CMJ Day 5: Fuzz Showcase at 59 Canal St.
Music for Voice: Metropolis Ensemble at (le) Poisson Rouge

CMJ: Hype Machine Handpicked at Brooklyn Bowl

by Craig Brinker


Danish singer-songwriter Søren Løkke Juul kicked off Wednesday night's Hype Machine Handpicked show at Brooklyn Bowl, playing slow, meandering ballads under the moniker Indians. Juul delivered songs that were broad in scope and gesture yet light on rhythmic momentum, his sweeping vocal lines arched over swathes of electronic textures. While tinged with melancholy, his songs were also wide-eyed and hopeful, without a trace of cynicism. They are perhaps too earnest for American audiences in general, but especially the inattentive collection of Brooklynites that populated the venue.

The Neighbourhood is a five-piece band from California that puts a hip-hop spin on the standard minimalist-indie formula. Through their quick rise to Internet prominence, the band has garnered an aura of mystery, but despite playing an enthusiastic set full of catchy, radio-ready pop songs, the performance had a quality of artifice; there was a massive wall of showmanship between the audience and the lead singer. While certainly catchy, the songs consistently felt overwrought and contrived.

Unknown Mortal Orchestra had, by far, the strongest set of the night with a collection of unapologetically brash songs, making a more direct and less obvious statement than the two previous bands. The songs had real musical heft, with a strong sense of direction that propelled the music forward at a manic pace. Lead ginger and guitarist Ruben Nielsen spent the entire set hunched over the mic with his guitar hiked up to his neckline, wailing phrases rendered unintelligible by vocal processing. The effect was brilliant, and their live show successfully fulfilled the promise shown on their debut record.

The Virgins’ sound has regressed about 15 years from their eponymous debut album. The Strokes-y sound of 2008’s The Virgins has been replaced by an '80s aesthetic reinforced by the singer’s Tom Petty-like delivery. While they are seasoned performers playing well-crafted songs, there is a creative spark that has disappeared in the intervening years. 

Closing out the evening, Suá seemed to be striving to push the boundaries of guitar-based indie rock, but ended up sounding like a lesser Broken Social Scene. Their cause was aided by having a cute and charismatic female singer (á la Leslie Feist), but even she couldn’t surmount the difficulties of the uninspired song writing, the audience's dissipation, or the guitar-related technical difficulties.

Seeing Unknown mortal orchestra was well worth the price of admission, but as a showcase the band selection was lacking. Those doing the "handpicking" over at should probably have payed more attention to the quality of the bands they chose, and less to the media attention surrounding them.