The Boys of CMJ


The summer I turned 14, everyone’s favorite MTV discovery was Better Than Ezra’s “Good.” I now know it was also the year of Pulp’s Different Class, the Magnetic Fields’ Get Lost, and Elliott Smith’s Elliott Smith—but I didn’t know it then. I wasn’t listening to those. I was listening to—and loving—Kevin Griffin’s pop hit about breakups and breakdowns, even if I understood nothing about what it might be like to come home to an abandoned house. What I understood was that it was really fun to sing along with the windows down and the radio blaring. Also, there’s a lyric about the Fourth of July! And this weekend is the Fourth of July! Omigod!

Needless to say, I was disappointed when I bought the album, expecting 12 more hits like that and instead finding way more guitars than I’d bargained for. So I feel for the 14-year-old girls who heard Chairlift’s catchy “Bruises” in that iPod commercial or last week’s episode of The Hills and mistakenly thought the Brooklyn three-piece’s other selections would speak to them in a similar heartbroken, melody-driven way. Or at least that there might be some more ooohs to sing along to. Nothing else on Does You Inspire You matches the earnestness of its shoulder-shrugging, please-love-me hit—singer Caroline Polachek oozes detachment over the synthetic beats that make up most of their tracks. This is a band founded to create soundtracks for haunted houses.

But it only seemed mildly bothersome to the girls (not 14, but not far from it) who showed up Wednesday night to an at-capacity Pianos for one of thousands of the week’s CMJ Music Marathon showcases. I saw more than a few polite-but-confused reactions from the people who didn’t bother to find out that Chairlift’s electro love songs (“Planet Health,” “Evident Utensil”) are generally far darker than the crowd-pleasing “Bruises,” but those fans were satiated with the finale, and the rest of us were happy with what we’d already expected. It was the band’s second and final CMJ showing, as they left the next day for a tour with Yeasayer. My prediction that this year’s breakout acts would be female-fronted didn’t exactly come true; like Chairlift, Lykke Li disappeared early, kicking off the week with a bang at the Bowery Ballroom but nowhere to be found thereafter. And while the Vivian Girls made a strong showing, the hype machine instead mostly spit out praise for guys with girly names, like the Women.

Prior to Pianos, I hit up BlackBook‘s fundraiser for Music in Motion, a Patrón-sponsored party at Le Royale where the drinks were free and tips went to charity. (Five of the glossy’s editors had designed Patrón-based cocktails, including the “Anna Winter.”) Spacey, likable Takka Takka opened, and the Young Lords—rockers straight outta central casting—headlined, but the memorable middle slot went to downtown darling Lissy Trullie and her fashionable take on folksy, bluesy pathos. (The same teenage girls who swoon at “Bruises” should take a listen to “Self-Taught Learner,” the leggy singer’s ode to a high school boyfriend who committed suicide. Lots of ooohs to be found there.) Lissy tries to sound like Nico and dress like Chrissie, and she nearly pulls off both. With added DJ sets by the Smiths’ Andy Rourke and a crowd that couldn’t wait to continue their night at Lit solely for the chance to publicly lament staying out so late the next morning at work, the party was the very definition of style over substance.

The following night, I went to the Rhapsody party at the Music Hall of Williamsburg, forgoing all that King Khan tomfoolery and patiently waiting for Mission of Burma. (The venue’s basement bar is a CMJ blogger’s dream—I saw at least three of them sneaking in catnaps on those comfy couches.) MOB took the stage sometime after 11 and were incredible, of course, pledging their presidential allegiance with a prominent sign proclaiming “O’Burma for Obama”; my left ear was fuzzy for the next 48 hours, fucking up my equilibrium and making me feel a little bit drunk in the afternoon. Song after song (“This Is Not a Photograph,” “Academy Fight Song”) met with excited whispers of “No, this is my favorite!”

For a music festival so fixated on booze and buzz and hot new bands led by hot young boys, I couldn’t stop thinking about whether or not Mission’s post-punk men—hypothetically speaking—could still get laid after the show. Yeah, listen, I know it’s not the point, but I kept flashing to Roger Miller’s irreverent grin that hasn’t changed in the Boston band’s 30-year history and understanding immediately what butterflies he would have given me in the early ’80s, seeing as how I was still getting some of them now. I asked my friend Megan if she would sleep with him. She looked at me blankly. “I once made out with a guy because his band covered Mission of Burma,” she said. “Yes. Absolutely, yes. No questions asked.”

In a loaded week, one of the only performances I was disappointed to miss was Saturday night’s Capstan Shafts show at Arlene’s Grocery, part of the Rainbow Quartz showcase. An earlier birthday dinner at Shabu-Tatsu in the East Village, with its steam-bath tables and do-it-yourself veggies, led to lots of drinks down the street at Tile Bar, which led to more of the same until 4:30 a.m. at Matchless. So while I had been looking forward to seeing Dean Wells’s lo-fi gold live (“a one-man Guided by Voices” is how my friends describe him), tequila changed my priorities. Maybe next year.