The 9 best things we saw at this year's CMJ Music Marathon
The latest annual CMJ Music Marathon took over the live music venues of New York City for the better part of last week, showcasing a new batch of talent in pretty much every genre that falls under pop’s broad umbrella. During the grueling, well, marathon does seem pretty much the right word for it, EW saw more acts than we can remember, but these nine made a particular impression. All of them are destined for big things, so here’s a good chance to catch them on the way up.
These EW favorites turned heads with a series of performances that ran clean-lined pop through the hazy filters of ‘70s AOR and contemporary slacker rock, resulting in something that sounds like if someone gave the Drive soundtrack a Xanax, a blunt, and a pep talk. They’ve got a good sound, good songs, and a distinctly Canadian affability that could easily turn them into stars.
Currently residing in Brooklyn after stints in Vancouver, Bogotá, and Boston, this peripatetic performer made her live debut at last year’s CMJ. In the 12 months since, her music—informed by R&B, pop, and electronic dance music but not beholden to any particular trend—has earned her a cult following, and the 24-year-old musician has developed the onstage chops to keep it growing.
Prog rock and punk are supposed to be diametrically opposed musical philosophies, but this Japanese quartet finds a common ground where complex guitar riffage coexists with howling aggro noise. Fronted by bassist/vocalist/contortionist Taigen Kawabe, who leaps around the stage like someone in the throes of a particularly theatrical case of demonic possession, they deliver compact epics that combine frenetic energy with a touch of the cosmic.
Live shows by newcomer rap acts with one hot single can often be a letdown, but these two young Atlantans tore up the stage with a infectious glee that was hard not to get caught up in, and their viral hit “No Flex Zone” turned out to be just one peak in a set full of them.
Michigan-born musical prodigy Garrett Borns has the fashion sense and vaguely otherworldly vibe of Marc Bolen, but his expertly constructed songs and glassy falsetto make them come off like Maroon 5 with a psychedelic edge, better fashion sense, and none of Adam Levine’s ickiness.
Lindsay Powell got her start making noisy experimental psych-rock, and although she now works in radio-worthy pop, she’s hasn’t stopped exploring the sonic fringes. Last year’s Ninety Thirty Thirty united big hooks and avant-garde sonics to bracingly effective ends, and the new material she unveiled hints strongly that her next album will be even better.
On record this Aussie group sounds like a collage made out of bits and pieces of every good Britpop band ever. Onstage, the impression goes even further thanks to their affinity for period-accurate outfits and enough attitude to justify the inevitable Oasis comparisons.
R&B-infused electronic pop was one of the defining sounds of this year’s CMJ, and London (by way of Sydney) singer-songwriter George Maple was one of the acts who did it best.
Mary J. Blige
OK, so the first lady of R&B has a little more experience than the rest of this list, but it would be dishonest of us not to include her surprise performance closing out the Fader Fort here. Her set was brief but monumental, with a typically regal “Real Love” followed by a set of house-heavy new material from her upcoming London Sessions LP, DJ’d by Brooklyn club producer Brenmar, that finds her building on her recent collaboration with Disclosure.