Best and Worst of CMJ '08, Vol. 2

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Passion Pit / Photo by Matt Kiser
WRITTEN BY
SPIN Staff

Ruby Suns

To be fair, some of the blame for the Ruby Suns' disappointing performance Tuesday at the Delancey goes to the audience. Constant talking throughout the Auckland, New Zealand, collage-pop duo's set, as well as a would-be heckler, seemed to have a disheartening effect on the group. And bandleader Ryan McPhun's occasionally entrancing soundscapes (culled from their excellent sophomore effort, Sea Lion) couldn't make up for missed cues and slightly off-key pitch. Even as new track "Don't Trust the Dusty Fruit" successfully conjured a tropical vibe, the entire affair left one longing for a beach chair, a fruit-laden drink, and -- most unfortunately -- maybe an iPod and some headphones. LARRY FITZMAURICE

Passion Pit

This year's most talked about band at CMJ: Passion Pit, five Boston, MA, electro-nerds with a zealous fetish for keyboards, who have garnered loads of press and "next-big-thing" chatter in the past few months. And though the imminent blog backlash hangs over their heads, closed-eyed crooner Michael Angelakos and crew silenced any remaining naysayers (read: me) Thursday night. "I've Got Your Number"'s whiz-bang Casio beats, hand claps, and love-dovey lyrics showed their emotional and songwriting knack, as did "Cuddle Fuddle," which saw Angelakos wiggle out high-pitched yelps over strolling keys. Rumor has it a contract with Sony will keep Passion Pit around longer than the average blog band. It's well deserved. WILLIAM GOODMAN

Pendulum

CMJ isn't just for indie-rock hatchlings. At Webster Hall Saturday night, it was also for a little nostalgia and fierce kick in the pants courtesy of a DJ set from mixmaster heavyweights the Crystal Method and a live performance from younger, much livelier breakbeat upstarts Pendulum. To a sea of glow-stick wielding ravers, the Method offered a barrage of classic, intermixed dance tunes, warming the crowd for the white hot Australian act. And when they finally took the stage -- well past 2:30 A.M. -- it was obvious why Pendulum top the charts in their native land as well as the U.K.: The sprawling band -- with traditional drums, bass, and guitar plus keyboards and computers -- give chemically-enhanced dancers a much-needed in-your-face assault that's equal parts Nine Inch Nails industrialism, Linkin Park screech, and thick drum and bass groove, notably on their hit track "Propane Nightmares." No E needed. Wait, what was in that drink anyway? WILLIAM GOODMAN

Castanets

Singer Raymond Raposa's foot-long urban-Appalachia beard and his band's matching sound wound their way through the dark Cake Shop basement for a handful of songs early Friday evening. The quartet's spare, electrified folk arrangements framed Raposa's nasal, echo-chamber vocals as he spun tales of regret, avowing to an unnamed woman that, "I'd forgotten all about you ten or eleven towns ago." The crowd looked ready to spend much time with the singer, and they bowed their heads as the stark sound grew into heavy floods of noisy guitar, proving that the storm of Devendra-spurred freak-folk backlash has finally passed. ABIGAIL EVERDELL

Monotonix

This bat-shit-crazy Israeli garage rock three-piece insists on the forced breakdown of the space between artists and spectator. And Saturday night the band's sort of bellicose spectacle was a winning combination of classic rock riffs and crazed Iggy Pop-esque maneuvers. Guitarist Yonatan Gat and drummer Haggai Fershtman set up and re-set up their instruments everywhere in the space but on stage, moving location every few songs. All the while, singer Ami Shalev sprayed the crowd with water and beer, overturned trashcans, and climbed onto anything he could find (to the embarrassment of a security guard who was forced to hold onto his waist for the entirety of a song as he hung halfway over the Music Hall's upper balcony). Even those who would prefer to keep a 20-foot distance seemed amused and engaged by the band's antics, which proclaimed energetically that the wild live show can prosper even outside of the basement. ABIGAIL EVERDELL

Dutchess and the Duke

Freak-folk may be the genre de jour, but Seattle's the Dutchess and the Duke have another kind of throwback acoustic sound up their sleeve and it's not exactly psychedelic. If Simon were a charming, ragtag girl and Garfunkel a husky and bearded 20-something, and the two were raised in Nashville, you'd have this duo whose whimsical, blues-flecked tunes dominated the Sub Pop/Hardly Art/Suicide Squeeze showcase Friday night. Kimberly Morrison and Jesse Lortz swapped vocal duties back-and-forth, layering their pretty-girl and lead-dude vocals atop each other on tracks like set-closer "Strangers," a quick moving folk-pop ditty off their recently-released debut, She's the Dutchess, He's the Duke. Listen up, acoustic-wielding psychedelic warlords -- these two are the new folk royalty. WILLIAM GOODMAN

More CMJ Coverage:
>> The Best and Worst of CMJ '08, Vol. 1
>> 12 Late Night Thoughts About CMJ
>> The 9 Hottest New Bands Playing CMJ 2008

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