CMJ Preview and Highlights


Every year when these big music discovery festivals like CMJ and  SXSW come around, I download whatever sampler I can find, and listen to it blind. That is, I just play it from start to finish without looking at any of the names of the artists. That way no band’s marketing presence or buzziness is influencing my listen. It’s just their sound, how it affects me, whether it gets my attention and makes me want to share it with someone. I also like to imagine what the band would be like live, and sometimes that helps the song’s case.

Most of the tracks on these samplers are usually not great on first listen, but I have discovered some gems in the past using this method, including the Allah-Lahs and Temples. Here are the songs I found from the official CMJ sampler that I definitely want to keep in my collection.

Porches – The Cosmos

This is one of my favorite of the 25 song sampler, and it’s the first one on the list, so it’s always nice to start strong. The name of the track kind of reveals  a lot about the sound –  psychedelic but chill, kind like a more fuzzed out Oasis.


Matthew Dear – Headcage

The opening EDM backbeat sounds a lot like “Head Like a Hole” – I totally expected Trent Reznor to come writhing and screaming through the top of the track, but then it turned out more like a Rob Zombie karaoke attempt. Anyway, it’s not as dark as it sounds – more spacey.


Lost Boy – Wasted

Thank you Lost Boy! What a happy song. It reminds me a lot of Strokes. Couldn’t really tell you what the subject matter is, I just want to keep playing it over and over.


September Girls – Heartbeats

It’s about time for a ladies-only surf rock sound. The harmonies are gorgeously West Coast in their haziness, and the drums and guitar definitely signal a crash on the barrel head.


Rivergazer – Safari Jack

Yes! This is it. This is why I listen to these often-nondescript samplers. Songs like this.  It’s Buddy Holly meets the Beach Boys, meets the Rolling Stones. A great, full sound, with classic plinking piano, and an intensity that ratchets up as the song goes along. Incredible rhymes and meta-consciousness in the lyrics.


PINS – Waiting for the End

The stacatto thump-thump… thump-thump of the bass kick underneath a “woo-oo-oop” vocal is really exciting, and the production value of this happy-clappy garage rock single is really well-balanced.


Shonen Knife- Dance the Rock

I’ll close by taking us back to when I was 17, young and green. I bought the “Rock Against Bush Vol 1” which included a ton of punk bands I hadn’t heard of before and haven’t heard since, including this awesome song by the Epoxies called “Need More Time.” That song was hypnotic, melodic, and inspiring in the way that all good punk rock should be. “Dance to the Rock” reminds me of the Epoxies in a really good, nostalgic way. Shonen Knife got their start as an all-female Japanese pop punk band in 1981 – and that tells you pretty much everything you need to know to imagine what this song sounds like. I think I’d describe it by saying  it’s what would have happened if ABBA and the Ramones had a love child. Enough said. It would be great fun to see them live, and it’ll be on my frequent rotation in the coming weeks.

Check out these songs and others you might like on the free CMJ Sampler at


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