A Much Belated CMJ Report

CMJ in New York City is a clusterfuck. Too many bands billed at each venue for them to handle with ease in one night. Too many shows to choose from all within a 2-block radius with about fifty bands you have never heard of and only nine you have. And too many people who are there for the “CMJ” experience rather than to witness the bands. Nevertheless, this CMJ was a good one.

My first year of CMJ, I avoided it completely. The second year, I managed to catch one show: Prince Rama live the Cake Shop. At the show, I met Sara, a pixie-nosed blonde. Afterwards, we shared a drink at Arlene's Grocery and talked about how it’s possible for a realist to be an optimist. Later we snuck into a 24-gym. That morning, I woke up on the train at Coney Island cold and lonely.

This year, I was determined to make CMJ better. SM slaughtered me with emails for CMJ events. Many events featured sponsorships from various organizations including: marketing organizations (Terrorbird Media, Sneak Attack Media), the press (Noisey, Relix, Stereogum, Nylon), and even the automotive business (Scion). This CMJ, I managed to see nine different bands, a tiny sliver of the 1000+ bands booked in New York City for the five-day festival.

My CMJ began on a Tuesday at the Brooklyn Bowl, a deceptively high-quality music venue with excellent live rock sound, immersive lighting, and plenty of space. A tall and lumpy red-velvet curtain runs high behind a wide stage facing a pit the size of a middle school gym perpendicular to sixteen lanes of bowling. Bowling balls whir up the gutter as others crash into clusters of pins. Cheers follow. All of these sounds then disappear as the band starts to play.

Opening at the Bowl were the sisters of SHEL, a quartet from Colorado equipped with keyboard, mandolin, fiddle, and djembe playing ambitious and hearty (as in full of heart) acoustic pop. Honestly SHEL could become the next darlings of the audiophile world with their diverse instrumentation and rich harmonies. They even have a song called “Vinyl Memories”! Mikey’s gotta hear it. Their self-titled release sounds a little squashed on some of the material and other recordings more dynamic, but holy crap are the songs well-written.

Like anyone who shows up at a-show-of-a-band-they’ve-never-seen-before-where-there’s-a-mandolin-player, I wondered, “Are they going to play Battle of Evermore?” This usually never happens, but by George. Their version starts with a vocal introduction mimicking the original’s guitar and mandolin harmonies followed by a bare-bones verse: mandolin with a simplified strum and lead vocal. In comes the fleshy earth-pounding djembe, and suddenly the girls are in full swing with each other performing with gusto and recreating a classic with respect.

Particularly striking was an instrumental piece titled “Tuscany” by mandolinist Eva Holbrook. A duet between herself and violinist Sarah Holbrook (yes, the girls are all sisters: Sarah, Hannah, Eva, Liza—SHEL—now do you get it? SHEL?). Eva’s dynamic performance featured subtle slow-downs and powerful tremolos and showcased her deft composition skills with witty melodic turns and sophisticated resolutions.

Basically, SHEL deserves your attention.

Following SHEL were headliners The Infamous Stringdusters, a bluegrass 5-piece visiting Brooklyn as part of the PledgeMusic, Relix & Tunecore Present: Silver Sky Tour 2012, Official CMJ 2012 Showcase. The Stringudsters played a jam-filled set to a surprisingly phriendly audience. Most impressive about the Stringdusters was their ability to weave tapestries of string interplay with each individual pick or strum well-placed in the arrangement, clear and supportive. Their bouncy set included the rollicking “The Hitchhiker” and the head-bopping “Fork in the Road”, and while I didn’t get to hear favorites “Rockets” or their heartfelt cover of John Mayer’s “3x5”, the audience was treated to a version of the Grateful Dead’s “He’s Gone”. Everyone sang along. For a download of the Stringdusters show at the Brooklyn Bowl, here’s a torrent.

And here’s video of their performance of “He’s Gone” recorded by YouTube user blwoodable:

Following the Stringdusters, I hopped on the L train to catch Sparxx, a Brooklyn-based pop act that use deep synths and ambient guitar bursts to support hypnotizing choruses. Heather Sparxx performed graciously for her crowd at Legion by walking and swaying with the crowd while singing and smiling, a pleasing contrast to her stark and cold synthesizers. Guitarist Justin Matthews replicated Alex Lifeson’s atmospheric gusts of notes from the mid-to-late 80s Rush records while also throwing in blasts of fast slides and distorted triplets. I asked Matthews if he listened to Lifeson after the set, to which he cackled and then yelled to drummer Cinque Kemp, “Did you hear what this guy just asked me?” as if this had been a topic of conversation before. Matthews then addressed me: “Most definitely.” Sparxx’s songs are delightfully simple with catchy melodies and ethereal and spacious sonic effects. Total ear candy. Sparxx’s music can be heard here.

Thanks to a nod from Music Hall’s Leland Leard via SM, I awkwardly attended the ultra-hip Fred Perry sponsored live recording showcase at Stratosphere Sound on 11th Avenue on Thursday. Bands participated in short live recording sessions while attendees enjoyed Oreos and Brooklyn Lager. I caught a performance by Slug Guts.

Bands recorded into Stratosphere’s room-sized 32-input NEVE 8068 MkII console from behind a sound-proofed enclosure. Vocals were recorded in a separate booth. Two large unused Genelec speakers rested within the walls. Monitoring was instead done through the classic Yamaha NS10s. Here’s a great article by Gizmodo’s Bryan Gardiner summarizing why the harsh NS10s have stuck around since the 80s as a reference for studio monitoring.

Slug Guts of Brisbane, Australia played aggressive boogie rock with angry howls and odd time signatures. A saxophone punctuated their experimental edge with out-of-synch blasts from his horn. The bass player had a paper-thin yet crunchy attack to his sound at Stratosphere. Their latest release Playin’ in Time With the Deadbeat can be streamed on Spotify or purchased at Sacred Bones records.

After Slug Guts was a band called Bleeding Rainbow, but I had to get moving to meet some friends at Cameo for the Carpark/Paw Tracks CMJ showcase where I saw Dog Bite, Dent May, Young Magic, and Prince Rama. Dog Bite, an alternative band from Atlanta, Georgia, were disaffected and unanimated. I thought the southern boys would bring a little bit of that Southern rowdiness, but instead, they were just trying to be another boring Brooklyn band. Fortunately, the ultra-peppy Dent May from Oxford, Mississippi came in to save the room with their 80s inspired disco hipster frat-rock. They even played the Dead’s “Shakedown Street”! That’s two Dead covers in one week! Not bad.

While bundles of sage were lit and circled around the room, Young Magic began their set of throbbing drones and heavy drums. Laser dots speckled the audience for the most packed show of the evening. Sullen and seductive guitarist Melati Malay conjured evil and foreign sounds from her multi-effected guitar, which she arpeggiated flawlessly while singing. Young Magic impressed with their cohesion and inherent grooves, a suitable opener for Prince Rama’s oncoming rhythmic onslaught.

Taking the stage at approximately 1:30am were headliners Prince Rama, a late start probably due to their complicated stage setup. Sisters Taraka and Nimai Larson seem to have been working for years on their vast collection of synthesizers and percussion instruments. Taraka surrounds herself with samplers, Casios, and rich-sounding synthesizers. Nimai circles herself with layers of tom-toms, splash cymbals, and a cowbell or two. Also performing with the band that evening was all-purpose dude Christopher Burke on bass and guitar. All band members smeared their faces with gold glittery face-paint.

At the start of the show, Taraka is carried on her back like a funeral procession by a willing ensemble of men. As she is carried forth, her spirit shrouded in white haunts the crowd, like a possessed “Like a Virgin Era” Madonna with stark poses and spooky chant. Taraka’s ghostly introduction served as a death-knell to Rama’s hyper-rhythmic, transcendental, and Krishna-inspired chats of older albums and ushered in the a new era of Prince Rama. Nimai Larson and Burke join the stage.

Performing songs from their latest release Top 10 Hits At the End of the World, Prince Rama’s new material was everything their title indicates: apocalyptic, sacred, and full of joy. While Rama’s previous shows were plagued by their severe spirituality, the new songs brought their spiritual intensity into a global and accessible context of pop music. Nimai’s wild and wide grin no longer looked like a mad spirit induced from their divine yet unearthly incantations but now an expression of the unadulterated happiness that their music's positive energy spread around the room. On the closing number, the sisters jumped into the audience for a song’s performance full of synchronized dance moves. The smiles between the sisters brought on such a warm fuzzy feeling of familial love, far holier than anything I’d seen or heard from the sisters before. After the show, Nimai was ecstatic to share, “We’re done with the serious stuff!” Prince Rama’s Top 10 Hits At the End of the World is available from Paw Tracks records. It’s even available on vinyl!

Although there were no late-night rendezvous nor piercing cold winds, I’m happy to say it was a great CMJ.

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Comments
John Atkinson's picture
The editor's qualification

twochannelman wrote:
Why assume what you think is or will be acceptable instead of polling the readers to find out what actually is and is not?

An interesting question that I shall answer by quoting Henry Robinson Luce, founder of Time and Life magazines:

"Editors are men able to see how stories, episodes, and personalities flow and merge one into the other to reproduce the pattern of a world that only their own inner eye perceives."

In effect, the readers are polled each and every month on whether the world perceived by my inner eye conforms to their own vision. If it doesn't, I am out of a job. That is the only means of assessing the effectiveness of an editor.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

mrplankton2u's picture
Knock, knock, knock....

Mr. Atkinson....Mr. Atkinson.....

This is the world knocking on your bedroom door.....it's time to wake up....you've been sleeping for a very long time....time to wake up now and go to work - you've had enough time to nurse your hangover.

WAKE THE FUCK UP!

 

. Atkinson and the other snake oil peddlers have been dreaming away in heavenly advertiser slumber land for so long, they're starting to believe the promotional BS they've been slinging on a daily basis. I'd encourage the reader to take a good look at the recent  tube amp review (Rogers) to assess how accurate Mr. Atkinson's "inner eye' is. A poorly measuring, ridiculously priced, dinosaur technology antiquity whose volume control gets too hot to touch after an hour or so of operation - and these turds give that turd of an amplifier a :

"Very Higly Recommended"

I REST MY FUCKING CASE

Regadude's picture
Too much anger...

Plankton, you don't think that getting this angry, and using such language for a non issue is inappropriate? Take a chill pill...

john abramson's picture
ja's insufficient replies

Twochannel man,

I offer the following understanding of ja's appproach to answering questions posted in this thread.

playing school yard basket ball ever so many years ago, we used a simple, common expression:"my basket ball, my rules, my game.  there is no option of appeal:  " it is what it is, and it ain't what it ain't".

your postings are  exercises in futility, regardless of how you word your requests.

ja

Twochannelman's picture
I agree with you completely Mr. Abramson.

It is sad, isn't it ?

john abramson's picture
twochhannel man: one final thought

I wish it was " sad". in my mind, ja's position is, unfortunately, authoritarian. as mel brooks put it in his film, "history of the world, part 1", "...hey. it's good to be the king".

alas, ja is the king and we his subjects. take  a look at the work of  max horkheimer, theodor adorno and herbert marcuse, founders of the frankfurt school (critical theory) in the 1920s and 30s.

take care and don't further waste your time. no doubt, you have more fruitful and productive labors that await your attention...as do i.

ja

 

music guy's picture
wonder when he'll have the victory lap/column

...odd world when the customer is an ass and the salaried guy employed by the commercial fund is the boss...just, absolutely, totally, fucking odd...in fact it's a modern day clusterfuck...

 

let get just totally base together....where does it stop...?

music guy's picture
gotta add just more more...

...this only shows how irrelevant this magazine and our share of the high end audio market is.  It appears that no one in an ownership position seems to cares.  Nothing to lose.

Whoever are the current owners of this particular financial vehicle, they don't seem to notice or care how it's managed.  So it is must only be a line on a financial report.

Imagine if a reporter from, say, Sport Illustrated wrote that stuff and then the editor showed up with a ridululous photo of himself drinking a silly drink and told their customers to just forget it and in so many words, to fuck off.  How long would they be employed?

Well, he must be well positioned or no one cares....

John Atkinson's picture
I'm sorry, but this is getting ridiculous

music guy wrote:
Imagine if a reporter from, say, Sport Illustrated wrote that stuff and then the editor showed up with a ridululous photo of himself drinking a silly drink and told their customers to just forget it and in so many words, to fuck off.

No-one from this magazine has told the readers of this blog to do any such thing. I have read all the comments, which I take seriously. I have discussed them with Ariel Bitran and other members of the editorial staff, and I have offered my own point of view. Ultimately I made the decision that while some people have been offended by his usage (including some, like you music guy, have who have used similar language in their own comments), on balance the usage in this blog was justifiable. If that means that some people will no longer read the print magazine, then that's unfortunate and, in my opinion, an over-reaction, but so it goes.

And I like my avatar photo! :-)

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

music guy's picture
you're not sorry and

...this is ridiculous...

GeorgeHolland's picture
Me no care, Me Big Editor

"If that means that some people will no longer read the print magazine, then that's unfortunate and, in my opinion, an over-reaction, but so it goes."

Such an attitude shows how little you respect the readership. But so it goes,

John Atkinson's picture
I do care

GeorgeHolland wrote:
Such an attitude shows how little you respect the readership. But so it goes,
With almost 72,000 readers, I cannot allow just one reader's needs to dictate the magazine's policies and contents, I am afraid. It is the aggregate needs that of necessity must concern an editor.

And please note that Stereophile  is no more a Christian magazine than it is a Jewish or Islamist or Buddhist one. My apologies if our secular nature offends anyone's specific beliefs but so it goes.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

Les's picture
@Twochannelman

I get the sense you are waiting for some form of an apology and/or meting out of some punishment. I can't speak for the publishers, but I seriously doubt what you are expecting/hoping for is forthcoming, which leaves you basically with just 2 choices: a) continue to be deeply offended b) move on to other fine publications like TAS, as you have pointed out. My advice is to go with b).  

It is very clear that the article/the word deeply offended your Christian values, morals and sensibility, which you have rightfully, albeit most didactically, made known. I can understand and respect that, actually. But to be continued to be offended in the face of no possibility of resolution, makes you seem almost a glutton for punishment. You have made your feelings known, in the most verbose way, all to no avail. Any more, and it would just be self-flagellation.

You are at an impasse, and the choice is yours. Stereophile, for better or worse, is what it is, and ultimately it doesn't owe you or me a thing. Save yourself, please. Find yourself where your diginity is not assaulted.
 

Twochannelman's picture
To Les: I agree and that was well said.

This magazine; be it in print or on line is no longer worth my time or money. The standards are set in place by an editor who values himself more than the readers and encourages his subordinates to do the same along with defending and speaking for his "oddly silent and uninvolved protege" Mr. Bitran. Neither man has the willingness to do business in noble ways, as has been clearly stated and proven. 

I made my attempts to legitimately point out gross errors in judgement, poor journalism, inspire improvement, correction, and proper and fair reproof, but as you said so well; without success. I, and none of us as we all now realize, could have succeeded with someone like Mr. Atkinson at the helm and in the captain's chair. People in this blog or forum have said that it is good for Mr. Atkinson to be "king". He is not a good king though as he is quite fond of asserting his position and values to maintain his preferences, comfort zone, and standards of conduct; which are lewd and unGodly, over the readers as if we are his subjects to bow down to him, his dominion, and his ways. I shall not. Historically, "bad" kings have usually been dethroned; often times due to their own pride and haughty spirit via ways that are thoroughly humbling. I am reminded of scripture that states, "Let no unwholesome talk come from your lips." ... or fingers via typed trash. I dare these people to apply the principles of the Bible and see how the magazine would flourish in accordance to the promises of God's for obedience to His Word and authority and models for how to do business and conduct yourself. Judgement of persons is left to Him, but as His child, we are given not only the right but also the command to judge the behavior and conduct of others and to not have anything to do with them. That being said, I bid a no longer fond adeiu (read that as a deeply engrained contempt and complete professional and personal disrespect for) to these writers for good as neither they, nor their worsening expressions of repulsion, deserve my attention. As Job promised God, I shall set no graven images before my eyes. This, to me, is graven and has only gotten worse. As the scriptures also says, their mouths are as open graves. So is what they "say" via their typed articles in print or on line. Trash.

I personally believe that this writer's and Mr. Atkinson's choices and indifference violates the basic civil rights of the readers to not be subject to what this article deliberately subjected us all to. It is my heartfelt desire that this man and his protege be put out of business; quickly and permanently. It seems that they both missed their true callings and have many of the character traits and values befitting presidential candidates and politicians in general. At least then they could be voted out of office.

Lastly, it is cowardly and irresponsible for Mr. Bitran to not have responded as he has been challenged and requested by more than me, and also a sign of professional and personal indifference to let or have Mr. Atkinson do nearly all of the talking for him. It is analogous to the perpetrator having his attorney represent him, and is therefore inherently and significantly pathetic. How his "mouth spoke so loudly when he used the phrase that he did to begin this travesty with its resultant decline. Now, once challenged and confronted in force by multiple responders, he replies a mere two times up to this point and then goes silent while "big daddy" comes to town.

Someone posted in here that it is no surprise that mr. Atkinson feels the ways that he does about this as he has abusiness to ruin; which he shall in due time. That is one demise that will no longer sadden me as all of us readers thankfully retain our rights to reject them and their ways for what we actually value, want, and approve of.

Twochannelman's picture
Mr. Atkinson, to officially bring this to its end, as for me:

I (a mere commoner / peasant within your kingdom) am giving you my permission to terminate my membership / account / user ID for this site and all of its contents effective immediately as I no longer have any desire to be involved due to what I have learned and realized. It was a waste of time. I think I'll get a two year subscription to TAS and send a thank you letter to Robert Harley for printing that which is acceptable to me.

In no uncertain terms ... good bye.

john abramson's picture
kingship

twochannel-

my quote of the mel brooks line, re being the king, was merely a comedic line to clarify how ja does his job, yes indeedy- do, ja understands the powers of kingship; and wields that power as he sees fit..

as long as you do understand my usage, have a good journey.

ja

mrvco's picture
oh brother

Obviously we need some sort of Hays Code for blog posts enlightened

JohnnyR's picture
Delete Number Three?

[Flame content deleted by John Atkinson]Please tell me WHY you delete my posts about it if it's not true?

John Atkinson's picture
Final Warning

JohnnyR wrote:
Please tell me WHY you delete my posts about it if it's not true?

You have been warned multiple times not to post offensive and abusive comments, JohnnyR. I will delete all such posts of yours (and others) that in my judgment meet that description. If you continue, you will be prevented from posting to this site.

John Atkinson

Editor, Stereophile

JohnnyR's picture
Oh Brother

All I did was copy and paste what YOU posted Atkinson. This is just silly.

John Atkinson's picture
Where Art Thou?

JohnnyR wrote:
All I did was copy and paste what YOU posted Atkinson. This is just silly.
Plus add a snide little jab, JohnnyR, which is why I deleted your post. We have cut you an enormous amount of slack, but if you continue to post flames, you will be banned.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Regadude's picture
Little Johnny on the swing is in trouble...

Little Johnny is in deep... He can't behave, he will get the boot! smiley

GeorgeHolland's picture
As usual, your mature

As usual, your mature responses on here are a shining example.

John Atkinson's picture
No Flames

RegaDude and GeorgeHolland, I have just deleted an exchange between the two of you that was flames. If you continue to behave like children, I will continue to delete your postings.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Twochannelman's picture
I asked you to delete / terminate my account.

Now get it done.

Ariel Bitran's picture
Your account is deleted

Your account has been deleted.

Any posts will remain on the website to serve as an archive for the conversation.

Your comments were appreciated. Thanks for your participation.

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