CMJ 2009: Generationals, Pepi Ginsberg, Spinto Band, Javelin, Small Black
The body can only take so much CMJ. Not only is it tough to avoid H1N1 with several hundred potential carriers breathing the same air for hours on end, equally contagious is ever-increasing pessimism that spreads among writers who let their grouchy sides take over. And, as a six-time CMJ attendee, I agree that aspects of the fest feel do "smaller" and that bloggers have gotten better at spotting new talent before everyone gets there (or maybe new talent has just gotten better at spotting bloggers). But c'mon, crybabies. If you don't want an excuse to hit a bunch of concerts and pass it off as work in the first place, just stay home.
On to the tip jar: Park The Van, a label long associated with happy retro sounds, showcased the goods on the snug stage in the basement of Brooklyn bocce haven Union Hall on Friday. The lineup boasted newly signed act Giant Cloud, whose harmonies brought an early silver lining to the rainy night. Floating Action, with back-porch jam "Sunlight" in tow, as well as the High Strung and Spinto Band stoked the room of soggy attendees with pop positivity. Folk-rock experimenter Pepi Ginsberg and band tested the textures of her just-released Shake This EP, an appetizer for the bold East Is East, due early next year. Among the unreleased jams, "Lost River" and "Kid" best let Ginsberg work out her versatile voice while guitarist Amnon Freidlin snuck a shock of discordant runs underneath. Of all of the night's performers, New Orleans hookmeisters Generationals proved to be most concerned with bridging the three-foot gap between themselves and the audience. Singer-guitarist Grant Widmer stirred some call-and-response for "Nobody Could Change Your Mind" off the stirring, Motown-fused Con Law. Widmer egged keyboardist Katie Clark to share a song of her own, a ribald little ditty sung to the tune of the Hot Pockets jingle.
A weather-hampered Saturday included a stop at the Pitchfork-curated Showpaper benefit at the souped-up loft haunt at 1142 Myrtle, aka the Market Hotel. With an address deep in the Bushwick neighborhood, and a function-first appearance (a sign on one of the bathroom doors read "Only for Peeing"), the event felt worlds away from the commerce-centric feel of CMJ proper. The well-traveled wood floors and graffiti-covered walls felt more in tune with youth and creativity yet to be co-opted by the big business idealism/cynicism cycle: a publicist even approached me to discuss a band at the event that she was boosting "illegally." The day included much blogged-abouts like Surfer Blood, Cold Cave and Cymbals Eat Guitars, but this writer's failing health only allowed for a fraction of the offerings. Beating out technical troubles, Small Black layered rudimentary drum loops and samples into a series of lo-fi pop tracks like "Despicable Dogs" as heavy on the scuzz as they were the hooks.
Next, the setup preceding Javelin's fusion of funk, tropicalia and soca crate-diggery, expressed the spirit of what they were about to play. Drum pad whiz George Langford and vocalist Tom Van Buskirk stacked a dozen old, busted-up boomboxes in front of their consoles, and piped their summer tunes through them (and then microphones) to add an extra dustiness to the steel drums, slap bass and soul a capella layered within. "Lindsey Brohan" and "Radio," both featured on the group's upcoming 12" due in November via Thrill Jockey, evacuated all stillness from the room. Luaka Bop, the label releasing the duo's official debut next year, has captured lightning in a coconut shell.
With that, another fest is in the books. To my earplugs, Emergen-C packets and Moleskine tablet, see you in Austin come March!