Here's my CMJ 2015 Recap Part 2, featuring Phoebe Ryan, DNCE, Johanan, Elohim, Oscar and The Wolf and more!

CMJ 2015: A Week (That Felt Like A Year) In Review – Part 2

    Here's my CMJ 2015 Recap Part 2, featuring Phoebe Ryan, DNCE, Johanan, Elohim, Oscar and The Wolf and more!

    Yikes—has it really almost been 2 weeks since CMJ? Trust me, I really did have every intention of churning out TWO recap posts last week but…well, my day job takes precedence at the moment, add to that my concert schedule is a bit ridiculous, especially in the Fall, as it turns out. Last week, in the midst of my post-CMJ recovery I had booked three…errrrm—scratch that, FOUR concerts for the week. In other words, very little writing time. In addition to seeing BØRNS (for the very first time) play the Saturday immediately after CMJ, I also had shows lined up for Tuesday (Transviolet + Mikky Ekko), Wednesday (Erik Hassle + Tove Lo) and Saturday (Disclosure). Then I saw a Tweet from this brilliant band from New Zealand that I profiled (Leisure) a little a ways back was playing a show in Brooklyn on Friday. So naturally I had to go. WHOOSH. Needless to say, Sunday was spent recovering for 2 weeks of music, vodka and late night taco-truck binges. Still, my final two days of CMJ festivities were most certainly memorable and worth talking about, so let’s pick up where we left off, shall we? Brilliant.

    Thursday night’s New Shapes/Neon Gold showcase was the BIG ONE. It was the first one I purchased tickets for this year, as well as being the first (and only) one I attended in 2014. When Neon Gold is involved, you can always count on an eclectic and electric mix of artists and boy did they deliver this year. It’s worth mentioning that, while it was CMJ week, Smallpools also happened to be rolling through town with their American Love Tour, bringing both Machineheart and Phoebe Ryan along for the ride. Given that Webster Hall is a decent-sized and fairly popular NYC venue, and that none of the three acts performed any other CMJ shows…I am pretty sure that this was a straight up coincidence and all about being in the right place at the right time. Hey, no complaints here! Machineheart and Phoebe Ryan were both on my must-see list.

    Machine heart and DNCE were just two of the acts that played the Neon Gold New Shapes CMJ showcase this year.
    top – bottom: Machineheart, DNCE (Neon Gold, National Anthem, Chess Club Present New Shapes – CMJ Showcase)

    Unfortunately for me, I got out of work late and only caught Machineheart‘s last song. Lucky for me that last song was one of my favorites, “Circles” from the band’s In Your Dreams EP (iTunes). Disappointed as I was, I at least got to ee a little of lead singer Stevie Scott bounding back and forth across the stage, enthusiastically belting out notes while her band’s brand of dreamy synthpop swirled around her. Machineheart is most definitely still on my ‘must-see’ list. Next up on the main stage (AKA Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, capacity 1,500) was DNCE. Admittedly, before seeing these guys perform live, Joe Jonas was the main draw for me, but after witnessing their lively and exuberant display on stage another star emerged for me—guitarist JinJoo Lee. Holy SH*T! This girl was a dynamo up there, emanating personality, talent and skills to the max. Don’t get me wrong, Joe Jonas sang the hell out of the group’s new four-track EP, SWAAY (out now) as well as a cover of Drake‘s “Hotline Bling,” I couldn’t take my eyes off of JinJoo. Another star on that stage for me was the bassist, Cole Whittle, formerly of Semi-Precious Weapons. While Whittle certainly kept up (and sweat up) with the DNCE‘s high-energy set, his energy was at times a manic and a little demented…in a good way(?) After delivering a rousing live rendition of their first single, the Mattman & Robin produced “Cake By The Ocean” (check out the video below). Whittle attempted an off-the-stage dive…but fans in the front row were confused and thought he was handing them his guitar. Awkward. DNCE definitely left me impressed and excited to check out future material. In addition to “Cake By The Ocean” (a certified BOP) check out “Pay My Rent,” another stand out from their just released EP (Republic Records).

    Making my way down to the smaller, more manageable Studio at Webster Hall, I ordered a drink and took my spot by the stage. I was there to see Johanan—a mysterious singer/songwriter from Sweden whom I’d only recently discovered (thanks to Neon Gold) and knew virtually nothing about. Recently signed to Neon Gold Records, Johanan, in addition to being a singer, and a songwriter is also a producer and multi-instrumentalist—skills he all put to the test tonight, and with great success I might add! Admittedly I was really only familiar with two of Johanan‘s songs, including the stunningly cinematic first single “Go On (Let It Go),” a hard-to-classify sleeping giant of a song. “Go On” starts out with Johanan singing in hushed, folky whispers and keeps things level for nearly 2:00 minutes, before launching into an epic, seemingly endless, sweeping chant-like chorus sure to bring out the goosebumps. While the 3-4 person ban, including a particularly spirited back-up singer S-A-A-A-N-G the hell out of their short set, the sound system was a bit of a nuisance for me, with high notes coming through the speakers too shrill and scratchy and the bass overpowering the rest. Still, an impressive debut set for Johanan. I’m definitely excited to see and hear more. Neon Gold appropriately compares his sound to that of Jonsí and Sufjan Stevens, “with shades of alt-J thrown in for good measure.” Perfection. Listen to Johanan‘s more mellow (more FOLK-tronic) follow-up to “Go On,” entitled “Holy Spirit” below.

    Then it was back up to the Grand Ballroom to catch Phoebe Ryan (for the second time).  In case you couldn’t tell, there was a lot of running back and forth at this showcase. Unlike the first two I attended, which all took place in one spot (the Marlin Room at Webster Hall), the New Shapes/Neon Gold showcase encompassed ALL THREE stages—Studio At Webster (downstairs), Marlin Room (Mid-level) and the Grand Ballroom (upstairs). By the time I got to see Phoebe, the entire Grand Ballroom was nearly filled to capacity. Being that I had already seen her open for Say Lou Lou, I grabbed myself a cocktail and snuck in near the back to bask in her green-haired glow and watch the fans eat her up and soak her in. The first time I saw Phoebe Ryan was at Bowery Ballroom, which fits nearly 600. To see her now commanding the attention of nearly 1,500 (give or take) enamored fans and fans-to-be was amazing to say the least. She was so endearing and sweet in between songs—the size of the crowd before her surely a humbling sight to see. Her slick beats and light, feathery vocals filled Webster Hall, and as I left her singing crowd favorite (and latest single) “Mine” I couldn’t help but smile and whisper ‘GO GIRL.’

    Johann from Sweden delivered an impressive NYC debut, as did Belgium's Oscar & The Wolf. Meanwhile Phoebe Ryan played to her biggest crowd yet.
    left – right: Johanan, Phoebe Ryan, Oscar & The Wolf (Neon Gold, National Anthem, Chess Club Present New Shapes – CMJ Showcase)

    My next destination was the Studio at Webster Hall for Vaults—unfortunately the time in the official CMJ app was off and (I believe) Client Liaison was setting up on stage. Not wanting to wait around, I headed back upstairs to the Marlin Room to catch some of Belgium’s Oscar & The Wolf. The band had just started playing, so the room was only sparsely-filled at that moment, but when lead singer and frontman Max Colombie started to sing, I was lost in the music. I had only briefly listened to the band’s Summer Skin 2012 EP, the only thing available in America (Spotify) and wasn’t super familiar with anything but that didn’t matter. I was instantly enamored with the tall, dark and handsome Max as he gently danced across the slightly-oversized stage, shuffling awkwardly the long distance between the drummer and the guitarist and keyboardist, twirling around to rhythm of his own music. While I found Oscar & The Wolf‘s soothing alt-pop sounds hypnotic, it was their live version of “You’re Mine” by Belgian producer/songwriter Raving George that really got the blood pumping. “You’re Mine” (Spinnin’ Deep/[PIAS] Recordings Belgium) is a sexy, seedy, pulsating, synthful thriller of a song featuring Max from Oscar & The Wolf.  By the time they had finished, the room had filled up considerably and the crowd was vibing hard. I was sad to leave that energy, but I had places to be. Check out the video for “You’re Mine” below.

    I neglected to mention that, on my way UP to see Oscar & The Wolf in the Marlin Room, I saw #LEGENDARY Powers duo, Mike Del Rio and Crista Ru (looking #HOT, I might add) on their way DOWN to the Studio. Powers has definitely been on my ‘must-see’ list for a while now, and although their CMJ set was delayed by almost an hour, it was all worth it in the end. The LA-based duo was promoting their new Legendary EP (iTunes / Spotify) out now on Republic Records. In addition to playing through some of their older releases, including “Loved By You” and “Beat of My Drum” the sexy duo also played the recently premiered “Hot” and the (at the time) brand new title-track off the EP, “Legendary,” which has in the days since become a staple on my FIERCE-STRUT-AROUND-NYC-TOInfectious Beats playlist.

    Powers (Mike & Crista) killing it at the New Shapes CMJ showcase at Webster Hall!
    Powers (Neon Gold, National Anthem, Chess Club Present New Shapes – CMJ Showcase)
    Mike and Crista from Republic Records recording group Powers put on an energetic performance at the New Shapes CMJ Showcase at Webster Hall. Check out their debut EP, Legendary, out now!
    Powers (Neon Gold, National Anthem, Chess Club Present New Shapes – CMJ Showcase)

    In my preview post, I spoke about how Mike and Crista seem to play so well together, alternating lead vocals from song to song, so I was interested to see how that would work live. The chemistry these two have together on stage is pure electricity and an absolute joy to watch. Powers put on a powerhouse show, complete with impressive live vocals from both Mike and Crista, infectious dance-beats, catchy pop hooks and amped-up guitar jam-sessions. What’s more—this duo radiates sex appeal. I mean, talent too, of course yes but these two individuals are SEXY AF! Let’s just be honest here. It got so #HOT I was secretly hoping Mike would remove a layer (or two) but, alas. Didn’t happen. As I made my way towards the exit,  “Classic” by The Knocks (featuring Powers…obviously) started to play…which of course stopped me dead in my tracks for a minute—long enough for me to nod my head and sing-along to that ridiculously catchy chorus. What a treat! I’m excited to hear more music from Powers in the coming months ahead leading to, what I can only assume will be their debut album. Check out the official visual for “Legendary” below.

    Last on my list for the night was the enigmatic and alluring electronic seductress, Elohim, who had the privilege of closing the showcase up in the Marlin Room.  Unfortunately, because Powers was delayed, I missed most of her set.  DEVASTATING. By the time I made my way through the entranced crowd she had just hypnotized, I recognized the distinctive synth-carnival-like intro that kicks off “She Talks Too Much” and I fell in line with the rest of the entranced. What I enjoy and find so fascinating about Elohim is how she seems more interested in letting her music do the talking, evidenced by the fact that all of her promotional photos have her face artfully obscured, either by a mask (which she was selling), a cap (which she was selling) or by her hair (which she was not selling).

    Elohim stood at the center of the stage surrounded by a keyboard, drum machine and two mics,  beautifully backlit by stage lighting and the glow of her projector screen, which hung directly behind her. Alternating between keyboard and the drum machine, Elohim was in full control of her environment, her vocals strong and confident, her face enshrouded in shadows. I might have only caught one song but I’m more enamored now than I was before. Here’s hoping that Elohim comes back for a proper tour once she has some more material to play for us. Check above for the trippy yet beautiful visual for single, Xanax (iTunes) directed by Chase O’Black.

    One of my most anticipated performances of the night was LA-based singer/songwriter/producer, Elohim and she did not disappoint.
    Elohim (Neon Gold, National Anthem, Chess Club Present New Shapes – CMJ Showcase)

    My official last night of CMJ-affiliated concerts was Friday, October 16th at the Studio at Webster Hall. Now, to be honest when I first bought tickets to this showcase, the only act I knew about was Frankmusik. I also didn’t really know at the time that it was part of CMJ since there was no mention of CMJ in on Webster Hall’s website (I later learned it was part of a CAA showcase). All I knew was that Frankmusik was playing New York City, and as an American fan, you just don’t sit on that.The last time Vince graced the ‘Big Apple’ with his presence was back in 2013 for his Between The States Tour promoting his beautiful third album, Between (featuring first single, “Map“) as well as its acoustic re-release, Between Us. That year I saw him play 3 times, including twice in Manhattan and once in Brooklyn. Why? Because this was the FIRST time I had lived in a city where Frankmusik played (that I knew about anyway) so of course I was going to see every show. I’ve been a fan of this talented guy since Complete Me in 2009, so missing out on an opportunity to hear that hardy falsetto in person not to mention seeing Vince vibe off an American audience, practically BEGGING for that trademark 1-2 punch (vocals + production) was NOT AN OPTION.

    While UK singer/songwriter Frankmusik never ceases to amaze me, it was Gavin Turek who truly wowed me with her live vocals, infectious beats and impressive dance moves.
    left to right: Gavin Turek, Frankmusik (CAA CMJ Showcase)

    When I arrived at the venue a little bit before 9:00 PM, I got there just in time to experience the wonder that is LA-based singer/songwriter/dancer Gavin Turek. WOW. This young woman is a TORNADO of talent. Admittedly, I hadn’t heard of her before—something I awkwardly and tipsily told her afterwards as I was gushing about the performance. Whooops. But hey! I am not easily impressed, especially when it comes to a dance music vocalist but Gavin Turek slayed me right then and there, honest to GOD. Dressed in a short, handmade 70s electric blue dress COVERED in layers of fringe, DJ/producer Val Fleury by her side—Gavin took command of that studio. She played a number of songs off her You’re Invited EP—a collaborative project with producer/DJ and longtime friend, TOKiMONSTA. What impressed me here was how Turek played the EP as a continuous set, barely stopping between songs before launching into another invigorating, electric blue-fringe-shaking performance. The EP (out now via Young Art) features a collection of glittering R&B-influenced electronica; some tracks offer high-energy house flavors (“Surrender“) while others are more downtempo and chill (“Breath Strokes“)—ALL of them showcase Turek’s talent and versatility as a vocalist. Gavin also took time to dazzle the crowd with two of her own songs, including first single—the Donna Summer-disco inspired “Frontline” and B-Side “Don’t Fight It,” each one a live showstopper. Considering how busy she’s been, I’m shocked I’m only now discovering Gavin Turek! Like, WTF man!? In addition to working on her own music, Gavin attracted the attention of Mayer Hawthorne, joining him on tour and joining his new band called Tuxedo. In addition, she’s been invited to tour with the likes of Goldroom, Lee Fields and Kelis to name a few. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more from Gavin Turek in the months/years to come. In the meantime, check out the tasty TOKiMONSTA remix of first single, “Frontline.”

    Closing things out for my second CMJ week was the night’s main attraction—a stripped back and stunning vocal display from Mr. Vincent Frank—AKA Frankmusik. His new album, For You (iTunes) had only just been released the week prior, so I wasn’t as familiar with it as I like to be going into a live show, but I had time enough to find some favorites—namely one of the album’s more up-tempo numbers, a little stunner called “Ground.” At the forefront of this sparkly number, Vince’s trademark production skills, complemented by his effortlessly smooth vocals. The set, while short, featured a number of songs from his new record, including “Awake,” “I Remember,” “Lexus,” and a number of others. Noticeably absent from his set…well, ALL of the fan favorites from previous albums; Complete Me. Nor did we hear anything from his last two indie releases—Between or By Nicole. While short sets are expected at CMJ, I was expecting at least one old favorite. Last time I saw him perform, I’m pretty he included a smattering of old material but not this time. While this left me confused initially, thinking about it Vince can do what he wants! For You is his THIRD album as an independent artist and he’s still given opportunities to play his music here in America—a country, I might add that has never given him a hit record. Sure, a majority of his American fans known him for Complete Me and songs like “3 Little Words,” and “Confusion Girl” but he’s doing things on his own terms right now, which means he plays what he wants to play. Frankly, I’m still relishing in the joy of having yet another opportunity to see one of my favorite UK male vocalists live here in America. Would I have complained if he whipped up an acoustic performance of “Better Off as Two?” Probably not, but whatever! He didn’t and it’s OK. Vince has a new album out now and he’s doing literally everything on his own, this includes ALL of the marketing and promo as well as physically mailing out every physical CD ordered from his website. I say cheers to that man. Frankmusik paid his dues to the industry and the industry chewed him up and spit him out. Now it’s all about him and his fans—in other words, things are as they should be. Check out the video for album stand-out, “I Remember” below.

    PHEW! CMJ was two weeks ago and I still haven’t recovered. People keep asking me, ‘WOULD YOU DO IT AGAIN?‘ Obviously, the answer is YES. I would just make sure and take the week off from my 9 to 5. And maybe drink a little less. #Goals for next year, I guess. Now, with that all being said…anybody going to SXSW?

    I even managed to grab a photo with both Gavin Turek and Frankmusik. Gavin was so generous and Vince, well…it's always a pleasure.
    left to right: Frankmusik, Gavin Turek (CAA CMJ Showcase)