Volume 75, Number 17 | September 14 - 20, 2005

Bands on the run: The CMJ Music Marathon celebrates an important milestone

Hot Commodity: This week, hundreds of bands will vie to become the next Arcade Fire, above, the darling of last year’s CMJ Music Marathon.

In 1981, the four-day music fest now known as the CMJ Music Marathon hosted its first showcase at a downtown loft party, headlined by a two acts whose names wouldn’t ring a bell today. Now in its 25th year, the festival has become a prime opportunity for unsigned bands to find a label and a following, and for A&R reps and music journalists to bet on the next big thing. Robert Haber, CEO of the music media giant, gave us his list of unknowns to watch among the over 1,000 bands that will perform at 65 venues this week. Following are four of his most interesting picks. (Visit cmj.com for pass and venue info.)

The Grates, Wednesday, 7:15 at the Knitting Factory
The lead singer of this Brisbane, Australia trio is named Patience, but her furious vocals suggest she has nothing of the sort. What The Grates have in spades is an infectious, post-punk sound complete with catchy guitar riffs, spirited lyrics, and head-bobbing drums. They won a lot of hearts when they played South By Southwest this spring, a big sister to the CMJ, and expect to find a lot more admirers at this week’s show.

Later that night: At 9, Feist channels Joni Mitchel’s sensitivity and soul on the same stage.

Goldspot, Thursday, 8:30 PM at Pianos
The smart lyrics and shimmery pop from this L.A. band inspires constant comparisons to the Cure and the Smiths, but front man Siddhartha Khosla adds an unexpected, exotic twist to the new wave formula. The suburban son of Indian immigrants grew up in New Jersey listening to Hindu singers on his parents’ cassettes, and the Police, U2, and REM on the radio. The influence was lasting. His sophomore album, Tally of the Yes Men, fuses western pop with classical Indian melodies.

Later that night: Stay up late for Swedish, psychedelic rockers Dungen at the Bowery Ballroom’s 12:45 show.

Death Vessel, Friday, 7:30 PM at Sin-É
Don’t let the name fool you. This old timey, neo folk band from Providence sounds downright angelic. The lead singer and songwriter’s high pitched warbling is misleading, too. As feminine as it seems, it belongs to Joel Thibodeau, the man behind these moving, atmospheric songs.

Later that night: Nearby at 9, Dr. Dog plays lo-fi, Beatles-inspired pop at the Mercury Lounge.

Tralala, Saturday, 11 PM at Ace of Clubs
Four girls and three guys fill out this bubblegum pop collective from Brooklyn. The hand clapping, toe tapping songs sound like an amped up version of the Langley Schools Music Project, a recording of 1970s school kids singing classic rock hits. Tralala itself draws on earlier influences like the Ronettes and Runaways; either way, it’s hard not to fall for their hard-driving crooning.

Later that night: The Wolf Parade, Montreal’s latest It band, plays around the corner at Bowery Ballroom at midnight.

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