Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Video Premiere: "Broken Man" by Josh Moore

I'll never forget the moment I came upon Josh Moore's music. I was in the midst of filming Mandolin Orange's excellent Bottom String Session some years back and as the session was winding down, some bearded troubadour walked into the room, sat down, and stunned me with a cover of 'Long Black Veil.' After a second cover of "Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down," I became enamored with this artist. A soothing voice and gently plucked acoustic guitar was truly all Moore needed to leave me transfixed and since then I've been pining to hear a record. I'd heard rumblings and whispers that Moore was diligently working on a full-length, but heard no confirmation. So obviously, once Moore's first track premiered a few weeks back on The Bluegrass Situation, I was beaming with excitement. Even moreso when I was approached to share a video from the album.

For years Moore has been at work with Jeff Crawford on the new album, but it wasn't until 2013 that he and a wide array of locals began recording his forthcoming album Parted Ways. "We broke ground on this album with a successive series of monthly early morning sessions that would wind down in the afternoon," Moore says, and throughout those sessions artists like Ryan Gustafson, James Wallace, Mark Simonson and Carter Gaj were frequent collaborators. Emily Frantz, Jacki Huntington, Heather McEntire, and Skylar Gudasz can be heard contributing vocal harmonies as well, making for an all-star congregation of local musicians for this heavily anticipated album.

For those unfamiliar with Moore's catalogue, he began as the vocalist for hardcore band Beloved, but upon moving to Carrboro became ensconced in the local folk scene. Moore came in around a time where several other heavier artists were turning down and tuning into the simpler sounds, and when you're surrounded by so many talented, like-minded individuals it's a natural progression to turn down that road. Citing artists like The Byrds, Doug Paisley and Gene Clark as musical reference points, Parted Ways finds Moore delving into a sound that's simultaneously classic yet contemporary. After several years without recording or performing, Moore had pent up emotions to work out and Parted Ways runs forth with a defined theme of blazing trails in new directions.

Moore is set to celebrate the release of Parted Ways at what's sure to be a jam-packed show at the Cat's Cradle Backroom on June 12th alongside Jenks Miller & Rose Cross NC. Admission is $8 and you can buy tickets here.

Josh Moore- Broken Man from Thrown Stone Films on Vimeo.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Video Premiere: "Sweetheart I've Noticed" by Jackson Honeycutt

Being a part of such an incredible local music scene can be overwhelming at times. There's always something newer or something hipper, always folks in search of an act that's so fresh that their songs haven't even left the dank room they were recorded in. But every now and then it's nice to have musicians fall into your lap so to speak. There's no searching involved, just an instance of being in the right place at the right time, somehow fate decides to align and make these musical findings coalesce perfectly with a particular point in your life. Artists like Jackson Honeycutt are the perfect example of this.

The young songwriter from the Raleigh/Garner region already has a handful of LPs and EPs under his belt, albeit of the lo-fi variety, but nonetheless it's an impressive level of output for such a budding songwriter. Honeycutt blends traditional folk-pop sentiments with melancholy overtones to make for a listening experience as bright and infectious as it is downtrodden and blue. "Sweetheart I've Noticed" is a single that Honeycutt recently released that's been gaining the artist quite a bit of traction. The track's been in rotation at local music powerhouse WKNC as well as WSOE, Elon's college radio station.

Riding that wave of popularity, Honeycutt teamed up with local videographer Evan Kidd (responsible for the excellent Spazzfest documentary a few years back) to film a visual companion for "Sweetheart I've Noticed." Filmed in Garner, N.C., the video switches between scenes of Honeycutt aimlessly roaming around town on a rainy, gray-skied day and jovial, carefree days of youth spent at playgrounds and dance parties. The video perfectly represents the emotional dichotomy of Honeycutt's music and lyricism, leaving fans eager to see what's to come from this promising young songwriter. Check out the video below:

Jackson Honeycutt - "Sweetheart I've Noticed" (Official Music Video) from Evan Kidd on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Artist Feature: Temple5

Temple5 will be performing at Deep South in Raleigh
alongside NO9TO5 and Jswiss. Purchase tickets here
When one thinks of North Carolina hip-hop, thoughts don't usually stray towards Wilmington. Maybe the chart-topping J. Cole comes to mind or perhaps the more underground breakout acts like King Mez or Deniro Farrar, but certainly not an eastern North Carolina act. Temple5, however, is doing their damnedest to change that mindset. Temple5 is a seven-piece act that blends elements of hip-hop, jazz and funk to create one dazzling, rhythmically driven sound. While it's easy to lose yourself in the intricately arranged pieces that comprise these recordings, this is the kind of music that you need to see live to truly experience in its entirety. You've got to watch the very obvious chemistry that these musicians have together, feel the horns wash over you as the band's lyricist Louis. effortlessly weaves together ridiculous rhyme schemes that cover everything from socially conscious messages to clever punch lines. Temple5 will be performing at The Deep South Bar on Saturday, Jan. 31 alongside NO9TO5 and Jswiss, so in advance we spoke with members of the band on the intricacies involved with their music and what to expect from the band in 2015.

The creation of Temple5 was a very deliberate process, something that seems to be have been in the works for years on end. AJ Reynolds, saxophonist for the band, goes as far as saying that Temple5 was something he's wanted to do since the age of 16, but states but waited until he was 23 because that was when he felt like he and his peers could approach this band with "the artistry, maturity and ambition" required to make it what it should be. Deliberate may be an understatement when it comes to this band. Steeped in the tradition of acts like The Roots and The Robert Glasper Experiment, Temple5 has melded the new and the old together to create a jazzy take on hip-hop.

"I’ve found the ongoing process of acculturation that has been happening in America over the past 100+ years fascinating," states trumpeter Aaron Lane. "It started with early blues and jazz which was a fusion of African rhythm with Western harmony/instrumentation," he states, and from there the music has morphed into various widely different forms. These two forms have in some way or another influenced practically every wave of popular music and has risen to the top once again with hip-hop. Now as Lane states, we see that the hip-hop has begun to revert back to its origins, pulling heavy inspiration from the jazz, funk and soul that birthed the genre in the first place. And while the whole reverse acculturation thing is a large determining factor in the birth of new and innovative hip-hop, it also doesn't hurt that having a live band just makes a performance that much better.

"I think most of us in the band have gone to hip-hop shows and said to ourselves, 'man, it would be so dope to see a live band up here laying it down with the emcee,'” Reynolds states. And sometimes thoughts like that ignite a spark that erupts into something much larger than anyone could imagine. When you've got so many talented musicians together in one project (they all mostly met at the UNCW Music Department through various university ensembles and jazz combo/big band projects) then it's only a matter of time until things blossom into something that's truly unparalleled. Acts like The Beast have tapped into this in the Triangle, raising the socially conscious flag while laying down some serious grooves, and now it appears Temple5 has taken this torch for Eastern NC.

"We are a unique group of guys in a unique situation with a unique goal," Lane states, "to create and grow a local community through the positive message of hip-hop." With that goal in mind, all it takes is a brief listen through to the band's two previously released EPs to grasp how passionate this crew is about their message and how intent they are on getting it right. Strategic Arrival: The Statement marks the beginning of the band and finds them dipping their toes into the water, toying with Barack Obama speech clips that tackle socioeconomic woes. The Bap Is Eternal: The Argument, found the band diving deeper into the rabbit hole, with a dedicated emcee in Louis. the crew has started take a heavy lyrical focus while still producing acrobatic instrumentation. Their forthcoming full-length CompUtopia: The Solution promises to find the band in the perfect place, vibing together as a crew and ready to produce a definitive statement that relays both positivity and dance-inducing jams. When Lane describes the band's writing process he relays one simple notion, "either it grooves with people or it doesn't." Temple5 most definitely grooves.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Oulipo announces new album "Kisses To The Sky" & shares track "Dolphins"

Oulipo have announced their forthcoming album
"Kisses to the Sky" and shared lead-single "Dolphins"
It's hard to recall a band that's been as interesting to watch as Oulipo. From the first listen of Primitive Ways it was pretty clear that the band had potential to tap into a truly unique and compelling musical niche. It's been nearly three years since the release of Primitive Ways and it's clear that the band has made monumental growth since then, just take a peek into the work they've shared with the public to prove it.

Back in September of 2014 the band released a music video for "Shine On You Crazy Bastard," a track that showcased a new-found sense of restraint and maturity in their songwriting. With a compelling and sparse use of sampling, sprawling instrumentation and soaring melodies, Oulipo re-appeared as a potential powerhouse. Now the band's announced details of their upcoming full-length Kisses To The Sky, and while the release date is still forthcoming, they have shared a brand new track from the album, "Dolphins."

Kisses To The Sky was recorded over the course of a year at Bit Heart Studios in Greensboro and mixed by the iconic producer Mitch Easter at the Fidelitorium (R.E.M., Pavement) in Kersnersville. Recently Easter has been behind some of the state's finest releases from artists like Mandolin Orange and Lilac Shadows, but he's also responsible for mastering upcoming releases from folks like See Gulls and Birds of Avalon. Needless to say all you have to do is sit back with a pair of headphones to fall in love with "Dolphins."

Vocalist Ryan Trauley's voice subtly slides into a slowly building groove, wistfully gliding atop a steady rhythm. Though the verse carries along downtempo, "Dolphins" erupts into a triumphant chorus that finds Trauley's glossy falsetto unraveling into a soulful croon, making for a gorgeous musical moment. "Dolphins" alone is far more refined than any of Oulipo's previous releases, it's a rich and encompassing track that's built upon tightly packed, yet intricately layered pieces. Trauley's vocals elicit strong emotions from both their lyrical content and their melodic tendencies. And the interplay between Trauley's vocal patterns and the entrancing, yet grooving instrumentation is mesmerizing. The chorus reaches its peak with a passionate croon, and as Trauley soulfully sings out "I wouldn't dance with another," you find yourself ripped away from the moment you're in and become focused intently on these heartfelt sentiments turned into vibrant and robust pop music. Tracks like "Dolphins" and "Shine On You Crazy Bastard" provide a brief glimpse at the brilliance we have left to see from Kisses to the Sky, but you can check out the tracklist for now and just imagine how great this release is going to be.

Kisses to the Sky Tracklist
1. Nite Legs
2. Dolphins
3. Lovers On the Moon
4. Shine On You Crazy Bastard
5. Prisoner of Love
6. Amsterdam Shag
7. Blue Flames
8. Kisses to the Sky

Monday, January 26, 2015

Artist Feature: Bo White

Photo Credit: James Willamor
When you talk to most musicians about whether or not they had a direction in mind with their musical projects, you usually are greeted with a swift "no, it just kind of came out this way." It usually serves as an amalgamation of all of their current and previous influences, effortlessly turning into a style all their own. Charlotte-based musician Bo White seems to approach things a bit differently. Since White's youth he's been meticulously crafting music of all varieties, theres the math-y yet melodic indie pop of Yardwork, the guitarless symphonic pomp of Bo White y Su Orquesta and his most recent post-punk excursion of Patois Counselors, each with their own unique, defined sound that feels unlike any other. Patois Counselors will be making their live debut this Friday at Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte, N.C. alongside acts like Diarrhea Planet, Junior Astronomers and Museum Mouth, so in advance we spoke with Bo about how the hell you can consistently make such a wide array of incredible music.

"I’m genuinely interested in most genres of music at any stage," White says, "precise to free, novice to virtuoso. I pay the most attention to unique elements that separate certain genres or sounds from others." So whereas many artists may find particular elements of a certain genre and build their sound around multiple facets, White seems to become enamored by one in particular and delve deep into the genre's possibilities. "If I want to do a different genre, I start another project," White states, which explains the myriad of acts that White has been a part of. He cites his most recent solo releases as the exception to these rules though, claiming that Adornment and Millenial Tombs were "compilations of experiments," which is quite the testament considering Millenial Tombs was listed as one of our favorite North Carolina albums of 2014. "I tried to think about them as little as possible," White proclaims, "Adornment is the compilation of what I could come up with in a weekend. Millenial Tombs is a compilation of what I could come up with in a few weeks while recovering from a stint in the hospital."

When you take into account that White can put such minimal thought into a project and still have it lauded as one of the best releases of the year, it kind of leaves you a bit floored as to what this musician is truly capable of at his finest. When discussing his creative output, White states that he's running at "medium capacity" when at his most prolific, stating that he could "write and record all day, every day" but, you know there's this whole thing called society that we probably need to interact with. Regardless of whether he's working at full capacity or not, it's astonishing to see how seamlessly White can craft such intricate works throughout such a wide selection of genres.

Frankly that astonishment is something that I'm not quite sure will ever go away. It seems as if each new project broadens White's horizons in a new and invigorating way, and that's because he's got well defined ideas as to how each new project should sound. "With any project I begin by imagining the end result," White says. "Do I want to eat Sunday brunch to this music? Do I want to spark some romance? Do I want to get bled on at the Milestone? From there I’ll shape the kernels into a form that is approximately a full song, say 3 minutes or so." If I had to take any guess as to which one of these coincides with Patois Counselors, I'd wager that its the latter. To date there's only two songs available for folks to soak in from Patois Counselors, a primarily synth-driven track entitled "Clean Skits" and "Free Jazz Complaint." The music of "Clean Skits" sounds crunchy and dissonant, propelled by brisk drumbeats and nervous wails from White that dip in and out of the mix as the warm, distorted synth line encompasses the listener. "Free Jazz Complaint" feels a bit more straight forward, it sounds a bit like if Damon Albarn were to take a foray into psyched-out punk rock. White's vocals take more of a forefront on this track while frenzied guitar lines pop in and out,  soundtracking White's meta rants on free-form music.

"I wanted to blister some paint off the walls but do it in an anti-macho, smart ass way," White says of Patois Counselors. "I’ve played punk and noisier stuff before, but people forget. Even when I’m singing Sade soul through a cassette deck with clarinet samples, I feel like I’m doing it in a punk manner." White shrugs off the fact that this may be lost to some audiences, but when you go back and analyze his music through this lens it makes a bit more sense. White's got an inherently punk attitude throughout his work and Patois Counselors serves as an excellent outlet for that attitude. It's crass, but accessible, which is why it fits perfectly on the Reverb Fest bill. Joining some of the state's most revered punk-oriented acts, Patois Counselors will make their live debut this Friday evening with a fresh new band that's "that's taken [his] parts and made them more visceral," meaning you can probably expect things to get pretty wiley.

Listen to "Free Jazz Complaint" below and check out Patois Counselors at Reverb Fest in Charlotte at The Neighborhood Theatre on Jan. 30. alongside Diarrhea Planet, Junior Astronomers, Museum Mouth and Southern Femisphere.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

20 Favorite North Carolina Albums of 2014

It seems as if with each passing year the creative output of North Carolina increases with unfathomable speed. It's an exciting time to be a local music fan, and one of the things I've always struggled with is narrowing my "best albums of the year list" down to 10. So why not 20?! One thing I've seen recently though and admired was the format of NPR's best of list, an alphabetical catalogue of the publication's favorite releases. No race to the top, no questions of whose album is THE BEST (but seriously, TL;DR though), just a lengthy account of the albums we're most excited about here. It was a very eclectic year for North Carolina acts. Hiss Golden Messenger's Lateness of Dancers brought more international attention to our rich folk roots, while Sylvan Esso's self-titled album showcased some of the versatility and innovation that can be found within our state's music scene. Regardless of your preferred genre, there's no doubting that from Wilmington to Asheville and everywhere in between, 2014 was a great year for music.

Ancient Cities - Ancient Cities
Ancient Cities are one of those bands that you hear for the first time and wonder where they've been hiding at. It's everything you could really want from an indie-folk group, slow churning ballads, minimalistic anthems and a serious desire to hum along to words you don't even know yet. Ancient Cities tracks feel simultaneously vintage, steeped in 60s psych-pop brilliance, and fresh and exciting, mostly because it's hard to really pinpoint an act that's doing what Ancient Cities is sonically. As "Ostinato in D Major" bleeds into "Edie Sedgewick" morphing from a soaring, simplistic horn solo into a dynamic pop track that bounces along with vibrant melodies, you begin to realize that Ancient Cities seem to know exactly what they're doing here and that you crave much, much more of it.

Astro Cowboy -

Eastern North Carolina was putting in work this year. A scene has erupted in the area that feels like transmuted takes on surf rock, all taken into vastly different sonic territories. The sounds of Zack Mexico started out as stoner-psych surf and have morphed into something vaguely reminiscent of Frank Zappa. Eastern North Carolina acts have a sense of uninhibited exploration, and that's what makes acts like Astro Cowboy so exciting. Hedonism Colosseum is a collection of pop-punk inspired tracks that provides a keen, self aware glimpse into teenage life once more. Frustrations over pale skin and loneliness just sound great when belted out atop swift power chords and brisk drumbeats. There's a lot more to Hedonism Colosseum though then what's glaring on first listen. Much like the aforementioned Zack Mexico, it feels like Astro Cowboy are beginning to carve out their corner of the scene and morph into a truly unique and exciting outfit.
Listen to "White Shoes"

Bo White - Millenial Tombs
If awards were given out for the most versatile musicians in the state then Bo White would take the trophy year in and year out. Whether he's contributing guitar lines and vocals to the wily pop outfit Yardwork or conducting modern day masterpieces under his own name, you're likely to find yourself lost in unforgettable melodies and enveloping sonic soundscapes. On Millenial Tombs, Bo White seamlessly slides between a wide array of genres but still makes a phenomenally cohesive and personal album. While he's toying with funky bass lines, mesmerizing string sections or spacey synths he's also crafting intensely personal and creative lyrics like those founds in "Patient," a track that narrates life in a hospital bed and maintaining positivity. Millenial Tombs displays much of Bo White's breadth while still making it clear that he hasn't even touched the surface of his musical explorations. White effortlessly makes grandiose pop music that's both clever and emotional and that's something to get excited about.
Listen to "Patient"

Caleb Caudle - Paint Another Layer on My Heart
Frankly, this record feels like the Caleb Caudle album we've all wanted for quite some time now. Not to discredit any of Caudle's previous releases, but Paint Another Layer on My Heart feels like a true, unfiltered look behind the curtains into the life of a touring musician. Caudle's subject matter frequently tackles the tropes of life on the road, but does so in a manner that's so sincere that it feels unique. Caudle flexes his songwriting prowess here by making the layman listener connect with the life of a full-time musician that's living the bulk of their life out on the road, traveling from city to city, missing loved ones and fawning over days gone by. Paint Another Layer on My Heart, is an incredible glimpse into the life of a songwriter, but it's also an album filled with catchy, well-writen songs, which is reason enough to check it out in my book.
Listen to "Trade All The Lights"

The Collection - Ars Moriendi
Back in 2011, The Collection was an act that took my world by storm. Their EP was placed right in the midst of our favorite albums of the year, and since that last release the band has only continued to hone their craft. The Collection has begun to fill the hole that Lost in the Trees left in the orchestral folk area of North Carolina's music scene. David Wimbish's songwriting continues to sit at the forefront of these tracks, his voice welling with the rise of the band's extravagant instrumentation. Ars Moriendi has found the band gaining national foothold as well, the release premiered on AV Club and since then they've toured across the country with The Oh Hellos, selling out at highly esteemed venues like The Troubador in California. Ars Moriendi is only the beginning for this incredibly talented collection of musicians, their songs will continue to become more and more grandiose, delving into musical territories that have yet to be tread upon. But for now it's enough to sit back and soak in the beauty of this incredible artist.
Listen to "The Gown of Green"

Crowdsource - Bit Rot Blues EP
From the moment I heard that Phil Torres had ended Baobab and was producing electronic music I felt an intense swing in emotions in a very brief period. Baobab was one of the most invigorating local acts in recent memory, so it's natural to mourn the loss of that creative output. But the second I realized that this meant I'd now be able to dance to Torres' tunes I was sold. And dance I have, as Bit Rot Blues compiles four brief but brilliant displays of production wizardry. Combining densely packed, house-inspired beats with obscure vocal samples, Torres builds an immense wall of sound that weaves in and out of maximalistic tendencies while still proving to be concise and infectious. I'm genuinely excited to hear the direction that Crowdsource takes musically, as the possibilities are damn near infinite given the genres being tackled on Bit Rot Blues. All I know is I'll be shamelessly dancing my ass off to it.
Listen to "Gone Up"

Floating Action - Body Questions
Seth Kauffman is quite possibly one of the state's most under appreciated talents, but strangely enough I feel as if he prefers it that way. Though he's received co-signs from artists like Jim James and Dan Auerbach, Kauffman has flown safely under the radar within the North Carolina music scene and in the process has crafted an already impressive array of widely explorative albums. Just seeing the sheer difference in the first two tracks on Body Questions gives a solid glance as to Kauffman's array of songwriting skills. "Taking Me A Little While" is a great bit of self-critical indie rock while "Unrevenged" delves into pseudo-R&B inspired folk rock that piques the listener's interests with bright melodies countered by dark, yet occasionally quirky subject matter. "You've got a special arrow just to shoot at me/That's so gangster and so true," croons Kauffman, shortly before he laments on his fixation on not leaving these acts "unrevenged," unable to pull away from a desire to make things right while his words push him away from that goal. Body Questions delves into some unexpected sonic territory that will make each listen through an exciting experience to find new quirks or lines to fall in love with.
Listen to "Unrevenged"

Hiss Golden Messenger - Lateness of Dancers
It was only a matter of time before people started catching on to M.C. Taylor's unabashedly honest folk-rock, but few could have expected that Lateness of Dancers would be the massive album it turned out to be. Echoes of Van Morrison are abound with lush arrangements that are centered around some seriously compelling grooves. Taylor performs vocal acrobatics but does so with humility, he's got rhythmically compelling melodies that flesh out his already stellar lyrics. Lateness of Dancers is the perfect album for the fall, it's wrapped in warm tones and rustic themes. Whether Taylor is singing of looking back or moving forward, Lateness of Dancers is always a richly introspective listening experience that's best served with a warm beverage and a desire to completely lose yourself within an album.
Listen to "Mahogany Dread"

Jack Carter and The Armory - Billy The Kid
The sounds that emanate from Jack Carter and The Armory remind me fondly of the sounds of Nathan Asher and The Infantry, and it's not just because of the similarity in names. It's because they both share the same sort of intensity, they're both vocalists who don't seem to be shouting out these lyrics for show, but because they need it. Billy The Kid contains the same since of urgency, it's an album that provides excellent pacing but mostly excels when it's being propelled at you with tenacity. Tracks like the opener "King of Michigan" roll in slowly and in turn unravel into pieces of Americana-driven excellence, however when Carter's drawl turns to a shout on tracks like "Smith & the West End" or tumbles into a growl on "Blind, I" as he scathingly sings of life in the Arab Spring and the struggles that many experience that go unnoticed. Carter tackles some lofty topics on Billy The Kid, but it's done with passion and frankly that's all you need to evoke emotion amongst your listeners. And when listening to Billy The Kid, it's phenomenally easy to become entrenched in these songs, so that doesn't hurt either.
Listen to "Smith & The West End"

Last Year's Men - Underwhelmed
Last Year's Men display all of their snark and swagger within the title of their highly anticipated sophomore full-length Underwhelmed. After being propelled to local stardom with 2010's Sunny Down Snuff, the boys of Last Year's Men seemed to fall to the wayside. Their hype and momentum didn't go anywhere, but the four year wait between albums is a bit strange for locals. Perhaps it was due to mounting pressures, making sure that the album wouldn't live up to it's titular phrase, or perhaps they just enjoyed the various other projects they'd been involved in more than buckling down on Last Year's Men. Either way, whatever they did in the four-year period worked wonders, because the second that I heard the lead single "By The Way," I knew this was going to be an excellent album. Last Year's Men bring more no-frills garage rock that proves to be one of the most accessible releases of the year. Do you like guitars? Do you like songs about love and self-loathing? Big fan of brief, punctual tracks that linger in your head for days? Check out Underwhelmed and you'll be anything but.
Listen to "By The Way"

Lilac Shadows - No Dark/No Light
Lilac Shadows have had one of their biggest and most interesting years to date with 2014. The band released their most fully realized record to date, but shortly thereafter their live show reflected none of this new expansive nature. Not to throw any shade at the band's live line-up, but a lineup change prevented these tracks from being fleshed out live as one would expect, so instead the band has driven towards a more aggressive psych sound as opposed to the dreamy soundscapes found on No Dark/No Light. No Dark/No Light is an excellent record that finds the band pushing their own musical boundaries. There's simultaneously more grit and pomp than there was before, the group has broadened their musical horizons as opposed to digging into a niche as local acts are wont to do. Tracks like "Tunnels," "Tsunami," and "No Dark/No Light" are wonderful examples of this fact, each one boasts a bit of its own sound, whether that be a continuously chugging bass line that drives the song, a particularly expansive vocal melody that's washed in reverb or an energetic guitar riff that fleshes out the drones of synths. Lilac Shadows have found themselves on the path to something incredible on No Dark/No Light, and having heard what's come next I've got to say that you're all in for a treat.
Listen to "No Dark/No Light"

Lost in the Tress - Past Life
When it comes to North Carolina artists with a pronounced and compelling career path, it's hard to find one better than Lost in the Trees. From the beginning their songs were focused on ornate arrangements and heart-wrenching lyrics, not much has changed in that department. However, the tools have shifted in incredibly exciting ways on Past Life. Transforming from an orchestral folk band into art-rock excellence, Lost in the Trees' brilliantly woven stories are projected upon a bed of synths, electric guitars and gorgeous atmospheric harmonies. Some serious grooves are hiding within some of these songs though, the bassline on "Lady in White", the subtle swing in "Night Walking," and that unforgettable guitar riff from "Past Life." With Lost in the Trees recent ending, Past Life serves as a grandiose swan song for this monumental local artist.
Listen to "Past Life"

Spider Bags - Frozen Letter
When Shake My Head was first released I knew that Spider Bags would be a band I'd grow to love immensely. When Frozen Letter came out that thought was confirmed. Though it'd be easy to pigeonhole them as a garage rock band, there's so much more to love about Spider Bags, the subtly infused southern-rock tinge, Dan McGee's effortless drawl mixed with snarling intensity. Whether they're rocking frenetic shouts of love infused with paranoia on "Chem Trails"or musing on a spider that's crawling across the wall like on "Japanese Vacation," they're doing so with an infectious intensity that beckons the listener to bounce and shout along. Spider Bags are crafting some of the most exciting and energetic music in the Triangle, and lately it's seemed like the rest of the nation as started to pick up on their brilliance as well. Needless to say I'm thrilled about what's to come from this band.
Listen to "Chem Trails"

Sylvan Esso - Sylvan Esso
Little is left to be said about Sylvan Esso that hasn't already been covered a million times before. This powerhouse duo has erupted throughout their short lifespan, from humble Hopscotch day party beginnings to sold out dates across the nation, late night television spots, and spots in commercials. But the buzz band status hasn't changed how incredible this music is, intricately arranged tracks are driven by slowly churning bass lines, screaming snares and sharp hi-hats. The instrumentation is literally only half of what you can fall in love with about this band, Amelia Meath's inimitable vocal stylings are what really push Sylvan Esso towards the forefront. Simplistic productions serve as the backdrop for Meath's vocal acrobatics that range from a soft croon to hearty shouts and passionate wails. From top to bottom this album is damn near perfect, and by the time the closer "Come Down" is winding this brilliant debut down, you've finally had time to process just how unique and wonderful this dance-pop duo is and how ridiculously exciting it is to see where they go from here.
Liten to "H.S.K.T."

Seeing an artist grow as much as we've seen from T0W3RS is one of the main reasons I love music as much as I do. When I first stumbled upon T0W3RS' day party set at an overcrowded Busy Bee at Hopsotch many years ago I was compelled by how forward-thinking this simplistic indie-pop music was. There were hints of Animal Collective, surely, but there was tons of originality involved as well. Syncopated rhythms took a backdrop to Torres' vividly defined melodies, even with a full band of musicians the focus primarily shifted towards the powerful lyrical nature of T0W3RS music. Stripped of a backing band, T0W3RS has turned everyone's expectations upside down once more by releasing arguably the best album of the year with TL;DR. Torres has seamlessly made the transition from indie-rock figurehead to electronic pop icon in North Carolina, adopting an androgynous stage persona to bring these rich, downtrodden pop songs to life. From album opener "Cups" onwards, Torres releases every innermost thought and feeling, whether that be frustration over lost friends and loves, breaking down emotional barriers or simply raising a toast to curiosity, Torres is doing so with unabashed honesty. I'd say TL;DR feels like Torres' magnum opus, but that would insinuate that there's not limitless talent hiding inside of his mind, which is frankly just incorrect.
Listen to "Cups"

Tashi Dorji - Tashi Dorji
One of the things that I love most about this scene is the sheer diversity. Acts like Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba have grown to call North Carolina home despite how different their music is from others in the area. The same can be said for Tashi Dorji, a mind-bending guitarist from Asheville by way of Bhutan. Dorji has been in Asheville for the past 14 years and has steadily been releasing a wide array of incredibly compelling music composed entirely with a guitar. Dorji pushes the limitations of this stringed instrument by dabbling in some truly perplexing rhythms and melodies, making his instrument sing in a manner that others could only dream. Hell, I couldn't even dream up the sounds that are found on Tashi Dorji, an album that compiles work from throughout his career along with a few other unreleased tracks to create a compendium of Dorji's incredible songs. No doubt this self-titled effort can be a difficult listen for those that haven't delved into more abstract or avant garde pieces of music, but for those that can appreciate the art of blank space, honing in on what's not there and pinpointing the brilliancy found in what is, oh you'll thoroughly enjoy Tashi Dorji's work.
Listen to "Improvisation I"

The Tender Fruit - The Darkness Comes 
From the opening track of The Darkness Comes, it's clear that Christy Smith's songwriting prowess is ever increasing. As Smith's delicate falsetto glides over a track filled with minimal instrumentation, it's apparent that The Darkness Comes will be filled with heartbreaking moments of beauty and pain that have morphed together into one conflicting entity of bittersweet glory. "We never, never, never really let go do we? We never, never, never really can" croons Smith, her voice cracking along with the words to tug at your heart strings. Whereas Lateness of Dancers serves as that perfect fall album to sit down and slip away into the ethos, The Darkness Comes is the fall record filled with introspective tracks for the lonesome homebody looking for solidarity in their sadness. Not to say that The Darkness Comes can be pigeonholed so easily, but much of the subject matter finds itself pretty conducive to these situations. "Tried My Best" is a song that confidently echoes these statements as Smith sings of how "All of my nights are cold now/my covers are small and lean/Though I do sleep here all alone/At least I sleep long and deep." It's a record that finds Smith and her listeners becoming comfortable with that impending darkness, boasting a wide range of rustic southern imagery and personal sentiments that gets southern folks like myself right in the feels.
Listen to "Weighted Down"

The Tills - Howlin'
If I had to pick and MVP for North Carolina's music scene in 2014, it'd most definitely be Phuzz Records. The outlet that's been responsible for much of Winston-Salem's recent revival brought an incredible festival to the city with Phuzz Phest 2014, but they also helped two of the state's finest records reach the masses. While T0W3RS may have received the bulk of the attention, let's not forget how incredible Asheville's The Tills' Howlin' is. Howlin' is a well polished piece of rock n' roll excellence, the songs have an excellent core with driving rhythms and sharp lyricism, but the swagger is what makes The Tills so great. Whether vocalist Harry Harrison is pulling out a smooth falsetto as he ponders over a meaningless future on tracks like "Gee Golly" or shouting out his frustrations over ex-lovers in "Who Wants You", he's doing so with an exuberant sense of purpose. Howlin' is an excellently produced record, which in a period of a lo-fi craze is really something to celebrate. If you're looking for an excellent, albeit brief, excursion into something a bit more punk than you'd usually tackle then Howlin' is a fantastic place to start.
Listen to "Gee Golly"

Wesley Wolfe - Numbskull
One of the things that I love the most about Wesley Wolfe is that you're always guaranteed to have a record that's accessible, catchy, and personal. It's hard to make all of that mesh together, it'd be easy for an artist like Wesley Wolfe to delve into some piddly sonic explorations, but instead he's set on making concise pop tracks. Which he does phenomenally well. Numbskull is Wolfe's first album in 3 years and it certainly doesn't disappoint, from the get-go he's pulling out all the stops with introspective songs whose melodies wiggle their way in long before the lyrics. As you find yourself singing along to "Cloud Cuckoo" you realize how damn sad it gets, but you can't help but bounce and sway along regardless. "Give me back my heart/Keep my time and keep my thoughts/But give me back my heart, give me back my hopeless heart," Wolfe sings in a tone that feels numbed to the words, fumbling out of his mouth in a lackadaisical manner. Numbskull is made all the more impressive when you account for the fact that everything that wasn't mastering and artwork for the actual album was handled by Wolfe, the writing, the instrumentation, the recording, all Wolfe. He's the DIY king of the Triangle and I'll be damned if he hasn't made another brilliant piece of work on his own.
Listen to "Cloud Cuckoo"

Zack Mexico - Run out of Money and Die
Aside from very obviously winning the "Album Title of the Year" award, Zack Mexico made a damn fine collection of songs as well. Whether you're reveling in the expansive pot-smoking anthem "Reputation," wondering what the hell is going on in "Reed Frost," or losing yourself in the vastness of "Lucy," you're most definitely vibing throughout it all. Zack Mexico is a band that operates on their own frequencies, that's probably why someone allegedly whipped their dick out mid-set at The Kosher Hut a few weeks ago. Zack Mexico isn't a band that's afraid to take chances, each of their three full-length albums they've released in the past two years have been markedly different but also felt like a well defined plunge into the psyche of these incredibly talented and adventurous musicians. The band has recently taken a break from shows to complete work on yet another album, proving that sometimes you don't have to choose between quality and quantity, sometimes you just get lucky and fantastic musicians start throwing their music at you as fast as you can consume it. Sign me up for more, please.
Listen to "Reputation"

Friday, December 12, 2014

On Local Music

So The Bottom String hasn't been incredibly active for the past month or so, and for that, local music fans, I apologize. But alas the train has found itself back upon the tracks and we're rolling out a lot of exciting content in the new year. 2014 has been an astounding year for local music, next week we'll have our Top 20 North Carolina albums of the year posted, but this week marks a very pivotal point in the local music scene, at least for myself. Tonight at Haw River Ballroom marks the last Lost in the Trees show "for the foreseeable future."

Change like this is natural, its an ebb and flow. But as all of you likely know, Lost in the Trees is, has been, and always will be my favorite local act. From the minute that I saw the 13-piece band jam into the abandoned shops of Old City Hall in New Bern I knew I'd stumbled upon something special. That was roughly six years ago when I learned that a mere two and a half hour drive would place me into a hotbed of awe-inspiring talent. Artists like Lost in the Trees don't come around that often, even when you're surrounded by the talent that North Carolina possesses. Albums like All Alone in an Empty House serve as a snapshot, a moment in time where someone's artistic output served as much needed therapy for not only the writer, but for countless others who've undergone similar experiences. Anyone who's seen a parent struggle with depression, lived in an abusive home, had their heart broken, they've connected with pieces of music just like this. But I can safely say that I've never seen a piece of work as sincere, as passionate or as moving as Lost in the Trees' All Alone in an Empty House.

It's easy to let the melancholy wash over you without second thought while you immerse yourself in swelling strings, sharp guitars and rich harmonies. But to stop and take in the themes and the messages will shed a whole new light upon things.  So surround yourself with good people. I know it's painful but we can stand...Asked to forgive when you're still angry, if I can't heal my heart then forgive me. They're astonishingly powerful words that can easily get lost amidst the pomp and fanfare of the stellar instrumentation.

Maybe I'm just fanboy-ing out here because I'm about to see Lost in the Trees for the last time, maybe I'm just trying to share how incredibly important this band has been to my life, but either way it's a statement that needs to be uttered. Lost in the Trees, and artists like them, are the very reason that I've fallen in love with this music scene. I have zero doubt in my mind that Haw River Ballroom will be shoulder to shoulder, filled with fans, friends, musicians, and all around incredible people sharing beautiful moments with one another at one of the most scenic venues in the country. Being able to see a career trajectory as heart-warming as that of Lost in the Trees doesn't happen very often. From humble beginnings at Trekky Records to international acclaim with Anti, from the therapeutic symphonies of All Alone in an Empty House and A Church That Fit our Needs to the electronic whirs of Past Life, the sincerity and talent on display within this band is something that can never be paralleled for me.

Allow this to serve as a "thank you," to Ari and Emma, to Joah and Mark, Will and Leah, Jenavieve and Andrew, to Trekky Records, to any musician who's ever put themselves in a vulnerable position by revealing their innermost thoughts, feelings and fears and help others cope with their own. Thank you for letting some awestruck 19 year old stand in front of you with a shitty video camera for his brand new blog. You're the foundation that holds not only our music scene together, but everyone's scene. Shows like this re-ignite my passion to share local music with the masses, to shout from a mountaintop that "this band is mind blowing and you need to experience this before it's too late." Support your local scene, buy the albums, share it with friends, take them to shows, foster the community that you wish to be a part of. Most importantly, surround yourself with good people.