The first disappointment of CMJ was over the name. Rather than being a festival dedicated to the BBC's superb cricket correspondent Christopher Martin-Jenkins (who, on air, is known by his initials), the New York City festival is in fact an offshoot of the College Music Journal.

It's a city-based festival, so instead of camping out in a muddy field, all the events take place in venues across Manhattan and Brooklyn. Handily, many of the shows are open to those who don't have a festival wristband – punters are able to turn up and pay on the door, or even get in for nothing (to the free shows, rather than by sneaking in through the fire exit).

That said, what with the many other delights New York has to offer, your Pennyblackmusic correspondent only managed to make four of the dozens of shows on offer during the festival week.

A Baltimore showcase – even the intriguingly named Round Robin – isn't, perhaps, the most enticing of festival draws. In fact, it's not even part of the festival, but it's acting as a kind of pre-festival sharpener, and a heavy one at that. It takes place over two nights, the first being themed 'Eyes' and featuring 'spritual, dreamy, theatrical' music, while the second one, which we caught (18 October), was themed 'Feet' and was altogether more raucous.

The round-robin is literal: the audience stood in the centre of the venue, Le Poisson Rouge on Bleecker Street, while the bands, all from Baltimore, were set up at several stages on the outside. Each played one song and then the audience turned to the next act, and so on. The big draw of the night was Dan Deacon, who specialises in a kind of bizarre horror-themed psych-rock. With a show this close to Halloween he was in his element, and his noisy thrash drew some of the biggest moshing of the night – down on the dancefloor, such as it was, it was hard not to get draw in, such was the ferocity. Following closely in the rock stakes were Double Dagger and Nuclear Power Pants, while Lizz King and Future Islands provided a more thoughtful, melodic counterpart to the madness. It wasn't all rock, though: there was so-so hip-hop courtesy of Height, some silly but entertaining bleepcore from DJ Dog Dick and synthesised silliness from Video Hippos and Adventure, whose computer game soundtrack-alikes started out well but quickly grew old.

Into CMJ proper, Jens Lekman was playing a showcase for the Brooklyn Vegan blog at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (October 21). First support was the London-based, Hong Kong-born Emmy The Great, whose endearing manner and sweet voice hide all kinds of dark meaning in her lyrics. The Sammies are a pleasant enough melodic indie band, although the charm of their recordings didn't quite carry through to the live act. Country-influenced Texan band Shearwater similarly failed to carry through on their impressive promise of being as grand as My Morning Jacket. Ponytail were louder and faster, while Passion Pit were much more impressive, playing a bleepy but pleasant and tuneful pop-rock hybrid with more than enough weirdness to make it interesting, but not enough to be annoying. Lekman, on the other hand, was a let-down. Billed as 'the singing DJ' he was literally that, playing a few instrumentals and singing over the top. For a man who's been heavily hyped on this side of the Atlantic it wasn't a great US outing.

Back at the Music Hall on October 23 saw Jay Reatard kick things off. Formerly of The Reatards and several other bands, he's put out what seems like hundreds of records already, but he's only recently come to widespread notice. Although the name and the look suggest a punk ethos, that's mixed with an ear for an excellent tune and musical ability to match. King Khan and the BBQ Show were quite remarkable, both looks-wise (Khan was dressed in a tight top and women's underwear) and music-wise (he and his partner in crime play a rocked-up bluesy country indie). Finally, post-punk luminaries Mission of Burma played as though they'd never been away, with a set that mixed old classics with newer songs.

Before flying out we managed to catch one last CMJ moment, Lancashire's Little Boots, who's currently making waves in the British music press. She (real name Victoria Hesketh) played to a small but interested crowd at an afternoon show at the Knitting Factory in Manhattan (25 October). Her trademark instrument is the Tenorion, a strange little Yamaha synthesiser that can play all manner of beats and blips but which also provides a light show of sorts for both crowd and performer. She appeared on stage with a drummer and keyboardist, which combined with the Tenorion and Hesketh's voice to provide sound that almost, but not quite, replicated the full-bloodedness of her recordings. She's been playing around, musically, with Hot Chip, which shows in the music, a great mix of warmth and electro cool. Recent single 'Meddle' was a highlight, although she didn't take the opportunity to play her excellent cover of Hot Chip's 'Ready for the Floor'.

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