Recap: CMJ 2014 - Tuesday

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Last night, CMJ 2014 officially kicked off, with up-and-coming bands from all across the globe converging upon New York City to show their stuff. The Paste staff decided to divide and conquer, catching as many showcases as we could. Here’s the best of what we saw on Tuesday night. Stay tuned throughout the week for all of our continuing coverage, and be sure to swing by our showcase on Thursday night to catch Wampire, The Parlour Tricks and Lee Bains III & The Gloryfires.

Fort Lean

Pianos was at capacity for this Brooklyn band that pairs sweeping, hook-driven vocals with heavy guitars. They’ve got a few singles under their belt (“Perfect” and “Beach Holiday”), but their debut full-length isn’t set to drop until early next year. Based on the crowd last night, it seems safe to say there are plenty of eager ears waiting for the first proper Fort Lean LP. —Bonnie Stiernberg


Joseph is a trio of sisters from the Pacific Northwest. And while the family resemblance might not seem obvious at first, hearing them sing will remove all doubt. The harmonies are playful, but perfect, creating something powerful with a single guitar and a trio of voices. Named after their grandfather, the Eastern Oregon town where they’d visit his farm and the Old Testament character who believed in dreams, they wowed the capacity crowd at Rockwood Music Hall’s downstairs venue last night. —Josh Jackson

Monica Heldal

On Rockwood’s second stage, Monica Heldal put on an acoustic guitar clinic, alongside her fellow lead guitarist. On top of the intricate picking were the Norwegian singer’s compelling folky ballads. Hailing from the same town of Bergen as Sondre Lerche and Annie, Heldal’s debut Boy From the North was just released in the U.S., and she’ll spend the next two months in the States touring to support it. —Josh Jackson

Lisa Bianco

Lisa Bianco looks like your classic girl-rocker, with her leather jacket and cascading curls of dark hair, but there was a bit more sweetness under the surface of her set at Bowery Electric on Tuesday night than the tough appearance would immediately indicate. Perhaps it’s because she was simply playing in a two-piece, guitar and piano, occupying a back corner while patrons of the bar listened casually and glanced over to keep up with the bizarre, Chinese kung fu vampire movie that was simultaneously playing on several TV’s. The New York singer-songwriter crooned her way through a few love songs before closing on a high (and unusual) note by inviting a local hip-hop artist on stage to freestyle over her final rock number. —Jim Vorel

Arc Iris

If you only know Jocie Adams from her work with The Low Anthem, you may be taken aback by her new project, the Arc Iris, and how it stands in such contrast to her former band. With the Arc Iris, Adams is brash—clad on this night in a gold onesie—and glittery, summoning her best David Bowie on some tracks and jazzing things up with horn-driven tracks like “Powder Train.” —Bonnie Stiernberg

The Grayces

The Grayces hail from Nashville, but there’s no twang or countrified essence to be found in their loud, intense brand of rock. Lead vocalist Iz Stone has a powerful set of pipes, which she uses to howl her way through several subgenres of rock, which mostly share a common element of aggression. At times, on the blues-tinged tracks, she sounds a bit like current pop star Grace Potter in the years before she went blonde and made an earnest attempt at crossover success. At other times, the guitars grow wild, veering into trippy, heavy metal licks, which combined with Stone’s warbling vocals, almost approximates Rush without the keyboards. It’s an absolutely huge-sounding band for a three-piece, tailor-made to blast the eardrums of rock club patrons who love in-your-face displays of guitar bravado. —Jim Vorel

Kahli Abdu

I hadn’t planned on seeing these guys (showed up way too early for another show), but I’m glad I did. Not knowing what to expect was especially the treat—they started off with just David and Will each on synthesizers making some energetic instrumental beats and tunes, and then several minutes later Kahli took the stage and the crowd cheered. I felt like I was on the beach instead of a freezing bar in Brooklyn, and could’ve listened to Kahli’s soulful rap all night. —Sarah Lawrence

Red Oblivion

This animated New York rock band is fronted by entertaining bassist Zach Adams, who twisted, shook and jittered his way through a Tuesday night set at Bowery Electric. He’s an animated stage presence who is constantly in motion, working up a sweat to a soundtrack of loud, intricate guitar rock. The band has obvious alt-rock influences, but their music is appreciably cerebral at times, especially in its wild guitar licks from the striking Emma Torres, which rise up only occasionally over the big, chugging bass of Adams, which you could likely feel in your chest from down the block. It’s feel-good alt-rock that would sound at home in a horror movie while the college kids are partying at a beachside campfire, just before the masked killer starts picking them off, one by one. —Jim Vorel


Aurora Aksnes is a bit of a riddle. Only 17 years old, she has the air of a prodigy around her, but a demure presence until she steps on stage. We saw first-hand on Tuesday that she can certainly adapt to a range of different settings as well, because the Aurora who performed to a packed crowd at Brooklyn Bowl seemed like an entirely different person than the shy, Norwegian teenager who recorded a haunting, mournful acoustic song in the Paste Parlour only hours earlier. At the Bowl, her so-called “dark pop” was explosive, and Aksnes has an x-factor that one can’t quite look away from. Her arms and hands are always waving, often wildly, and it’s difficult to decide whether she’s warding off bad vibes or if she’s knowingly becoming a siren, casting her spell over the audience. She’s never been to New York before, but most audience members in the sea of spooning, slow-dancing Brooklyn residents seem to know her quite well. We undoubtedly haven’t heard the last of Aurora. —Jim Vorel


A four-man band with three guitars, MONEY looks like it would be a straight-ahead rock group but instead reaches for something more grand and operatic. One of those guitar players pulls double duty on synth, which, coupled with the sweeping, impassioned lyrics, gives them an art rock sound in the vein of Arcade Fire without the additional instrumentation. There’s plenty of big, sustained yells and “whooos” going on here, emotional, passionate vocals dripping with sincerity and modulated to echo off the walls of the Rough Trade Record Store in Brooklyn. Their set is filled with relaxing, mid-tempo and slow jams, breakup mixtape material through and through. —Jim Vorel

Little Racer

They played so late, the crowd consisted of just me, a couple, and a guy with a mullet. A shame though, because Little Racer put on one of the smoothest sounding sets I’ve heard from an indie band in awhile. A little bit Cayucas mixed with Wild Nothing, they carried on that summertime sunshine from Kahli Abdu’s set. —Sarah Lawrence

The Crookes

Sometimes you can walk into a venue late at night, hear one track from a band and immediately know what you’re in for. That was the case with The Crookes; all it took was a little jangly guitar and some Smiths-influenced vocals from these Brits for me to say “Okay, I know what this is all about, and it’s exactly what I need right now.” That first track reeled me in, but it was the Sheffield band’s lyricism that held my attention for the rest of the set. —Bonnie Stiernberg