Irish gloom girls among highlights at CMJ
NEW YORK: More than 1,300 musicians descended on New York for the annual CMJ Music Marathon, which provides a stage to emerging artists vying for greater recognition in the industry.
While the number of music festivals has soared in recent years, 33-year-old CMJ — originally named for the College Music Journal — is credited with helping discover artists who quickly became big including Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire and, much earlier, R.E.M.
No selection can be exhaustive, but here are some highlights from CMJ which ran over five days through Saturday at clubs across New York:
With a hazy guitar reverb, dominating bass-lines and a touch of psychedelia in the keyboards, the Dublin-based September Girls conjure up a landscape of overcast skies but framed through pop melodies.
All but one member of the five-woman band takes turns on vocals, with songs on the debut album, “Cursing the Sea,” revolving as often as not around relationship dysfunction. “How long must I be lost at sea? Take these pills and swallow me,” runs the pop-catchy chorus of “Ships,” set to a shoegazing guitar that could have come from The Jesus and Mary Chain.
“We all kind of have pop sensibilities but are more interested in the darker side of it,” guitarist Caoimhe Derwin told AFP after one of September Girls’ seven shows at CMJ.
Fellow guitarist Jessie Ward, who unlike her Irish bandmates is a transplant from California, said the sound had a “dirtiness and the darkness (that) is part of the Irishness.”
“We write pop songs, but we think a straightforward pop song is a bit boring,” Ward said.
“Loom,” the first album from Austin, Texas-based Pompeii in six years, starts gently with melancholic piano chords before sweeping strings foreshadow a bigger sound to come. The title song gradually climaxes into the ferocity of frontman Dean Stafford’s guitar.
The band bears a strong resemblance to Icelandic post-rock icons Sigur Ros, except Pompeii crafts its sound into concize rock tunes with vocals. “I was 19 when the band started in ‘04 and now I’m 30, so basically we’ve reached the point where the band went through this necessary puberty,” Stafford told AFP after a CMJ show.
“We had to take this time to figure out — how do we want to change the sound? Because we felt we were a little melodramatic in the early days,” he said.
For “Loom,” the band’s third album, Pompeii tapped the Tosca String Quartet, which had its start as a popular tango orchestra in Austin; guitarist/keyboardist Erik Johnson brought in analog synthesizers.
Stafford voiced hope that Pompeii would work on soundtracks, saying: “We’re a very cinematic band by nature.”
Pompeii had a taste of cinematic drama as it filmed a video to be released for the song “Blueprint,” in which the band went to a ranch and blew up an old Honda Accord.
Ballet School’s rhythm section could have come straight from the 1980s, with a synth bass line that Whitney Houston would have danced to, but the Berlin-based band is defined by the soaring voice and presence of singer Rosie Blair.