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10 Last-Minute Picks for CMJ 2012

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October 16, 2012
CMJ is here! Today! Right now! And, as is the way with CMJ (and, oh, I suppose, the even-more exhaustive and exhausting SXSW), there's bands being added to bills as we speak. Both officially and unofficially. With the fest kicking off this very day, here's ten bands who've stirred up some last-minute buzz.

1. Blue Hawaii

Blue Hawaii
Arbutus
For the last four years running (2009: Merriweather Post Pavilion; 2010: Have One On Me; 2011: The Magic Place; 2012: Visions), I've had an album-of-the-year lodged in my heart by the end of January at the latest; if not already there the year before. Obviously, October's a shade early to call out frontrunners, but Blue Hawaii's recent announcement of their imminent second album —Untogether, out January 22 on Arbutus— makes them instant frontrunners for what's looming as a strange personal tradition. Especially once you hear "In Two" and "In Two II," the twin, two-halves-of-a-pair singles issued in advance of the LP. There's a far colder, clubbier air to the jams than anything heard on Blooming Summer (PS: "Blue Gowns," still mindblowing), but I'd follow Raphaelle Standell-Preston's voice anywhere...

2. Diana

Diana
Diana
Any new band with a connection to thee almighty Destroyer is going to get a sympathetic listen from these ears. Yet, Toronto trio Diana barely need their slightly-tenuous Bejar connection —Destroyer saxophonist Joseph Shabason is amongst their ranks— their two-song career, thus far, enough to earn hysteria off its own bat. The trio played a hazy, dreamy, washed-out take on coked-out '70s soft-rock and yacht-rock, with the smooth, sweet vibes expertly sung by Fleetwood Mac-lovin' vocalist (and ex-Army Girl) Carmen Elle. They're not a million ways away from my beloved Tops, and of their two jams thus far, I'm torn by whether "Born Again" or "Perpetual Surrender" is better.

3. Eraas

Eraas
Felte
New Yorker quartet Eraas play a take on electro-Goth both poppy and dissonant; with thudding drum-machines, pained vocals, and abrasive guitars rattling throughout various dark, deep, dude-ish descents into the audio nocturnal. They've just played shows with the Soft Moon and Cold Showers, and been remixed by Black Marble, and those associations all effectively show where Eraas are at. Where they've come from is Apse; Robert Toher and Austin Stawiarz veterans of the long-running, shape-shifting, ATP-endorsed semi-ambient instrumentalists. Where they're going is the release of their self-titled debut LP, which shall be pressed up just in time for their CMJ shows.

4. Hundred Waters

Hundred Waters
Owsla
It's the most head-scratching signing of the year: Florida outfit Hundred Waters —who play atmospheric chamber-pop exploring the compositional intersections between stately, ancient folk and modern digital manipulation— signing to Owsla, the label presided over by stadium dubstep superstar (and Watership Down fan?) Skrillex. Listening to the impeccable, immaculate, intensely pretty debut self-titled LP for the quintet is unlikely to yield more answers. But it may incite swooning; especially when Nicole Miglis' glorious singing flutters through the stately compositions, like a bird on wing. After initially self-releasing the LP early in 2012, the Owsla-pressed version of Hundred Waters comes out October 23. And if the band's CMJ shows are anywhere near as good as their record, Hundred Waters could be tiptoeing, delicately, towards breakout status.

5. Mean Lady

Mean Lady
Fat Possum
Delaware duo Mean Lady have just signed to Fat Possum, and their first single for the label, "Bop Bop," is a really good one. "Every night in my dreams, I go away/through the window the moon beams me to the special place," Katie Dill sings, on opening, and the low-key acoustic strums and soulful sway seem to suggest an ascent into those magical storybook worlds of the subconscious. Only, Dill's dreams aren't so magical, even if they're fanciful: imagining a storybook wedding to the one-that-got-away, only then slowly coming to the realization that, not matter what she dreams, she's on her own. In their prehistoric days, Mean Lady scattered various collections of demo sketches on their Bandcamp page, but it's not hard to hear "Bop Bop" as the song due to lead them to bigger, brighter stages and grander musical dreams.

6. Mozart's Sister

Mozart's Sister
Mozart's Sister
After introducing you to Mozart's Sister last year, I've been singing Caila Thompson-Hannant's praises from on rooftops (and over radio wires); anointing her with must-watch status for SXSW and verily swooning over her latest single, "Chained Together." Usually, I try to not endlessly harp on about one human, and share the love around. But, not her. Just like with her good pal and public booster, Grimes, whom I recommended and endorsed and put forward whenever I got the chance, any chance I get to yell about Mozart's Sister is one to be seized. Thompson-Hannant writes brilliant, bent pop-songs of insistent melody and glorious, knotty, top-secret complexity. On stage, she sings her heart out with utter sincerity, and displays abundant charisma. Whenever she releases her debut LP, I'm sure I will love it like an adoptive child. If you're at CMJ, go see her. The end.

7. Rush Midnight

Rush Midnight
Cascine
Rush Midnight is the freshly-minted project for Russ Manning, whose rock'n'roll dayjob is as the bassist in Twin Shadow's live-band. With production assistance from his boss, George Lewis Jr., Manning has forged a solo identity of ridiculous smoothness; drawing from '80s synth-pop ballads, coked-out yacht-rock grooves, seducto-funk jams, and anything else that speaks of smooth musical operators. +1 is the name of his debut EP, and there's a duality to its singular digit; Manning evoking the eternal shorthand of music freeloading as both suggestion of a romantic other, and commentary on his usual second-banana status alongside Lewis. Here, as Rush Midnight, here's the definite star of the show, though. The smooth, smooth show. I have no idea what his actual liveshows will be like, but what is CMJ if not a crapshoot in pursuit of the new?

8. Starred

Starred
Starred
Starred don't have any official releases on the table, but already they've bumped the buzz needle plenty. With a debut 7-inch and a first-up EP both due in November, Starred, musically speaking, are just a handful of soundfiles. The ephemeral nature of that suits their songs; which —as you can hear with "Cemetery, "Call from Paris," and "No Good"— border on barely-there at times, even if they manage to make a few swipes of guitar, a dash of delay, and Liza Thorn's voice sound huge. Like Dum Dum Girls, Frankie Rose, and Tashaki Miyaki of recent, Starred are definitely delivering unreserved Mazzy Star homage. Yet, as pleasing as that is to the ears, it's been the videos for "No Good" and "Call from Paris" —and, I suppose, celebrity endorsements from Girls' erstwhile leader Christopher Owens and fashion designer Hedi Slimane— that've really caught people's eye.

9. Talk Normal

Talk Normal
Joyful Noise
When Talk Normal call their second LP Sunshine, there's more than a hint of irony in the title. Musically speaking, the duo are hardly walkin' on it. Instead, Sarah Register and Andrya Ambro mark music that belies their stripped-down, two-piece set-up: delivering a double-barreled dose of ferocious noise that, beneath its fuzzy edges and furious edge, feels like some righteous take on the blues. Which is not to say they're, simply, Japandroidsy maximalists turning up everything to 11; instead, jams like "Bad Date" show a brilliant understanding of space and noise; of silence and violence; of tension and release; of pianissimo and fortissimo. Sunshine is due out a week after CMJ, on the 23rd, on Joyful Noise; and the LP confirms the promise Talk Normal showed three years ago, on their Sugarland debut.

10. Wildcat! Wildcat!

Wildcat! Wildcat!
Neon Gold
Wildcat! Wildcat!'s latest single "The Chief," would've sounded great last year, during 2011's indie-rock Year of the Saxophone. Yet, it's not the hot, honkin' horn that's the most notable musical element of "The Chief"; it's the Los Angeleno trio's three-part harmonies, which are sung in kinda-ridiculous falsetto. The voices of the band —Jesse Taylor, Michael Wilson, Jesse Carmichael— seem simultaneously silly and sincere, a fallibly-human sound amidst the smooth synths and low-key funk of their oddball pop. Comparisons have been made between Wildcat! Wildcat! and bands like Gardens & Villa, Yeasayer, and Local Natives, but whilst they ballpark their sound, they don't quite nail it. To hear it (try "Mr. Quiche"!) is to know it.
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