Hive Five: CMJ Bands to Watch

Class Actress's Elizabeth Harper. Photo: Victoria Jacobs

It’s that time of year again, when college radio staffers from Anchorage to Jacksonville and weary music industry veterans converge in New York City for the CMJ Music Marathon. It’s a time when the streets of Brooklyn and the Lower East Side teem with Converse-clad music fans (mostly of the indie rock persuasion) who wander from club to club with laminates dangling from around their necks, bleary-eyed from 10 straight hours of music-watching. Now in its 32nd year, the sprawling fest, which began last night and will continue through the 22nd at over 80 venues, will feature performances by more than 1,200 bands in just five days. With so much music we’re left wondering who will be the acts people are still talking about next month? Here are Hive’s five predictions.

1. Purity Ring

Despite a near un-Googleable name — who knew actual purity rings for the chaste were so popular? — this Edmonton, Alberta-based co-ed duo has attracted plenty of attention and new fans since its inception a year ago. Part of the pair’s appeal is the way it combines almost-dubstep-worthy, distorted, basement-level bass with chirpy synths and ghostly, girlish vocals. It’s an incongruous collection of the hard and the soft, the mechanical and the warm-blooded, the masculine and the feminine. Purity Ring has been slow to release new music — there are only three tracks available to the public currently and a full-length won’t be out until next year. But that is exactly the kind of discovery the always-hungry-for-something-new CMJ crowds will flock to.

2. Weekend

Not to be confused with the similarly named Saturday-and-Sunday-appreciators from Canada (the Weeknd), this San Francisco-based, Slumberland-signed trio make the kind of glorious noise-pop that their label has become known for (and not somnambulant, sexy R&B). True, any band with a distortion pedal can make fuzz-pop, but so few do it as well as these guys, thanks to their penchant for warm, melodic hooks and a playful sense of rock history. A word of warning, though: they play loud, like don’t-forget-your-earplugs-or-you-won’t-be-able-to-stay-through-the-whole-show loud.  You’ve been warned.

3. The Stepkids

The soul and funk revival has been in full swing for years now, but few of its indie dabblers are as pedigreed in the world of mainstream R&B as the three members of the Stepkids, who have played with Alicia Keys, Lauren Hill and 50 Cent. Their collaboration with each other as the Stepkids, however, has produced not only the spot-on soul tracks of their recent self-titled debut for Stones Throw, but also some of the album’s defiantly off-message moments of lysergic psych-rock. They sound less like competent retro-obsessed mimics than music fans with a profound sense of history and their own unique point of view.

4. King Krule

Want to feel bad about having wasted your youth? Just listen to King Krule, the latest stage name of 17-year-old Archy Marshall. Marshall isn’t even of legal voting age in his native U.K. yet, but he’s already on his second band name (he formerly went by the name Zoo Kid) and his second release is due out in November on the same label as Girls, Glasser and Delorean (True Panther Sounds). Despite what his ID may say, his slow-burning music is startlingly mature. Over spare beat samples or ghostly keyboard melodies, Marshall delivers deeply personal compositions in a heavily accented baritone that is at once raw and rich (think: the love child of Mike Skinner and Billy Bragg). We don’t even remember how we frittered away our 17th year, but it certainly wasn’t headlining international festivals.

5. Class Actress

It’s been almost two years since the first song by this icy electro-pop trio (“Journal of Ardency”) made the rounds online, and though there they’ve given us a fantastic EP since then, the first day of CMJ marks the momentous occasion of the long-awaited release of Class Actress’ full-length debut, Rapprocher. That should make this year’s festival something of a coming-out party for them. (It helps that the album is excellent, a perfect showcase for their sexy, dark-yet-danceable sound and the sultry, evocative voice of their former folkie frontwoman Elizabeth Harper.) If CMJ is indie rock prom, Class Actress promises to be prom queen after this week.