In a universe consisting of four percent matter and ninety-six percent negative space, absence is the dominant substance. With the right frame of mind, a void can be an endless possibility. Disappears' fifth album pounds that clay into a sonic metaphor. Gloom is one thing,...

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!

Started in Beijing seven years ago, the Modern Sky Festival is now one of many big music festivals that take place across China put on by its namesake company, Modern Sky Entertainment. On the weekend of October 4th and 5th, Modern Sky took the plunge into the US market, starting in New York City, where you can't throw a rock on any given day without hitting some kind of festival.Modern Sky Festival 2014The weather, too, wasn't exactly cooperative. An outdoor concert in a Northern city in October is always going to be a gamble, and had Modern Sky taken place a weekend earlier, it would have basked in unseasonable warmth. Instead, less fortunately, the barometer ended up taking its first real dip into fall teh weekend of the festival, and a long Saturday morning rainstorm left puddles across Rumsey Playfield -- some of which were still lingering after everything wrapped up on Sunday evening.
Modern Sky Festival

Litanic Mask - Vampire Album Review
On Vampire, the second LP from gothy Portland synthpop band Litanic Mask, the trio draw upon vampire mythology to comment on the inability of people to connect. Like their name, a Litanic Mask is a thin veil, separating the viewer from the viewed, while giving a ritualistic flair. In this case, the porcelain shield would be the sound walls of noisemakers Mark Burden and Andrea Kulish, whose pounding beats, pulsing synths and melodic keyboards make rays of light in the darkness, through which vocalist Kenna Jean swims in and out of focus. While she sings, "All I wanted was to see/ Your reflection in my mirror", you get the sense that it might be she, and not the other person, who vanishes into smoke when you look.

Sunbathing Animal, for everyone who went mental over Light Up Gold: it doesn't cohere as well as its predecessor, in which all the songs flowed naturally and felt of a piece. Parquet Courts have been touring endlessly, and Sunbathing Animal often gives off the feel that the band has made songwriting less of a priority, and/or they had more than a few also-rans from the Light Up Gold sessions. Their 2013 EP, Tally All the Things That You Broke, was a mixed bag as well, but it had two of the most memorable songs of their career: "You've Got Me Wonderin' Now" and "The More It Works." If they'd been patient and held off until Sunbathing Animal's release to show those tracks the light of day, we might have a stronger album. The rave-up songs, seemingly inspired by the punk energy of their live shows, don't have as much personality as Light Up Gold, and hearken back to the lack of definition on their debut LP, American Specialties. Of the fast songs, "Vienna II" shows the most promise, taut and swaggering like Pink Flag-era Wire. It's also only a blink-and-you'll-miss-it length, at 1:02. Similarly, the instrumental "Up All Night" posits an alternate-universe Parquet Courts that grew up on Love Tractor and mid-period Feelies instead of early Pavement and 1970s downtown touchstones.

Swans - To Be Kind Album Review (Young God Records)
2010 didn't offer up much to rejoice over, what with earthquakes, oil spills and other such tragedies dominating headlines and generally fucking over the world. Yet in the wake of those disasters the good Lord did deem it fit to bestow one blessing upon his faithful (or at least the record collecting nerds among them): the return of Swans. After a decade of understated twee folk, ascetically bland and nostalgic psyche rock, the general rise of "indie" rock to Grammy status and the dubstep um... dubstep, the aughts reanimated a band that absolutely never ever fucks around. That said, My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky was a slightly disappointing, if handsome, first effort for the new version of the band; it favored tightly structured songs with reserved running times over the timeless drones of past albums. This won them a legion of new fans and cemented their elder statesmen of rad music status but left a lot of long-time fans like myself with a sense of, "Cool that they're back, but meh!"

Doomsquad - Kalaboogie Album Review
After the decline predicted and lamented by Explosions In The Sky and Godspeed You! Black Emperor in the 2000s, the Canadian band Doomsquad provide a ritualistic dance party for the new world. Doomsquad provide a new skin for the old ceremony in the form of technological shamanism, where shakers and bone rattles meet Moogs and psych-out guitars in a forest clearing. The main challenge confronting a band that combines multiple genres is that their music inherit the strengths and weaknesses of each, similar to crossbreeding in Nature. Doomsquad’s latest record, Kalaboogie, may be judged by the standards of modern day dance music as well psychedelic and epic indie rock, and they risk losing the listener at every turn. The good news is that, rather than succumbing to the weaknesses, like some poor, mangy rabid mutt, Doomsquad have contributed something to each genre they work in. Kalaboogie, may be made of pre-existing parts -- trance music, triumphant indie rock, industrialized dance music and doomy, decadent mid-tempo disco -- but it is its own beast, its own spirit, inhabiting its own world.

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