Sofar is often described as an “intimate” musical experience. And while that’s always the feel, it’s a fun change to take over larger spaces and fill them with a few hundred eager music fans. And so it was on October 16th, when we filled the spacious Canoe Studios in Chelsea—with a twinkling view overlooking the Hudson—for the first of our three CMJ music festival shows.
First up was Seasick Mama, back for a second Sofar performance. Since the release of her album Tip Top Shape, this is one local act’s star is certainly on the rise. Unplugged, the band’s sound is nothing if not unique: gritty and stylized vulnerability, hanging on the sometimes whispered, sometimes cried lyrics of the Mama herself.
New to Sofar was Anya Marina, whose blond locks and quivering vibrato initially reminded me of a less quirky Cindi Lauper. But Anya showed her fair share of personality with hilarious, over-sharing banter between songs. Her music itself is pop, with slight jazz currents and intelligently placed moments of occasional dissonance.
Another returning Sofar favorite, Frances Cone, showed a different side of pop. Her soulful, raspy resonance is striking, fitting like unexpected puzzle pieces with the altogether different and entirely complementary vocals of guitarist Jeff Malinowski. Amidst the group’s thoughtful lyrics and rambling rhythm, there are moments when Frances growls, and you can’t help but wish you could rewind.
Last but not least, UK artists Duologue, in town for CMJ, closed out the set with a compelling, stripped-down electronic set. While our hosts raved about the group’s dance’y beats, for Sofar they took a more mellow path, layering rhythms under crisp, soaring vocals and somber lyrics. Skirting the triviality often assumed of dance music, Duologue—which has far more than two members, despite the name—provides a meatier pathway to electronic music. But then again, they did get us all to drum and dance.