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Flavorpill’s Favorite Bands from CMJ 2012

We survived! The CMJ Music Marathon is over for another year — five days and about 500 bands later, we’re back on the couch and promising never to leave it again. But still, for all that we’re pretty much exhausted now, CMJ was a great week. As ever, we ran around down, drank too much, and saw more bands than we care to remember. And as ever, just as we were about to give up on the whole thing, we’d stumble across a band that made it all worthwhile. So here’s a selection of the best acts that our crack Flavorpill CMJ team — Judy Berman, Tom Hawking, and Sophie Weiner — saw this time around. Whose sets did you enjoy, gentle readers?

Photo credit: Leila Morrissey

Beach Day
Greenpointers x Permanent Wave x Campers Rule showcase, Public Assembly, 10/16

We were almost scared off by their “beachy” name, but thankfully Beach Day are no chillwave rehash. The Florida-based trio mixes modernized girl-group vocals with surf-rock melodies, all delivered with ample energy from frontwoman Kimmy Drake. In other words, if you’re into Dum Dum Girls, you’ll want to check out their self-titled seven-inch, out now via Kanine. — JB

Photo credit: Leila Morrissey

Chrome Canyon
Oh My Rockness! Showcase, Cameo Gallery, 10/16

As a rule, we are all in favor of the theremin, and especially when it’s played by a man who looks like Hole’s Eric Erlandson transported onto the set of an ’80s BBC sci-fi show. We are also in favor of bands who sound like the soundtrack to ’80s video games (cf. Com Truise, for instance). So Chrome Canyon were a pleasant surprise at the end of a largely guitar-centric bill at Cameo, providing futuristic sounds that were both engaging and thoroughly danceable. — TH

Heliotropes
Greenpointers x Permanent Wave x Campers Rule showcase, Public Assembly, 10/16

Heliotropes are the kind of band who say things like, “This is our last song in a normal tuning.” Their hard-hitting rock blends heavy riffage with grungy crunch, all in the service of gnashing guitar solos reminiscent of Screaming Females. But unlike that band, Heliotropes are fronted by Jessica Numsuwankijkul, a vocalist who can crescendo from gentle whisper to panicked caterwaul within a single song. My biggest regret of CMJ week is that I couldn’t stay through the end of their set, when they covered Nirvana’s “Negative Creep.” — JB

Photo credit: Sophie Weiner

Prince Rama
Terrorbird Day Show, Cake Shop, 10/17

Psychedelic weirdo sisters Prince Rama have released four albums since their band’s inception in 2007, but it feels like they’re finally coming into the cultural spotlight, what with the recent hipster appropriation of New Age. If you think your favorite indie band says some weird shit on Tumblr, it’s probably nothing compared to the entirety of the “now age” philosophy Prince Rama have outlined on a dedicated website. Luckily, their music lives up to their silly personae, and their short set at the Terrorbird day show at Cake Shop was the best we’ve ever seen from them. In particular, recent raucous track “So Destroyed” sounded amazing in the cramped basement space, and the dance party vibes the band brought made the middle of the day showcase feel like an all-night dance party in full swing. — SW

Photo credit: Marina Galperina (from Ad Hoc Showcase, 285 Kent, 10/19)

Mykki Blanco
Terrorbird day party, Cake Shop, 10/17

When you’re a queer or female musician with an eye-catching look, you get written up in the Style section first. But don’t let that stop you from taking Mykki Blanco seriously. Michael David Quattlebaum’s larger-than-life drag rapper alter ego should be entertaining huge venues by now, but instead she got a Lower East Side basement with a ceiling so low she could touch it. Mykki made the best of it, taking the stage (such as it was) in men’s undershorts, braids, and heavy black eye makeup and filling the room with her deft, debauched, goth-industrial-tinged hip hop. Some of the greatest moments came when she delivered verses, and even whole songs, a cappella — proving to any remaining doubters that she’s got more than enough substance to match her wild style. — JB

Photo credit: Leila Morrissey

Death Grips
NPR Showcase, Le Poisson Rouge, 10/17

It was noticeable just how much more excited the crowd at LPR on Wednesday was to see Death Grips than it was to see headliner Flying Lotus. That’s not to say FlyLo was disappointing — he played a perfectly engaging set of suitably eclectic instrumental hip hop — but Death Grips rearranged our insides with an hour of non-stop intensity and evil, evil bass. Only two of the trio appeared — there was no sign of keyboardist Andy “Flatlander” Morin — and MC Ride struggled to stay in sync with his backing track at times, but they still proved one of the more compelling live acts we’ve seen in ages. Believe the hype. And bring earplugs. — TH

Photo credit: Mindy Bond (Life or Death Showcase, 92Y Tribeca, 10/20)

Sky Ferreira
Union Hall, 10/17

Days of watching ridiculously named indie band after ridiculously named indie band perform forgettable sets to credulous audiences can do weird things to you. It can, for one thing, make you long for a goddamn well-constructed pop song with a goddamn hook delivered by someone whose vocal performance might actually be described as “singing.” That’s when it’s time to yawn and sigh through the forgettable hipster opening acts and reserve your real enthusiasm for Sky Ferreira, the 20-year-old singer/actress/model who just released a great EP called Ghost.

Despite her potentially worrisome hyphenated identity and a reputation founded largely on her lifelong connection to Michael Jackson, Ferreira is no lightweight; she played down her glamor in favor of stark realism in Matt Porterfield’s 2010 micro-budget film Putty Hill, and her pop songs show just as much commitment. Her best tracks, “Everything Is Embarrassing” and “Lost in My Bedroom,” are the kind of songs high-school girls might curl up with after a breakup — but what they’ve got on Taylor Swift is depth, moodiness, and a certain romantic, almost goth, atmosphere. For Wednesday night’s performance, she acted as frontwoman to a real, live rock ‘n’ roll band, clutching the mic stand as her rich, textured, refreshingly imperfect voice emerged from beneath layers of riffs and beats. With so much posturing and pageantry in arena pop circa 2012, it’s encouraging to see a singer who could get by on appearances and name-drops alone insist on foregrounding the music. — JB

Photo credit: Sophie Weiner

Angel Haze
Pitchfork Showcase, Villain, 10/19

If you’ve heard Angel Haze, it’s pretty clear that she’s one of the most promising young people in hip hop today. We’ve been obsessed with her Reservation EP from earlier this year, and seeing her open the Pitchfork showcase on the Friday of CMJ was more than worth getting there half an hour early. Her live presence is intense — she doesn’t smile or charm the audience. “You probably know me for my song ‘New York,'” she said, before playing one of the more memorable songs from her EP. “Well, you fucking better.”

Sometimes it can feel like she’s trying too hard in a live setting, but it’s her aggressive, confidently raw persona that sets her apart from so many female performers who feel they need to be self-deprecating, and avoid the hyped-up egos that hip hop runs on. For such a new artist her tracks are amazingly consistent and her talent is palpable. If she isn’t headlining venues around the world in a year, there is no justice in the world. — SW

Photo credit: Sophie Weiner

King Tuff
Sub Pop Showcase, Knitting Factory, 10/19

After SXSW this year, where it felt sometimes like garage rock was literally inescapable, we were hesitant to check out any more guitar-driven grungy dude bands, no matter how much hype they were getting. We’re glad we overcame this deterrent and caught an ecstatic set by the LA-based King Tuff at Sub Pop’s Knitting Factory showcase on Thursday. Yeah, there were a lot of long-haired dudes in the audience banging their heads, but the crowd’s energy and the band’s tight performance made us forget all the mediocre bands we’d seen that day. The band pounded out ten or so poppy garage tunes, and we even participated in a brief mosh pit. King Tuff’s persona is a little weird — the lead singer has a strangely feminine demeanor for looking like he hasn’t taken had a shower or haircut for a while, and we couldn’t stop thinking that their music was the straight version of Hunx and His Punx. Still, it was great to forget the industry atmosphere that CMJ oozes for a few minutes and just dance with a bunch of happy, sweaty kids to music you don’t have to think really hard to enjoy. — SW

Photo credit: Mindy Bond

Savages
Bowery Presents Showcase, Pianos, 10/20

Our friends at The Quietus have been raving about Savages for some time now, but since the band’s recorded output to date comprises one difficult-to-find 7″, we were keen to check them out and see what all the fuss was about. Well, now we know, and Savages could well be our new favorite band. Their driving, rhythmic post punk references all the good bits of Siouxsie, Patti Smith, and Joy Division, without ever sounding overly derivative. They were definitely the best thing we saw this CMJ — and all this while raging against the notoriously questionable sound at Pianos. Here’s hoping they’re back over this side of the Atlantic playing a better venue ASAP. – TH

Photo credit: Leila Morrissey

Teeth & Tongue
Aussie BBQ, Delancey Bar, 10/20

We’ve long been advocates of Australian trio Teeth & Tongue — they played our SXSW show last year — so it was excellent to see them in town for CMJ to introduce their sound to a larger audience. Jess Cornelius et al played downstairs at the Aussie BBQ at the Delancey Bar, and triumphed over less-than-ideal sound and the requirement to truncate their set because the show was running overtime. Cornelius has a rich, distinctive voice and excellent songs — her most recent single “The Party is You” is available for free download here — she’s also taking the adventurous step of playing a couple of post-CMJ shows, so if you’re in NYC and can stomach the thought of seeing another band this week, we recommend checking her out. TH

Photo credit: Leila Morrissey

Slug Guts
Life or Death Showcase, 92Y Tribeca, 10/20

And finally, also on the Australian tip, Sacred Bones-signed Brisbane five-piece Slug Guts, who were the highlight of our Saturday night. They came on after Twerps — another band from down under worth checking out — introduced themselves as “Slugguts from ‘Straya,” and proceeded to tear shit up, energizing a crowd that was looking very much worse for wear after five days of gig-going. The relatively gentrified surrounds of 92Y were a strange setting for Slug Guts, but for as long as they were playing, their thoroughly nasty, sleazy, Birthday Party-esque swamp rock transported us to a badly-lit dive bar full of patrons you don’t ever want to look in the eye. They were the last band we saw at CMJ, and one of the best. – TH

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