CMJ 2014: No Sleep Records + Brooklyn Vegan's No Sleep Til CMJ Showcase
Xerxes, John Nolan, In Between, and Aviator at CMJ 2014 via No Sleep Records on Instagram
Brooklyn, New York -- It’s a given that music appeals to our emotions, but some genres explicitly deal with the deeper, darker side of our psyches - emotive rock, most genres with a "post-" prefix, and even folk tend to explore our sadder and angrier states of existence. One record label that knows this best is No Sleep Records, who co-presented (alongside BrooklynVegan) the 2nd annual No Sleep Till CMJ showcase on the first day of the marathon. On view were some of the best of the next crop of sad and confused boys and girls, those that will undoubtedly provide the bedroom soundtrack to 2015’s most angsty listeners.
Pop-punk, one product of nonconformists raised in the suburbs, had its representation from Baltimore’s In Between, who showed potential with their pop-punk infused hardcore. But less The Story So Far meets Defeater, they sounded more like The Story So Far playing simultaneously to Defeater on an adjacent Warped Tour stage.
Next came Rescuer, with straightforward screamo done right. What the band lacked in distinct sound, they made up for in personality, as the lead singer jokingly and self-deprecatingly described that he was the “special type of piece of shit to complain about his problems on a stage.” The Florida four-piece played like a solid opening act, with a promising future if they can add something new to the emotional post-hardcore genre, of which they’ve already mastered the necessary tropes. Perhaps they can carry the torch for Pianos Become the Teeth, who are in the midst of abandoning their screamo roots.
Rescuer is actually currently on tour as an opening band - on the No Sleep Records Death to False Music Tour, underneath headliners The Felix Culpa, who took the stage three bands later at the showcase. The melodic hardcore 3-piece recalled some of the best post-hardcore of 2008, but with a definite indie rock edge.
Between Rescuer and The Felix Culpa, though, played two standouts of the night, the first of which being Run Forever, who occupy a sweet spot between pop-punk, indie rock, and post-revival emo not unlike their peers in The Front Bottoms or Tigers Jaw. Their set comprised mostly unreleased songs from their TBA forthcoming album, and they served as a welcome interlude from the mostly-aggressive other acts on the bill.
The second was Aviator, the self-described bastard sons of the Mortal Kombatcore and Indie Jesus YourSceneSucks characters. Live, they oscillate between post-hardcore aggression and atmospheric, shoegazey instrumentals. But the detached elements of shoe gaze don't overshadow the lead singer’s ability to really go for it on stage - thrashing around, physically expressing the emotive hardcore screams coming from his mouth.
The far and away highlight of the night, however, was Xerxes, who were celebrating the release day of their excellent new album, Collision Blonde. The sophomore effort builds on the type of post-hardcore proliferated by bands like La Dispute and Touché Amoré, but with a distinctly art-haus sense of experimentalism and raw emotion. Their live set, comprised entirely of songs off the new album, was driven by strong basslines, backed up with distorted guitars, and topped with coarse, post-punk screams, all performed with an explosive yet intensely concentrated energy. Finishing their set with “Nosedive” (also Collision Blonde’s closer), singer Calvin Philley collapsed into fetal position onto a speaker on the floor, repeatedly yell-growling “can’t make it stop” in a cathartic act of finality that made even the non-moshing crowd feel a sense of emotional exhaustion.
It was unfair for any act to have to follow Xerxes’ headline-worthy performance, but this was a CMJ showcase, so the show did go on (and on, and on). It was somehow fitting that singer-songwriter Chris Farren took the stage next - his brand of cutesy, self-deprecating folk wasn’t anywhere near the plane of the band that played before him, so the audience code-switched pretty quickly. A different incarnation of sad, Farren’s storytelling and electric acoustic guitar evoked indie sensibilities that were somehow, inexplicably, related to punk rock. Joining him for his finale was Jeff Rosenstock, completing the duo that is Antarctigo Vespucci, to play the deadpan pop song “Don’t Die In Your Hometown,” before rockers '68 and Taking Back Sunday guitarist John Nolan closed out the night.
Each band took the time to personally thank Chris Hansen, founder of No Sleep Records, for inviting them to play the show, fostering a sense of familial community so important to indie labels and niche genres. From emotional hardcore to acoustic folk and everything in between, the showcase reaffirmed that No Sleep knows how to find acts that will strike chords amongst devoted music lovers who want their music to help them feel, whether through sing-songy sadness or cathartic collapse.
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