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Our critics' picks in new releases

Songs from North Carolina--not music, bands or ideas, just songs. From North Carolina--not the Triangle, the Piedmont, the major cities or the coastal plain, but all of North Carolina.

True, the 22 tracks collected on Compulation: Volume Two round up stuff from some of the best indie rock (what else are you going to label it?) bands currently calling North Carolina home, and they stretch from Asheville to Wilmington--with stops in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Charlotte, the Triangle vertices and Greenville along the way. The North Carolina stipulation isn't simply a geographical notion, either. Nine labels see nods, and none showcases more than two bands (save Pox World Empire, who deserves three since this is its release). These aren't 22 selections from any one scene, and--as such--no preeminent strain surfaces.

Witness this three-song sequence: The theoretical muse of Shark Quest unfurls as track 13, Laird Dixon & Co. exploring reverb and a maelstrom wash of pedal points before a rhythmic shape-shift bounces it into an upbeat, open-windows redemption, eventually drifting into the sound of chirping crickets. The next track shines from way down the Cape Fear via Wilmington's Summer Set, who ease into sweet acoustic pop with an old-45 slide riff slinking through a three-minute gem painting lovers red under maritime sunsets. But just as the Carolina sunshine sets in, Hotel Motel kills the illusion, Anne Gomez gnashing teeth and gnawing hides in an open vocal space that lets her tell the world just what she thinks. It's a primordial piss-mash, pinning jarring bass against a--get this--flute. Hotel Motel (Gomez, Bob Wall and Matt Kelb) has never sounded better. Witness, indeed.

Several more bands find their best-recorded moments yet on Compulation, and just under 20 of these songs are remarkable: Audubon Park directs playful rhyming and the most invasive chorus here before the bass steps out for a wicked solo on the way to a splintering, tongue-in-cheek guitar oddity; People Under the Bridge takes two visions of lo-fi rock from two songwriters writing two different songs, pastes them together and somehow makes it sound natural; Evil Wiener celebrates the virtues of Vis-Art; Bellafea snarls through stop-time guitars and drums with a blistering howl; David Karsten Daniels and Sara Morris croon and warble like Devendra Banhart and Sierra Casady in a beautiful nightmare; Matt Gentling's Manband sounds like Pavement with a new life; Pyramid's haunting "Digging Dirge" creeps along with the ghost that's being celebrated already smoking out through the cinders of funeral-pyre vocals; Spader sickens up their dancy shred with an unorthodox take on Death Disco beats.

But the Songs from North Carolina coin has a tail (or two): It's skewed to pop and melody versus invention and risk. Sketch the geography of these bands out, and it looks like a major airport with asphalt and Boeings (that being the Durham-Chapel Hill hub, as Raleigh only gets one band in with Spader) with grass runways and kit planes scattered across the state (seven of them, with Winston-Salem being the biggest with Autopassion and Finks being its two carriers). Several worthy bands from the Triangle didn't make it at the expense of a tenuous attempt to validate the "North Carolina" portion of the title, and that's the biggest foible.

Enjoyable? Yes. Meaningful?

Well, it sure is enjoyable.

The Moaners, Finks, Erie Choir, Summer Set and Fashion Design play a Compulation release show at Local 506 on Saturday, Nov. 12. Release shows continue through December in Raleigh, Asheville and Greenville. For more, see www.poxworldempire.com.

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Latest in MUSIC: Soundbite

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    Our critics' picks in new releases
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