With 1300+ bands performing CMJ shows last week, I think it’s safe to say there was no way that ANYONE was going to catch every single one, so in order to prepare for the five day marathon, I listened to all of the official acts on the CMJ website and narrowed down the goods to 259, or the top twentieth percentile (Part One / Part Two here). Even THAT, however, was impossible for one person to conquer on her own, so I prioritized the international bands; while I’m sure many will be back in the near future (I hope, anyway), the odds that I can pop over to Pianos or Cake Shop and scope them on any given weeknight are much slimmer than can be said for some of my favorite locally-based outfits. AND SO, here are my top ten picks for which international bands are worth your undivided attention post-CMJ 2014:
Three cheers for Tkay Maidza! She was definitely one of my favorite performers of the entire CMJ 2014 lineup, and I ended up seeing her twice when all was said and done. The best way I can think to describe her sound is like if Nicki Minaj and MØ had an Australian music baby; the beats are delicious and are super danceable, while Tkay’s rap game is on POINT! Being so petite (I’m not sure how tall she is, but even with chunky platforms she was tiny) I’d have never expected her to possess such a commanding stage presence, but I stand corrected. She’s going to blow up, there is no question about it.
Chelsea Jade (formerly Watercolours) played the New Zealand showcase at the Studio at Webster Hall the first night of CMJ, and so she marked my first performance for the season. The results? Great show! In terms of the performance, she’s got an odd quality of Maria Bamford-ness about her (which I feel comes vaguely from very slight facial similarities) that is both entertaining and mildly terrifying; she hopped off stage and snaked through the crowd in a nearly pitch-dark room, which (as an audience member) felt simultaneously uncomfortable AND completely normal. Stage presence aside, however, her tunes are incredible, and (for me, anyway), feel like the perfect soundtrack for brooding in a jungle in outer space. Bottom line: even if you’re not able to catch her live just yet, you should definitely download her brand new EP and be on the lookout for even more good things in the future.
Despite only catching a few songs from OKENYO (Zindzi Okenyo) at the Aussie BBQ Saturday night, it’s safe to say that my socks were blown off. Apart from the melodies themselves, the vocals were absolutely fantastic live. (I just wish I could’ve caught more of the set!)
I saw Gossling (from Melbourne, Australia) on Friday afternoon at Pianos and was SUPER into the set. The tunes themselves feel a bit like if CocoRosie decided not to be terrifying for a change, if that makes sense; Helen Croome (to me, anyway) sounds like she could be a dead-ringer for the long-lost normal Casady sister. Anyway, since they live on the other half of the world I’m not sure how soon we’ll be seeing the band again, but the tracks sound just as lovely from inside a pair of headphones as they do in-person, so get on your download game and keep an eye out for future tour dates.
PINS hail from the UK (Manchester, to be more specific), and I was able to catch the quartet play a gig at Arlene’s Grocery for Never Better’s CMJ party. The band took the stage after a sweaty set by Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires and kept the momentum going with tracks both new and old. I don’t know if there’s a part here where I need to mention that all four band members are women; the female musician population was well-represented at this year’s CMJ and it seems to be less and less relevant to point out gender composition (a good thing, in my book), HOWEVER, if you were wondering, this is me telling you that right now. Very solid tunes by any estimation of human capabilities (male or female), and very worth listening to if you’re not already on the bandwagon.
To put it plainly and simply, SAFIA are a super soulful dance party incarnate. Despite some technical difficulties re: sound at Santos Party House (which has earned itself the number one WORST venue I visited for CMJ this year), the guys were able to turn things around in time to play a few tracks, and let me tell you, it was indeed about quality over quantity when it came to their set; amazing tunes, HUGE sound, and an even bigger stage persona from Ben Woolner, who comprises one third of the band’s population. All around solid live show / hope they make it back to NYC soon.
I saw Little May midday on Saturday at Pianos, which (with the help of free nachos) was one of the nicest ways to cure a hangover. The band (from Sydney, Australia) churned out a short half-hour set chock-full of well-balanced tunes, many of which began quietly and gradually spun into epic ballads full of sound. A solid soundtrack to the colder months, I feel, and definitely a band to watch out for in the near future.
HUNDREDS are from Hamburg, Germany, and are made up of siblings Eva and Philipp Milner. I was only able to catch the tail end of their set upstairs at Pianos on Friday, but was super impressed with the couple of tracks I was able to hear live, all of which were nicely textured and (what I would call, anyway) dramatically dance-worthy.
I saw Go Wolf (who are from Belfast) during the same showcase at Pianos as HUNDREDS, and I was HUGELY impressed with their set. That’s not to say I wasn’t on the lookout for the band after listening to them during my preparatory elimination rounds, but I think the vocal bits clicked for me live more than they did through headphones at home. Hugely infectious synth-laden tunes, and I would see them again in a heartbeat if they were to roll through NYC again anytime soon.