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CMJ 2012: 10 Bands to Watch

Getting ready for the annual CMJ Music Marathon is like training for an actual 26.2-mile race, only harder. Aside from hydrating and catching up on sleep — essential, given all the late nights and copious beer consumption — fans and journalists headed to New York City for next week's festival must somehow peruse the massive list of bands and figure out which are worth seeing. This gets more difficult each year, and from Oct. 16 through 20, some 1,300 artists will perform at 80 venues around town. Even if you think you know what you're doing, the best shows will probably happen while you're schlepping via subway from one club to the next. We here at Diffuser.fm are no better informed than your average badge holders, but based on publicity emails, Internet buzz, recommendations from friends and, in some cases, random selection, we've cobbled together the obligatory — and invariably flawed — list of 10 Bands to Watch at CMJ 2012. Peep the inventory, then tell us who we really need to see.


Savages

 
 

These hotly tipped London ladies have earned comparisons to Siouxsie and the Banshees, Joy Division, the Slits and PiL, and one listen to their debut single, 'Husbands,' reveals why. What we've got here is classic post-punk: a harsh yet tuneful collision of yelping vocals, stabbing guitars and dubby basslines. Added bonus: CMJ 2012 marks the group's U.S. debut, so if they blow up, you can look down your nose at Johnny-come-latelies.

 

Autumn Owls

 
 

We like this Irish trio enough to have featured their single 'Patterns' as a recent free MP3 download, and now that we've played that tune a number of times, we're psyched for the Oct. 23 release of their full-length debut, 'Between Buildings.' Actually, psyched isn't the right word. The Owls make stately sad-bastard rock for fans of Modest Mouse and the Walkmen, so let's just say we're amenable to spinning this sucker while we eat bagels and read the Sunday New York Times with our spouses.

 

Rush Midnight

 
 

As a member of Twin Shadow -- singer-songwriter George Lewis Jr.'s most-excellent Brooklyn-based synth-pop project -- Rush Midnight mastermind Russ Manning has learned a thing or two about time-traveling in style. Like Lewis, who co-produced Rush Midnight's recently released '+1' EP, Manning dwells in the '80s, but he's no cheeseball nostalgia act. Tunes like 'The Night Was Young Enough' are the sleekest, most satiny-smooth party-starters since Howard Jones had a full head of hair.

 

Doldrums

 
 

This has been a banner year for disorienting Canadian electro-pop, and following on the heels of Grimes -- whose 'Visions' is one of the year's finest albums -- comes Toronto producer Airick Woodhead, aka Doldrums. Woodhead has already released an EP, and while he's still working on full-length debut, he's fixing to drop 'She Is a Wave,' a dizzying single whose sampled beats, shrieking synths and tummy-punch bass will leave you feeling upside down and underwater. And since Woodhead tours with a proper backing band, it should sound great in the clubs.

 

Zulu Pearls

 
 

Led by Zach Van Hoozer, an American singer-songwriter based in Berlin, Zulu Pearls specialize in ragged '70s-style roots rock. Released in September, their debut album, 'No Heroes, No Honeymoons,' is big on twangy riffs and emotive, reverb-laden vocals. Those ingredients may sound familiar, but Zulu Pearls thankfully lack the go-for-broke arena bluster that can make groups like Kings of Leon so exhausting.

 

Correatown

 
 

Correatown have been featured on 'Grey's Anatomy,' but that's no reason to steer clear of L.A.-based singer-songwriter Angela Correa. It's not her fault that the shimmering, simmering likes of 'Further' and 'Valparaiso' -- both featured on her forthcoming 'Pleiades' album -- float along the nebulous divide separating indie-folk from dream-pop. Actually, it might be her fault, but still, we're not mad at her. If we make it to one of her showcases, we're totally scoping out a wall to lean against and treating ourselves to a few moments of quiet contemplation. Hopefully, no one steals our wallet.

 

Dignan Porch

 
 

Now a proper four-piece, Dignan Porch began as a single Londoner -- the unfortunately named, fortunately un-Eagles-like Joe Walsh -- trying to make "weird fuzzy pop songs" on an 8-track recorder. On album No. 2, 'Nothing Bad Will Ever Happen, which arrived in August, Walsh doesn't change course -- he just enlists a few fellow lo-fi enthusiasts and knocks out 13 unassuming garage-rock tunes. A perfect fit for Brooklyn's Captured Tracks label, Dignan Porch make pretty-ugly (note the hyphen) pop for pretty ugly (note the lack of hyphen) times.

 

Blue Hawaii

 
 

Another case of Canadians wilin' out on synths, Blue Hawaii are in many ways the antithesis of Doldrums. On their forthcoming sophomore effort, 'Untogether,' Braids member Raphaelle Standell-Preston and Alex Cowan go sparser than sparse, recasting the minimalist boy-girl drama of the xx as tropical electro-pop. Weightless but never flimsy, the songs come on like chilly ocean breezes, pushing just hard enough to tussle your hair and blow away your bookmark, leaving you lost and disheveled but better or the experience.

 

Heliotropes

 
 

With a sound that's Mazzy Star one second, Black Sabbath the next, this all-girl Brooklyn band cooks up murky psych-rock with ample sprinklings of sugar. Some call it "doomy pop," and that seems about as good a description as any. Watch for their full-length debut early next year

 

Leland Sundries

 
 

Sometimes, you need a break from synths, fuzzy guitars and, well, electricity. That's when you reach for your handy CMJ guide and find out where Leland Sundries are playing. Led by stalwart PR dude and multi-instrumentalist Nick Loss-Eaton -- one of those rare individuals who can work behind the scenes and write quality songs -- this Brooklyn indie-folk group jumps from rollicking hayride rave-ups ('Giving Up Redheads') to stark banjo dirges ('VFW Hall'). If there's a blackout during CMJ, these guys won't miss a beat.

 

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