I didn’t do CMJ this year as hard as I probably could have. Most of that is thanks to the fact that CMJ weekend was concurrent with my mom’s 50th birthday, so I was extremely hungover for the majority of the proceedings (shouts to my uncle for buying me shots). A lot of it is also thanks to the fact that, as an ex-New Yorker now living in Seattle, I had never before realized just how little air there is in the Big Apple. Despite taking it easy, thus missing the weekend's biggest most talked band, Arcade Fire (Ed. note: hey Reflektors, thanks for taking a great celebration of great, less World Famous bands and making it about you!) I managed to take in a bunch of great sets by some amazing, diverse acts we’re all really excited about hearing big things from in 2014 – so voila, without further ado / personal excuse-making, the cream of the crop:
Calvin Love. You might know him as Mac DeMarco’s tourmate early in 2013, but the dapper Edmonton songwriter Calvin Love’s gearing up to step out on his own, with a bigger band (they’re now a four-piece) and a ton of super-catchy, funky-as-hell new songs. Despite some technical difficulties faced early on in their Thursday set at 285 Kent, Calvin and company brought a cadre of sexy-catchy, lo-fi bedroom pop tracks that had a packed crowd moving. His 2012 record New Radar has still got legs – press play on a track like “My Bones Dance For You” and resist the temptation to retroactively add it to every mixtape you’ve ever made – but keep an eye out for new material on the horizon (like his new single "Cool" b/w "Wild Blue").
Hausu. I saw the Portland post-punk quartet Hausu in Seattle in June on the eve of the release of their excellent debut full-length Total and was definitely impressed, but it only took about half a song into their performance at their label Hardly Art’s Thursday showcase at Death By Audio before my jaw was on the (beer- and sweat-soaked) floor. Frontman Ben Friars Funkhauser is a truly astonishing guitar player, and you only have to watch him breeze his way though one impossible riff after another (sample a song like “Kool Off,” which packs innumerable insane guitar lines and some epic harmonics into a swaggering three-minute package) before you get the gist. Bonus – the band’s new material somehow sounds even better. Keep these guys on your radar – you won’t regret it.
holychild. If pop’s felt stagnant to you as of late, look no further – at this point it’s holychild’s world and we’re just living in it. Though the L.A. duo don’t have a label, a booking agent, a manager, or any of that jazz, they have what’s important – insanely great songs. “Best Friends,” “Happy With Me,” and “Playboy Girl” are effortless, instantly catchy pop jams; the band’s rapid rise is a testament to the power of the internet (the “Best Friends” and “Playboy Girl” videos, both styled by the band, have each exceeded 100,000 YouTube views). I didn’t get a chance to catch one of holychild’s live performances at CMJ, but their name was on everyone’s lips – they’re first on my bands-to-see list; they should be on yours too.
Joanna Gruesome. This year’s CMJ MVPs if only in quantity of shows played were likely the very young and charmingly postmodernly named Cardiff pop-punk quintet Joanna Gruesome. If only because we can think of no one else out there who can somehow amalgamate the bubbly guitar riffage and sing-song boy-girl vocals of dreamy pop bands like Belle and Sebastian with the middle-finger-in-your-face attitude of riot grrl (in “Secret Surprise,” frontwoman Alanna sing/shouts “You want me so much you can’t breathe, I dream of pulling out your teeth”) and a boatload of pop-punk guitar distortion, these guys more than deserve to be on your watch list. Add that to their wide-eyed, captivating stage presence, and you’ve got yourself a very exciting new band to keep an eye on.
Palehound. Palehound’s Ellen Kempner’s only nineteen, but she’s already a fully actualized lo-fi indie pop songwriter, poised for crowning with the same mantle blogland’s bestowed on contemporaries like Waxahatchee’s Katie Crutchfield or Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis. Kempner always sounds like she’s about to bend her voice back into a wry, pissed-off smile; she layers it over bubbly, bluesy guitar lines that are perfectly simple and effortlessly catchy. Live, she’s got a full band whose chops match hers, and the results are showing – her label Exploding in Sound’s Saturday afternoon party at Silent Barn was packed to the gills from ten minutes after the doors opened with fans eager to catch her set, among others.