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Sweat it Out: CMJ 2007

Every fall changing winds blow into New York City and disperse theviscous smog of summer, finally cooling temperatures and setting thescene for, oh say, over 1,000 bands and innumerable fans to prancearound the Big Apple sweater-clad soaking up sets from bands, new andold, discovered and not. But as many CMJers are realizing, or slowlyremembering from experiences past, the steadfast metropolitan festivalcan be, um, a little sticky. “Why is it so fucking hot?” said onesnazzy suited hipster Wednesday night (Oct. 17), “I’m sweating my assoff… gross.” Indeed.

But as seasoned CMJ attendees know, theglory is all in the sacrifice; late nights, sweaty masses, perpetualdrunkenness, and a seemingly endless queue for, well, everything, allin an attempt to catch a glimpse of the next breakout artist. Keepingthis mantra in mind, burrowed deep into the bedrock ofManhattan, bellying up to a string of sets at Lower East Side haunt theDelancey in hopes to catch one such act to blow our socks off.

Making the trek from homeland New Zealand, Cut Off Your Handstook the stage just as droves of night-crawling, badge-sporting fansbegan to fill the dank basement’s every nook and cranny. Belting outtunes from stateside debut EP Shaky Hands and 2007’s Blue On Blue,notably “Still Fond,” mouthpiece Nick Johnston dangled from the venue’sexposed water pipes, honing his hyper-sexual demeanor with eyelash batsand lyrics to boot: “I’m so fond of you and that’s the truth / I stillwant you by my side / Darling I want you to come back home again.” Thepacked, yes, totally packed house, bounced, sang along, and clapped intime near the front of the stage, or really an eight-inch elevatedplatform, as the remainder of the band churned out a sickeningly catchyblend of power-pop ooooh las, hip-rockin’ post-punk backbeats,and sleek guitar fingerings. Borrowing six-string pep from the Smiths,the refined forward motion of the Killers, and stick work from Gang ofFour, Cut Your Hands Off was a delightful start to CMJ noche numero dos.

In a sonic sea change, California’s Foreign Borntamed fans’ rabid, party-time mood (incited by stage predecessor CutOff Your Hands) with acoustic led selections replete with melodramaticguitar slashes a la U2 circa 1988, and building drum crescendos.”Letter of Inclusion,” epitomizing the best and worst of this quartet’sshtick, ballooned with twinkling six-string picks and impressed withsong structure and quivering vocals, but later the epic crashes andfreeform rhythms flirted with disaster. Other tunes, like “Into YrDream,” from the band’s debut LP On the Wing Now, illuminatedForeign Born in a new light; rollicking drums, attention demandingrhythmic changes, no bullshit riffage and screaming vocals got headsbangin’. But set closer “Union Hall” was simply perplexing; thechanting, pirate-tinged deck swabbing ballad was lost on not just thisjournalist, but also a few other concertgoers, nervously checking thestatus of their drinks.

Also showcasing their debut record, Dim Mak’s The Ortolan, the Los Angeles-based psych/punk/folk quartet the Deadly Syndromeoffered an instrumental amusement park as acoustic guitars, keys,xylophone and more bolstered tightly woven pop songs dripping wet withatmospheric lead guitar trappings. What’s more, frontman ChrisRichard’s voice, never overbearing, acted not only as a tool forlyrical communication, but also a solid melodic force adding to theband’s groove. Set opener “Heart” initially trips, skips, and picks inapparent confusion before finding its legs with a searing punk riff,ushered in by building drums and a perky key riff. The next tune, thejangly “Emily Paints,” rolled out with guitarist William Etling’sbubbly skiffle and Richard’s sassy rhymes before driving into a chorusof dueling keyboards and a dance floor calling rhythmic assault.”Eucalyptus,” the opening track of the band’s new record, was amid-tempo selection featuring a catchy xylophone bit, which wasintermittently mimicked with swirling guitar licks and vocal melodies.

New York City’s Red Romance,formed from the ashes of Ambulance LTD, simply offered the evening’stightest performance. Sporting a suit vest and button up, frontman MattDublin and crew kicked into a solid set of back to back tracks from thenewly minted quintet’s self-titled debut. “Don’t Cry” and “Just OneKiss” illustrate Dublin’s affinity for the finer things in life: pophooks and all their trimmings. At a skin and bones level, the RedRomance’s tunes embody cut and dry musical infection. And “Break Away”exemplifies its zenith; a thick frosting of synths and simple,hum-worthy lead guitars float atop a solid Motown bass and backbeatspine — something other bands often refuse to do: accept simplicity.True, turning heads with a common mold is tough, but it’s tried andtrue, and Red Romance showed us why.