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The CMJ Music Marathon in review

By ALEX HUROWITZ | October 30, 2014

For any CMJ Music Marathon, one probably goes in knowing a little more than one percent of the 1300 bands that come each year. The New York City-based showcase features many groups who are playing their first shows in NYC and for the first time for a majority of the audience. It is a great way to see what is happening currently and what is up-and-coming within music among different labels and locations in the country and even the world. Here were some of my favorite shows from the trip:

Doprah — This New Zealand-based group was the first act I saw at the music marathon. Featuring a sound fairly reminiscent of the xx, this band differentiated itself by featuring the additional elements of trip hop and ‘60s psychedelic pop. This intriguing combination definitely felt strongest with tracks like “San Pedro,” which featured an enchanting bass riff and drum combination. The bass and drum would slowly unwind with the help of a delayed guitar by the time the chorus came by. Other songs, like “Strange People” and “Whatever You Want,” featured the band’s strong ability to write some rather amazing hooks.

Tei Shi — While not a newcomer to CMJ, experimental R&B singer-songwriter and producer Tei Shi, a Berklee College of Music graduate, has spent the year since the 2013 release of her excellent EP, Saudade, improving upon her live show. On stage with a live drummer and her frequent collaborator and co-producer Gianluca Buccelati, Tei Shi played through her whole EP in addition to previewing some new songs from her upcoming release. (She just got signed Caroline Austin.) In addition to her performance of a beautiful ‘80s-tinged cover of Beyonce’s “No Love,” Tei Shi ended the set with an explosive rendition of her recent single, “Bassically.” The intensity of the bass and guitar with her melodic vocal riffs at the end of the studio recording achieved a whole new life while live.

Homeshake — Homeshake is the solo project of Peter Sagar, formerly the touring guitarist for Mac Demarco (also one of the guys to help Mac first come onto the scene in Montreal). The debut album, In The Shower (released back in early October), features a more R&B- and funk-influenced (and generally weirder) side of the lo-fi pop that has put Mac Demarco in the spotlight. While I don’t think Homeshake will quickly reach the level of attention of Mac, Peter’s group still provides a refreshing take on the genre. The laid-back grooves translate rather well in a live setting, with guitars, bass and drums demonstrating the same cohesion as heard from the studio recording.

Beach Fossils — One of the most underrated releases of 2013 was Clash The Truth by Brooklynbased indie pop group Beach Fossils. While mostly known as the band Zachary Cole Smith use to play guitar for (Smith is the main song - writer for DIIV currently), Beach Fossils features the songwriting and singing of guitarist Dustin Payseur, who has slowly been improving upon his music writing while under DIIV’s ever increasing shadow. Despite the mellow, yet driven songs off Clash The Truth, Beach Fossils play a loud and energetic show. In addition to the well-written guitar progressions and lines (their melody lines rival that of DIIV), what really sets Beach Fossils apart is the expert drumming on the part of Tommy Gardner. This is probably the closest you’ll get to jazz drumming in the scene of indie pop, with Gardner’s frenetic yet taut style.

Protomartyr — Hailing from Detroit, this garage rock-meets-post punk group has been slowly on the rise since the release of their second album, Under Color Of Official Right, back in April. (Vice has even used their song “Trust Me Billy” as their introduction music.) Upon hearing Joey Casey’s baritone vocals, the comparisons to Ian Curtis of Joy Division and Matt Berninger of The National are pretty immediate, but this should not label them as copycats by any means. The band that backs Casey (Greg Ahee on guitar, Alex Leonard on drums and Scott Davidson on bass guitar) is what makes Protomartyr’s distinct sound. Additionally, their live shows definitely highlighted the more punk aspect of their sound. While a little more raucous, the band still retained the same organization as heard on Under Color of Official Right.

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