Following in the wake of the now-defunct new music discovery smorgasbord that was CMJ, New Colossus is the smaller but well-formed new kid on the block aiming to step into its shoes as New York’s showcase festival of choice. Only in its first year proper, it’s a three-day, six-venue affair, descending on Lower East Side Manhattan with a clutch of artists from across the globe aiming to take a bit of The Big Apple on their way to the altogether-more-daunting lion’s den that is SXSW.
DIY will be taking over The Delancey tonight (Saturday 9th), bringing Whenyoung, Body Type, Penelope Isles and more to the city. But before then we’ve been wading through the festival’s other offering, finding the best of the bunch for your pleasure.
Kicking off Thursday night at Pianos is Ontario’s Ellis, freshly signed to Fat Possum. Dishing up a woozy, reasonably true-to-the-original cover of The Cranberries’ doe-eyed classic ‘Linger’, the singer and her band are like a chilled out, dialled down take on Canadian peers Alvvays – all wistful melodies and sugared vocals. She’s got good chat though, cracking jokes about racking up a speeding ticket on her way, and it’s an endearing package. London’s flirting. follow, and if the full stop that succeeds their name hints at a tendency for the wilfully obtuse, then their set is nothing if not consistent. The singer spends the first song on the floor; her bandmates are daubed in face glitter; their set is discordant to the nth degree. You can see what they’re aiming for – more art project than trad band – but it errs towards the grating.
Scotland’s The Ninth Wave head up the bill for label Distiller Records’ takeover party downstairs at Arlene’s Grocery, and though it takes a while for them to shake the sound issues that begin their set, it’s worth the wait to get them at their best. Channelling the more flamboyant end of the 80s, they’re a mix of new wave pomp and mid ’00s indie synth bangers (we even spot We Are Scientists nodding along appreciatively in the corner). Is it a groundbreaking new sound? No. But for entertainment value, from the stylised catwalk clown aesthetic down to the pouting delivery, The Ninth Wave have got it nailed.
Friday afternoon and London's Hussy have been dealt the short straw in terms of stage times (lunch on a weekday in the city is no-one's dream spot). The efforts of those that make it, however, are more than rewarded; Sophie Nicole Ellison (a dead ringer for uber-cool actress Saoirse Ronan, FYI) and her band conjure up the kind of fuzzy magic that should see them fit right in on this side of the Atlantic. Recent single 'Forever' pits the singer's clear, confident vocal against swirls of alt-rock guitars, and though the quartet are still in their infancy, there's already something magnetic about the dynamic they've crafted.
Moving slightly further north within the UK and Manchester's Fruit Tones are about as un-Manchester a band as you'll find. Channelling the garage rock jangle of Burger Records' finest, their lineage lies more in Black Lips and the 'Nuggets' collection than the Gallaghers and their kin. Over at Bowery Electric, New York's own Palberta are a six-armed, idiosyncratic joy. Rotating between instruments, their three members serve up offbeat time signatures, playfully deconstructed song structures and humour throughout. If their tangential approach could veer into tricksy muso territory in the hands of some, it's entirely saved from that fate by the evident giddy fun that the three friends exude; we're just invited along for the ride.
Back at Pianos and another set of New Yorkers, Poppies, prove the highlight of the day. Helmed by softly spoken vocalist May Sembera, they're a quiet storm, entreating you in before unleashing a climactic crescendo. It's the nuance that gets you though; serving up tracks from recent LP 'Bed Music', their songs tug at the heartstrings in the smartest of ways – a sneaky minor chord here, an unexpected harmony there. Second vocalist Ian Langehough obviously has stakes in Pavement's more melodic end of the spectrum, but between the two – his more earnest emoting, and her sad, soft song, there's something genuinely unique and magical.
The night ends with the altogether ballsier sound of Pom Pom Squad. Sporting a dress that lands somewhere in the realm of Austrian milkmaid chic, singer Mia Berrin leads the band through a set of college rock blasts that are, thankfully, as far away from that vibe as you can get. They power through a cover of Weezer's 'The Sweater Song', chat merrily to the crowd throughout and generally top off the night with a feel-good, righteous end. Onwards and upwards to DIY's own stage...