CMJ is a frenzied, overflowing affair. Under its umbrella exist a countless number of shows -- thanks to all the unofficial get-togethers that cling on like barnacles -- meaning no single music writer (or anyone else) can make it to even a quarter of all of the shows going on in New York during the six-day spectacle.

Despite the sheer immensity of the thing, we did our damnedest, trekking out to the city's frontier and, in the end, cutting a pretty good swath through the festival -- getting exposed to all manners of sludge-y psychedelia and jangly twee pop and "dirty doo-wop" and everything in between, from bands all across the U.S. We dumped the whole clattering mass of bands through a strainer and came up with the five bands we were most excited to discover at CMJ 2014.

Modern Vices

We don’t know what it was like to see the Strokes in New York City in, like, 2000 (when they still had that sheen of the new and the exciting), but we imagine it was a little like watching Modern Vices, who played at Rough Trade on Friday night. Straight from Chicago, they call their style “dirty doo-wop,” and we can see it -- to compliment his Julian Casablancas inflection, singer Alex Rebek has a whole crooner thing going on, like Dean Martin on speed. Plus a whole mane of luscious, wavy brown hair, which isn’t that relevant, except that we couldn’t stop looking at it.

Check out: 'Taller In the Sunshine'; 'Keep Me Under Your Arms'

Ruby Fray

Ruby Fray, alias of Austin-by-way-of-Olympia musician Emily Beanblossom, was menacing and powerful, with shadows of Stevie Nicks and Victoria LeGrand, at Diffuser's own Tuesday showcase at Grand Victory. Her voice may be Stevie Nicksian, but her band’s sound is summoned from a darker place, her spells more nefarious, the band’s sound more spacious -- cavernous even. Beanblossom is currently touring in support of her second full-length under the Ruby Fray moniker, ‘Grackle.’

Check out: 'Photographs'; 'Barbara'

Shilpa Ray

Shilpa Ray’s torrid yowl issued forth from Trans-Pecos, far off in the wilds of Ridgewood, Queens, when we rolled up on Saturday, the final day of CMJ. We were further delighted to see Ray leaning over a harmonium, pushing and pulling positively medieval sounds out of the little box while her band pounded away on a punk rhythm -- think Patti Smith fronting a band of deranged pirates. Ray is no newbie -- she’s toured and recorded with Nick Cave and has two full-lengths under her belt with her band, Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers. We’re excited to get to know her better.

Check out: 'Nocturnal Emissions'; 'Ertolepsy'


Heliotropes were one of the last bands we saw at CMJ, on Saturday night at the Cake Shop, and we were overjoyed to finally hear a band play some dark, sludgy Sabbath-style rock. Singer and guitarist Jessica Numsuwankijkul threw herself to the ground as she wrestled screeching, acidic solos out of her guitar; gloomy clouds from the keyboard hung over the roar. Fans of both Sleep and Mazzy Star will dig.

Check out: 'Ribbons', 'Moonlite'

Chris Forsyth & The Solar Motel Band

OK, we didn’t really discover Forsyth at CMJ -- we’d picked up his live Record Store Day release on a whim back in April and loved it -- but we didn’t know what to expect when we dropped in to see Chris Forsyth and the Solar Motel Band at Rough Trade on Friday night. They’ve been called “one of the ten jam bands to watch” but if that description conjures up hemp bracelets and Snoopy dancing, think more along the lines of Television, with all the boring parts taken out -- spacey music with a razor blade in its back pocket.

Check out: 'Solar Motel'