CMJ is nothing if not a marathon. For five nights, in dozens of clubs spread across Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, more than 1,000 bands did their best to impress college-radio programmers, writers, booking agents, record labels and music fans. Here are 10 that impressed us.
Hometown: Melbourne, Australia
For Fans Of: Junior Boys, Hot Chip, Justice
Australia’s Clubfeet brought their brand of synth-pop to Piano’s on Wednesday afternoon, and while their sound isn’t particularly groundbreaking, it was still great fun. Fans of Junior Boys will dig their danceable grooves, and anyone with a sense of humor will smirk at the cheeky lyrics to “Teenage Suicide (Don’t Do It).”—Bonnie Stiernberg
Hometown: New York
For Fans Of: Portishead, Florence + the Machine, Cat Power
Aleksa Palladino and Devon Church sound more like a score to a dramatic film than your traditional indie duo from NYC. Perhaps Palladino draws from her experiences as an actress on shows like Boardwalk Empire to get that poignant, atmospheric touch.
The band’s debut EP from Secretly Canadian came out earlier this year.—Adam Vitcavage
8. Radiation City
Hometown: Portland, Ore.
For Fans Of: Mercury Rev, Typhoon, Yo La Tengo
The dream-pop outfit, originally composed of Cameron Spies and his girlfriend Lizzy Ellison, released an album called The Hands That Take You on their own cassette-only label Apes Tapes. After an onslaught of positive buzz surrounding their relatively small number of live performances, the two decided to abandon their multiple side projects and focus on recording the album properly.—Dacey Orr
7. Little Red
Hometown: Melbourne, Australia
For Fans Of: Foster the People, Rubblebucket,
These polite Australian kids have a legitimate hit on their hands with the infectious “Rock It.” The band has already done all right Down Under, and shouldn’t have a hard time finding an audience in the U.S.—Josh Jackson
Hometown: Brooklyn, N.Y.
For Fans Of: Of Montreal, St. Vincent, Esben & the Witch
“We’re gonna play everything three times as fast to get everything in,” Firehorse’s Leah Siegel after some technical difficulties caused a late start. “It might be a shitshow, but it’ll be a show.” Turns out, she was half-right: she and the rest of Firehorse put on a show. Siegel’s powerhouse vocals were the highlight of the set, at times haunting and at other times providing the perfect soundtrack to what quickly evolved into an indie-pop dance party.—Bonnie Stiernberg
5. Phantom Family Halo
For Fans Of: Isis, Dead Meadow, Talking Heads
This next-gen psychedelic rock band effortlessly combines acid-inspired progressions with gummy hooks that will bounce around in your head for hours. Their music is like eating candy-flavored mushrooms. The clip below of older material doesn’t do the new poppier direction justice.—Sean Doyle
4. Chris Bathgate
Hometown: Ann Arbor, Mich.
For Fans Of: Alexi Murdoch, Jason Molina, Damien Jurado
Amidst all the crowds, lines and packed rooms outside various venues on Friday night, Ann Arbor singer/songwriter Chris Bathgate played his lone CMJ set to 30 people upstairs at The Living Room. His late-night performance stripped down much of the precise orchestration from his lush, lonesome 2011 record Salt Year, but was equally impressive as the core of his songs shone through.—Max Blau
3. The Lumineers
For Fans Of: The Avett Brothers, Ryan Adams, The Head and The Heart
The Lumineers were part of our Best of What’s Next issue, but this was the first time we got to see them live. The band got its start in New York before moving to Denver, and the return was triumphant as the raucous call-and-response songs made the club feel more like an old-time pub where everybody was happy to raise a glass and join in.—Josh Jackson
2. Robert Ellis
For Fans Of: Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt, Drive-By Truckers
We saw the wise-beyond-his-22-years singer play solo Wednesday night at City Winery, realizing just how great a songwriting talent he is. Then we saw him at the Paste party with a full band and realized what a badass he is, as the quintet deconstructed old bluegrass songs and borrowed as much from Radiohead as George Jones. We recorded him on the shores Lake Michigan earlier this year for the video below.—Josh Jackson
1. Alabama Shakes
Hometown: Athens, Ala.
For Fans Of: Sharon Jones, Janis Joplin, Charles Bradley
At some point, God decided to take the voices of Janis Joplin, Robert Plant and Tina Turner and roll them all up into the body of Brittany Howard. She also happens to front a band that sounds like it just sprouted fully formed from the clay of Muscle Shoals, just an hour away from the Shakes’ hometown of Athens, Ala.—Josh Jackson