November 06, 2006 at 12:00 PM EST

More than 1,000 bands played New York City’s CMJ Music Marathon last week in search of a big break — or at least some blog admiration. Here are a few highlights:

Oct. 31, Joe’s Pub
It’s no secret that, note for note, Iceland is the world’s greatestexporter of pastoral glacier-rock. Proving this unassailable fact isAmiina (pictured), a female quartet known for their work as Sigur Ros’sstring section. Now, they’re breaking out on their own, and — if thisshow at the classy, acoustically peerless Joe’s Pub was any indication –their potential is limitless. The band’s mostly instrumental music isso subtle it makes Bjork sound like heavy metal, but each song isdecorated with sneaky melodicism. All four women in the group areaccomplished string players, but that’s hardly where their skills end:Instruments played at this gig included guitars, a xylophone,keyboards, bells, a pump organ, and some carefully filled wine glasses.Even the sound of a bent work saw managed to sneak into a couple tunes.The cornucopia of musical tools turned the stage into a veritableobstacle course that had the group comically tip-toeing aroundequipment the whole night. Shipping all those noise-makingdo-dads all the way from Iceland was probably a nightmare, but Amiinamade each one seem completely essential to their dense, mysterioussound. Listen to Amiina tracks at their MySpace page and download a song for free courtesy of their label, The Worker’s Institute.

After the jump: Clipse, the Knife, Beach House, and My Brightest Diamond.

Nov. 4, Knitting Factory
While only a handful of the bands playing CMJ had anything to do withhip-hop, the festival made up for its lack of rap by snagging thislyrically untouchable Virginia duo (pictured). Brothers Malice andPusha T brought white-hot intensity to hits like “Grindin'” and “CotDamn,” while showcasing a couple new songs from their long-awaitedsophomore LP, Hell Hath No Fury,which will finally see release at the end of this month. Pusha was thefocal point, his wide eyes searing through the back of the room as heflipped off countless perfectly timed gestures to emphasizeparticularly devastating couplets. And when towering crew membersSandman and Ab Liva were brought out, the show escalated to an evenhigher level of insanity. Casual rap fans may or may not acceptClipse’s uncompromising drug-dealer tirades and minimalist beats, butthe diehards at this show definitely bought into the pair’s potentproduct. Watch Clipse videos and listen to tracks on their official site and their MySpace page.

The Knife
Nov. 1, Webster Hall
In concert, Sweden’s the Knife are part Eurocheese techno, part Cirquedu Soleil, and part late-night fright fest. The cult brother-sister actwowed devout fans last night with a set heavy on tracks from theirintriguing new album, Silent Shout.Musically, they floated heavily effected vocals on top of jitteryelectronic foundations. Visually, they dressed up in all black withglow-in-the-dark makeup painted on their faces while projections beamedfrom screens both in front of and behind them. It was a strange,fascinating spectacle that recalled David Bowie at his most alien –one that certainly won’t be replicated until the next time the Knifecome to town. Watch a few of the Knife’s videos at their official site and check out a clip from their upcoming live DVD here.

Beach House
Nov. 1, Cake Shop
This coed duo’s songs have the classic feel of old chamber ballads of yesteryear; the airy musings could easily pass as hipster hymns. While not the most eclectic act, Beach House do one thing — guitar and keyboard haziness — with melancholy precision. Improving upon tracks from their recently released eponymous debut album, they held their packed downtown crowd rapt for about a half hour, singer Victoria Legrand’s vocals working in tandem with guitarist Alex Scally’s understated slide work. The Baltimore twosome’s tracks may chronicle ache and emptiness, but the night’s audience left lifted and fulfilled. Stream Beach House tracks at their MySpace page and their official site.

My Brightest Diamond
No. 3, Rebel
This burgeoning group is led by golden-voiced singer-songwriter Shara Worden, whose powerful pipes sound something like Nina Simone filtered through PJ Harvey (with a little Fiona Apple thrown in). She was accompanied by a seven-piece band for this show, including a violinist who performed the entire set perched inside a metal cage a few feet above the stage. “How’s my little bird?” Worden called to the ambitious string player, her playful stage persona adding levity to the show’s dramatic songs about dead animals and apocalyptic visions. Decked out in a sparkling mirror-ball dress, the singer went through highlights off her debut album — the stellar Bring Me the Workhorse — from the diabolical funk of the title track to the Sabbath-tinged “Magic Rabit,” on which she encouraged the audience to break out their devil horns. And on the spastic “Freak Out,” the songstress took full advantage of her small space on the crowded stage, throwing her body to and fro — and even breaking out a goofy version of the running man. Download a track for free at My Brightest Diamond’s official site and stream more tracks at the band’s MySpace page.

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