Recording contracts arenâ€™t as glamorous as they used to be, not with major labels floundering. MTV and commercial broadcast radio havenâ€™t helped by narrowing their offerings to a few nearly incompatible genres: self-pitying emo rock, bump-and-grind rhythm-and-blues and catchphrase hip-hop. At the CMJ showcases, some bands were still aiming for careers in current mass-market rock. They were the ones slavishly imitating Fall Out Boyâ€™s punk-pop hooks and making music-video rock-star faces.
[…] The do-it-yourself circuit was once a patchwork of live shows and sporadic college-radio exposure, but the Internet has changed that. Now, the most obscure band can put up a page on myspace.com and have its music streamed on any Internet connection, any time. So a showcase at CMJ or its springtime counterpart, South by Southwest, is no longer such a make-or-break moment.
But a live performance, something more tangible, hi-fi and sloppy than a faceless MP3 file, can still make a band vivid. Born Ruffians, a band from Toronto, writes crisp, staccato songs about awkward feelings, harking back to the early Talking Heads. The songs can easily stand on their own. But onstage the bandâ€™s lead singer, Luke LaLonde, brought an extra dollop of endearing, unabashed nerdiness to the music.