CMJ Day Two: Inc., Twin Shadow, Main Attrakionz
Better than: Being Robert Smith’s makeup artist.
As much as CMJ can raise the profile of an unknown or unsigned artist, it must really be an ego boost for more established emerging talent. Bands with a buzzed-about debut and a successful CMJ run under their belt are suddenly viewed as seasoned veterans, soaring above the rest of the cluck-house.
Twin Shadow—the stage moniker of George Lewis Jr.—was a breakout sensation at last year’s festival, riding the usual breakneck, more-shows-than-days circuit to its full advantage. Lewis returned this year, but as a headliner, and playing only once. After playing CMJ 2010, Twin Shadow went on to throw down an iconic Coachella performance, play slots at Primavera Sound, Pitchfork, and Bonnaroo, and snag a gig opening for Florence + The Machine.
More than just his status and bedazzled leather jacket collection have expanded. Lewis’ new-wave inspired music, always resolute yet with the potential to be understated, was as big it could get Wednesday night at Santos Party House. After a brief drum-less vocal intro for “Shooting Holes,” the deep resonance of multioctave synth parts and quarrelsome, room-drenching guitar bravado rarely let up. Playing a Rickenbacker, the jangly guitar best known for defining the sound of the British invasion, Lewis’s use of rapid chord repetitions was never-ending; save for a few moments, it felt like the guitar was unceasing. It took attuned ears to notice some of the nuances, which were otherwise lost in a constant swash of echoey, overwhelming ambience. The four-on-the-floor drum beats were fierce if not a bit too consistent, but the beat just seemed like an anchor to keep from being abandoned in a noisy wilderness—getting lost in the enveloping, head-banging clamor of tunes like dark disco number “Yellow Balloon” was all too easy. It was a mature display with enough gumption and exuberance to let go of any fixation on maturity. Being thrust into a top-dog position, Lewis responded like a consummate OG.
For a Vice-affiliated event, the maturity level had actually stayed surprisingly high. Earlier, recent 4AD signees Inc., performed jazzy R&B that might be the closest thing to smooth-era Steely Dan witnessed by a CMJ crowd. Brothers Andrew and Daniel Aged brought out studio-musician-caliber players to round out their set, which was mostly mellow yet full of panty-dropping bass and seductive croons. It wasn’t what a Vice crowd generally would come to see, and cutting their set short right after launching into a bumping New Jack Swing number didn’t help their case. But the set was skillfully put together, and well-suited to anyone desiring to revisit the most musical ’90s R&B.
Main Attrakionz, the ripening Oakland rap duo of Squadda B and Mondre, were surprisingly poised for their age; focused, yet full of big smiles. Their elevated crunk rap was enigmatically placed over strained, spacey beats full of odd noises, floating vocals, and glitchy drums.