CMJ wrapped up just this past weekend and in between meeting and making friends I caught some excellent sets throughout the week. Below are my five favorite sets from this year’s CMJ. It’s definitely worth noting that while I’m only mentioning these 5 bands, I didn’t really catch a bad set this year and, in fact, most of the bands I saw were excellent. These are just the sets that stuck out the most.
The Debauchees / Pianos / WLFY Dragon Brunch
The Louisville three-piece put on one of the tightest sets I caught this year, performing a handful of tracks from their soon to be released debut album, Big Machines and Peculiar Beings. Channeling just the right amount of energy and ferocity, these guys put on an entertaining show and proved to be a crowd favorite for the night. While The Debauchees only have one single out right now, I’m sure this set got a lot of people (myself included) excited about their album which is scheduled for release on November 12th on sonaBLAST! Records.
Foxes in Fiction / Rooftop Show / Orchid Tapes Showcase
Warren Hildebrand, aka Foxes in Fiction, kicked off his own CMJ showcase playing a gorgeous set. I caught Warren last year at PORTALS’ CMJ showcase and the growth in his live performance is huge. Songs felt more detailed and full and his execution seemed more precise and on point. I had already been floored by his set at last year’s show but Warren managed to come back even stronger and played an absolutely stunning set. It was definitely one of the dreamier sets I caught this year. Be sure to catch him if he ever plays near you.
The History of Apple Pie / Ran Tea House / Force Field PR Showcase
When I heard that London’s THOAP were playing multiple CMJ shows this year I made it a point to catch them at least once. Thankfully these efforts paid off. THOAP played a fantastic live set featuring some rough and fuzzed out cuts from their recently released album, Out of View. While on recording these guys have always stood right in the middle of shoegaze and pop, their live set definitely reflects the shoegaze influences that they play with on recordings. THOAP came through with heavy, distorted guitars and a wide array of textures while they grinded through their set.
Joanna Gruesome / Shea Stadium / PORTALS Showcase
I caught this Cardiff based noise pop group twice during CMJ, once at Ran Tea House (the same night as THOAP) and again at Shea Stadium. While performance wise both nights were very close, the biggest difference between both sets was the crowd reaction. At both shows Joanna Gruesome powered through their set with harsh, distorted guitars and a fierce delivery while lead singer, Alanna McArdle, switched between soft and sweet vocals and ferocious screams. While the crowd at Ran Tea House didn’t seem to be feeling it, or at least didn’t want to show it, their set at Shea Stadium brought on the opposite reaction. The crowd opened up a mosh pit at the beginning of Secret Surprise and kept that energy going throughout the rest of the set. Honestly, regardless of the crowd, either of their sets could have made it into my favorites considering Joanna Gruesome brings the energy whether the crowd does or not.
Sea Oleena / Silent Barn / PORTALS + Stadiums and Shrines Showcase
As of writing this it’s almost been a week since I caught Sea Oleena perform at Silent Barn and I still can’t properly put into words how much I loved her performance. Charlotte played the most beautiful and powerful set I caught throughout my entire week of CMJ and one of the simplest ones too. Using only a guitar, a few pedals, and a microphone Charlotte brought the entire room to silence. Even those unfamiliar with her work were left speechless. Perhaps the best part of her set was that every song she performed was significantly slower than the recorded version, allowing us to really soak in her voice and lyrics. On top of that, knowing that seeing her perform was a really rare opportunity just made everything even more special.
After her last song we all applauded but then sort of just sat in silence. A friend of mine described it best as a “silent encore” and I’m sure Charlotte picked up on this too, because after a bit of silence she looked back at the crowd and said, “Yeah, that’s it.” I honestly would have been content with her playing for the rest of the night. Regardless, I really hope she’s able to return to the states soon because seeing her live is something that everyone should be able to experience.
I’ve also made a mini mix featuring the artists I wrote about just in case you weren’t familiar with them.
01 - Foxes in Fiction - Heaven or Las Vegas (Cocteau Twins Cover)
02 - Foxes in Fiction - 15 Ativan (Song for Erika)
03 - Sea Oleena - Island Cottage
04 - Sea Oleena - Untitled
05 - The Debauchees - I’ve Got Energy
06 - The History of Apple Pie - Mallory
07 - The History of Apple Pie - You’re So Cool
08 - Joanna Gruesome - Wussy Void
09 - Joanna Gruesome - Secret Surprise