugo Manuel, a bearded fellow with a voice that reminded me of both dudes from Tears For Fears (at different moments). Manuel also fronts the band Jonquil, and between the two, he played a total of 13 shows over the course of CMJ 2011.

I caught the 6 PM Chad Valley set at Pianos last Tuesday, which consisted of Manuel singing whilst programming beats from a suitcase stuffed with gear. That may not sound like much, but good songs speak for themselves, and Manuel bounced through his instantly gratifying set of synthpop like a pro. People were dancing freely (always a good sign), and the beat in “Anything” was so good I laughed out loud.

For more about Chad Valley, check my interview with Hugo Manuel.

Tunabunny @ Bruar Falls
I saw this show by sheer luck. My friend Phil had heard good things about Tunabunny, and he told me the quartet out of Athens, Georgia, were closing things down at Bruar Falls on Thursday night. I had plans to end the evening at Glasslands (for the Casiokids show), but Bruar Falls was on the way, and there were hours to spare before 2 a.m. The place didn’t look crowded when I walked by, and Bruar Falls is closing forever in a few weeks, so why not stop in and make a final memory?

Unlike Chad Valley, Tunabunny delivered a set devoid of pretty beats and ’80s synths. This was more like Liars, actually, with lots of non-linear song structures and few hints as to what might happen next. One song stretched on for at least 10 minutes, during which Tunabunny swayed and crawled through a prolonged drone of tones. A lot of people couldn’t handle this slow gathering of steam, however, and more than a few took off during the set. “Fair weather fans,” I thought, “have you no foresight?” Sometimes a song has to grate before it blooms, and the song indeed ended in a fine explosion.

Seeing Tunabunny at that particular juncture in my CMJ 2011 experience was like heaving a huge sigh of relief. I had seen so few bands that were making music in the moment, much less writhing about on the floor or heaving guitars through the air. Tunabunny were utterly disconnected from the world around them and completely focused on figuring out where the song was going next. It was clear that their songs were not reenactments of the studio versions they recorded months ago; rather, these seemed like the actual battles.

I bought the vinyl after the show (the only one I purchased at CMJ this year), and did an interview with frontwomen Brigitte Herron and Mary Jane Hassell on the sidewalk outside Bruar Falls.

Ava Luna @ Glasslands
Imagine if Jamie Lidell added a hilt of three-part harmonies to his digitally-enhanced sword of soul music. It might sound something like Ava Luna, a seven-member band from Coney Island with few peers in the New York City music scene. Why? Their sound is not lo-fi, garage, beachy, tropical, witchy or programmed; it is soul on the cusp of the avant-garde, augmented by strange time signatures, unexpected harmonic twists and delicious production.

I hadn’t seen the group perform since South By Southwest earlier this year, but I know they’ve been busy working on their next album. Indeed, the new devilry I witnessed at Glasslands on Friday night marks a major evolution in their sound. Becca Kauffman has a solo part in the longest of the new numbers, during which she holds a soaring note for at least 15 seconds (at the emotional zenith of the song). I could almost feel the crowd holding their breath as it happened. The only bad part was that I couldn’t go home and listen to the song over and over again.

Ava Luna tore through their 25-minute set, finishing things with “Past The Barbary” from the Services EP. Frontman Carlos Hernandez had the quote of night: “We’ve got records for sale, and we’re a real band.” He didn’t emphasize the “real” part in an asshole way either (which is how that might look, printed). He said it like a man making an observation, like, “That chair is red.” It was fantastic. The only thing better was watching Carlos’ eyes blaze with near-madness whenever he hit a big note. Dude could scare cats with that stare.

Honorable Mentions
Grimes @ Pianos
Caveman @ Glasslands
Widowspeak @ 285 Kent
Guards @ Knitting Factory

Bright Future, But Not All There Yet (give them time to mature)
Doldrums @ Cameo Gallery
King Krule @ Glasslands

Straight Terrible
Japes @ Pianos
Lil’ Red @ Glasslands


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