Cut Off Your Hands at The Delancey, NY












During the twilight hours of CMJ 2008, Cut Off Your Hands stood out in the lineup of Kiwi bands at The Delancey’s Phase Five/New Zealand On Air showcase, taking charge with an incendiary set any newbie dance punk band should aspire to. The devil was in the unplanned details. Cut Off’s baby-faced drummer Brent Harris broke his kick drum. Girls in the front row swooned over chiseled frontman Nick Johnston, who got so feisty, he managed to step on Sentimentalist photographer Tear-n Tan’s ankle as he raced into the crowd. Though she ended up with a nasty bruise, all was instantly forgiven since their gig was so electrifying. We managed to see Cut Off Your Hands three more times during the wild and wicked week that was CMJ 2008, and apart from their excusably sleepy set at a day party at Glasslands on Saturday, they never let us down.

New favorite songs like “Happy As Can Be” and “Expectations” from their forthcoming album, You & I, caused the floorboards to quake from the Lower East Side to the remote reaches of Williamsburg.

The Ruby Suns at The Delancey, NY


Leave it to the New Zealanders and their sunny good looks–girls were also drawn to The Ruby Suns’ lead singer as he and the band turned on their warm, electro version of calypso.

Meanwhile, around the corner at The Annex’s NME showcase, the much touted, female-fronted trio Chairlift soothed the throngs with their classy electro-pop, sounding almost French though they are Brooklyners transplanted from Boulder. Graceful singer Caroline Polachek’s Highland inflections and dizzying notes transported many fans, making them forget they were stuck inside a sweaty matchbox of a club. Though the band’s quasi-Euro, 80′s synth-heavy, verging-on-world-music vibe didn’t completely win us over, their more percussive songs (leading my co-writer to laugh, “Finally, just enough cowbell!”) rose beyond pretty pop fodder and were captivating indeed.

Violens may have had a few technical problems but this New York band manages to catch our attention more each time we see them.

Amazing Baby at The Annex, NY

Amazing Baby were the biggest draw of the night, with the announcer proudly telling the crowd that NME’s deemed them the next “it” band. Their thrill-a-minute set was definitely aided by the fact that the guitarist looks like he belongs in a metal band, constantly egging on the audience with that rousing hair flip metal musicians are so fond of.

Since there was quite a hefty line of badge-holders hoping to get into see Friendly Fires and Lykke Li at Bowery, we wandered over to Fat Baby for a feel-good, epic shoegazer set from Voyager One and to see old friends, The Shackeltons, an always-surprising art punk band from rural PA.

“Good news,” my friend says as soon as he approaches the bar, “the beer is five dollars.” How sad that a fiver for a pint is considered a NYC bargain these days.

The Shackletons at the Cake Shop









The Shackeltons, or “Snack-le-tons” as my co-writer deems them, have the pleasure of setting up to a goofy top pop song spewing the words, “I like to move it move.” It’s not quite the kind of music that should inspire a band like this, but it seems to help them along as they decorate the stage with their usual white flowers and vines. Stage design should be more important in rock.

Singer Mark Redding stops by and explains the difficulty of playing our favorite tune, “Madeline.” “Dear Lord,” he says, and returns back to the conversation a few knight moves after to add, “I’m very visceral, I tend to experience things to their depth.” It seems that particular song would be a bit too much for the cozy room tonight.

Leave it to The Shackeltons to make us feel born again into the experience of being human.
Their first song, about imagining yourself in your pajamas at three years old, resembles Marnie Stern’s “imagine the sound a star makes as it falls, now imagine your heels…” but this number is addressed to the audience to provoke us, coddling us to combat our non-dancing lethargy, thereby fighting the cabaret laws.

This is a band that you want to talk to in between sets while their music continues behind your conversation. Bring up a topic and you will hear a funny retort or a bunny de morte, but entertained you shall always be in the presence of almighty characters, such as Redding and band. (Tim Nestor)

Wednesday’s pre-happy hour Chairlift set at the first day of the Fader Fort on the Bowery was a tight squeeze with cool free beverages, including the sunny vacation taste of SoCo pink-hued punch and Bass ale. It proved a more engaging 20 minutes than their Annex appearance the night before, perhaps because they sounded more booming within the warehouse space and its lofty ceilings.

We followed the path carved out by an aggressive photographer trudging through the crowd and got to the side stage to see the heralded San Diego band The Muslims, whose schoolboy shirt and sweater look was a nice contrast to their dirty, jagged 70′s punk sound. Though they’ve been described as Velvet Underground worshipping or “Richard Hell-esque”, we found them more Ramones-ish (without the high school punk bubblegum choruses), mixed with Jonathan Richman and a twist of JD. Singer Matt Lamkin seemed jazzed to get our “fun set” compliments and shake our hands after the show. Ah, those warm West Coasters!

Perhaps it was the problem of muddy sound, but Brooklyn’s Crystal Stilts didn’t sway either of us much with their minimal psychedelic garage pop, (though it must be said that female drummer Miss Frankie Rose has a cute haircut to shake while driving her beats).

That evening, Mercury Lounge’s double-threat billing of Fujiya & Miyagi, followed by Walter Meego, had lines forming around the block. Though F & M came to life on stage, their songs didn’t stray far from the sound of their recorded tracks, making for a pulsating, delirious score of rhythm and repetition. And of course, fans sang along.

Walter Meego proved to be much darker in person, with heavier tweaks and a poetic-looking singer with long hair. Knob freaks and a couple of Postal Service-loving lasses are the main fans, dancing to every note.

I can assume these guys went to music school, what with the coy machinations of the switcheroos. It was lively to see the dark personas on stage, essentially covering their lighter recorded material in a good twist of difference between recorded and live performance.

Contrary to the cover photo of their album, Daft Punk outfits were not donned. Instead, the lead singer (also guitarist, synth operator and feedback controller), was dressed as a Patrick Bateman type, impressing with a hipster look (“this Mickey Mouse sweatshirt is just the right shade of grey,” he would say at a gathering of like-dressed folk, while pulling on the sleeve to indicate true style). –Tim Nestor

Meanwhile, back at Bowery Ballroom…
Cory Chisel and The Wandering Sons have a sound that burgeoned from rural roots making their music seemingly more real, more natural and more authentic. The music is sensible yet haunting, mirroring Tom Petty inspired vocals with various prospects for personal reflection. Echoing humble sentiments, the band performed last night with soothingly rendered insight wrought with the underpinnings of existential elegance.

On stage Chisel and his band appear as unpretentious as their music, merely present to deliver hymnals of emotion as they stood in front of a rural backdrop that was crafted with the same emotion as their impressive lyrics. Poetic in his approach, Chisel offers songs that are suiting to an open road and a strong cigarette.

Their appropriately titled EP Cabin Ghosts brazenly tackles the fusion of rock, ancient spirituals, hymnals and blues. With a vernacular of loneliness and redemption, Chisel offers his listeners to take a journey with him, wherever that may lead. And based on the large applause, no one in the audience would object.

As soon as Tokyo-based Shugo Tokumaru began his set, I immediately felt as if I was in a music box, as whimsical, carnival-esque music encompassed the room spinning the audience into a childhood reverie. Though delicate, Tokumaru’s sound builds into polished sonic movements that sound as though the wind is pushing them forward.

His music is eclectic but not ineffable. He allegedly plays over 100 instruments which lend to his psychedelic sounds with an engagingly bewildered harmony. Despite the cacophony of sound, Tokumaru produces reverberating jingles that are soothing and understated while simultaneously evoking lighthearted memories.

He impels his listener to place themselves fluttering around in the spring as breezy pop melodies play in the background. His newest and first proper American release, Exit, illuminates the focused, layered and revitalized sound that Tokumaru so easily captures. –Eliza K. Johnston














Thursday’s Fader event was quite the must-see billing. The first thing to notice about the UK’s Friendly Fires is their sophisticated fluorescence. They have a real commitment to elevate their audience to pure bliss.

Adorned in swanky attire, the boys didn’t rely on an image to improve audience perception. Their modern pop pulsated through the audience and it was obvious they were performing to instigate dancing through pedantic percussion and disco sirens. Their fervor was disarming and their sound remains captivating.

Their dedication to produce engaging content eschews the mundane, as singer ED McFarlane used his head as a musical drum for his microphone and during the encore ran a vacuum cleaner across his guitar. Surprisingly, both ethereal sounds complemented the disco-esque theme.

Tobacco’s intent on maintaining a mysterious ambience was set by dark lights and a projection screen showcasing Dome DeLuise, complete with porn and vintage aerobics videos.

With analogues, brooding and intriguing synths impacting each other, and charged vocals they create a tantalizing kaleidoscope of sound. –Eliza K. Johnston

Back in Brooklyn, we needed a break from racing to raucous rock music so it was decided we’d check out a somewhat off-the-radar event happening at Glasslands. QQQ‘s avant-classical strings were the gentle come down we needed.














Yale-educated So Percussion, the clever, captivating sticks-and-stones banging quartet from Brooklyn, don’t garner widespread praise and articles in the New York Times and Billboard without reason. Their set, which danced between subtle/meditative and cacophanous/climactic (in the best way), made us believe again in the spontaneity of sound and rhythm. These tempo-shifting magicians yield pipes and found objects (including strains of scratchy live radio bits), concocting compositions which go against all notions of the typical, expected percussive piece. –MVW

We ran to Fader’s Fort for our friends School of Seven Bells, definitely the show press-mongers, ethereal music lovers and photographers were there to catch. I walked into the Fort undeterred, and after days of visiting the space, it becomes exactly what it set out to be, a refuge from the day shows and a prelude to the night. Congratulations Fader and Levi’s, the beer and the bloodied coconut concoction won me over. Sydney’s Seabellies play while I make my way to the front, and unfortunately, I can not tell anything distinguishing about the band. They jump, they are from Sydney, and it’s a band that has the taste of Rolling Rock, (some people like that it again and again, yet I’ve tried it once and would rather not repeat the experience of bland).














As far as School of Seven Bells… I am convinced at first are getting their buzz attention because they are photogenic. The two sisters are brunette Brigitte Bardots who are playing Josie and the Pussycats. Of course, the involvement of Benjamin Curtis (ex-Secret Machines) changes the balance a little bit, and this is band that can play. The voice level was apparently not up to par tonight, and there were a number of altercations with the tech staff, including a salient “Fuck You” addressed after the first song. Then I fell into a dream, the sound lilting, auburn hair lulling, smells of burning slightly wet conifer fire in the fall. I put it their disc on later with a glass of wine in a darkened room to complete the experience that started there.






















By the end of the second song the photographers multiplied by a factor of 3 to 4, and the first three rows shifted their demographic, with every possible combination of lunging cameras. The lead singer, Alejandra Deheza, looked adorably lost, gazing off passed the confines of the space in most shots that I would glimpse.

The raw schedule of the mutiple packed performances creates an atmosphere of mechanics changing tires at a Formula One race for the tech teams and certainly that of a race for the performers; this hampers the sets of some acts who would fare better in another venue. Others, like Cut Off Your Hands at Cakeshop half an hour later, strive on this speed, the lead vocalist Nick Johnston propelling into the crowd to start infectious dancing, twirling, with his tambourine in hand. (Tim Nestor)



Perez Hilton’s One Night In New York City! party at Highline Ballroom, with performances by Lady Gaga, Sharon Jones, Semi Precious Weapons and Yo Majesty, truly was an amazing “Perezelicious” affair! It was a room filled with eye candy: girls in heels, boys in heels, bouffants, troglodytes, a requisite “VIP” area packed tighter than the plebian area and photo ops that made me question I was even there.













We ran into Mark Redding from The Shackeltons and he had an elaborate story of his arrival there, something about chains of relations. Shortly, he was whisked away by three girls who wanted his involvement in another photo op with Perez Hilton.

The first in the line up, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings: wonderful, infectious, energetic story telling. Jones’s stories lend themselves to an unparalleled level of energy and there is permanent importance and urgency in them. The set unfolds in history and drama and a retelling of a single lost relationship would be overwhelmed by this performance.

Saturday was spent in hazy post-party bliss at Glasslands for yet another Cut Off Your Hands set. That night, there were so many shows, so much rain, and so little time so we spent most of the evening in Williamsburg.

We flitted from 205 Club’s party to catch a few moments of hip hop and then raced to N. 6th Street to be astounded by The Mae Shi‘s playfully irreverent set at Kanine Records/Crashin In’s un-CMJ party at Public Assembly. Turning tricks on guitars, racing into the crowd, and pulling a yellow parachute out of a hat and getting fans to unite underneath was quite a feat and made for one of the most memorable sets during CMJ week.














By now, we’ve seen Cut Off Your Hands so many times that we must swear, we weren’t stalking them.

Though the Mae Shi were a very hard act to follow, the Kiwis kept their game faces on and their energy up and spun out some amazing tunes. Next we ran next door to the Music Hall’s dance night to drink a night cap and end it all, appropriately, with a blurry dance to the last few tunes of Heartsrevolution.

  1. thank you for being my friend.
    i have learned about some amazing band from what you have written.

    my love to you and yours.


  2. [...] you’ve been reading Sentimentalist Magazine for a while now, you know that we were among the first to shout the praises of hyper New Zealand [...]