Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

CMJ, Day to Day

Greetings from the CMJ Music Marathon, where, if you had a badge, you could have attended these scintillating panel discussions (material in quotes comes directly from their descriptions):

The Hoarse Whisperer: "Decoding the Ying-Yang Twins" (?)
All I Wanted Was A Pepsi: How and why your band should get sponsored
Score That Bling With A Ring: Ringtones for fun and profit!
The Stigma Of Crime At Loud Rock Shows: Is hard rock just a magnet for violent sociopaths?
Image or Ego: "Making your shtick stick" (moderated by Ruyter Suys from Nashville Pussy!)
Hard Times For Hardcore? Is your band too hard or not hard enough to make it on radio? You need more mosh parts, bro.
Aestheticizing Noise: "Now that it's everywhere, how do you decide whether a piece of noise-rock is good or bad?"

In the recently (and thankfully) air-conditioned NorthSix venue in Brooklyn (cheapest beer: $4 PBR cans or Hi-Life bottles), DeSoto and Gern Blandsten records showcased some members of their roster, notably Channels (featuring J. Robbins, formerly of Jawbox and Burning Airlines, and Darren Zentek, formerly of Kerosene 454) and The Life And Times, the new project from Allen Epley, who you may remember from long-running Kansas City post-punk band Shiner.

Prior to them, Brandon Butler played a strong, if somewhat repetitious, set of country-leaning roots rock, not unlike Uncle Tupelo. The Flesh's bouncy, Clash-esque new wave seemingly inspired more than a few members of the audience to head to the bar in the front of the venue and away from the music. Even though it seemed like it was part of their style, the group's disjointed, choppy songs didn't really go anywhere, and the tinny-sounding guitar didn't help matters.

Channels played a predictably strong set of their noisy, angular-yet-melodic post-punk full of new material from an upcoming album (no release date has been set). Bassist Janet Morgan suffers from pretty severe stage fright (and you could tell), but she played well regardless, including on "Win Instantly," where she takes over lead vocals from her husband and bandmate Robbins. Robbins, wearing his usual uniform of a black button-up long-sleeve shirt, jeans with cuffs and black boots, showed particular prowess switching among numerous foot pedals during the band's set, something that'd leave less coordinated singers/guitarists tripping over their own feet.

The Life And Times brought all their own gear, including three industrial work lights on stands, which flooded the stage with white light during their set. Even though they're a trio (drums, guitar, and bass, though occasionally including keyboards), TLAT sounded huge, with a wall of guitar and bass so beefy it rattled your skull. Even though the group's riff-heavy post-punk (almost like a noisier Foo Fighters) was engrossing, the weeknight crowd had noticeably thinned by the time The Life And Times took the stage at 1 a.m. New York may never sleep, but this is Brooklyn.

Fierce competition raged Thursday night, with two of the festival's big draws–The Arcade Fire and The New Pornographers–playing at different locations relatively early in the night, not to mention the Victory Records showcase at Avalon, J-Live & Rhymefest at B.B. King's, Regina Spektor at Irving Plaza, Of Montreal at the Knitting Factory, Mary Timony at Rothko, and of course multitude of other bands playing around the city.

I opted for the Lookout Records showcase at Rothko, a small, unmarked club on the Lower East Side (cheapest beer: Bud or Miller Lite bottles for $5), which enforced its "no re-entry" policy with such zeal that smokers weren't even allowed to step aside for a quick cigarette. Trio The Dollyrots began the night, playing the most traditional Lookout-sounding pop punk of the night: simple power-chord progressions, some vocal harmonies, lots of energy, etc. They had their moments, but the style of music they play is pretty reductive, and to stick out, a band has to compensate for the this-has-been-done-a-million-times sound somehow. When the band slowed down for a self-described "lullaby," it just sounded clunky. Next up was Chicago's The Reputation, who played with a new bassist (Greg Mytych of Horace Pinker and Stereo South) and without the piano that laces much of their music. I didn't really miss it; The Rep's at their best when they stick to energetic, noisy power-pop, which was the focus of their set. The piano comes in when they slow down for moodier, more somber songs that don't quite have the charm of the brisker tracks on the group's two albums. The band's notorious showcase curse, which usually causes equipment to fail or get lost, struck again, with guitarist/vocalist Elizabeth Elmore's guitar cutting out toward the end of the set and her laptop getting stolen the night before. Still, The Rep played well, and their set this year was a marked improvement from 2004, when the band not only lost a substantial amount of money a couple of days before, but also suffered incapacitating equipment failures during their set.

Minneapolis band Hockey Night followed The Reputation, playing Pavement-esque indie rock (backed by two drummers) that you would have never heard from Lookout 15 years ago–and that's not a bad thing. The band drew perhaps the biggest (or second biggest) crowd of the night, with the audience more or less forcing the band to play another song after the group finished their set. The continually touring Troubled Hubble followed Hockey Night, and the group's immediately ingratiating, guitar-based power-pop was enthusiastically received by the audience. One woman got so into their set she held her pint glass above her head and banged on it in time with a drumstick. Her zeal proved too much for the glass, which quickly shattered in her hands. There wasn't a copious amount of blood, so it wasn't a totally debauched rock 'n' roll moment. The four members of Troubled Hubble–including drummer Nate Lanthrum, who looked like he was having the time of his life during their set–bounced around energetically on stage, nearly colliding with each other more than a few times. At the end of the set, bassist Andrew Lanthrum nearly wrecked Nate's kit when he fell on one of the cymbal stands. If nothing else, Troubled Hubble seemed like they had the best time on stage.

On tap for Friday…Say Hi To Your Mom, Criteria and Cursive, Portastatic, +/-, Pilot To Gunner and The Gossip.