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10 (More) Bands to Watch at CMJ 2011


October 4, 2011
When CMJ unveiled their first sampling of performing bands, there were plenty of stars-of-2011 to highlight as bands to watch. Now, with the whole 1000-ish slate of performing acts made public, it's time to dig deeper into the teeming ranks of jockeying rockbands. So, for those struggling to make sense of the masses soon to be descending on New York, take heed. Here's another collection of acts to check out at the 2011 CMJ Music Marathon; from brand new entities building buzz to breakout stars to the occasionally overlooked.

1. D'Eon and Grimes

d'Eon and Grimes
Hippos in Tanks
I know it's cheating to list two acts in one; thereby making this 11 Bands to Watch at CMJ 2011. But there's precedent for this: Montréal oddballs d'Eon and Grimes have, after all, combined on a split record that is doubtlessly one of the best albums of the year. D'Eon mixes new-age synths, R&B-styled crooning, and bizarre bouts of electronic interference into a very-2011=sounding sonic soup. As for Grimes... oh, Grimes. Sweet, sweet Grimes. Since throwing out two free LPs in 2010, Claire Boucher has been close to my heart; and, with each passing day, the hearts of scores more. Following her SXSW breakout early in '11, the goodtime pop joys of "Vanessa" and the building of a year's worth of buzz, Grimes' CMJ shows shall be hotly anticipated.

2. Gross Magic

Gross Magic
Fat Possum
Brighton-based bro Sam McGarrigle makes a righteous racket as Gross Magic: matching super-fuzzed guitar to a bright, brilliant sense of melody, cribbing from early Beck, Ariel Pink, and even Wavves. His debut EP, Teen Jamz, shows Gross Magic as best new acts of the year. True to such, it was picked up by Fat Possum, who've been stockpiling breakout bands (Yuck, Tennis, Smith Westerns, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Youth Lagoon) all 2011 long. McGarrigle's shows at CMJ will come as part of his first-ever tour of North America, right when buzz for Teen Jamz is starting to really get buzzin'.

3. Holiday Shores

Holiday Shores
Call it a case of history repeating. Two years ago, I honed in on Holiday Shores as an act to catch at CMJ; such a recommendation coming on the back of their killer debut disc, Columbus'd the Whim, which was far-and-away one of best albums of 2009. At the time, Holiday Shores seemed —like Floridian pals Surfer Blood and The Drums— to be on the brink of a possible breakout. But, with the release of their second record, New Masses for Squaw Peak, the Panhandlers seem to have settled into more of a 'cult band' niche. It's still really good, but it's a much more odd, unexpected take on pop music; with a woozy, seasick air of uneasiness, and vibes of genuine jazziness. It's the product of a band grown tighter, more together, and much more adventurous; hence, a two-years-on recommendation anew.

4. Memoryhouse

Derek O'Donnell
Memoryhouse were a red-hot name at last year's CMJ. In fact, 2011 has been almost a 'cooling off' year for the Canadian duo, who had the kids o' the blogosphere freaking out in 2010 on the self-release of a mere four-song, 12 minute EP. The Years introduced the band's diaphanous dream-pop, in which classically-trained composer Evan Abeele builds foggy atmospheres from piano, synth washes, and copious effects. Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, and even Movietone sound out as heritage for such sound; but Memoryhouse don't play as some shoegaze tribute band. Instead, they're more thoughtful students; not living in the past, but learning from it. With a freshly-polished, six-song version of The Years just out on Sub Pop, Memoryhouse arrive at CMJ not as buzz-band, but proven commodity.

5. Painted Palms

Painted Palms
Miles Hamaker
Painted Palms have arrived in style in 2011: touring with Of Montreal, signing to Secretly Canadian, covering Dirty Projectors, touring with Braids, and releasing a five-song debut EP, Canopy, that's way better, fresher, and more charming than might be expected. The world, after all, isn't exactly lacking for Panda Bear-influenced bros riding sweet chillwaves to shore on nostalgic beaches. But Painted Palms —a pair of cousins from Lafayette, Louisiana, recently transplanted to California— do what they do well; their 2011-ish sound sounding bright, brilliant, and bathed in artistry. Their live-show is playful and passionate, with Reese Donohue and Christopher Prudhomme bending their Avey/Panda voices in inventive shapes over shape-shifting jams; riding waves both chilled and, like, gnarly.

6. Still Corners

Still Corners
Sub Pop
London-based duo Still Corners make swooning, cinematic, vintage-sounding pop; a mixture of old analog organs, dangling guitar licks, copious amounts of reverb, a few production nods to Phil Spector, and the honeyed crooning of Tessa Murray. Their debut LP, Creatures of an Hour, is due out on Sub Pop the week before CMJ, which means their shows on US shores should be plenty anticipated. If only by a chosen few; those who've fallen for the faded glamor and echoey mystery that resounds throughout Creatures of an Hour. Though they're essentially a duo —Murray on vocals, American ex-pat Greg Hughes on everything— the Still Corners live-band is now five big, and ready to turn their LP's fanciful soundtrack into something tangible, an atmosphere all-surrounding.

7. Widowspeak

Captured Tracks
Widowspeak have had quite a sweet 2011, their self-titled debut LP introducing them as one of the best new bands of the year, and guitarist Robert Earl Thomas as a new contender for indie-rock's handsomest man. This rising tide of goodwill has lapped lovingly at the feet of Widowspeak's dreamy, dangling, reverbed-out indie-rock, which is delivered with a country-ish drawl and the gentlest hint of psychedelia. The Brooklyn-based band play music that feels warm, well-worn, and filled with love; something personified by Molly Hamilton's gloriously-mournful vocals. Said singing has earned comparisons to two titans of '90s melancholy, Cat Power's Chan Marshall and Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval; Hamilton adding a deep ache to at-times-breezy songs.

8. Wild Flag

Wild Flag
When Wild Flag played SXSW back in March, the buzz was very much still 'supergroup,' this new entity notable for the fact that its members had done time in Sleater-Kinney, Helium, and the Minders. Six months on, and that vibe has kind of died away; Wild Flag now a rockband with their own identity, their own record, their own story divorced from their histories. Their debut, self-titled album isn't about to make anyone forget Dig Me Out (or, for that matter, The Magic City), but is has a snarling, unabashedly-rocking attitude all its own. Of course, Wild Flag may've just shed one bit of baggage only to be saddled with another. As, for many, they'll be but the band featuring TV's Carrie Brownstein...

9. Yellow Ostrich

Yellow Ostrich
In 2011, Yellow Ostrich has gone from Alex Schaaf's bedroom recording project to a proper band; the now-three-piece signing to Barsuk (where their once-self-released The Mistress was pressed up with barcodes) and touring with Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Ra Ra Riot, and The Antlers. But it's all that Schaaf did before Yellow Ostrich became a band that hints at his inventiveness and creative energy. Like making an EP inspired by Morgan Freeman's Wikipedia page, or churning out a series of charming song-experiments masquerading as pop-songs, or recreating recent 'blog hits' by Joanna Newsom, Sharon Van Etten, Beach House, and Yeasayer using almost solely his voice. Yellow Ostrich may now be a band, but with Schaaf in charge they'll never just be a band.

10. Young Magic

Young Magic

Back at the end of last year, on the back of their first-ever single, "You with Air" b/w "Sparkly," I primped Young Magic as one of the bands to watch in 2011. Unexpectedly, they've been silent for pretty much the entire year; playing only a handful of shows (including a killer set at Sugar Mountain fest in Melbourne) and issuing no new songs. Well, um, until now. Just in time for CMJ, "Night in the Ocean" b/w "Slip Time" is Young Magic's second-ever single, and it finds the trio throwing booming percussion, hiccuping vocals, and shards of electronics into a cacophonous-sounding, genre-shredding din. Okay, so the debut YM LP won't show 'til 2012, now, and their breakout will have to wait 'til then, too. But they're still a certain CMJ pick.

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