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The Best and Worst of CMJ ’08, Vol. 1


New York City’s CMJ Music Marathon is a proving ground. A place where bands from across the globe gather to triumph or flop, make a name of themselves or become indistinguishable from some 1,200 (honestly!) other artists competing for the same thing — attention. Two days into the festival, we here at SPIN have already witnessed a lot of shows. Here, have a look at our best and worst picks so far. And stay tuned as we bring you more from CMJ in the coming days.

The Jealous Girlfriends:
Brooklyn’s Jealous Girlfriends, a shoegazey, guitar-driven band whose self-titled debut got three stars in SPIN’s May issue, certainly held their ground last night with an dynamic, shimmering performance at Webster Hall’s newly minted Studio venue. “This is our third show today,” bassist/keyboardist Alex Lipsen said midway through their truncated set. But the band’s tunes didn’t suffer from exhaustion and bubbled in droning, reverb drenched crescendos that evoked Mazzy Star, if the seminal ’90s band were on a heavy dose of speed. On “Secret Identity” frontwoman Holly Miranda’s blues-flecked rasp sounded over distorted guitars. “Oh, oh, oh, oh!” she sang in a climbing melody. Loud and crashing yet tender, the Jealous Girlfriends are a festival fave thus far. WILLIAM GOODMAN

Maybe it was the late hour. Maybe it was the ever-chattering crowd. Maybe it was the sweaty confines. Whatever the cause, all-boy Calgary quartet Women’s set last night at Cake Shop failed to connect, despite the fact that the band’s just-released self-titled record is awesome. The lo-fi warbles, instrumental freakiness, and overall artistic urgency of the record was a little lost in translation, though at times their genius showed through, notably on “Black Rice,” which charmed with xylophone twinkles, hummable vocal melodies, and a slack Velvet Underground-like feel. Still, sorry guys, I’m sticking with the record. WILLIAM GOODMAN

Lissy Trullie:
Last night’s show felt like a big deal, with a massive mob clamoring for the door-girl’s attention outside Le Royale before prettier-in-person fasionista-cum-songwriter Lissy Trullie took the stage. There was an elegance about Trullie’s simple aesthetic, from the unadorned guitar work to her coy but monosyllabic lyrics, and she exuded a captivating vulnerability when her boyish voice grasped at higher pitches. Guitarist Eben D’Amico, formerly the bassist of New Jersey emo legends Saves the Day, colored Trullie’s straightforward tact with clever but careful lead work. Pre-selected CMJ fave “Self-Taught Learner” was a highlight, as was a brisk take on Hot Chip’s “Ready for the Floor.”PETER GASTON

When onetime folky Matt Gangi hit Manimal Vinyl’s showcase at the Cake Shop Tuesday with his band, aptly called Gangi, the fluttery shirts, shoestring headband, and acoustic strums I expected were nowhere to be found. Framed by shimmery curtains and Christmas lights, Matt and his mallet-wielding drummer Lyle Nesse occupied the stage with self-assurance and opened each song with a sound sample that segued into pre-recorded dance floor beats, synth, and rhythm guitar to form a backdrop for Gangi’s reedy vocals. At times the band’s sound recalled the Brian Jonestown Massacre’s psych-pop, and at others — particularly during “Animals” — Massachusetts duo the Books. But when Gangi ventured into the crowd, hand raised fervently above his head, comparisons seemed petty next to the charming enthusiasm of a musician putting aside freak folk archetypes and finding his own voice. ABIGAIL EVERDELL

Emmy the Great:
We’re glad Emma-Lee Moss, a.k.a. Emmy the Great, has some other gigs scheduled for CMJ: Not many artists could be so polite playing before an audience so obnoxiously loud; at times, they almost totally drowned out the charming British singer’s delicate acoustic pop. Those close enough could hear Emmy the Great playing confident songs like her own “MIA” and a cheeky cover of Weezer’s “Across the Sea” (she’s known for her covers; check out an awesome version of Ash’s “Burn Baby Burn” on her MySpace). Meanwhile, her vocal chemistry with guitarist Euan Hinshelwood, who records as younghusband, is truly adorable, and needs to be mined more deeply. PETER GASTON

Walter Meego
Thanks to the schedule-derailing chaos that is CMJ, I unexpectedly stumbled upon a festival highlight: Chicago’s Walter Meego, a synth-laden, dance-y two-piece (with a touring guitarist) at the Mercury Lounge. Tapping into the new psychedelia sound a la MGMT and the experimental sensibility of Fujiya and Miyagi, who performed earlier in the evening, singer Justin Sconza’s voice added to the band’s thick atmospheric synths and snappy yet ever-growing guitars, which created an epic sound, especially on tracks like “Forever.” Sconza, sporting long hair and a Mickey Mouse T-shirt, sang in reverb-drenched chirps. Pulsing melodies and resonating echos during the set’s finale proved these psychedelic and new wave understudies are not far from the limelight. ZARINAH WILLIAMS