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The Five Best CMJ Bands

I seriously need to catch up on some sleep. But before I do that, I'm going to share some impressions of CMJ, the culprit that robbed me of so much shut-eye over the last few days.

If you don't already know, CMJ (College Music Journal) is an annual music festival held each Autumn in New York City that brings hundreds of young bands to come play and hopefully build buzz for the coming year--think of it as a colder, less barbecue-centric South by Southwest.

Over the course of the festival's five days, bands can blur into each other--a natural byproduct of scurrying between clubs and checking out bands playing short sets while music biz schmoozers talk loudly to the very same people they're exchanging tweets with. (Somewhat relatedly, kudos to's Matt Kiser for trying to start a CMJ Twitter rumor that Dirty Projectors were playing a secret show on the Brooklyn Bridge--anyone go? I hope so.)

What I'm saying is that CMJ is not necessarily the best way to assess a band. Despite that, I did see a handful that I liked a lot and think you should keep an eye on. Below are my five favorite bands from this year's edition of the festival.

1. Harlem: Of all the bands I saw at CMJ, Harlem, an Austin three-piece, seemed like they were having the most fun. They cracked jokes, bobbed their heads, even, gasp, smiled! The trio's music was just as infectious as its personality. The guys bash away at punk chord progressions and sing simple, giddy melodies that could've been cribbed from some forgotten '60s garage-rock band. There's a sense of snotty joy and purity--and, in the best songs, sneaky sharp songwriting skill--that kept Harlem at the front of my mind all week.

2. Surfer Blood: Imagine an even more awkward Weezer. Then imagine that Weezer was still a band you wanted to hug. You'd have something close to Florida's Surfer Blood. Rad.

3. Surf City: Are New Zealanders taught from birth how to craft noisy pop gems? Hailing from the same musical line as their countrymen the Chills and the Clean, this quartet loads fuzzy guitars on top of yearning melodies, sung with a whole heap of reverb. They make you work to find they sweet beneath the sour, but the effort is worth it.

4. Suckers: This Brooklyn band moved charmingly between scruffy rising-and-falling slow numbers, highlighted by quivering guitars and singer Quinn Walker's barely controlled falsetto, and brittle psychedelic rave-ups. The music always sounds like it's in the process of falling apart. The thrill is in hearing the band keep it together.

5. Apache Beat: Of all the genres that get play at CMJ, country is probably heard the least. So it was nice to hear Apache Beat, a Big Apple quintet, not only take on the sound but put a cool twist on it too, as singer Ilirjana Alushaj wailed like a downtown Neko Case over her band's synth-dappled country-rock.

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