Arts Desk

(Bonus) Clip Job: Five Acts I Loved at CMJ


Duchess Says, from Montreal, performs at Arlene's Grocery in New York City on Wednesday.

Kria Brekkan at Cameo Gallery: A cynic might say Kría Brekkan's hour-long set at the Paw Tracks label showcase confirmed numerous clichés about Iceland's parochial peculiarity. To wit: Pretend Lars von Trier's costume team had reimagined Sabrina the Teenage Witch and you're still falling short on quirk, insularity, and shamanic strangeness. Crazy-eyed, angel-voiced, and spooky-thin, Brekkan employed all the womblike abstraction of her former band, múm, but none of its glitchy restraint. And because Brekken invoked a very natal image when she crouched on the floor and peeled her dress over her body, I feel OK suggesting that her lengthy, deconstructed nursery rhymes (conjured via laptop, a row of voice-manipulating pedals, and an accordion) could credibly soundtrack a birth. Brekkan performs at Floristree in Baltimore tonight at 9 p.m.

More favorites from CMJ after the jump: bad beach similes, calisthenic indie rock, and intimidating French Canadians!

Surf City at Cake Shop: The inside-baseball joke at CMJ this year had something to do with a lot of bands—like Real Estate and the rest of the Underwater Peoples crew—really digging on the beach. Surfer Blood—a much-buzzed, erudite five-piece from the Florida city where my grandparents used to winter—was safe and reliable, like SPF 100, while Surf City—a loud, lanky, heavily reverbed four-piece from New Zealand—more or less obliterated my desire to make bad shore similes. In hyperbolic songs that crescendoed and climaxed but rarely cycled, the group uncorked its country's best '80s export, the Dunedin Sound, with reverence and gusto. Every critic worth his or her weight in seven-inches has mentioned this band's debt to The Clean, to which I can't object.  But in my mind, Surf City was all Buzzcocks.

Darwin Deez at Santos Party House: This ostensible acid casualty from New York refers to his music as "indie rock with a side of calisthenics," which is apt insofar as he looks like Richard Simmon's string-beanish doppelganger and his band segues between songs by dancing to "Single Ladies." (They've got choreography, too!) I'm not going to defend those gimmicks, but I'll go to bat for the songs, which were all quirky, Malkmusian swagger and fried, hyperimaginative wistfulness.

Duchess Says at Arlene's Grocery: There are bands whose studio output I will never appreciate—think the Les Savy Fav school of high-bombast, high-testosterone indie rock—but whose live shows really can't be missed. Duchess Says is one of those bands. Singer Annie-Claude Deschenes was frenetic and ferocious: Like Kria Brekkan, she spent moments of her set spreadeagled on the floor, except in her case that meant several feet into the crowd, not on stage. The band, meanwhile, took as much from early-oughts electroclash as jerky, Lightning Bolt-style noise. It's a testament to Duchess Says' live act that it takes listening to its recordings to realize how much all roads lead to Devo.

Pill Wonder at Delancey: Here was the most overstated-looking lo-fi band you'll see this year. This Seattle septet has two drummers, two keyboardists and a scuzzy aesthetic that oscillates between Titus Andronicus's lush, loud angst and the Elephant 6 collective's punchy psych pop. Everything was excessive—the instrumentation, the gang vocals, the intentional sloppiness—save the songs, which where anthemic and efficient. How else to ensure that more is more?

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