There ain’t no rest for the weary as my CMJ Friday starts bright and early at noon at the Rockwood Music Hall. Why would I voluntarily begin my day so early? So I can see two folk acts featuring guy-girl vocal harmonies, which is essentially catnip to me. First up was A Brief View of the Hudson, a five-piece band centered on the vocals of Ann Enzminger and Nick Nace. Nace’s deep voice, which contained some rather Dylan-esque inflections, contrasted beautifully with Enzminger's gliding tones.
The band itself had a very old-timey feel, like they should have been playing Al Swearengen’s saloon in Deadwood. Luckily, their style was much more charming than distracting. It helped that the band mostly yielded to the presence of the two singers, since Enzminger and Nace are the heart and soul of A Brief View of the Hudson. The best parts of the set were when the two singers would trade lines during the verses before combining their powers into singular vocal bliss.
Next up was The Bengsons, a husband and wife duo who could not have been more adorable. Though they only used Sean Bengson’s acoustic guitar and singer Abigail Bengson’s voice, the duo commanded the room. Abigail had one hell of a voice. Her singing style was dramatic, emotive, and captivating, and it was clear she had ultimate control over her instrument. It was amazing to watch her carefully and strategically restrain her voice before just unleashing full vocal ferocity during the set’s penultimate song.
In addition to reveling in the duo’s great talent, it was just fun to watch two people enjoy themselves to such a great extent. Abigail was so happy to be performing that she provided some unintentional percussion by jumping up and down with her boots. While introducing a new song, she said the couple was looking to become parents, but babies are “the grossest.” Seriously, stop it. You’re going to kill me with cuteness. The couple then proceeded to perform the most genuine song Edward Sharpe never wrote. All in all, the Bengson’s chemistry, creativity, and enthusiasm made for an early highlight Friday afternoon.
Several naps later, I returned to the CMJ scene to check out Ma’am, who are actually only one third female, at Leftfield. The trio continued Friday’s trend of guy-girl harmonies with a combination of Rebecca Odes and Charles Gansa’s nineties indie vocal stylings. Gansa in particular sounded like Stephen Malkums.
Both singers were armed with a guitar, and the blend of the two guitars, especially when the band played without a bass, created a kind of floating sensation. If humans ever gain the ability to fly, then Ma’am would be the perfect soundtrack to an early morning flight through the clouds.
After Ma’am, I once again found myself at the Rockwood Music Hall for one of my favorite new bands, Wilsen. The venue was considerably more packed than I had seen earlier in the day, and for good reason: Wilsen was about to put on one of the best shows I’ve seen at CMJ.
The band opened with “House on a Hill,” a sweeping number that perfectly encapsulated the loneliness of the wild. When the forlornly whistling of the lead singer, the eponymous Wislen, coincided with striking crash of a cymbal, I can’t imagine there was a spine in the room left sans-shivered.
Wilen continued her set with a few more cuts off her fantastic debut album, “Sirens,” before closing with the album’s most epic track, “Anahita,” and damn, did she and her band play the living hell out of it. Starting off with a Friday Night Lights-like guitar riff, the song burst through its soft beginning and destroyed everything in its path, including the awestruck audience. The song equally overcame Wilsen, as she had to compose herself before she could enthusiastically thank the crowd.
My advice to you is this: go check out Wilsen. Each member of the band completely owns his respective instrument, and Wilsen herself has an effortlessly tremendous voice. So do yourself a favor and look them up the next time the band’s in town.
I ended the night at the Deli’s showcase at Pianos’ upstairs stage with Field Mouse, which had the least fitting name of any band I’ve seen so far at CMJ. Field mice, at least according to the “Tales of Dimwood Forest” books by Avi that I read when I was nine, are meek and mild, while Field Mouse the band was anthemic and self-assured. They should’ve named themselves after Ragweed, the city mouse. Ragweed was a badass mouse. I mean, he had a freaking earring. Of course, Poppy the field mouse eventually proves to be very confident and courageous, so maybe “Field Mouse” is an apt name for the band. Um, sorry. Does anyone have any idea what I’m talking about?
Anyway, Field Mouse turned out to be another great band on an excellent CMJ Friday. The three-piece rocked through rowdy set with fuzzed out guitar solos starry vocals. After the packed room filed downstairs, I called it a night in order to prepare for the very last night of CMJ 2012.