A Lull

There’s an element of chaos to most decent rock shows, but that’s especially true of any show that takes place during CMJ. With so many bands playing so many sets in so many tight spaces (surrounded by so many publicists/bloggers/taste-makers/college radio kids) the odds are that things will go wrong occasionally: Amps burn out, songs get flubbed, sometimes the drummer is too drunk too play. Then there’s the good kind of accident, the kind of random bit of happenstance that justifies the whole sweaty, hectic endeavor.

Tiny Victories wasn’t even scheduled to play Pianos last night. The band’s manager contacted the Brooklyn via Athens/DC duo an hour and a half before the show to have it fill in for the guys in Denver based avant-pop duo Gauntlet Hair, who had van trouble on their way into the city. After setting up equipment, Tiny Victories played a tight, energetic set of brooding, reverb-drenched electro-pop. Combining woozy synth textures with cascading Dan Deacon-like melodies and some live drumming for extra oomph, the two-man attack pogo-ed through its songs with a cheery defiance that often pushed back against the baritone vocals, which felt like a less theatrical take on Matt Berninger’s booze-soaked romanticism. The pair paused for a few ballads and the occasional experimental digression—a blast of dissonance here, a bit of squiggly doodling there—but the focus was on pop songcraft and sugary pleasures, despite the fact that the pair’s muffled vocals kept most of its lyrical sentiments a mystery.

Next up was San Diego’s Cuckoo Chaos, a five-piece surf-rock band withthree guitarists and the lofty ambitions that come with having three guitarists in your surf-rock band. Though the band released an LP titled Woman back in September, it spent most of its set playing new tunes from an in-development follow-up, using stage time to dig into some dense and often complicated new material. While the first couple of songs suggested a simple West Coast take on Vampire Weekend with some math-rock flourishes, the group ended up having far more on its plate: yelping indie rock harmonies, intricate polyrhythms, splashes of Tropicália and Afro-beat signifiers. Toward the end, the music seemed to buckle under the weight of so many disparate influences and so much guitar noodling, but the group’s ace rhythm section kept the show from collapsing into a mush of NPR-approved world music appropriations. With their tight, consistent playing, the band’s drummer and bassist kept the chaos at bay. Sometimes that’s a good thing.

All photos by Keeyahtay Lewis.