Editor's note: Indeed, Triangle bands are busy putting out records this year. In the coming weeks, look for reviews of new work from The Rosebuds, Big Fat Gap, Jozeemo, Double Negative and many more.
Until now, Durham's The Nein has been more compelling in theory than in reality. The band's 2004 Wrath of Circuits LP wasn't bad, but it wasn't exceptional, either. The Nein's muscular post-punk was a credible valentine to The Fall, and you could hear the band trying to break free from this self-imposed post-punk template. They weren't quite getting there. Dale Flattum's tape loops and samples tended to be the most interesting parts of the songs, but they felt tacked on because Flattum added his mechanical glitches and purrs after Wrath of Circuits was mostly finished. It all felt like a work in progress.
The Nein's second LP, the audacious Luxury, clears the slate. The band has undergone a number of changes since Wrath of Circuits: They said auf Wiedersehen to bassist Casey Burns and picked up bassist/keyboardist Josh Carpenter. They don't sound like The Fall anymore. They don't dip into accidental murk. They've abolished all traces of hesitancy. But the most meaningful change is the most fundamental one. "Post-punk" has two meanings: Originally, it was a social moment when the rules of DIY music flew out the window. In modern times, its definition has narrowed to describe Gang of Four, Mission of Burma, and countless other dub-influenced highbrow punks. The Nein used to be a post-punk band in the circumscribed, modern sense. With Luxury, they reclaim the unfettered imagination of its classical sense. The record is an attempt to preserve the elegantly proportioned body of pop music while rewriting its DNA. It'll be a shock if many better albums emerge from North Carolina this year.
On Luxury, deep sample beds and inventive electronic percussion dovetail seamlessly with ripped guitars (which appear on the record periodically without dominating it) and Finn Cohen's newly tuneful vocals. Rhythm collages revivify four-on-the-floor stompers. No longer tattooed on the music's surface, Flattum's manipulated tape, as well as the band's samplers and keyboards, are Luxury's real sinew and bone. A scratchy melodic texture and synthetic smooth-sax tones burrow through the rousing garage rock of "Burn Construction." Alien twitters and decaying digital percussion reinforce "Radical Chic." These rock songs profit from the most immediate melodies The Nein has ever written.
Other songs on Luxury simply allude to rock with broad gestures. On "Attitude and Mirrors," slabs of distorted bass punch holes in concussive static, as detuned guitar warbles and ghostly harmonies float weightlessly in the middle distance.
Some songs are musically referential without rupturing the album's cohesion. On "Ennio," plodding arpeggios unfurl into feedback and a warm synth hum, and the high desert twang near the end makes it clear that the Ennio in question is Morricone. The two-part "Journalist," a clear take on spacey krautrock, is an album standout: Mechanical drums skitter and kink as two keyboard notes serialize. Pounding live percussion and metallic guitars turn this diptych into a perpetual motion machine.
Luxury, above all, is always churning, always reaching for the next thing. Greased tones slide around serrated chords. Rolling bass lines slot into samples like puzzle pieces. Squelchy synth-bass volleys melt down over disco drums. "This is preposterous," someone chuckles on the tape at the end of "Landscape," one of the album's most daunting tracks. "This is wrong." Those of us who've been waiting for The Nein to do something this preposterously excellent will beg to differ. —Brian Howe
The Nein plays with Sorry About Dresden and Maple Stave Friday, March 16, at Local 506. The 10 p.m. show is free.
Eric Roehrig keeps hanging around. Sorry About Dresden, the effusive rock band to which he belonged, slowed down (they're back again, playing gigs this month), but in a pogo pop break, he's been writing introspective songs that often remained in a shell, quiet minor-key passages suffering in skeletal form.
Those songs were released on EPs and comps, but they never had a chance to coalesce. Five years later, he's finally made Slighter Awake, a fully realized pop record, one speckled with faces from the local music community. And that's what makes this record sparkle when it could have simply been backlit. It's like a choir announcing their support of a songwriter they believe in, if you will, and they paint his snapshots of imagery with color and texture. Not coincidentally, Roehrig's fond of photo references.
On one of two previously released cuts also found here, "Favorite Foto," a dry, Dorian Gray-ish reflection on misrepresented happiness, Audubon Park's David Nahm adds a percolating melodica. On the ensemble's true centerpiece, "Central Services," Abby Magowan brightens everything with piano. Cello, violin and Wurlitzer tease a rich, slow-build pop till it nearly bursts. That said, there's little "indie" about this record, if that term reminds you of murky instrumentation or melancholy for its own sake. This is structured, deliberate, glowing rock. In fact, few indie rock songs get punched in the brain's pleasure zone like the ingenious "Picture=Proof," the shining single here. Hit repeat and enjoy. —Chris Toenes
Erie Choir opens for Maria Taylor and The Capitol Years at Local 506 Monday, March 12, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $8-$10.
...And they sound like they're having fun. ...And Justus for All, Little Brother's online-only mixtape with Cleveland's DJ Mick Boogie, marks the first release from the Durham duo—that is, Big Pooh and Phonte without producer 9th Wonder as the official third member. Phonte and Pooh fare well here, inviting the friends they made both as small-town upstarts and as rising stars formerly with a major-label deal. Over 80 minutes and 27 tracks, the tape hits several lulls. But, at its best, it's bright work: A remix of "Life of the Party" with a vicious verse from Skillz stands out, as does Phonte's brilliant riff on cocaine rap (under the guise of allegorical love for doughnuts) during "Never Leave."
But the local-national juxtaposition turns Justus into a League part writ large: Here's Jozeemo, delivering one of his most patient and collected verses yet on the Snoop flip "Without You," and—across the sweaty funk of "Fan Mail" courtesy of Babu—hookman Darien Brockington shuns his usual, too-svelte hesitancy for an incendiary chorus. Or how about Charlotte's Supastition, launching a furious extended metaphor on food when he saddles up alongside Pooh and Chicago's Rhymefest? Most telling of LB's regained energy, though, is "A Word From Our Sponsors," where New York rhymer Von Pea sets up Phonte for one of the record's best pleas: "I never thought y'all even cared about Tay/ but, touché/ Apparently, my dick is N.C.-eason." It's time to Getback.
To get this download, go to www.mickboogie.com/index.php#mixtapes.
Like its predecessor Blessed in an Unusual Way, Burning in Hell is a fitting title for this David Childers album. The Mount Holly-based Childers plays like he's trying to stomp out hellfire and writes from the perspective of one whose pants cuffs were singed in the process. It's also no coincidence that the stylized illustration on the front of the album brings to mind the cover of a certain Louvin Brothers record. Satan is sure enough real, Childers is saying, and, across Burning in Hell, he finds the darkness lurking everywhere: sinister mothers, bad seeds, doomed love, child neglect, the office park, the highway and the battlefield.
To get the message across, Childers uses his trademark directness to aim for the gut. Or lower—"Mama used to beat my ass," he bellows to jumpstart "Mama." He and the Modern Don Juans, at their most versatile and inspired here, lean on the equally direct styles of honky-tonk, rockabilly and early rock. It's get in, make a point, kick a little musical ass and get out. All in about two and a half minutes.
The stripped-down "In the Early Morning" comes off like a slightly higher-fi Nebraska outtake with its quiet but potent detail. Set next to the rock-and-country clang, it's an expert change of pace. But a more threatening musical 180 occurs when "Your Crime" roars to a start in the gentle, closing echo of "In the Early Morning," Randy Saxon's rumbling guitar riff as foreboding as winter thunder. It's that moment—and a dozen others—that prove, hellfire aside, what holy talents Childers and his Don Juans are. —Rick Cornell
A collection of second-lesson Barre chords and '50s soda-shop drums, Un Deux Trois is a new setting for the voice of Bellafea, Heather McEntire. But simplicity pulls favors for the Lovers EP, the demo-turned-debut of McEntire's collaboration with In the Year of the Pig, Horseback and Mt. Moriah member Jenks Miller.
Over its four tracks, de-emphasized guitars and less-is-more kit work allow McEntire's felt-like tone and post-riot melodies to do all of the impressing. Whether short and peppy ("Janice Says") or steady and dreamy ("Everything That Is Happening Is Happening"), the music steals only a few moments from McEntire, surprisingly sturdy and quite different when her songs aren't the wounded, howling animals of Bellafea's. After she sings the line "I waited like a tower" on the rolling "You Earn Your Enemies," you can't help but dismiss the wayward lover leaving her high and dry. But something in her voice shuns pity. This McEntire could wait forever, and she'd be OK.
That's a strength not necessarily absent on Bellafea albums, but far more visible here. —Robbie Mackey
Un Deux Trois releases Lovers EP Saturday, March 10, at Local 506 with Bowerbirds, Robo Sapien and Sweater Weather. The 10 p.m. show is free.
[Full disclosure: Burly Time Records, which was co-founded by Music Editor Grayson Currin, will release an album by Un Deux Trois drummer Jenks Miller's other band, Horseback. Bowerbirds will release their debut on this label as well.]
In terms of accolades and an indie rock fanbase, Guided by Voices was one of the most successful bands in history. Part of their appeal came in selling their fans down the river with long albums with ump-teen tracks, many of them left partially unfinished. Bee Thousand, remember, had 20 (!) songs on one disc. Chapel Hill's People Under the Bridge follows that model with variable success on Material and Focus, a title that's a false binary here: There's the rangy, Pavement-in-a-tin-can "Johnny Ray," the sinister snake "The Rules," and the campfire lament "You Moved." These songs, all very different, work. But the GBV mold has its pitfalls: Of the 18 tracks here, only four break the three-minute mark, and, at times, it feels like a collection of unfinished demos tacked to the kindling of a great, expansive indie rock album. And it's not that the short songs simply do more quicker: Oftentimes, the shortest tracks are the ones that could stand to be doubled. There's the dreamy, gorgeous slide-guitar and cymbal moan of "Driving on the Westside" that takes its bow after 90 seconds, and "Preach to Me"—an unresolved garage band curio—that barely takes it to the minute mark. The material is here, but the focus? Maybe that's Side Two. —Grayson Currin
People Under the Bridge plays Kings Thursday, March 22, with Bowerbirds and Megafaun.