CMJ 2015 Day 1: Chicago Takes Brooklyn And Methyl Ethel, Mothers And The Britanys Thrill

CMJ 2015 kicked off in New York City yesterday, bringing hundreds of new bands to the venues of Manhattan and Brooklyn. Like NYC’s answer to The Great Escape, it’s all about discovering those artists that are going to do something special. The festival’s been running for 35 years this year, so it’s pretty well established as somewhere to catch those potential future heroes early. Here’s what we discovered on day one…

Melbourne group Good Morning play an early set at Pianos, guitarist with singer Stefan Blair giving advance warning that his vocals might not be quite up to scratch due to some criminally cheap cigarettes purchased in duty free on the way to New York. The new huskiness to his voice kinda suits their sound though – lilting indie-rock with hints of Americana. It’s a pleasant start, if not particularly mind-blowing.

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Nico Yaryan is probably one of the buzzier draws of this year’s festival, having recently signed to Partisan. The former drummer for Hanni El Khatib is shut away from the sun outside in basement venue Elvis Guesthouse, but his delicate love songs are full of light, and a laid-back atmosphere – ironic seeing as they’re all about the girl he fell in love with while on tour in Amsterdam, and keeping a relationship together with an ocean between you.

If you’re looking to have your heart pulled out of your chest and into pieces in front of your eyes then get to see Mothers asap. Centred around Kristine Leschper, the Athens, Georgia group could fit in the same bracket as Waxahatchee, Angel Olsen, Torres et al, but lyrically they stand out head and shoulders above any peers. Their set is full of killer lines that’ll make you jolt upright and make your head swim, from “I wanted to be destroyed by you” to “I don’t like myself when I’m awake.”

There’s a wooziness to Perth’s Methyl Ethel that makes watching them feel like you’re in some kind of limbo between being fast asleep in a very indie dreamland and wide awake. There’s elements of Warpaint to their sound – hypnotising, mesmeric – but also slightly more punch and hooky melodies that filter into your subconsciousness.

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Something that sounds like Mumford & Sons floats out of the door of Brooklyn’s Shea Stadium and down the stairs greeting new arrivals to the venue. It’s not Marcus and co doing a low-key secret set, but Winstons, a two-piece based in the borough. Thankfully, it’s only one song that can be compared to the folk titans – the rest of their set is rife with rock’n’roll riffs, blues-y undertones and garage thrash. Plus, frontman Lou Nutting plays shirtless, bouncing on the balls of his feet as he shouts into the microphone. Probably wouldn’t find Marcus ever doing that.

The rest of the line-up at Shea is mostly made up of Chicago bands. The Walters call themselves cardigan rock and there’s a kind of comforting tenderness to their songs that fits the bill. Frontman Luke Olson possesses a killer croon (as well as a way with his hips) that’s warm and rich with emotion. Modern Vices were full of potential and promise at this year’s SXSW and they’ve come on leaps and bounds in the intervening months. Their smooth garage-rock is delivered with a new found confidence and is all the better for it.

Best of all though are The Symposium. Each of their songs sounds like it’s been discarded by The Strokes, lifted out of the gutter and given fresh new life. Tonight is their first New York show and their first show with new drummer Jamie, but they’re so together and on point that it seems as if they’ve been on the road for years. With all the great new bands coming out of Chicago it’s gotta be hard to be the best, but The Symposium might be it.

That The Britanys, pictured above, line check for their performance with bursts of Libertines songs gives a fair clue as to where their set is heading. They’ve got a similar charm to that found in Pete and Carl’s early ramshackle stuff, and latest track ‘City Boys’ is like a slightly mellower ‘Skint And Minted’. They’re fun, free and fuzzy, and – along with The Symposium – one of the more exciting new bands on CMJ’s line-up this year.

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