Monday, October 26, 2009

Telltale @ Cameo in Williamsburg

Telltale, a Brooklyn band
Telltale played Cameo October 19th

The night started slowly, PBR and whiskey tends to make things move in slow motion. Pedals, cymbals and wires were laying lifeless on the stage floor. The band before had not been kind. Telltale seemed almost like a trauma unit, moving in after a strike. I slipped into the bar to grab one last beer and then slinked back to the show room at Cameo somewhat ambivalent. The lights never went up, the room was as dark as I'd left it, but when I returned Telltale had taken the stage and were screeching out the first seconds of their brutally honest set. I was floored. Jesus & Mary Chain +The Pixies + some ethereal noise is the only way I could properly describe the assault on my senses. The drummer didn't miss a beat while switching from shaker to stick and back, while the bassist sang Kim Deal-like harmonies with the lead singer. Feedback was ringing and rain was coming down in New York. The only thing I could think was... this is a band. A real band. It's so rare today that you go to a show and see an actual living and breathing incarnation of a true band. A group that not only plays music with each other, but is a group of people that believes in their music. Telltale is just that. I watched a group of four musicians who could not only play their instruments well together, but could feed off each others' energy to create a show that was worth the time and money invested. The bassist's vocals, while precariously under-volume, never missed a step with the lead, while the rhythm section carried out a syncopated current for the lead guitar to sink wave upon wave of feedback and distorted harmony into every song. When the last note was played and the last whale of distortion was finally sated, I walked out the carwash style door into the hallway to let my ears rest. While my eyes and ears throbbed and rang I thought to myself "this is what a rockshow was supposed to sound like." I said goodbye to the band and told them that I needed to rush home to write a review. they laughed in disbelief and said they'd played better shows... I believe them. But sitting at my computer right now, I don't think I wanted a better show. Seeing this band play in real time was more than enough for my senses, and now that CMJ is just at it's onset I find myself searching for just one more band that can do what Telltale just did. Perform.

"Magazines" (live on WUSC) by Telltale download mp3 (with permission)

Telltale on MySpace

Buy Telltale's upcoming record!!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

CMJ 2009: Saturday

Sugar Plum Ferry at CMJ 2009 in New York
Sugar Plum Ferry (photo: Yuchung Chao)

CMJ Saturday is the day you can really pull the trigger, and the last two years we have had This Side Up Sounds to make it even easier for us. With The Deli magazine and a crazy-ass food website (, who I am sure helped out, The Delancey's Saturday party was even better than last year's, and more heavily attended. Apart from free beer (which we all forgive during a W recession) this day show has everything: awesome bands from the Deli's "Best 1 trillion bands of NYC" list, free food from fancy gastro-shacks, and it's great exercise, going from the upstairs to downstairs bar at each set change. Grease me and put me in the cannon. I just parked at The Delancey all day.

Drink Up Buttercup are a huge favorite everywhere I go. Everyone claims to love them, few are lying. I think they have one of the truly unique sounds of the current New York / Brooklyn scene; and they're fun to watch. If you want some free mp3's, there is a great Drink Up Buttercup Daytrotter session that you should check out.

I can't possibly write about all the bands with any sort of depth. Mostly because I am wrecked, but also because I haven't had a chance to listen enough for my opinions to crystallize. I have been trying to see We Are Country Mice for months, so I was really pleased that they were on the bill:

Annie & The Beekeepers played a show last March at one of our SXSW shows, but this was the first time I have seen her. It's sort of Allison Kraussy with sentimental lyrics. I am more of an ironic guy, but no one can argue her voice.

Cale Parks are sort of electronic and percussive, with swooning vocals over the top. Very mellow, but a nice change of pace. I am listening to their record right now, and I think it holds up.

Elizabeth & the Catapult's crowd was huge and a little loud, but I loved the song she played so much, I am going to post it anyway. It's hard to hear at times, but whatever. Normally I don't really get to enjoy a song as I am filming it, for obvious reasons, but this was an exception.

I ran out of tape for Freelance Whales (free downloads at RCRD LBL) and Local Natives, but both were fantastic, despite the sound failing to overpower the crowd noise towards the end of the show. I highly recommend them both.

After dinner I went to Local 269 for a band I was quite excited to hear called Sugar Plum Ferry. I met these guys earlier in the Festival, and I was impressed at how far they had come. If you like Explosions In The Sky, then you will love these guys. Despite playing in a somewhat smaller cap venue than they are used to back home, Local 269 was packed with an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd of local New York fans. Each of their songs is about quarter of an hour long, which proved too much for my remaining tape. I managed to get one though in its entirety. The whole set was entrancing.

Buy Drink Up Buttercup's records!!
Buy We Are Country Mice's records!!
Buy Annie And The Beekeeper's records!!
Buy The Cale Park's records!!
Buy The Elizabeth And The Catapult's records!!
Buy The Sugar Plum Ferry's records!!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

CMJ 2009: Friday

Solid Gold at the Green Label Sound CMJ party
Solid Gold

Friday started off well. Really well. And then it went south. First the good: As I was on my way to Trash Bar for The Loom, I saw Sean Lennon on the phone outside Bruar Falls. I had a little time to kill, and I love all the new Chimera Music stuff, so I just went for it. The Ladybug Transistor where about 2 songs from the end of their set. Though I didn't have time to film, I was very impressed by them. Once the set change was underway, I met a lovely guy from WRSU Rutger's Radio who filled in the gaps. Mi-Gu was the band to see. No, he didn't know how many bands Sean Lennon is actually in (we counted 3). And yes, getting a beer at Bruar Falls is difficult once hey close that iron curtain. During "Spiders," MI-GU'S normal two piece format was beefed up with Lennon and Yuka Honda sitting in.

When the band had finished, I was too late for The Loom. I was nearly late for Peasant, who slowed things down a little bit at the Paste Magazine party. As a venue name, "The Living Room" is perhaps a double entendre. I like it there, but I have never experienced less life from an audience. I know they are concentrating, but the people seem afraid to breathe. Damien himself was unaffected, but forlorn over what he considered a lackluster string of jokes between songs. When told that writing cheat-sheet lyrics on his hand was too obvious and that he should instead opt for his shoes, he replied "I've gotta find some paper shoes." For the next moment or two, he thought he had triumphed, only to realize directly that the shell was too think. Peasant is sweet, slight music, like a whisper, and Damien has a beautiful timbre. He's sort of a perfect troubadour, really. The audience was loving it quietly.

After the rain and the temperature began to fall, we had to get inside. Brooklyn Bowl had a line like the Vatican, so we were relieved when we were spared the indignity of having to queue up. Once inside, we used up our drink tickets and got ready for Solid Gold to start.

The Green Label Sound party itself was heaving, with most of the people neither bowling nor at the stage. All indications were that we were going to wait a long time for drinks and facilities, with very little return. Therefore we only stayed to see a Solid Gold's first few songs. I wanted to see some smaller bands, but the vibe of Brooklyn Bowl would follow us. First, we saw 2 unmentionably bad bands at a very crowded Public Assembly - so bad that we left our drinks. Then we were denied at Music Hall of Williamsburg (where School of Seven Bells were playing). After that we cabbed it to Cake Shop. In the dungeon we did manage to catch a few songs of Crystal Antlers, who all jumped the bathroom line and then gave everyone drink tickets (sort of classy, I thought). Cake shop was so crowded that I couldn't get my arm around my own person. An itch went unscratched, which was sort of poignant.

Buy Mi-Gu's records!!
Buy Peasant's records!!
Buy Solid Gold's records!!
Buy The Ladybug Transistor's records!!

Friday, October 23, 2009

CMJ 2009: Thursday

Emanuel and The Fear at CMJ 2009
Emanuel and The Fear

The NYCTaper 2009 CMJ Day Party was exactly what I wanted: reasonable crowd, bar stool, great bands. Bruar Falls is a festival venue for me, having been exactly twice since it opened. I have no idea what it is like on a regular weekend, but so far at Northside and now CMJ, I think it might be one of my favorites.

Dan from NYCTAPER put on a great show. My only complaint is that it started at noon! C'mon Dan! I wrote it in my schedule, with a couple of underlines, but no amount of will was going to get me to Unicycle Loves You at 12:30. I came directly from bed to Brooklyn, just in time for Blood Warrior at 3:30.

I see the guy from Blood Warrior everywhere. I had a nap just now, and I saw him in my dream. I don't know what to make of it, but I can't call anything "haunting" anymore without being punished for my past imprecision. Blood Warrior is classified cruelly as "indie folk." I loved it.

Emanuel and The Fear was on my radar when the fest started - I had heard their S/T EP while I was previewing bands. I also think Emanuel looks exactly like Gustavo Dudamel, a gross misconception made more poignant by the fact that he does indeed conduct his own mini-orchestra. "Mini" by Dudamel standards is still a whopping 11 indie rock players by any other measure; 11 distinct instruments, all kept together extremely well. A very impressive and movable wall of sound, with no mud at all. The Bruar Falls sound guys did a great job. I was discussing the pros and cons of old schoolbuses (rather than "old-school" buses) with their label rep; I am sure ours wasn't the first conversation he'd had about that.

As Emanuel finished up, I contemplated leaving Bruar Falls. Quickly, I realized that what I was doing / saying was no longer valid. I was in no condition to make any decisions. Luckily pure laziness kept me in my seat; I had no idea that Motel Motel were playing at all, let alone next. Hearing murmurs of this sparked me to squint the schedule (rather, I asked someone else to get up and look at if for me). Realizing that a sendentary afternoon at the same bar stool was all that was in the cards for me, I relaxed and felt good about being the sort of person who is always keen to accept the undebatable.

Kittens Ablaze. Fine. It's one of those band names. Everyone goes to at least one show based on a name that you want to add to the list purely for dimension. "I saw Sponge, Cake, Ebb, Hole, Kittens Ablaze, and Johnny Diamond." Confronted with this, your detractors cannot help but acknowledge indeed, what a well rounded human being you are. Kittens Ablaze also happens to be really good - I thought they were extremely good - so go and see them for that too.

Buy Blood Warrior's records!!
Buy Emanuel And The Fear's records!!
Buy Motel Motel's records!!
Buy Kittens Ablaze's records!!

CMJ 2009: Wednesday

These United States @ CMJ 2009
These United States

Day two of CMJ was 4 parts hangover, 3 parts meetings, 3 parts rock show. Basically, what I am trying to say is that I completely slacked off and only saw 3 bands. I hid away in The Living Room, nursing a Magic Hat, until the place was flooded. Confronted by familiar faces, I was more keen to exit than be sociable. So I wandered into Piano's, where These United States, who I had never actually seen before, got me feeling human again.

Then after a short break. I hit up an official CMJ show, my first. After one of the strangest opening acts, who I have already blocked out, The Boy Bathing came on with a completely new line-up, new material, new everything. There were a few unmentionables in between, but it was mostly a light day.

Buy These United States' records!!
Buy The Boy Bathing's records!!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

CMJ 2009: Tuesday

Hospital Bombers (band) at CMJ 2009
Hospital Bombers

The first day of CMJ was exactly what I expected: a mixture of over-excited drinking and eating, to the point where I was unresponsive, with a thin glaze. What I didn't expect was how great the music was going to be right out of the gate. The Love Language, Surfer Blood, and Holiday Shores all blew me away. This is why I think CMJ is the best festival around - the quality of the bands. At SXSW you have to be so discerning. Here, you can just float around on recommendations.

The Love Language just signed to Merge, which has all of the industry kids very excited and envious. I am happy for them. You can see immediately that the songwriting is tops. I bought their S/T first record and a nice Mauve T for my lady.

Surfer Blood are unsigned, and I think this show generated some interest for them, which I suppose is the whole point of playing at 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Personally, I was very impressed; they have an extremely dynamic and upbeat style. The record is great also; I have been listening to it all morning, feeling slightly guilty that I haven't previewed enough of today's bands.

As the day was drawing to a close, I was ushered into the Holiday Shores show by a group of unrelated people, all equally enthusiastic. At that point, I was satisfied, but I am glad I forced my way into the Cake Shop dungeon. Despite shaky hands, I managed to exchange some cash for a record and video their last song:

After uploading and jotting down just a few lines, it's already time to head out and do it again!

Buy The Love Language's records!!
Buy Holiday Shores' records!!
Buy Surfer Blood's records!!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

One year of Sitcom Serf!!!

Firstly, I think I have some splainin' to do. I have been on vacation for the last 2 months in Europe, which apart from the OFFSET festival in England, was a relatively concert-free time for me. I filmed a few shows that I went to in various London clubs, but nothing worth posting. If you checked this blog often in that time, then you must have had a low feeling, an emotional goose egg. I'm sure it was devastating.

CMJ marks the one year anniversary of Sitcom Serf. Thanks to the blog I originally wrote the CMJ 2008 article for - If it wasn't for their negligence, I would have never started my own. Since then, I have grown quite fond of the whole thing. Recording one's own experiences is incredibly valuable, the same way that a history is. Granted, the former is a microcosm, but it promotes the exact same type of understanding. I feel like I am a much more formidable person after a year of vain, solipsistic refection. Who knew? This week is my penance. I am going to flagellate myself at CMJ. Bands I have to see: Kittens Ablaze, Emanuel and The Fear, and Unicycle Loves You.