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all photos and brief words: Alyssa Lesser

CMJ seemed to be back in full force this year, and Ryma and I were ready to jump right in.  Our first day began with the NYCTaper day party at Cake Shop, which featured a promising crop of up-and-coming acts.  First we caught Hoop Dreams, who brought an impressively neurotic, raw Interpol-meets-Joy-Division-plus-strings vibe.

We hopped up the street in between sets to the Smartlounge at Thompson LES to catch the Stepkids’ carefree pop, but of course set times were running late, and we had to run back to Cake Shop to catch Tristen and the new loves of my life, Widowspeak.

Tristen played an exciting blend of folky punky pop rock, led by energetic songstress Tristen Gaspadarek.  In a world of nonchalant crooners, Gaspadarek’s energy was infectious and refreshing.

Next up was Widowspeak, who might be my favorite band from CMJ.  Their debut self-titled album has been on heavy rotation in my headphones, and I was stoked to see them live.  The band didn’t disappoint, although they could have benefited from louder vocals.  Molly Hamilton’s gorgeous vocals were a bit drowned out in Cake Shop’s cavernous depths, but the grungy guitar twangs and sincerity behind the trio’s tunes were much appreciated.  With a brand of rock reminiscent of the hypothetical lovechild of Sleater Kinney, Jenny Lewis and Cat Power, Widowspeak had us hooked.

Our final sighting of the day was Unknown Mortal Orchestra.  The set was bouncy and pleasant, but the band sounded more generic and less contemporary live than on record.

Tune in tomorrow for more from CMJ.  Did you make it to the festival this year?  If so, who were some of your favorite acts?

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