CMJ 2012, Day Two Recap: Ghost Beach, Archie Powell Deliver Pop Catharsis
At CMJ, the emphasis is on quantity, not necessarily quality. Each year, hundreds of artists descend on New York City, and many cram in as many shows as possible, maximizing exposure at the expense of their music. Rushed load-ins and set-ups are very much the norm, and performances run about 30 minutes -- then it's off to the next venue. The challenge is maintaining energy and enthusiasm, and on night two of CMJ 2012, two bands with very different approaches to pop music, Ghost Dance and Archie Powell and the Exports, reaffirmed Diffuser.fm's faith in the festival.
Based in Brooklyn, Ghost Beach are a neon Trapper Keeper cover come to life -- esoteric chillwave's answer to populist poppers Sugar Ray or Len. The trio pairs synths and samples with live guitar, bass and drums, and Wednesday night at Union Hall in Park Slope, they celebrated their final CMJ appearance by throwing a full-stop dance party -- one that was as much for themselves as it was for the roomful of willing groovers. On 'Miracle,' the highlight of a regrettably short set, frontman Josh Ocean's "woah-oh-oh-oh" vocals sailed over a wonderfully blunt keyboard riff, creating a rare moment of guileless abandon.
An hour later and a few blocks south, at Rock Shop, Chicago's Archie Powell and the Exports took a more traditional approach, playing early-Elvis Costello-style power-pop with a rumpled Midwestern feel. The bespectacled, fast-talking, quick-to-quip Powell takes on some unpleasant topics -- "You're halfway dead no matter what you choose," he sang on 'Job Fair' -- but the combo of bashed-on bar chords and cheese-ball organ riffs soothes the post-adolescent soul. The definitive moment came when Powell nearly knocked his glasses off while trying to play guitar behind his head. By 11:40, the crowd had grown thin, but even in a house filled with hundreds, you'd have been hard-pressed to find anyone having more fun than Archie himself.
Sandwiched between those stellar sets was rising singer, model, actress and all-around "it girl" Sky Ferreira, who followed Ghost Beach at Union Hall. Just 20, the Los Angeles native is still finding her musical identity, and her forthcoming 'Ghost' EP invites comparisons to everyone from Lana Del Rey to Madonna. Wednesday night, she let her good looks and undeniable cool carry her performance, and while this was hardly the wrong decision, her suave stoicism (or perhaps newcomer awkwardness) worked best as contrast to her peppier tunes, such as 'Lost In My Bedroom,' a thumping, throbbing, Goldfrapp-style tune modeled after Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill.'