BlackBook Tracks #42: CMJ 2013

The CMJ Music Marathon is in full swing, bringing new bands from around the world to New York City to showcase their songs. While the festival is always a great way to check out untested acts for the first time, here are some safe bets from artists we already love.

Jamaican Queens – “Sharkteeth”
Jamaican Queens are actually from Detroit, and they’re making a strong case for Motor City’s revitalization. The duo pushes the limits of pop music with unusual textures and poignant storytelling, and their debut album Wormfood is full of pleasant surprises. Check out the band’s photo diary of Detroit that they made for BlackBook earlier this year.

Empress Of – “Hat Trick”
Lorely Rodriguez sounds like a perfectionist, backing her ethereal vocals with glimmering, low end-friendly productions. This got the attention of Terrible Records, run by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, who put out her debut EP Systems this spring. Alternating between English and Spanish lyrics, the Honduran-American Rodriguez represents a distinctly multicultural vision of New York.

Haerts – “Hemiplegia”
Following critical acclaim with just one single, “Wings,” Haerts recently released their debut EP Hemiplegia. Frontwoman Nini Fabi’s voice soars while staying grounded, backed by dark, lush production. These are songs that demand to be taken seriously.

Ginger and the Ghost – “The Red Balloon”
Australian artists always make a strong showing at CMJ, and this year is no exception. Dream-pop duo Ginger and the Ghost hails from Sydney, and they’re making the rounds in New York this week. Before they began making music together, they were visual artists first, and they shared a short film with BlackBook this summer.

Eleanor Friedberger – “I’ll Never Be Happy Again”
Eleanor Friedberger is one of Brooklyn’s brightest adopted daughters. Since splitting off on her own from the Fiery Furnaces, she’s been making retro-flavored guitar pop, a more efficient backdrop for her vibrant lyrics. Her debut solo album was called Last Summer, and its follow-up Personal Record transitions nicely into fall.

Watch Eleanor Friedberger’s Dreamy “When I Knew” Video

Two albums into Eleanor Friedberger’s solo career, it’s no longer a question as to whether or not she can hold her own after breaking off from her brother Matthew and their experimental duo the Fiery Furnaces. Her storytelling skills are as sharp as ever, her keenly detailed lyrics now set to full-bodied, efficiently-produced guitar pop.

"When I Knew" is a jaunty cut from Personal Record, released earlier this year. In the Ryan Junell-directed clip, Friedberger is on her own but never alone, whether she’s communing with nature, relaxing at her kitchen table, or having a one-woman party in her basement. Like her songs, everything’s a little more colorful than you might expect. Personal Record is out now on Merge.

Eleanor Friedberger Keeps Her Promise in ‘I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight’ Video

Fans of the Fiery Furnaces might have been surprised to see Eleanor Friedberger release such a conventionally straightforward singer-songwriter album in Last Summer, her first solo effort apart from the band she made famous with her brother. Turns out she’s great at delivering a sterling brand of adult contemporary, assured in its mature point of view and chockful of brisk, jazzy melodies more fun than anything the Furnaces ever did. The other day, Friedberger dropped a Matt Asti-directed DIY clip for "I Won’t Fall Apart on You Tonight," one of the peppier songs on the album and the best self-help mantra since the Mountain Goats’ "This Year." Watch it after the click, via Stereogum.

It’s the best type of filmmaking there is: calling your friends up to see if they want to get drunk on camera for a few hours. Last Summer has been out for a while, and you should most definitely listen to it.

Summer Music Reviews: Yacht, Bon Iver, Black Lips

Eleanor Friedberger, Last Summer (Merge) As the Fiery Furnaces, siblings Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger have released nine albums of paranoid, scattershot rock. On the heels of their most recent LP, Take Me Round Again—in which they each separately covered songs they’d originally recorded together—Friedberger steps further into her own spotlight with an astounding solo debut.

Her pinpoint enunciation is immediately recognizable, yet dutifully enhanced with layered sonic arrangements. On the album’s lead single, “My Mistakes,” which features the sultriest sax solo since Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory,” Friedberger chants, “I’ve gotta live with my mistakes.” Going solo is not one of them. —Nadeska Alexis

Little Dragon, Ritual Union (Peacefrog/EMI) There are exactly two types of songs that play over every episode of Grey’s Anatomy. The first: a soggy dirge that usually indicates death or a Seattle rainstorm. The second: a happier tune, willfully ignorant of the inevitable bus crash; Meredith is almost always simultaneously eating a bagel. Little Dragon, an electronic four-piece led by Swedish-Japanese singer Yukimi Nagano, used to rely on the former (“Twice,” which appeared on their self-titled debut album, was actually featured in an episode), but they now trade in the latter—and that’s a good thing. Although there’s no shortage of distortion on Ritual Union, the band’s third studio album, cacophony has been eschewed in favor of unabashed, R&B-tinged pop. Drop your hipster posturing, and you might actually hear a bit of Des’ree—yes, that Des’ree—in “Please Turn” and “Little Man.” (That’s also a good thing.) —Nick Haramis

John Maus, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves (Ribbon) If electronica’s godmother Wendy Carlos and the Cure’s Robert Smith gave birth to their own music prodigy (we can dream, can’t we?), it would sound like John Maus. The Minnesota-based singer-songwriter has mastered the art of bizarro astropop, a style he revisits on his third album, We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves. Maus, an eccentric of the highest order, has built the perfect dichotomy between light-speed sound beams and gothic vocals, which he soaks in his preferred method of distortion: reverb. “Streetlight” is an airy ditty made for sun-baked afternoons, while “Cop Killer” might be something you’d find Travis Bickle listening to while dreaming up his next hit. —Hillary Weston

Liam Finn, FOMO (Yep Roc) After spending nearly three years on the road opening for acts like the Black Keys, Liam Finn returned to his native New Zealand in 2010, where he holed up in a secluded cottage and began crafting the follow-up to his critically acclaimed 2008 debut, I’ll Be Lightning. Isolated, Finn took to social networking sites so that he could keep tabs on his friends—thus the album’s title, an acronym for Fear of Missing Out. The result is a breezy, bare-bones indie-rock compendium on which the singer-songwriter handles most of the instruments. Finn’s laid-back melodies are fairly uniform throughout the album, but there are exceptions: “The Struggle” quickens the pulse with metal basslines, while the brash “Don’t Even Know Your Name” crosses over into post-punk territory. —NA Yacht, Shangri-La (DFA) For Yacht’s second album with DFA Records, Jona Bechtolt and Claire L. Evans fled to the Texan desert to record, for the first time, in a studio. While that meant ditching a sound engineer, the Portland-based disco-punk outfit managed to experiment with live instrumentation and hazy theories about Utopia, mysticism, and Yeasayer-style apoca-environmentalism. The result is Shangri-La, a pop record thrumming with clubby energy and underscored by some seriously keyed-up lyrics: “I’m here to tell you that the world’s last unpleasant experience will be a precisely datable event.”Signs might be pointing to the end of days, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t haul our butts onto the dancefloor. —Megan Conway

Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar) Far from the fortress of solitude where Justin Vernon recorded his debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, Bon Iver’s follow-up does what follow-ups should: it evolves. Bon Iver was recorded in an animal clinic Vernon turned into a studio in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, three miles from where he was raised. Vernon, who made a name for himself with his voice and a guitar (and, thanks to Kanye West, a vocoder), expands his repertoire to include a steel guitar, a saxophone, horns, and drums. The lyrics are lucid, and the imagery swells. In “Beth/Rest,” Vernon’s voice echoes with promise: “Said your love is known/ I’m standing up on it/ I ain’t living in the dark no more.” On Bon Iver, one thing is clear: this ain’t just for Emma anymore. —Eiseley Tauginas

Black Lips, Arabia Mountain (Vice) The Lips’ sixth studio album sounds like a bank heist. Produced by wunderkind Mark Ronson, Arabia Mountain’s genius is its simplicity; like getting robbed, the listener is slow to understand the gravity of what’s really going on. 2007’s Good Bad Not Evil was equally smash-and-grab, but their undiluted fuzzy doo-wop has been given the Ronson sheen this time out. “Modern Art” could be the soundtrack to an apocalyptic beach party, while “Go Out and Get it” is a raucous ode to summer, framed by the carefree lyrics: “Ice cream at the corner store/ You get two for just a dollar more.” We’re sold. —Ned Hepburn