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10 Acts to Watch at CMJ 2010

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September 28, 2010
From October 19-23, the CMJ Music Marathon will hijack New York City's live venues for the 31st time. Though it's not as all-consuming as SXSW —where all of Austin stops for SXSW, New York bustles by CMJ unaware— the fest serves the same function: bringing together bands, bloggers, tastemakers, and rock-biz goons for a manic burst of sheer musical overload. Where the springtime SXSW is a predictor for bands bound to break-out over summer, CMJ's autumnal date makes it more reflective of the year that's been. Here are 10 CMJ picks who've already had great '10s, and seem due for even better 2011s.

1. Beach Fossils

Beach Fossils
Captured Tracks
According to my iTunes Play Count, there may be no album —or, at least, batch of files— that's played more through my computer headphones this year than Beach Fossils' self-titled LP. That feels like some back-handed compliment —aren't the best records played loud on stereos and in cars?— but, really, it illustrates this point: Dustin Payseur's magically-jangly debut disc as Beach Fossils is so good I want to keep hearing it again. Payseur told me he "wanted to create something [he] could listen to from beginning to end, and enjoy every second of it," and, well, he succeeded for me, too: Beach Fossils' 34 minutes free from filler, and totally killer.

2. Dom

Dom
Burning Mill

Worcester, Mass. carrot-top Dom calls his music "gingerwave," which may be the greatest non-genre ever invented. Like the bros of the chillwave wave, Dom —who, thus far, exists only in the iconic singular— is very much a child of Ariel Pink. His seven-song debut EP, Sun-Bronzed Greek Gods, takes a determinedly home-made approach to crafting strange, underground, hipster mutations of generations-removed classic radio-pop licks. "Rude as Jude" and "Burn Bridges" showcase glorious, sunshining melodies, but they're positively reserved when compared to "Living in America," an ultra-ironic, keyboard-slathering anthem that sounds like it should be blasting out through ballpark parking lots, circa 1985.

3. Dominant Legs

Dominant Legs
Lefse
Ryan Lynch's musical day-job, these days, involves playing guitar in 2009 breakout superstars Girls, but, soon enough, you could see his own project, Dominant Legs, becoming a paying gig. On an infinitely-impressive debut four-song EP, Young at Love and Life, Lynch takes command of a set of twee, indie-pop steeped in soul and R&B influence, built with a drum-machine, jangly guitars, and the sweetly harmonies of he and collaborateur Hannah Hunt. It's a sound reminiscent of the Postcard Records crew of the early-'80s —Orange Juice, Josef K, Aztec Camera— but still feeling fresh, new, and eternally sweet.

4. Fabulous Diamonds

Fabulous Diamonds
Chapter Music

Fabulous Diamonds don't bother to name their songs —track lists are just running times— and keep their album titles ridiculously simple: 2008's literally-billed Seven Songs being followed by the comically-redundant Fabulous Diamonds II by Fabulous Diamonds. Musically, the Melburnian pair explore a similar simplicity: rolling out unending, tail-chasing incantations built on three-note organ riffs, cowbell-clanking percussion, and chanted boy/girl vocals. It's a lock-groove sound and a tranced-out vibe, the duo seeking altered states via the power of repetition; this self-styled neo-primitivism, contrary to much of the contemporary music world, owing no debt to Animal Collective.

5. How to Dress Well

How to Dress Well
Lefse
Mere months ago, How to Dress Well honcho Tom Krell dwelled behind a reassuring veil of anonymity. Releasing a string of free EPs via his blog, Krell wasn't a part of the music business: he wasn't 'represented,' he didn't play live, he didn't give interviews, and no one knew his name. Yet, his music —a home-made mixture of avant-garde drone and R&B-influenced falsetto crooning recorded in such lo-fidelity that it sounds ghostly— soon won an avalanche of admirers; and the best bits of the EPs were collated into the LP Love Remains, one of the best albums of the year. Now, How to Dress Well's CMJ shows will be amongst the Music Marathon's most hotly-anticipated.

6. Kisses

Kisses
This is Music

In a grand case of side-projects overtaking the band that spawned them, Kisses —the 'disco' outing for Jesse Kivel, who normally fronts Los Angelino indie-poppers Princeton with his twin brother Matt— seem set to obliterate any notoriety Princeton's ever found. The infinitely-impressive Kisses debut, The Heart of the Nightlife (which comes out on October 19, the day CMJ kicks off), is steeped in the disco licks of Jean-Marc Cerrone and Alec Constandinos, but it's not some work of '70s kitsch or an ironic shrine to dancefloor hedonism. Instead, there's a melancholy quality to Kisses; Kivel's carefully-crafted, three-minute pop-songs sung in a bruised croon loaded with emotion.

7. Lia Ices

Lia Ices
Eric Ogden

Given her voice (bright) and talent (prodigious), it's strange that Lia Ices isn't some straight-up Feist/Regina Spektor-esque pop superstar, let alone a mere cult indie figure. Yet, 28-year-old New Yorker Lia Kessel is neither; her impressive debut LP, 2008's Necima, coming as close to sinking-without-a-trace as one can in this era of blog saturation. Her anonymity seems set to change, with Kessel freshly inked to Jagjaguwar Records, who're due to dish her second set early in 2011. The cascades of hand-claps and elusive string flourishes of "Grown Unknown," the first taste of the as-yet-untitled next record, suggest a more experimental approach at play, and augur well for a future far from the shadows.

8. The Luyas

The Luyas
You've Changed
Despite the fact that they released one of the best Canadian albums of the past decade —and despite the fact that they feature Arcade Fire members both past and current in their line-up— Montréal's The Luyas remain in some hard-to-explain obscurity. The now-quintet specialize in taking band-leader Jessie Stein's tiny, half-whispered, stark-naked songs into the kind of adventurous, unexpected places rarely visited by singer-songwriters; with smatterings of percussion, electric effects, and French horn all in the mix. Perhaps the release of a forthcoming, self-titled second album —or, indeed, an eye-catching showing at CMJ— may bring The Luyas more of the attention they so plainly deserve.

9. Prince Rama

Prince Rama
Michael Collins
Brooklyn tribalists Prince Rama —Michael Collins and sisters Nimai and Taraka Larson— first began making music at a rural Hare Krishna commune in Florida. And their music sounds like it. Their debut album, Shadow Temple, bangs on all manner of percussion, squeaks squiggly synth squirts, and finds the trio chanting, wailing, and warbling all kinds of self-styled mantras. The album was part produced by Deakin and Avey Tare of Animal Collective, and came out on their Paw Tracks imprint. But Prince Rama go way beyond the realms of wannabe Collectivists, pushing their psychedelic, operatic space-music far into unknown dimensions.

10. Sunglasses

Sunglasses
Lefse

Sunglasses list a run of sound-visionaries from the classic-pop era —Brian Wilson, Phil Spector, George Martin— as influences, but the actual music they make sounds far more new-millennial than nostalgic. The Savannah, Georgia-based duo operate in the blown-open post-Animal Collective/Gang Gang Dance realm, in which a thousand cascading influences collide in strange, shape-shifting pop-songs. Samuel Cooper even has a voice whose casual, croaky falsetto summons some of the same Coyne-isms as Passion Pit's Michael Angelakos. Still, even if they're a particularly 2010-sounding band, they're also a particularly good one; their debut, self-titled EP giving one of the year's most charming jams, "Whiplash."

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