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As I made my way down North 6th to the Blue Flowers showcase at the Music Hall of Williamsburg last night, I was certain the shaggy fatigue I was sporting was more believable than any Halloween costume I could have come up with this late in the game. The black circles under my eyes matched perfectly with my black jacket, and had I not had a purse draped around me along with my camera, I could have packed all the necessary reporter’s materials in the bags on my face. To be frank: not cute. Such is the dilemma each year with CMJ, and such was my mask last night. Thankfully, the night was a rousing success.

One of the most heavily anticipated tickets of the night, the stacked bill of Golden Silvers, Goldhawks, Mumford and Sons and The Temper Trap had benefited from plenty of top-line publicity for the latter band’s hit single, “Sweet Disposition” and its placement in (500) Days of Summer. The capacity crowd no doubt packed it in to hear the swoony, soaring romantic marvel, but arguably, left in love with a man named Mumford.

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Kicking the fiesta off first was Golden Silvers, a trio of madcap, swinging 80’s synth-pop lads from London who turned the scenester crowd into an un-ironic Dance Party U.K. with their parklife swagger, body rockin’ bass and Blur-y ‘tude. More fun than Chromeo, and boasting the flashy moxie of a young Duran Duran, these boys should book a co-headlining tour with La Roux and see who wins the duel. Singer and keyboardist Gwilym Gold can croon like Michael Bublé and sass like Damon Albarn, and with killer tracks like breakout single “True No.9 Blues” and “Arrow of Eros,” and “Here Comes the King,” this love rollercoaster is about to launch. Get in line.

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As enamored as I was with Bradford Cox’s Atlas Sound on Tuesday night at Le Poisson Rouge, my nomination for the best act of CMJ 2009 is, without question, Laura Marling-peers Mumford and Sons. The shocking, utterly devastating brilliance of these O Brother, Where Are Thou?-esque bluegrass badasses was, from first blush and foot stomp to the last joyful harmony, an undeniable, unimaginable victory. A performance like this is what makes CMJ worth powering through. To witness that much authentic soul, passion and genuine mastery was a blessing after days and nights wandering from venue to venue looking for an act to make all of this make sense. Mumford and Sons did that, and more, by playing as if their lives hung in the balance. Frontman Marcus Mumford, with his Guy Garvey way with lyrics, melody and banter was a revelation, and his brothers-in-banjo slayed. Fans of Damien Rice, the Avett Brothers and BRMC’s Howl will freak if they haven’t done so already. My larger hope, of course, is that everyone else will, too. That’s right: Mumford and Sons is your new band to believe in, kids.

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London-by-way-of-Australia’s Temper Trap, lately garnering plenty of publicity for their recently released debut album, Conditions, came into CMJ with more name recognition than most, and a highly vaunted live reputation that precedes them. Announcing that New York City is their “favorite city in the world,” singer Dougy Mandagi and his phenomenal falsetto expertly tore through choice album cuts “Fader,” “Down River” and “Love Lost,” using all faculties he could employ to emote to great success; the crowd was putty in his hands. And not in a “we’ve been told to like this, so we do” way – their reaction to the band’s transcendent heft, ace chemistry, arena-ready melodies, and rafter-coating conviction justified the acclaim. These guys are so ready for the big time I sense that a phone call from U2 manager Paul McGuinness is just a breath away, if it hasn’t happened already. In a word, glorious, but that was obvious. –Words and photos by Carrie Alison

 
  1. [...] fellow bandmates near their gear truck during CMJ in October 2009. They blew the roof off the place that night (opening for the Temper Trap!), and now they’re tops from Tallahassee to Tacoma and everywhere in [...]