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The legacy of Tar Heel pop-rock transmissions 

This summer, Shuffle magazine, a quarterly publication covering music in both Carolinas and for which I serve as music editor, ran an essay reviewing three new pop-rock records by area bands. One was Falling Off the Sky, the first album in 25 years from Winston-Salem-and-Chapel Hill underground legends The dB's. It was also the first in three decades to feature the founding lineup anchored by the songwriting tandem of Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple.

"Falling is most remarkable in how much it sounds as if the quarter-century interval between albums never happened," the writer notes, correctly summarizing the way The dB's pick up exactly where they left off. "It did, though, and as time marched forward, so did a new generation of musicians who mutated the pop-rock template to their own more contemporary impulses."

The other two LPs were the most recent efforts from Jon Lindsay and Lilac Shadows, two young acts shading straightforward melodies similar to those of The dB's with definitively modern touches. There's a debate to be had, of course, about The dB's successful revival of old tricks against the ambitious explorations of hungry newcomers, but a reductive pros and cons list is not the only aspect worth exploring. Lilac Shadows started last year, some 34 years after The dB's. But these acts now coexist, playing some of the same Triangle rock clubs and standing as peers despite the time spread between their starts.

This year's Hopscotch proves that Shuffle's oddly appropriate reviews trio was by no means an outlier. Vanguard Carolina acts such as Mac McCaughan of the pogoing Superchunk, the resilient country-inflected Roman Candle and the aforementioned dB's will play alongside a legion of indie pop newcomers: Greensboro's infectiously blown-out Jenny Besetzt, Chapel Hill's country-pop plodding The Toddlers, Carrboro's exuberant pan-indie T0W3RS and others will give the younger N.C. pop-rock contingent a large and vibrant imprint on this year's festival. All of these upstarts echo at least a few of their elder statesmen as influences.

It's hard to imagine the driving gems of Carrboro's Gross Ghost existing, for instance, without Superchunk as a forebear. There's more reverb, sure, and the bass lines tend to ooze rather than bounce, but Gross Ghost moves with irrepressible momentum and attacks with jagged guitar lines that shift into pristine fills, both hallmarks of Superchunk's sound.

In his previous band, The Huguenots, Lilac Shadows leader Sam Logan and his college friends engaged in an effervescent mix of classically cut Beatles melody and fuzz-enhanced charm, a forever-favorite gear of The dB's. In Lilac Shadows, Logan maintains his taste for tunefulness, but he piles elements on top of it. He adds hefty effects and distortion, transforming breezy, lightweight hooks into something brawnier.

The dB's Stamey says he is proud to be a possible influence on such an intriguing set of new outfits. He points out that making music is in many ways a game of collecting influences. By that token, it makes a great deal of sense that new N.C. outfits would gravitate to area bands who have previously seen success.

"Hats off to them," Stamey says, taking a break from his busy schedule as a producer to offer his thoughts on today's multigenerational confluence of N.C. pop-rock. "Being in a band has always seemed to me a bit like being a food dish—you start with ingredients perhaps taken from things you admire and things that have moved you. For The dB's, these included NRBQ, The Kinks, DNA, Big Star and a thousand more. But as soon as you hit the rapidly boiling water of gigs, rehearsals, recordings, you get reduced down to who you really are. I'd hope that anyone who takes something from The dB's—a chord vocabulary, a lyrical honesty or a musical muscularity—takes it in for a short time, savors it and then lets it go, in favor of what is unique to them."

Though Stamey and his dB's are certainly a large part of the state's pop-rock history, they are far from the only one. The result is a continuum of different styles that have been combined and recombined for decades, creating resurgent waves and subsequent lulls. Logan, for instance, points to earlier bands in the state's current contingent as chief influences in the evolution of Lilac Shadows and T0W3RS, the two pop-rock outfits he plays in alongside his best bud and T0W3RS leader Derek Torres. Fetching, fuzzy rock bands like The Love Language and the now defunct Max Indian, steered by men only a few years their seniors, had the biggest impact on the sounds they ended up pursuing.

"Those guys, more than anybody probably, served as inspiration for us," Logan says. "They were coming up on the scene just at the same time that me and Derek were sort of getting into music. For a while me and Derek felt like we were kind of the new kids on the block, kind of toddlers in the scene. With our new bands, we've reached a place where we're sort of on an even playing field, which is an awesome place to be."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Ever buoyant."

  • At this year's Hopscotch, vanguard Carolina acts play alongside a legion of indie pop newcomers.

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