Frederick Maus is a Brooklyn musician who had the opportunity to step out of the shadows and explore the deafening depths of New York City’s 2010 edition of CMJ Music Marathon. CMJ is, along with SXSW, one of the most important music showcase events in America. We warmly welcome this mysterious guest author and their thoughts on ArpLine! – John
By Frederik Maus
Going to a show at CMJ is like trying to navigate the female anatomy for the first time- you just don’t know where to go. I scoured through the how-to’s, and like most kids, ended up getting my head out of the books and just asking a friend. He forwarded me an invite to a promo company’s showcase at The Bell House, it was “by invite” (read: Free!), which just makes you feel like you’ve been invited to Cinderella’s ball. Exercising industry-standard googling of the bill, I discovered more cookie cutters, except for the Brooklyn-based band, ArpLine.
Excited at the prospects of going to a ball with real band interest, their sound was trumped by a mention that they are working on a new album with Chris Coady, who produced Beach House and was David Sitek’s right hand man (Yeah Yeah Yeahs producer). ArpLine doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about the Internet, but out of their few posts on Myspace, I did discover a respectable music video and pictures from a KEXP studio visit. Get your socks on; it’s time to go to the ball.
Upon arriving at the Bell House ball, I was greeted by The Onion’s hospitality (and branding) thru free beer. Thanks, Onion! We’re family now, e-mail me anytime! Stepped inside the 500-capacity chandelier room just in time to see the first band and… a couple slumped on a couch… and at the other end of the deserted football field… a man slouched over the bar, chatting up a visibly annoyed bartender. This is apromoter’s showcase?! I understand, as a musician, that it’s hard to get people to a show, especially to a show on time. But as a promo agency, hired hands, those bands should be hyped up like it’s going to save youth from aging… right?
So here we were, four guests at the ball nobody wanted to be at (not even the other bands were in the room to watch, a lack of solidarity I’ve noticed in NYC). The first band played to an empty room, and even though the lead singer seemed like he could use the reality check, I listened sympathetically. I was drinking for free, after all. Uneventfully the band finished, cleared out and ArpLine takes the stage. Guitarist Adam DeRosa is the winner of the Get-set-up-first! Race, and appears unsure of himself as he shifts his tall wiry frame and fidgets with his pocket seam, watching nervously while the other guys set up three computers and other effects gear. Plugged and checked, lead vocalist Sam Tyndall also looks a tad miffed, perhaps because I am the only person standing in the center of the giant room. He turns to Adam with a facial expression that must say, “Fuck it, let’s do it,” because their postures suddenly shift, shoulders back and confident. This is the band I came to see.
By the end of the first song, dozens trickle in, enough for photographers to get their “crowd shots,” the crowd, who had cameras of their own aimed at the stage. The band relaxes and change into higher gear. Oliver Edsforth’s side-shuffle-with-no-knee-bend draws my attention to his two-keyboard setup, the synth control center. The synth, Oliver’s primitive dance moves, and drummer Michael Resnick’s use of electronic and acoustic kit, cue us into New Wave Synthpop Re: Duran Duran and Talking Heads. I don’t know much about reincarnation, but I’m pretty sure Sam’s voice just might be a pre-reincarnation of Gary Numan. Sam holds the microphone with two hands when he’s not playing a two-string guitar or midi.
About halfway through the set, my ears hone in on the sounds coming from the guy who seemed the weakest link before the set. Adam DeRosa, behind the guitar, is a quick, agile, collected ninja, delivering driving, Industrial/Goth tempo, catchy guitar riffs and atmosphere with precision and restraint, dynamically aware. His contribution accentuates how this band has developed a unique style, but still firmly within the New Wave Synthpop lineage.
ArpLine displays a rehearsed, gigantic dancehall sound, tight set, certainly aided by the fact that the boat is steered by Drummer Michael, with headset connected to the electronic brain. The band is not so detached that it feels as if they are all dead lining and the amps are playing themselves. They knock you out with singles at the beginning and you follow their lead willingly. The well-orchestrated, intricate melodies choreograph into one ear, dance around and through brain cells, and exit out the other ear. There is a lot of detail if you’re listening, and not just looking for a court jester to demand that you jump around. ArpLine is aware of your presence, but not altogether concerned by it as they are present to execute well-crafted songs.
Sam, confident behind the microphone, sings with conviction so that you want to read his lyrics that are obviously past knee-deep. As a front man, he seems a little uncomfortable being the center, looking down between lyrics and songs, the way you are when the Senior Class President DJ switches songs at the high school Homecoming. But this humanizing stage presence humbles him, and he’s ringleader enough to keep your attention so that you don’t feel the need to entertain yourself by making eyes with the girl wearing 80s mom glasses. I mostly appreciate the separation because I don’t feel as if they are about to jump off stage and try to sell me a used car. That being said, “Fold Up Like a Piece of Paper” with a serious light show? I’d probably drop drawers.
After the set I feel vindicated for attending the ball, of them all, at CMJ. The band seems genuinely relieved and excited to answer questions about their music. I learn that they have been performing together for about five years, and recently changed their band name to ArpLine (from Kiss Off) and are looking for a label to release their debut album on in Spring 2011. True Indie style, they paid out of their freelancing pockets to hire the hottest studio professionals to contribute to the project. Gone are the demo days?
Out of the dozens of bands I saw this year at CMJ, ArpLine stands out because they have synth but don’t rely on it to do everything for them. Their vocal effects work to their favor instead of dropping out altogether, or masking what may very well be vapid lyrics. Drum and percussion beats are complex and the guitarist is a total badass. Yes, they show up to the first day of school with cool kid shoes, but they know how to run without falling over them. With years of gigging in New York clubs, fine-tuning their sound in front of empty rooms, focusing in on priorities, ArpLine is positioning to take off.