MATTHEW E. WHITE
On Big Inner, one of last year's very best debut LPs, Richmond songwriter and bandleader Matthew E. White sang quietly, his voice rarely pushing past the level of someone who puts their hand on your shoulder and tells you that everything will be fine. That reserve worked as a thinly glazed window to the magic that White and a wide cast of Virginia (and North Carolina) collaborators had constructed piecemeal from the musical closets of Randy Newman and The Staple Singers, Dr. John and Aretha Franklin. With rhythms that twisted and horns that leapt, choirs that exalted and guitars that wept, Big Inner built an ornate cathedral for White's tiny, sweet-hearted musings. He wrote about the wrecking ball sort of love that demanded that the couple "leave the world together." He leavened his own state's complex civil rights history with a simple, string-swept appreciation of warm whiskey in cold weather. And most of all, White suggested that, in a music climate so driven toward the future that the present seems passé, the lessons of the proverbial American Songbook remain in erudite but ambitious hands.
In vastly reduced arrangements, White and his spare band treat these songs live with elegance and restraint, beseeching his voice to get a bit louder and, as it were, spread the good news. Wednesday, July 24, at Duke Gardens. $10–$12/7 p.m.
Given that electropop duo The Postal Service reunited this year to pay 10-year tribute to the only album it ever made, the return of Cannibal Ox—the grimy and defiant duo of rappers Vast Aire and Vordul Mega—seems appropriate. They also made only one album, 2001's The Cold Vein, and like The Postal Service's Give Up, it's considered a landmark in its field. It was the first LP on El-P's new label and a galvanizing moment for independent music. Its songs left no referential stone unturned, and its demented sense of tag-team rapping still wows a dozen years later. With Kenyattah Black, Irealz and Tuscon. Sunday, July 21, at Kings. $15–$17/9 p.m.
MARIANNE TAYLOR'S OPEN HOUSE
For the better part of three years, Southland Ballroom—a versatile venue that sits one block east of Raleigh's Glenwood South strip—has specialized in electronica and jam bands, with the occasional metal bill or cover act thrown into the mix of raves and zone-outs. That will change in the coming months with the addition of Marianne Taylor, the Triangle's empress of Americana. Taylor has crawled between several clubs in town, booking bluegrass and folk and alt-country in whatever venue best suited her. After the Berkeley Cafe shut down its dominant music room last month, she migrated to Southland, where she'll start tonight with a three-band open house. John Howie Jr. and Michael Rank, both rock 'n' roll veterans gone country to varying degrees, bring their bands. Superlove Highway—a fresh Raleigh quartet that makes ardent Southern rock ostensibly inspired by alternative survivors of the late '90s and Ryan Adams—headline and release their new EP with this set. If you haven't yet, it's time to get familiar with Southland. Saturday, July 20, at Southland Ballroom. Free/8 p.m.
WHATEVER BRAINS, DANIEL BACHMAN
Raleigh band Whatever Brains infamously avoids professionalism. They don't do band bios or press shots, grueling tours or marketing campaigns; rather, they put their heads down and make artistically restless and brazen records, which have pushed them in a half-decade from sneering punks to, on their latest, lysergic art-rock savants. Yet last week, at their LP release show in Raleigh, Whatever Brains played with the sort of narrative focus and precision that felt like a pro move. They stretched codas and segued between songs, avoided banter and generally did not relent. On this strange but welcome bill, the Brains pair with Virginia's Daniel Bachman, a 23-year-old acoustic guitarist who is currently making some of the most emotionally lucid and physically absorbing sounds in his field. Friday, July 19, at UNC'S Old Campus, Upper Quad. Free/8 p.m.
Though it has not aged particularly well, Vivid—the first LP from Living Colour and, yes, the one that began with "Cult of Personality"—still lives up to its name, with bright production and songs that meet halfway between the dance club and the rock hall. Musically, Living Colour were multilingual, shaping their metal around a backbone of arty reggae and funk. On Vivid, which turns 25 this year, that mix was particularly uninhibited and fresh, as though the idea of fusion itself emboldened and energized the band. With Tiny Boxes. Thursday, July 18, at Lincoln Theatre. $22–$25/8 p.m.
The mutant R&B the brothers Daniel and Andrew Aged make under the name inc. has a secret weapon that many of the indie acts who've made such bedroom music in their actual bedrooms don't: substantial technical skill. Indeed, the brothers have played and recorded with, according to The Guardian in 2011, "everyone from Elton John and Beck to Cee Lo Green, Pharrell and Raphael Saadiq." That résumé reflects in the intricacy of their work, which treats melodies like lace meant to be wrapped around tessellated beats. Their bass lines are generous and complex, and their compositions unwrap to reveal careful layers not only made of tape hiss and simple synthesizer burble. With Kelela and DJ Total Freedom. Thursday, July 18, at Kings. $10/9 p.m.
Sanded by distortion and anchored by a voice that somehow makes zeal and diffidence feel like the same thing, Home Life—the latest LP by former Titus Andronicus member Andrew Cedermark—sounds like a master class in indie rock. Cedermark twists through complicated guitar exercises and headlong sprints, through assured jangle and inquisitive drift. In each instance, he finds a melody to extend like an invitation to class. Lonnie Walker and Matt Northrup open. Friday, July 19, at Kings. $7/9:30 p.m.
The third album from Durham's Luego, Luego TV was recorded in Nashville by Roman Candle member Logan Matheny. Appropriately enough, Luego TV carries, for the first time, some of the same swaggering charm that Roman Candle so cheerfully espoused at their best. These pop-rock gleams put their soul and country influences—and, of course, their feelings—right near the surface, from which frontman Patrick Phelan offers up his lines like a veteran television actor who's finally settled into his repeating role. With Drag Sounds. Saturday, July 20, at The Pinhook. $7/10 p.m.
BOBBY BARE JR.
A lifer who was born into the stuff, Bobby Bare Jr. writes and sings like a fellow who's at once in control of his craft and over the idea of "the craft." His voice is a wondrous thing, anchored by a road-worn baritone but graced by occasional flickers of falsetto. His writing often uses humor and surrealism to deliver its thematic payload, giving his country-rock the fleeting wonder of a hot air balloon. With the Dusty Baker Band. Wednesday, July 24, at Southland Ballroom. $10/8 p.m.
Like Creedence Clearwater Revival trapped in a trailer park full of meth labs, South Carolina's Say Brother is a feverish roots-rock band, itching all over. They start from a base of strong-enough songs, with choruses intended for the whole club to shout and topics cut from the darkest corners of the day. Djingis, The Unawares and Ghostt Bllonde open. Saturday, July 20, at The Cave. $5/10 p.m.
With their brisk arrangements and kaleidoscopic vocals, Minneapolis four-piece Night Moves subtly attempts to update country-rock for kids who like EDM and adults who like disco. It's an intriguing idea, sure, but last year's Colored Emotions felt like mostly like pastel pastiche, as though Bear in Heaven had been asked to play a honky-tonk. Despite the novel approach, it's strangely indistinct. They'll headline tonight, but they'll most likely be bested by Eros and the Eschaton, a lovable Triad duo vivifying shoegaze with brisk pop. Tuesday, July 23, at Local 506. $10/9 p.m.
The hip-hop-baiting, frat-rock-fulfilling, saxophone-wailing O.A.R. has been a band for nearly two decades, which is a long goddamn time to still be playing a crazy game of poker. They've skipped between several labels during their seven-LP career, apparently reluctant to take the hint that the jig is up. They've been idling on King since 2011, though they did release Live on Red Rocks last year, an homage to the same tail of Dave Matthews that they've been chasing all along. Andrew McMahon and Allen Stone open. Sunday, July 21, at Red Hat Amphitheater. $34–$52/6 p.m.