The CMJ Music Marathon lasts five days and scatters nearly a thousand bands around NYC, primarily the Lower East Side and Brooklyn. Each year, I go there to find promising new bands. Past discoveries have become some of my favorite artists — The xx, Patrick Watson, Caveman and First Aid Kit, to name a few.
My CMJ 2012 is just getting started. I went out last night and saw nine acts, but a few stood out. (You can follow along with more complete coverage on Twitter @allsongs and Instagram @tinydesk.)
Easily the best music of my night happened in a mostly empty room. The band is Brainstorm from Portland, Ore. They're a trio with a fierce and gritty African-style guitar and melody at its center.
I don't often go to see folks I've seen before at these sorts of festivals and I never go to big named shows, since they'll come to my hometown eventually. I made an exception for Ben Gibbard. The singer and songwriter of Death Cab for Cutie played a solo show for his new solo album, Former Lives, which also came out yesterday on Barsuk Records, which put out Death Cab's early albums. The rather intimate setting was a club in the East Village called The HiFi Bar that used to be called Brownies. These songs are intimate and translate well to a small space. Ben Gibbard also has some history here.
"I started out playing at Brownies and on Barsuk Records, now here I am again at Brownies and on Barsuk Records," he said. "What the f--- happened?"
Of the bands I saw my first night, the loudest and most passionate were The Orwells. I don't think anyone in this band is old enough to vote — maybe just old enough to drive in some states. They're from Elmhurst, Ill and they are a perfect basement/garage/messy rock band.
One final note: I love the people I meet at this festival — music directors from college stations like Thor Slaughter from KWVA in Eugene, Ore. or bandmates I see walking the streets together. I love the anticipation that happens walking into a club for a band I've never seen. But the moment that put the biggest smile on this Brooklyn boy's face was seeing that my hotel was located right next to a Knishery. A nice way for a transplanted New Yorker to feel at home again.