CMJ New York NY October 16 to 20

CMJ circa 2007 requires urgent intervention. Arguably this was true in 1996, when hand-scrawled diatribes plastered all over the Lower East Side first appeared, asking, "Hey, hey CMJ, how many kids did you sell today?” The 27th annual CMJ Music Marathon launched amidst accusations of hand-in-pocket action with SonicBids that netted over $30,000 in fees, but left most submitted MP3s unplayed. Good scams die hard, but you’d think that in booking the festival by any other means, they’d bother to curate a good show. Most telling this year: many reputable labels and prominent journalists stayed home. It speaks volumes that within minutes of seeing the most-hyped band of CMJ, the Black Kids, it was difficult to remember anything about them. Any brand-new band out of the basement with a four-song EP has a lot to prove — and one weekend in NYC won’t change that. Far more riveting was Norway’s Ida Maria, playing her North American debut; her charisma and energy are boundless, her songs rife with hooks and her lusty, scratchy Scandinavian vocals are key to her appeal. Vocals were also key to Bloodshot’s mountain-men Ha Ha Tonka, whose four-part harmonies elevate their countrified Southern rock, though their instrumental skills outshine the songwriting. Vancouver’s Awkward Stage showcased Shane Nelken’s excellent new songs and a revamped lineup, fresh off the road with the New Pornographers. Their Mint-mate Carolyn Mark impressed even her oldest fans with the set of a lifetime, featuring new vocal takes on old stalwarts like "In the Valley.” One of the newer Canadian acts at CMJ was Toronto’s Thunderheist, who against all odds turned an 8 p.m. slot into a stage-rushing love-in, coaxing a room of wan New Yorkers to bounce and "do, do, do the right thing!” It was a hard act for Yo Majesty to follow, but their freaky new wave/hip-hop/ dancehall/ funk flowed, culminating in a strip show that conveyed genuine joyfulness over titillation. Oddly enthusiastic were Monomen, with a triple-synth electric drum attack that was transcendent even as it was often, well, monotonous. The same could not be said of Baltimore's Ponytail, who began their set as annoying noise brats, with vocalist Molly Siegel impersonating a constipated toddler. By set's end, however, the band behind her sub-Boredoms babblespeak proved as deft as Deerhoof and started shredding like Orthrelm. Even at their most annoying, Ponytail proved more interesting than most of their peers that week — especially the staid retro electro of White Williams that followed them. Islands debuted generic new material, based more on harmonising guitar lines than the orchestral flourishes of the past, and without original drummer Jamie Thompson’s rhythmic playfulness. Fun was finally found chez Nous Non Plus, who surprisingly have the chops to match their faux-Francais 1960s shtick; not only was the banter dead-on hilarious ("How are you tonight? I don’t care!”) every one of their yé yé garage rave-ups was hooky and sweet. Even vrai Francophone Les Breastfeeders busted their ass post-gig across town to cut a rug. The question is: who will bust their asses to come back to CMJ?