October in New York City means the arrival of the CMJ Music Marathon. This year, as always, the list for the five-day music festival is extensive. So extensive, in fact, that you’d probably be well advised to take two or three coffee breaks while scanning the schedule, which features more than 1,300 live performances. Before you get lost in the shuffle and give up all together, check out four shows that we’ve deemed can’t-miss. And if these four shows aren’t enough, our music writers have 11 more they want you to go see, plus a playlist.
Wednesday, Oct. 22 – Webster Hall
For fans of: Savages, Best Coast
Spin it any way you will, but Courtney Barnett (more on this show from Barnett fan, David Chiu) is utterly irresistible. The bleary-eyed, Aussie-bred rocker has been making significant waves over the past year, due in part to her memorable CMJ performance last year, as well as the 2014 release of her debut album, The Double Ep: A Sea of Split Peas. You’re never quite sure what you’ll get from the 26-year-old singer, but all you have to do is pay close attention. She’ll dizzy you with oscillating twists of her garage rock guitar, charm you with deadpan vocal deliveries, and unexpectedly move you with captivatingly acerbic lyrics. For fans of gritty folk pop, Barnett is pretty much the whole package.
Bombay Bicycle Club
Wednesday, Oct. 22 – Terminal 5
For fans of: Local Natives, Real Estate, Two Door Cinema Club
Bombay Bicycle Club may be an obvious choice as they’re one of CMJ’s headliners, but they’re worth checking out nonetheless. The indie rock outfit from England has proven time and time again that they put on one heck of a live show. With four albums released in the last five years, the band is a surefire crowd pleaser for a reason–they’ve got an eclectic slew of electro-indie, atmospheric rock, and nostalgia-infused songs at their disposal. You’ll find that whether you’re in the mood to dance to pummeling drums or murmur alongside the gentle strums of Jack Steadman’s guitar, Bombay will quench your thirst.
Saturday, Oct. 25 – Rockwood Stage 3
For fans of: Paolo Nutini, Bon Iver
The music that’s released by trio Bird Courage is often just as delicate sounding as their name. As technically stripped down as they are, the simple percussions have an undeniable, ethereal fullness. Listening to lead singer Erik Meier (a frequent performer down in the Metropolitan Ave. station on the G, which somehow seems to attract some of the city’s best buskers) feels like reading an ardent piece of poetry–images so full of color you are swept up in them completely. Go see Bird Courage during CMJ. You’ll find yourself adrift alongside pastoral melodies as everything, even vivid glares from iPhone screens and the scent of beer-soaked hardwood, fades into the background.
Saturday, Oct. 25 – Brooklyn Bowl
For fans of: alt-J, Andrew Bird, Joanna Newsom
Adult Jazz, an experimental pop band, is an onslaught of unsettling reverberations, but in a way that’s quite magnificent. The music that the Leeds quartet produces is a carefully crafted twister of genres; trumpets escalate out of nowhere, and just when you think you’ve narrowed in on a beat, the rhythm will sink drastically, leaving you searching again. The compositions on Adult Jazz’s debut album, Gist Is, are not for the faint of heart; most run over five minutes and feature grandiose, free-flowing lyrics about philosophical ruminations. Allow your intrigue to lead you to the front of the crowd for Adult Jazz’s performance–this is CMJ at a cosmic level.