Saturday night at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village started with the serene songs of Huntington, Long Island-hailing quintet NY Lights (pictured). Sounding out few kinds of genres - indie, psychedelic rock, and Americana, amongst them -the one-year-old band struck an intriguing balance between warmth and edginess, its drum slaps and sandy vocals riding along the ear with steady drive.
Later, on the Lower East Side, in the oaken cellar of Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3, the standout of this viewer's CMJ experience was seen: Grey McMurray. Enveloped in a low red light and aided by a trio of deft musicians (including a cellist), the Brooklyn-based artist played a kind of freak-soul as he dipped down into often uncomfortable yet sometimes inviting visions of spirituality and love, his drooping guitar and cavernous voice simultaneously chilling and moving the listener. Antony Hegarty and Nick Hakim are probably his musical siblings but McMurray conjured a creepily warm aura in Rockwood's downstairs room that is perhaps his own.
Upstairs on Stage 2, fellow Brooklyn act EMEFE blasted its synth-lined afrobeat, its rubbery horns and perky electronics showing reverence for Fela Kuti and Talking Heads while culminating in its own pop-oriented, bold funk. The six-piece also allowed for some spontaneity, though, bandleader Miles Arntzen during one track recording the audience's handclaps for inclusion on a forthcoming song.
Next door on Stage 1, Brooklyn three-piece Lazyeyes broke into a relentlessly ringing set that, during one song, brought to mind the rough innocence of 'Pablo Honey'-era Radiohead and, during others, the foreboding catchiness that Joy Division displayed on "Disorder." Towards the end of its set, the frontman Jason Abrishami of the young group said that they "have a couple of songs left" while bassist Paul Volpe joked that they "have a couple of years left" but one hopes that they keep up their compellingly raw energy.
Back at Stage 2, New York outfit Nuf Said ended the night with its jazzy R&B, the group's swirling horns proving a pleasant and compelling addition to the gently strong vocals of lead singer Ioana Vintu and the mellow guitar-bass combination in the background. Like other New York outfit Mad Satta, Nuf Said seamlessly melds genres such as jazz, R&B, and funk while showing that they can end a talent-packed festival such as CMJ with festive boldness. - Zach Weg