As music fans and college radio DJs descend upon NYC this week, those of us who are already here are taking stock on the music scene as it stands. Last year, the CMJ Music Marathon saw a heavy representation from indie bands that were making their festival debut, such as Speedy Ortiz and Hunters, who then took off in the media instantly after. This year shows great promise, with buzz bands like Twin Peaks, PAWS, Gem Club, Blue Hawaii, and Adult Jazz playing, as well as stalwarts like Obits, A Place to Bury Strangers, and Cold War Kids returning the to fray -- along with the anticipated reunion of shoegaze legends Slowdive (and Low opening!). And, of course, it wouldn't be CMJ without a slew of brand new band hoping to get their big break. CMJ Music Marathon 2014 As always, the lineup for CMJ 2014 is diverse -- but something we appreciated seeing was that there seems to be an increase of girl bands and female solo artists. It is notable to mention that this year's CMJ has also extended its reach to large group of new venues, concentrated mostly in Brooklyn. Here are our top picks, though many more are listed on CMJ.com!

This evening, the spirit of the '60s seems alive and thriving in the Crystal Ballroom. You can sense the remnants of bands like New Riders Of The Purple Sage or The Byrds, as you set foot upon the legendary bouncing dancefloor. It is a grand West Coast ballroom, in the tradition of the Fillmores; there's an epic chandelier, worthy of the Phantom Of The Opera, and Renaissance paintings al fresco on the walls. It's a classy place to see a real rock n' roll show. I don't know what it is about these ballrooms, but they always seem primed to go off. Maybe it's because they were designed for getting down, with wide open wooden dancefloors and killer sound systems. Imagine the surprise of the 1914 founders, if they could peer through time and hear the hardcore racket that would be pummeling out on a Wednesday night, nearly 100 years later. This was basically a double-headliner bill between two influential bands of different eras: Helmet, from the early '90s, and the most famous of the '70s school of artpunk, Wire. Wire, Helmet Live Show Review - Crystal Ballroom, Portland, OR

Ghost & Goblin SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND Self-Released
FADE IN: EXT. A RAINY URBAN ALLEY NIGHT Thunder crashes and illuminates the face of an anxious man who appears to be in his mid-20s. He's soaked from the relentless rain and seems to be looking for an address. Finding the right one, he bangs on the old wooden door. The door gives way and creaks open. He steps inside and it slams behind him, the sound of the storm replaced by the sound of rats scurrying. In the darkness he encounters (a monster? a ghost? a goblin?) that makes a terrifying growl. The sounds of the man scampering away indicate abject terror -- and a likely loss of continence. The man recovers himself and hears a pipe organ playing behind the door at the end of the hall. Investigating, he opens the door, the music grows louder and we find ourselves in... INT. MAD SCIENTIST LAB NIGHT
Seem like a strange way to start a music review? Well, it's a pretty strange way to start an album, but that didn't seem to bother Ghost & Goblin, the macabre-music-making, lo-fi loving, NYC-based team of Nicholas DiMichele and Spencer Synwolt. In fact, it's the perfect spooky entrée to an album filled with noises that go bump in the night -- like fuzzed-out angry electric guitars, bashing drums and synthesized beeps, bleats and buzzes of every stripe.

 

Fox & Woman - This Side Dawn Album ReviewFox & Woman This Side Dawn Name Drop Swamp Records On their debut LP, This Side Dawn, eclectic pop-folk-jazz-rock band Fox & Woman gives us an exciting window into their developing hybridized sound. Throughout the album, satisfying pop-inspired moments catch our ear while sporadic bursts of musical potential demand our attention. Though hindered somewhat by its unfocused instrumentation, This Side Dawn suggests the artistic honesty and commitment necessary for the band to ultimately hone in on their unique sound.

 

Junip Junip (2013) Mute Records On their self-titled full length sophomore release, Junip stake a definitive claim into the world of indie folk. As a band, Junip have been in existence for over a decade, but the fact that this is only their second album (the first, Fields, came out in 2010), is quite unusual. Junip made a few EPs early on, and took a break for lead singer Jose Gonzalez to launch a solo career. His hauntingly beautiful cover of The Knife's "Heartbeats" made music audiences take pause, and Gonzalez quickly reached levels of stardom that solo musicians only hope to achieve. Fast-forward a few years, and Junip's following has increased exponentially. This is notably quite a role-reversal. It is much more often the case that a lead singer of a popular band splits off on his own; but rarely does a band's status rise after their lead singer's does, and it was refreshing to see Gonzalez happily return to Junip. It takes merit to not get carried away in a moment of fame, although this never seemed to be his game. The musician always gave off a shy, humbled air -- one that was appreciative, introspective, and even a tad mysterious. He is not outspoken, and every move is deliberate. What Gonzalez brings to the table is his unique ability to sound quiet and forcefully loud at the same time. It's what makes him one of the more gifted vocalists of the past 10 years, and also highlights how he adds to this sense of balance throughout Junip, which contains a similar earnest, deliberate quy throughout, but without deference to the fame of Gonzalez.

 

Our third-annual album cover art feature uses interviews with artists and musicians to highlight the philosophical, thematic, and conceptual significance of great album cover artwork. THE BREAKDOWN    12 Collage + 14 Digital Illustration, Drawing, Design + 19 Illustration, Painting, Drawing + 8 Black And White Photography + 22 Color Photography + 6 Deluxe Packaging + 10 Fashion, Sculpture, Installation _____________________________    91 Album Covers For 2011 Best Of 2011 Album Cover Art

"Eery. Melancholic."
Dum Dum Girls - Only In Dreams
Art director Jeff Kleinsmith and photographer Shawn Brackbill capture the shadowy residue of an out-of-body experience.
QUOTES FROM: JEFF KLEINSMITH, ART DIRECTOR THEMES & CONCEPTS "Dee Dee from the band... had a very specific idea in mind, but I feel like it isn't my place to speak for her on this." CREATIVE PROCESS "There is a phenomenon called astral projection or astral travel which is the idea that there are two bodies - an astral body and a physical body, and there are some who believe that the astral body can travel outside of the physical one. There are some pretty famous photos depicting the astral body leaving the physical body, and Dee Dee wanted to make her own version with herself as the subject. Again, she would know better than I what this particular imagery means to her. Well, I LOVE the image. It is one of the most interesting images I've worked with in a long time. That's not exactly some high-minded insight, but it's how I feel about the image. Dee Dee never told me if it has personal meaning to her. I know she was going through some things, so it's possible that the image is directly related to that." THE EXTRAS "Tthe only thing to mention is the silver foil stamp on the front and back and maybe the old-style packaging. I'm referring to when LPs were first made, they were actually raw cardboard which was cover by a thin printed paper skin -- as opposed to printing directly on the cardboard. Most modern packaging is done this way, and this piece was done in the old style. Also, there is a 22" x 22" foldout poster inside along with a snazzy CD dust sleeve." Record Label Sub Pop Records The Artists Art Direction & Design - Dee Dee & Jeff Kleinsmith Photography - Shawn Brackbill Mediums & Materials Photography, Postcard, Computers

Our third-annual album cover art feature uses interviews with artists and musicians to highlight the philosophical, thematic, and conceptual significance of great album cover artwork. THE BREAKDOWN    12 Collage + 14 Digital Illustration, Drawing, Design + 19 Illustration, Painting, Drawing + 8 Black And White Photography + 22 Color Photography + 6 Deluxe Packaging + 10 Fashion, Sculpture, Installation _____________________________    91 Album Covers For 2011 Best Of 2011 Album Cover Art

Apteka - Gargoyle Days
Despite never having met one another, Portland designer Dylan McConnell and Chicago's Apteka have grown a well-fitting artistic relationship through the years. McConnell's album cover for Gargoyle Days may be their most gripping collaboration yet.

QUOTES FROM: DYLAN MCCONNELL, DESIGNER ADAM LUCAS, APTEKA'S GUITARIST AND VOCALIST THEMES & CONCEPTS "We had worked with a sorta paranoid, dark op-art theme in the past for posters and albums (with a brief interlude of lopping off girls' heads). High contrast and fluid -- that's what I was going for." - Dylan McConnell COLLABORATION "We've been working with Dylan pretty much since the band formed. He's done all our cover art, and most all of our show posters so far. Things clicked from the beginning. He just has a knack of taking what we're doing musically and expressing it in a visual way. The funniest part is that we've never really met. He lives in Portland, and we're in Chicago. A mutual friend turned us on to him, but we've never had the chance to meet in person. It's all been through email. Which is kind of a weird way to communicate artistic intentions, but somehow it works, and he’s become this mysterious fifth member of the group." - Adam Lucas Record Label Carpark Records The Artists Design - Dylan McConnell Mediums & Materials Collage, Digital, Typography (hand-drawn)

Our third-annual album cover art feature uses interviews with artists and musicians to highlight the philosophical, thematic, and conceptual significance of great album cover artwork. THE BREAKDOWN    12 Collage + 14 Digital Illustration, Drawing, Design + 19 Illustration, Painting, Drawing + 8 Black And White Photography + 22 Color Photography +...

I'm into this mopey video full of nonchalant creepers. In this video for "Kale" (which populates the YouTube "Suggestions" sidebar with many a tutorial on the many ways to properly prepare kale), Nerves Junior are the perfect combination of somewhat present and really lethargic. As...