Monday, October 26, 2009

CMJ Summary - Part 1

The first band I caught at CMJ was Washington DC's True Womanhood at Cameo on Tuesday. They are known for their dark post-punk ambiance, with eerie guitar and vocals over complex breakbeats. When we walked in, the band was already playing and the sheer volume at that moment took the music to a new level. I thought, "these guys are on fire."

Unfortunately, they weren't quite as on fire as I had thought - the sound was awesome in the house, but it seems like they were having some difficulty hearing one another on stage. The drummer stopped at one point because he couldn't hear the guitarist - which was an error, since everyone should ultimately adjust to the drums no matter what. The band was still clearly great, but they weren't playing very tightly. Bassist Melissa Beattie once again, held everything together, keeping the drums and guitar on the same page, taking the lead in stage presence and seeing every song through from start to finish.

TW are definitely worth hearing. Tuesday night was clearly a bit rough, and even with all the setbacks, they still sound more far more interesting than most of their peers. [MySpace]

I stuck around for Naked Hearts and reached a new level of dislike for the band. Now, I used to like Naked Hearts alright, but the beginning of the end was their EP last winter. I liked them live when I only heard a couple of songs at the beginning or end of their set, but as it turns out, trying to sit through from beginning to end is really not for me. All the songs sound the same. When Noah Wheeler sings, he's way offkey. Amy Cooper is better, but even at their best, the band proves nothing more than an excellent example of cliched mediocrity. It's generic indie rock for the generic fan. [MySpace]

On Wednesday, I headed over to Cake Shop to catch the Kanine Records showcase, catching first Depreciation Guild. The more I hear of this band, the more I've cooled off on them. They are a electro-shoegaze outfit, with dense waves of guitar sound over sharp electronic beats (coupled with live drums). Their walls of sound are some of the best you'll find these days, and the beats are interesting.

However, all of the songs sound the same. The melodies, sung by guitarist (and Pains of Being Pure at Heart drummer) Kurt Feldman, fail to hold any interest, and there's not enough variety in the instrumentation underneath to make up for it. It's great for a song or two, especially their best one or two songs. Unfortunately, the rest of their repertoire sounds like inferior versions of the same.

The band also suffered from the lack of their usual visuals. Depreciation Guild are one of the only bands around to effectively use projections to enhance their music - they generally project changing blocks of color behind the band, enhancing the already multicolored sound of their layered guitars. Without it, the band's shortcomings are further unmasked. Though they have some great talent and are doing some things very right, they've stretched their one trick far too thin. Time to break the mold or dissolve into obscurity. [MySpace]

Next up was Ringo Deathstarr, my perennial favorite among contemporary shoegazers. Like Depreciation Guild, their guitar sounds are inpenetrable, but unlike them, Ringo Deathstarr has melodies and songwriting to match. The baritone vocals ground the music in irresistible Britrock pop tunes, while the guitars growl underneath.

Near the end of the set, the band began pleading with the audience to dance, which was a misguided effort - their beats are good for a shoegaze band, but they're a shoegaze band. Singer Elliot Frazier threw himself into the crowd to generation some motion, which was certainly a noble effort and made the show that much more fun - but it's a scientifically proven fact that shoegazers don't dance. However, Dinowalrus drummer Josh Somethingorother took the opportunity to jump on stage and turn up all of the knobs on Frazier's pedal board, ending the song in a screaming mess of feedback and fuzz.

The band got cut short, which is par for the course at CMJ. They may have made a little to much of a stink about it, but they did a good job cramming what they could into the end of the set and narrowing down their setlist to the best of the best. I sure would like to see something happen for this band, but they don't have that aloof DIY cool that seems to be the golden ticket these days. Which is one of the reasons they're so great. [MySpace]

I skipped most of Zaza, who played next, because having seen them a few times, I've become bored with their droning.

However, I stuck around for Dinowalrus, one of my hometown favorites. The band plays drum-heavy noise that doesn't sound enough like anyone else to give me a single reference point to work with. From droning groves to descents into noisy chaos, the band is certainly unconventional.

This set (only three songs, I think?) didn't excite me as much as the last couple I saw. I've mentioned before the band's "lack of structure." Frontman Pete Feigenbaum pointed out that the band spends a lot of time on their arrangements, and so I should clarify what I mean by that point - I never meant that the band was oblvious to structure. In fact, it's clear that what Feigenbaum says is true, the band must arrange their songs with great care. It's just that the conventional elements of structure in rock music - songs, choruses, verses, solos, etc. - don't apply to Dinowalrus. If they did, it wouldn't be the band it is, but it does put them in a tricky position. There is a reason 99% of rock music uses certain structural elements, and if you're going to buck tradition, you've got to make the music work just as well without them. Dinowalrus falls a little short of this, leaving the audience a little lost sometimes as to exactly what ideas the band is trying to convey.

That said, they are still one of NYC's best. And while the first two songs seemed to ramble a bit without really drawing me in, the third was crowned with a sparkling guitar riff that stood out for its straightforward beauty in the dirty, mess of sound. The juxtaposition and the composition surrounding it was nothing less than brilliant.

The main appeal of Dinowalrus, in any case, remains Josh Whatshisname. After watching his CMJ set, I tried and tried to think of a single [rock] drummer who could show him up. But if I've ever encountered one, I've forgotten. I think it's safe to say Dinowalrus has the best rock drummer I have ever seen. It's not just the beats he plays, but the way he plays them, with absolutely natural, organic rhythm, the drums an extension of the man, the man an extension of rhythm in the abstract. He doesn't overplay, he's never flashy, he just plays the drums. Hell yes. [MySpace]

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