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We give 15 local releases a test drive

Local record reviews 

L.E.G.A.C.Y.
Project Mayhem
(Hall of Justus)

If or when Little Brother makes it big after The Minstrel Show hits shelves Sept. 13, it may not be a stretch to imagine the ascendancy of the other, as-crucial components of the Justus League, the Triangle crew from which LB has emerged to become one of the best things in hip hop, bar very few. L.E.G.A.C.Y., one of the three best MCs in JL, carries the stylistic panache and lyrical punch to make it anywhere, and his exhaustive, 19-track debut LP, Project Mayhem, proves it.

But don't mistake this for any other Justus League product: True, LB and L.E.G. are in the same League, but they're playing totally different games by nearly diametric rules. Where LB brings an old-school verve full of indelible hooks and the ecumenically arched brows of consciousness hip hop, L.E.G. hits hard in the verses, spinning an irreverent, hard-edged text about the nitty gritty. As such, some of his rhymes don't connect and a verse or two may fall flat, but when he's on, his no-bullshit grit is hard to beat ("Fuck you, Hanson/ I'll Un-bop y'all."). In the nearly two dozen tracks, he mourns his dead brother and aunt, lambasts the lascivious ways of loose women and blasts the drug-addled ways of his father (he even offers his Dad a congratulatory "F.U." in the liner notes, remarking this is "for saying I wouldn't make it in this rap thing").

His is a reference-thick, smart-as-fuck approach, full of allusions to movies, actors, television, cultural iconography and other MCs in an always overwhelming, sometimes subtle manner that requires half-a-dozen spins to catch. Imagine Jay-Z's flair with the smarts behind the combined powers of Black Star, Mos Def and Talib Kweli. That's a strong statement, but L.E.G.A.C.Y. is capable of backing it. Producer Khrysis and L.E.G. make a fine, direct pair, and these are some of Khrysis' best beats yet. L.E.G.'s work with 9th Wonder shines with unpredictable, unexpected flips.

Project Mayhem is autobiographical, running high with id and alternating between personal disappointment and ambition. L.E.G.A.C.Y. is highly confrontational, and he's got plenty to say. As such, there are few guest spots. But, when the JL crew steps in to help (Phonte, Median, The Away Team, Chaundon), it's apparent why JL has been able to make its own scene here: charisma, smarts and a deft collective approach. L.E.G. is their strident, confident rhyme provocateur, and maybe, someday, someway "he's a star." --Grayson Currin

Keep up with L.E.G.A.C.Y. at www.ihatelegacy.com.

The Cherry Valence
TCV3
(Bifocal Media)

The third album from resident Raleigh rockers The Cherry Valence marks the departure of founding guitarist Cheetie Kumar and bassist Paul Siler, but otherwise it's more of the same classic rock riffage and muscular blues-based rock. Not that that's a complaint. The 14-track (!) album opens with a quartet of raucous numbers: the furious "Sunglasses and Headlights," whose chug recalls Deep Purple; the bustling, surf-inflected blues rave-up "Only Game in Town"; ribald garage-psych blast "I Sing No Blues"; and the MC5-inspired "My Piece of the Pie."

From there, TCV throttle back the energy, settling into an insistent, simmering blues-rock groove for the album's middle third. The band closes with a pair of hot-blooded rockers, "Two Steps Forward" and "Caves of Steel," which help shape the album. The longest tracks on the album, they showcase the band's chunky '70s-style riffs, sounding like Thin Lizzy covering Cream. --Chris Parker

The Cherry Valence plays Sleazefest at Local 506 on Saturday, Aug. 13 and hits the road on Aug.17; track 'em at www.thecherryvalence.com.

Tennis and the Mennonites
Wicked Man
(self-released)

The troubled speaker often exists as an enigma in pop songs. Why does this obviously upset narrator tell her or his tales with a chipper backbeat and sparkly guitar notes surrounding the woe? That's what the minor chords are for, right?

Delivery is everything, and Chapel Hill band Tennis and the Mennonites tweak the simple components in their melodic numbers for just that reason. Jerstin Crosby's affected singing style quivers and shakes, sometimes uncomfortably so. On "Magnets," the speaker is seeing the future, worried, desperate but convinced: "The concrete cities, they're still made of concrete, and it's you and me, and that's the way it's been for a long time." From that Crosby lead-in, the song escapes on a guitar and drums gallop. The spare sound on each of these four tracks holds up, with bassist Maria Albani jumping in on occasional vocal harmonies and backup. "Lemon-Lime Disease" succeeds best as a group effort, with all engines going.

T and the Ms work primarily as a trio, with additional guitar by Andrew Kinghorn and Russell Baggett of The Honored Guests. This four-song EP foreshadows what else they have in store.--Chris Toenes

Tennis and The Mennonites want you to say "Hey!" at www.tennisandthemennonites.com.

Tad Dreis
Play to Remember
(Hedgepig Music)

At a time when a recording rig can fit into a laptop and gear is relatively obtainable, release volume is at an all-time high. We're all artists, and we've got the CD-Rs to prove it. As such, self-recorded tripe outnumbers the good stuff at about three-to-one, but in the past year, the Triangle has produced a high volume of autonomously made stuff worth hearing.

Insert Tad Dreis here. On his third album, Play to Remember, Dreis reaches new heights in his own self-recording and production, playing all the instruments (Matt Brandau and The Applejuice Kid sometimes contribute to the rhythm section) and rendering an album that sounds like more than a bedroom.

It's not just production quality that makes this Dreis' most realized album to date, though. This time around, his idiosyncratic wit and good humor seamlessly meet an emotional sensitivity, revealing a refreshingly un-scene, anti-hip songwriter unafraid of his happiness. Fittingly, Dreis seems consumed with the concept of love and its blissful exhaustion. He's on the road to her in the opener, a traveling song harmonica sustaining behind the beatific but beaming lyrics detailing his quest. Dreis assures a lover she's worth chasing through the breezy hand-clap chorus of "Running After You," just before happily doing the dishes, taking out the trash and committing for life elsewhere.

Dreis branches out, too, an occasional Belle & Sebastian tingle settling in beside lone snippets of Britpop revelry.

The best moments here still rest in Dreis' folk-meets-pop ease, however, as he dissects the artistic frustrations of busking barside for a greasy nickel. "Talkin' Construction Blues," a whimsical, almost-true-to-life Freewheelin' vision of a Best Buy replacing his house and the Caterpillar-sponsored end of times, reveals that laughter is requisite, even for the best love-struck bard.--Grayson Currin

Tad Dreis plays at the Six String Cafe in Cary on Thursday, Aug. 11 at 8 p.m. with Dylan Thurston and Jeff Fowler backing him. Hear him anytime at www.taddreis.com.

Snatches of Pink
Stag
(MoRisen Records)

What is the sound of creeping decay? Resembling the last gasp of a battered liver so debauched and dissipated that it can barely gather the strength to spit out a final fuck you, Snatches' decadent rock reaches its apogee on Stag.

One can hear the influence of Royal Trux in the desiccated, distortion-ridden Stonesy crawl, which threatens at times to collapse into chaos. There's some great tunes here, such as "Snakes," whose riff recalls the Stones' "Rocks Off," but they are nearly overburdened with the weight of Rank's peculiar aesthetic, enveloping everything in a veneer of grime.

At times they're refracting the sound through stoner rock instead of glam (as on the spacey "Painted Gun"). The dark, echo-y sound, unusual panning of sounds and distant vocals all coalesce in a dire, despondent quality that infects the entire album. It's a little dispiriting at first, but there's an undeniable energy about this, and like a lover's quirks, accepting the built-in dysfunction opens up a whole new universe, that--even if a little odd--is full of Keith Richards-inspired, drugged-out rawk. --Chris Parker

Smile at Snatches at www.snatchesofpink.com. They rock Sleazefest on Friday, Aug. 12 at Local 506.

Portastatic
Looking for a Power Supply
(Houston party, import only)

On occasion, we all go with an appetizer as an entrée.

After listening to Portastatic's upcoming Bright Ideas for several days straight last month, I'm going to pretend that I'm just substituting potato skins for steak with Looking for a Power Supply, Mac McCaughan's album-teaser EP on Spain's Houston Party label. It's a dubious tease, as things start off here just like they do on the real thing, opening with the breathy, cavernous "Bright Ideas." "I thought I found a channel but it was just a shallow trough ... I put my bright ideas right back in the box," McCaughan meekly croons, sounding as if someone told him to whisper but he's too downtrodden to remember how that goes.

The rest of the EP charts the same troubled waters, McCaughan playing a thoughtful troubleman with confidence nearing his nadir. "Through with People" and "A Faithless Auld Lang Syne" play expectantly on the themes of their titles, the former offering a fellow who has to walk away because it's all he hasn't done yet and the latter--light strings and wayward horns--a text-heavy, drunken-eyed reflection on the impossibility of certainty.

The highlight comes with a cover of "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," a one-two guitar shuffle backed by long, drifting bands of distortion. McCaughan finally capitalizes on the conviction of termination, seething as he sings, "Strike another match, girl, start anew." On the title closer, though, he bows back in, hopefully pleading, "I was looking for a solid core to replace the soul I lost the day before" above a gorgeously hard-picked guitar. As damaged and as hopeful as Dylan's "Buckets of Rain," it fits, even redeems.

McCaughan--as Portastatic--hasn't peaked. Enjoy this appetizer.--Grayson Currin

Portastatic headlines the Troika Music Festival, with the finale at Durham's 305 South on Saturday, Aug. 27. www.portastatic.com is available 24/7.

Chrome Plated Apostles
Twelve Bars
(Demonbeach Records)

Scruffy-jeaned misanthropes around these parts already know the score on the Apostles' creed. Their lineage includes cornerstone punkers the Bad Checks and Pipe, and immediate recognition comes on the first notes with Clif Mann's tightly snarling guitar and wild man Hunter Landen belting out banshee howls, maracas shaking, hair flying.

Blues seep in like tea-brown river surge, or at least blues like Jeffrey Lee Pierce deciding "Hey, Robert Johnson was kind of a punk, too." Stories are told--creepy ("Basement") and destitute ("Bones") tales that nearly buck their rider. Cars are made fetish ("Chrome," "Driver"). The lonely soul of this ballistic outfit shines on "Island," a harmonica-heavy stomper where Landen shouts at the stars: "No one listens, no one can/ There is no water, only sand."

Each song is in and out around the two-minute mark. The Apostles get their message across efficiently: Declarations of the passions and excesses around them with, notably, no weepy, my-girl-left-me downers. --Chris Toenes

Rock the Apostles at www.demonbeachrecords.com. The band opens for Throw Rag and Dexter Romweber at Local 506 on Monday, Aug. 22.

The Nein/Cantwell Gomez & Jordan
Split 7-inch
(Sit-n-Spin Records)

There's no B-side here on this equal-opportunity, one-shot-per-45rpm-side, so alphabetical order it is.

A ferocious, cacophonous number, "To Love the Unlovely" runs in the Z-pattern that Cantwell Gomez & Jordan have made their own. That is to say, a Dave Cantwell drum roll enters, snagged up by Anne Gomez's high-end heavy bass and, soon enough, David Jordan's scratch-and-scorch guitar abrasion and Gomez's confrontational staccatto chants; one minute later, it breaks off, a slow drum bounce presiding, cymbal tones sticking around above a sludgy single-string guitar line and a bare-bones bass melody; one more minute, and proceedings take the alternate, parallel path, the trio commanding a driving angle to a hard-beat cadenza. Three ticks of fury with squiggles in the pattern.

The Nein's "Auto-Destructive Dance Routine" is more in line with their noise-prone debut LP Wrath of Circuits than their anthem-based EP, voices doubling over, then tripling, that '78/'79 XTC/Gang of Four bass throb and guitar grate in full-tilt. After a final vocal salvo, the song--like the dancers described in Finn Cohen's verbal scrawl and drawn in Casey Burns' brilliantly song-specific cover art--self-destructs, slamming from those curdling drums and guitars into a mash-up of Cohen's beat samples and Dale Flattum's analogue tape screech. Think "Meccanic Dancing" covered by Dirty Sonic Youth, and that's an inkling.--Grayson Currin

CG&J plays Saturday, Sept. 10 at The Wetlands. The Nein plays with Pipe on Saturday, Aug. 20 at Local 506. And by now you should know: www.thenein.com, www.cantwellgomezandjordan.com and www.sit-n-spinrecords.com.

Brother Seeker
Brother Seeker
(self-released)

Is this a band? Is this album even out?!? There's little definite about the mercurial musical duo of ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers Ken Mosher and Tom Maxwell, except for the broad-hearted whimsy that infuses this album.

Whimsy? How about "Steven Had a Wet Dream," done as '60s bubblegum doo-wop, with the lyric "causing him quite a scare to find something else was there," only to morph after 60 seconds in to a wah-pedal driven acid-rocker. Gateway drug indeed! The bolting power pop rave "I'm Sorry I Died" features Robert Sledge's instantly recognizable bass, and a comical verse about a bag of weed ("I see you brought me a big bag of seeds"), which explains a lot.

Trying to categorize their musical excesses is like reading Robert Downey's rap sheet--exhausting and ultimately pointless. There's naïf-ish Tiny Tim harp-pop ("Evelyn"), irreverent, folky protest songs with horns ("Kill Them"), punky blasts ("Edwards in Timeout") and a lot of off-kilter pop with a perky new wave-ish bounce ("Four Mountains," "Tired"). Will Brother Seeker or this album see the light of day? Well, only if they get a day pass.--Chris Parker

They've got no shows scheduled, but pick on the crazies at www.brotherseeker.com.

The Thyrday
The Perfection Xperiment 2
(Street Flava)

The Durham trio of MCs Killa K, J Gunn and K Slack sharpened their skills at battles and shows in the community, evidenced on this blunt collection of flowings and bass rumbles. Their pride comes through as braggadocio, with boasts and toasts of local heroes like Mike Nice and nods to family and spiritual inspiration.

Even though production duties are split between Durham powerhouse 9th Wonder of Little Brother, Khrysis, Nicolay and the group's own Killa K, an even feel tracks from bump to bump. Highlights include "Getaway" and "Superstars," and there's even an occasional tip of the hat, via sample, to the Jacksons. The confessional mode never quits: Exacting revenge for a father's death, the eternal question "what happened to hip hop?" and, yes, the overplayed topic of girls, girls, girls. Remove the moments of celebration and party talk, and the MCs deliver gruff rhymes with one main template. --Chris Toenes

Bounce with The Thyrday over at www.thethyrday.com.

North Elementary
Weeble Wobble Sound Series Vol. 1
(Sit-n-Spin Records)

Have 7-inch singles become quaint objet d'art yet? Chapel Hill's North Elementary start spitting out a new three-piece series of vinyl records with this release, their ethereal songs moving gradually across this little landscape. John Harrison's whispering-in-your-ear ruminations on "Fancy Eyes" float over a mild rumble backed with the slow burn of "Round the Sun (phone mix)." The tracks run at 33 1/3 for a long playback with these under-the-surface melodies. --Chris Toenes

North Elementary plays a free show at Local 506 on Sunday, Aug. 21(plus, you get a free copy of Vol. 2 in the series) and then at The Cave on Wednesday, Aug. 24. Sweet, bearded picture over at www.northelementary.com.

Brooks Wood Band
Today's the First Day
(self-released)

Given the Triangle's five universities, the area boasts a relatively small number of frat-friendly rock bands. It's no surprise, therefore, that Brooks Wood Band--with five years and two EPs under its belt--is one of the most consistent college draws in the City of Folks. Though this is the most solid and complementary backing lineup Woods has ever worked with, the lackluster songs don't stick out from the "I love you too much, girl" millwork that the genre is guilty of sporting. As such, the arrangements are stifled, the drum work using customary rolls and pauses to push the songs.

Some of Woods' hooks are powerful and charged, but when he's off, the songs get clumsy, Woods fumbling the first verse of the opener and then overcompensating on the pre-chorus. Bass player Miah Wander, guest keyboardist Adrian Duke and guitarist Paul Sheeran do manage to shine through banality with subtle fills and clever solos, and the production is crisp and clever, even experimenting with drones and sound effects on the closer. Ultimately, though, the risible songs ("Like the Beatles used to say, I believe in yesterday...") and refurbished chords (is "Only You" for "Rebecca"?) suggest the need for a bit more work. --Grayson Currin

BWB plays Monday, Aug. 15 at The Brewery. Say something nice at www.brookswoodband.com.

Imperial Pints
Fizzyology
(self-released)

Chapel Hill's Imperial Pints make music by the motto "good times," and--considering that, as well as their name and the title of their debut, Fizzyology--you'd expect songs about women and booze, plus the good, bad and entirely awful things that happen when the two meet the rock set for late nights.

In large part, that's what you get: These Pints--brewed with Stones and spiked with Jackson Browne and Revolver--drop sexual references every minute or so, singing about characters named Dick sharing "flaming cocktails with women at the bars" and turning a tale of honey for sale into a Taj Mahal-inspired double entendre. There are the lonely fellow numbers, too. Old crushes have left permanent tears on hearts, long-time loves have the ability and proclivity to do damage, and a perpetual grimace emerges from perennial heartbreak. And, as Neil Young would say, there's even a "geographical emotional love song."

These Pints go awry in presentation, though. For a band so enamored with booze and broads, there's real swagger and stagger absent here. That's a shame, considering how staunched in Stones lore they are. It sounds like they're sipping a fine brew for sure, but it's time to start chugging that stuff. --Grayson Currin

Drink at www.theimperialpints.com. They play Friday, Sept. 2 at the Cave.

Jason Harrod
Bright as You
(self-released)

After foundering a bit for direction on his debut solo LP, Jason Harrod sounds much more assured, adventurous and relaxed on his these 10 tracks. One half of the atmospheric folk guitar duo Harrod & Funck (which broke up in 1999), Harrod indulges more influences on this album than his prior release. "Kickin Mule" has the feel of a barnyard stomp, but he infuses it with a bit of R&B rock bounce that feels like vintage Bob Seger. "Messed up Everywhere Blues" is an upper-register, mid-tempo, piano blues that recalls John Mayer.

"When I Fly" is the first-half highlight, working an ebb/flow folk-blues riff, and some nice guitar work. The second half features more stylistic departures including the jazzy cocktail blues of "Voyeur" and the lingering Adult Contemporary pop of "Good Night Sunshine." The album's most insistent tune is "My Mad Girlfriend," an irrepressible, Latin-flavored rave-up that leaps off the disc with energy. This is a fine, interesting album, though the breadth of approaches makes it a bit unfocused in spots. --Chris Parker

Jason Harrod lives online at www.jasonharrod.com. Cheap rent, indeed.

Sentinel
The Singularity
(self-released)

The cozy confines of Chapel Hill rarely see a bilious band like Sentinel. So much spleen to expel, shit to get off my chest, man, about the world, politics ... and about you.

The carrion remains of hardcore strewn around their sound, Sentinel hit their marks with low-end sludge guitar noise and teeth-gritting screams. They once nodded to Chapel Hill's storming Cobra Kah by covering "Spanish Mama" live. The Singularity was recorded by Nick Petersen and Russell Ellis, mostly at Polyphonic Audio, and the thick layers of Sentinel's leaden voice gets captured on this self-released CD. Sentinel, a sparkler, burnt up soon after.--Chris Toenes

  • We give 15 local releases a test drive

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