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10 Bands to Watch at CMJ 2012

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August 28, 2012
The 33rd annual CMJ Music Marathon's 2012 edition rolls from October 16-20 in venues all over New York. And, as ever, it's the indie world's second-biggest buzz-builder behind SXSW, with a host of bands descending on venues all over the Metropolis in search of that serendipitous moment of hype-makin' magic. Often, CMJ breakouts reflect a band heading for bigger things in the year coming; the Marathon serving the dual role of looking back at the year that's just been, and the next year ahead. So, from the class of 2012, keep an ear out for...

1. Daughn Gibson

Daughn Gibson
Sub Pop
Daughn Gibson has already stitched up his status as one of the year's best new acts, not to mention made an undeniable claim as hottest new indie hunk on the block. On the back of All Hell —a debut that introduces his warped, wobbly, sampled take on cut-up country and demented, ultra-baritone croon; sounding a bit like Scott Walker singing saloon karaoke— Gibson's stirred up a whole blogosphere's worth o' buzz, which he's leveraged into something far more tangible and old-fashionable: a record deal. Freshly signed to Sub Pop, Gibson's recently released a celebratory single, "Reach Into the Fire," cementing his reputation as breakout act. The former truck-driver has done plenty of hard touring yards in 2012, and will ride into CMJ on the up.

2. Foxygen

Foxygen
Angel Ceballos
Foxygen may have a genuine jones for the sound of classic rock —for those British invasion standards that've been flogged to death for nigh on 50 years; the Stones, Who, Faces, et al— but the duo is also young enough (each 22) to be cutting-and-pasting old licks and good times with a youthful exuberance. Meaning: their approach is more ad-hoc and scattershot than work of nerdy studio recreationism; the pair summoning the past whilst never wanting to revive it. Foxygen's Take The Kids Off Broadway LP plays like kids flicking through the radio-dial, from oldies station to oldies station: all buzzy frequencies, the hiss of radio static, and a non-stop parade of bright, insistent, earwormy melody. With the record recently released by Jagjaguwar, Foxygen will be playing CMJ under watching eyes.

3. Io Echo

Io Echo
Iamsound
If you're going to ride on the back of one song, it helps when it's as good as "When the Lilies Die." Los Angeleno duo Io Echo —Big Pink associate Leopold Ross and striking vocalist Ioanna Gika— turned out their third single (in three years!) earlier this year, as the start of the build-up towards their debut LP. In the months since, the build-up has been buildin', and it'll have to build a lil' while longer. They're releasing a debut, self-titled EP on CMJ's opening day, October 16, with a full-length (possibly titled Ministry of Love) to follow on Iamsound in 2013. The duo's forceful, Siouxsie-esque Goth sounds great on both "When the Lilies Die" and on stage, and a strong CMJ showing will do plenty to stoke long-building anticipation for their first longplayer.

4. Jensen Sportag

Jensen Sportag
Cascine
Though they may sound like Scandinavian watch manufacturers —both in name and, let it be said, in music— Jensen Sportag hail from the most un-Alpine locale of Nashville, Tennessee. Their music, however, summons the windswept balearica of anonymous Swedes and the washed-out yacht-rock approximations of endless Ariel Pink acolytes, all tape sheen, smooth synths, and seducto-funk. In short: they may hail from Nashville, but they're born of the blogosphere. So far, Jensen Sportag have made their name solely in the studio, and mostly for remixing other people; with a run of impressive re-dos for Memory Tapes, Erika Spring, Blood Diamonds + Grimes, Shine 2009, etc. CMJ will find them making a case as on-stage entity, and presumedly is in advance of their imminent debut LP.

5. The Luyas

The Luyas
Richmond Lam
Two years ago, I highlighted The Luyas as a CMJ highlight when the outfit were barely known; due to a long love of their barely-heard debut LP, Faker Death. Since then, Jessie Stein's outfit have gone places: signing to Dead Oceans, issuing the beautiful Too Beautiful to Work (one of 2011's best albums), and then turning around, semi-swiftly, with the just-as-impressive Animator. The third Luyas LP is, again, a work of stunning sonic complexity, a series of slippery, impressionist moods in which Stein's hesitant singing is sent out into shape-shifting soundscapes assembled from ever-unexpected sounds. It's not just a studio concoction, either: The Luyas do it all live, and how.

6. Mac DeMarco

Mac DeMarco
Laura-Lynn Petrick
Who's that lad in the fetching, fraying cap? Why that's Mac DeMarco! That raffish scamp! Why, say, didn't he already release the rambunctious Rock and Roll Night Club early in 2012? What's he doing putting out another album already? Is 2 really coming out on October 16, the very day this CMJ knees-up kicks off? Well, huzzah! Huzzahs all 'round! As huzzahs shall resound when the man, the myth, the 22-year-old gap-toothed Canadian, the ex-Makeout-Videotaper, the denim fetishist, the dude longing for his kind of woman hits the CMJ stages. For those in attendance, the sight of the now-world-famous fraying baseball cap will be like the sight of Elvis' hips circa '56: so thrilling as to be genuinely erotic.

7. Moon King

Moon King
One Big Silence
On their debut EP, Obsession 1, Toronto duo Moon King fashion a fuzzy take on dream-pop, with Dan Woodhead dousing Maddy Wilde's vocals in washed-out layers of guitar noise, synth burble, or good old-fashioned noise. It's a sound at once thick and airy; a slice of homemade shoegaze that feels both totally 2012 whilst a little 1991. Woodhead once fronted indie outfit Spiral Beach, before their demise lead him to build a new project from the ground up. He's also the brother of rising Montréal one-man-band Doldrums, and the Canadian connections don't stop there; Moon King have already toured with Grimes, and Obsession 1 is out on One Big Silence, the label for Fucked Up's Mike Haliechuk. The EP's release has already been met with some palpable buzz, and I get the feeling Moon King could be brewing as a bonafide breakout act at CMJ.

8. Sean Nicholas Savage

Sean Nicholas Savage
Arbutus
Sean Nicholas Savage has been uncharacteristically quiet this year. A little too quiet? The Canadian entertainer's 2011 was an awe-inspiring shrine to both productivity and quality: the 24-year-old turning out three separate LPs that, though they came out but months apart, were all brilliant, individualist albums. It seems insane to me that such an unparalleled outburst of creativity —a historical achievement, essentially— was overlooked by the world; hey, there's a decent chance you haven't heard Trippple Midnight Karma, Won Ton Jaz, or Flamingo, all of which are free to download (at the very least, start with "Whisperin"). Given such discographical fury in the '11, could Savage's spot at CMJ '12 augur a new LP? At the very least, it'll be another reminder of his awesomeness.

9. Tops

Tops
Arbutus
Montréal quartet Tops entered the year as one of 2012's bands to watch, and the February release of their album-of-the-year-contender debut LP, Tender Opposites, all but cemented their budding buzz as one of the year's best new acts. Tops have spent their breakout year on the road, growing into a dynamic live-band worthy of their shimmering, shining, sheeny sound; which frames Jane Penny's sweet singing against a faded, fuzzy-edged evocation of Fleetwood-Mac-cocaine-era golden-rock glamor. When they played at CMJ last year, Tops arrived as unknown and unproven; 12 months on, and there's far more certainty to seeing them play.

10. Way Yes

Way Yes
Lefse
If you don't harbor some kind of deep-seated aversion to things bordering on wacky, Way Yes are plentifully entertaining: their hyperactive, polyrhythmic pop playing like some playdate between Paul Simon, Dirty Projectors, and Heavy Vegetable; all glints of Afro-pop guitar, manic meters, and silly-fun harmonies. Oh, and vocalist Glen Davis also sounds like a Muppet, which sure beats sounding like Eddie Vedder. Way Yes's second EP, Walkability, was released on Lefse in 2012, and definitely earnt more attention that their first, 2011's Herringbone. Yet, there's still the feeling that Way Yes are flying a lil' under-the-radar, and some killer CMJ shows —and their no-doubt-due-soon longplaying debut— may go a long way towards changing that.
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