CMJ 2014: Exploding in Sound Records Third Anniversary Showcase
Palehound at Silent Barn; All photos by Nicole Brunet
Brooklyn, New York -- Following in their own footsteps from last year's CMJ Music Marathon, Exploding in Sound Records took over Bushwick’s top DIY venue Silent Barn to bring a full day’s worth of music from the label’s artists. EIS took a decidedly anti-CMJ stance with this show, proclaiming at the door all were to pay $8 to enter, badge or no badge. Although the label held an official showcase at Trash Bar the previous night, this sort of venue and policy was more up their alley, as most of the bands would find more comfort playing a basement than Terminal 5.
First, a little background about the label: music lovers Dan Goldin and Dave Spak started Exploding in Sound Records three years ago, filling it predominately with guitar-driven indie rock and punk. The duo has managed to identify some of the more important acts coming out of the New York, Boston, and Chicago underground and DIY scenes to build a roster of relentlessly good bands. Every new artist joining EIS seems poised for upcoming success, simply through musical quality and hearsay publicity models rather than gimmicky marketing.
The label drew a great amount of attention in 2013 when a national spotlight was shown on '90s revivalists Speedy Ortiz, whose Sports EP appeared on EIS before the act was signed to Carpark Records. Last year's unofficial CMJ showcase had Speedy closing the night at a packed Silent Barn, and led Stereogum to later comment, "It was more than just 'a showcase,' it was bigger than CMJ, and it cement[ed] EIS as the most exciting rock label in years."
One can chart the progress of EIS artists simply through lineup and schedule differences between this year's and last year's showcases. Speedy Ortiz appearing at CMJ 2014 would be out of the question considering their massive recent success. However, the bands we saw on the earlier, less-attended side of last year's party like Krill, Kal Marks, Ovlov, and Palehound were assigned prime evening slots or closing sets this time around, reflective of their increased popularity. EIS newcomers like Chicago's MY DAD and Meat Wave were tasked to prove themselves with the early afternoon slots.
Upon entering Silent Barn's gravel courtyard, attendees immediately got a sense of label camaraderie pervasive among every band. For most standard CMJ showcases, artists tend to rush into a venue, play their set, and clear out as quickly as possible to move onto the next show. In stark contrast, the most consistent crowd-members of this fifteen-band, eleven-hour event were the bands themselves, many of whom would hover around the front row or side-stage cheering for their peers. Krill and Ovlov frontmen Jonah Furman and Steve Hartlett could be seen chatting it up in the courtyard, while Chappy Hull of Gnarwhal at one point said into the microphone, "Holy shit, we're all here! This never happens," when promoting an upcoming four-band split release. If I heard correctly, Ovlov let another band pick their setlist, and every act I saw urged the crowd to stick around for the following artist (and seemed to actually mean it).
Ronald Paris of Porches. and Frankie Cosmos by Nicole Brunet
And, of course, the music of this showcase was all-around remarkable. Most of these bands relish in that area of indie rock dedicated to ultra-distorted guitars, vaguely math-y rhythms, and soul-crushingly honest lyrics. Not that there aren't exceptions - Ronald Paris of Porches. kicked off the day with a quiet and tender solo set featuring backup vocal help from bandmate/life-partner Greta Kline, better known as Frankie Cosmos. However, MY DAD, the noise-rock trio from Chicago led by multi-instrumentalist Dave Collis, quickly brought the thunder with thrashy math-rock complete with complex rhythms and screaming vocals.
The room filled to capacity soon after as Rick Maguire of Pile took the stage for his stripped down solo set, demonstrating that through the typical distortion and rage of his music, it's easy to forget just how sad and beautiful the songs are. From there, Palehound brought their '90s alt-rock sound, spiced up by band-leader Ellen Kempner's impressive songwriting and guitar chops.
Ovlov by Nicole Brunet
The following set from Ovlov was most likely the best we saw that day. Digging into their sound, you'll find giant, shoegaze-y guitar tones and upbeat punk rhythms supporting frontman Steve Hartlett's sometimes humorous, but mostly bleak, songwriting. The group greatly benefited from a packed house - so packed, in fact, that fans unable to get into the sold-out showcase could be seen watching from Silent Barn's front window. Most of the setlist revolved around last year's full-length am with tracks like "Nü Punk," "Really Bees," and "The Well" hitting the hardest.
Gnarwhal by Nicole Brunet
Gnarwhal took the cake for most inaccessible band of the day - not that it wasn't cool to watch. The Nashville duo's sound is reminiscent of early Hella, though not as difficult to comprehend. At Silent Barn, Chappy Hull filled out the empty audial spaces with guitar loops, finger-tapping, and screaming vocals while Tyler Coburn gave a full lesson in sporadic, spazzed-out drumming.
The last band we caught was Kal Marks, whose 2013 release Life Is Murder is probably one of the most criminally overlooked albums of last year. The Boston group presents a surprisingly full sound for a trio, with the credit going to Nick Egersheim's thunderous drumming and Mike Geacone's gnarly and expansive bass tones. All of this is brought together by Carl Shane's intelligently tragic songwriting, be it through the album's title track (a musical odyssey of sorts capped off with the line, "Life is murder, and we're forced to fight a war that we can't.") or the triumphant "Parking Lot." This band is doing some seriously amazing work, and the recognition is way past due.
Kal Marks by Nicole Brunet
This was the kind of showcase that fills you up in that Thanksgiving meal, I-couldn't-take-another-bite way. Sure, our feet hurt and our eyelids were drooping by the end - this was the last day of the Marathon, after all - but the onslaught of incredible music was well worth the time. A tip of the hat towards the EIS founders, because this sort of organization inspires a glimmer of hope for the music industry's bleak future.
It's refreshing to see such a tight-knit community of musicians making what's likely some of the best indie rock in the scene today, which posits something of a bittersweet question: why the hell are so many of these awesome bands still flying under the radar? It's a baffling conundrum, but as long as Exploding in Sound keeps bringing them to the forefront, we'll be paying attention.
Follow @DanMurphy3220 on Twitter
CMJ 2014: BrooklynVegan Present The Jazz June, Beach Slang, Pity Sex, Cayetana and Sport at Baby's All Right