For better or for worse, the prevailing attitude at this year’s CMJ Music Marathon seemed to be “excited and stressed, but less excited and stressed than last year.” Maybe it was because this year’s festival was overshadowed by the hefty lawsuit slapped on its parent company, or the fact that SXSW saw fit to announce its initial lineup during the same week. The entire music industry might have just been saving energy to focus on whatever Arcade Fire does next.
The lukewarm build-up inevitably carried over into the buzzband frenzy itself. For example, the UK culture embassy’s Music Is Great initiative is typically reliable, but at this year’s showcase, only rockers Duologue had the kind of spark necessary to grab attention during the marathon. (The lack of diversity on display might be a strong argument for sponsor Ben Sherman to start making womenswear again, too.) That night aside, there were still plenty of acts who could stand out in the whirlwind.
The Darcys – “The River”
It’s been a good year for Toronto artists, and indie rockers the Darcys are helping make that happen. They took on the unenviable task of following Zeus’ powerful set at their shared label Arts and Crafts’ showcase and managed to keep the energy levels high. Packed with sharp harmonies, the quartet’s new album Warring will please people who were underwhelmed by Local Natives’ sophomore effort, but packs a punch that’s distinctly the Darcys’ own.
Hookworms – “Away / Towards”
Indie rock’s psychedelic revival is steadily growing, and Hookworms are part of the trend’s British boom. At the FADER Fort, the band spoke little and let the relentless wall of sound do the talking. Their attention-getting 60s influences get fused with post-punk drive, and the effect is mind-numbing in all the right ways.
Thomas Azier – “Ghostcity”
Born in the Netherlands, based in Berlin, beloved by France: Thomas Azier is distinctly European, but was more than ready to make his American debut. The singer/producer’s songs come wrapped in black velvet and are made for nights that last just a little too long, and latest single “Ghostcity” is no exception. Azier may have regretted the absence of his backing band as he played his first-ever show in the US, but he held up just fine on his own.
Shine 2009 – “Eurozone”
You don’t hear of much coming out of Finland, but that may be about to change thanks to Shine 2009, who spent last week celebrating the release of second album Our Nation. With songs like “Eurozone” and “Suomen Sydän,” the duo is aware of its outside status, but knows it’s best paired with undeniable pop hooks. The band charmed its way through its set at the Cascine showcase, making for a strong midpoint to the festival.
holychild – “Happy With Me”
Synth-pop has no shortage of relatable frontwomen, but holychild’s Liz Niztico is a welcome addition to the fold. Whether she’s crushing hard or subtly subverting gender roles, she sounds like your new BFF. Producer Louie Diller is the other half of the duo, and the two make sunkissed SoCal jams that are prime for partying or just dancing alone in your bedroom.