The assumed ascendance of James Blake never quite happened. Sure, these days the British producer and crooner plays large clubs, and in early April, he released his second LP, Overgrown, on a major label. But before he issued his self-titled debut in early 2011, it seemed that Blake was the decade's next breakout pop star. From the icy beckon of "Limit to Your Love" to the resplendent bass plunges of "The Wilhelm Scream," Blake possessed an intriguing sonic toolkit, a voice that felt like that of a new friend, and a hitmaker's sense of momentum and drama. But to date, Blake has largely been unable to move beyond the cloistered circles that first pushed him toward intense Internet buzz.
He does not force the issue on Overgrown, a record that, in spite of what a guest appearance by RZA might suggest, does not grasp at populist straws. On "Life Round Here," for instance, Blake subverts a would-be club banger, pushing his hook beneath a messy web of beats; on the gorgeous ballad "DLM," he revels in the sound of his own voice, treating a hook like a study of its surface rather than simple radio-ready bait. Blake remains an adventurer, happily tied less to expectation than experimentation, even at its most accessible. With Samiyam. Monday, May 13, at Cat's Cradle. $22–$25/9 p.m.
When Alice Gerrard sings, the world around her voice seems to freeze, leaving only the sound of her lonesome burl to cut exquisite lines through space and time. She's been applying that mesmerizing tool to bluegrass and old-time music for more than four decades, but Gerrard, who lives in Durham, seems primed for reinvention right now. She recently launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund Bittersweet, her first-ever album of original tunes, with the assistance of songwriters and Gerrard acolytes such as Laurelyn Dossett. This show marks the end of that campaign and the lead-up to the album's release. She's also been working with members of Hiss Golden Messenger and Megafaun, acts that cherish and translate the lessons Gerrard's revealed through her recordings with Tommy Jarrell, Hazel Dickens, Mike Seeger and many others. Sunday, May 12, at The ArtsCenter. $8–$16/7 p.m.
The Kraken is a small bar on Highway 54, as it cuts between Carrboro and Pittsboro. Their musical roster embraces the blues and punk rock, R&B and—appropriate, given the name—heavy metal. For the third time, Kraken Fest assembles several thunderous hordes at the outskirts outpost, with Atlanta's charging doom-and-blues outfit Zoroaster leading the fray. Best among the five-band bunch might be Savagist, another Georgia act that suggests the hulking body of the Melvins with the accelerator tied to the floor. They are noisy and nasty, splintering the force of Thor's hammer into a dozen deep needle pricks. NWOBHM lieges Colossus, irascible rumblers Clean Teeth and magnetic Wilmington crew Crusades share the bill. Saturday, May 11, at The Kraken. $15/5 p.m.
One of the most likable and charming singer-songwriters working today, Josh Ritter is a hopeful romantic, an inquisitive observer who's seen enough to know that individual moments of compassion can brighten the hue of existence. (See "The Temptation of Adam," his 2007 masterpiece.) As he's aged, Ritter has sharpened his pop acumen, gathering all of that exuberance into three-minute bursts that crowd the radio in an imagined parallel universe. That's the chief charm of his latest, the ever-wise and texturally efficient The Beast in Its Tracks. With The Felice Brothers. Sunday, May 12, at Cat's Cradle. $24/8 p.m.
Losering: The Songs of Ryan Adams
Late last year, longtime News & Observer pop critic David Menconi issued Losering, an occasionally intriguing portrayal of Ryan Adams' time spent as Raleigh's prodigal son and leading the alt-country atlas, Whiskeytown. But the book stumbled when it tried to trace Adams' journey out of Whiskeytown and into the realm of troubled singer-songwriter. That's due, in part, to Adams' voluminous songbook, which must weigh a metric ton by now. "Losering: The Songs of Ryan Adams" should wade through those annals more successfully: More than two-dozen songwriters, musicians and area bands share a set of Adams covers. Members of young acts such as I Was Totally Destroying It and Old Quarter pair with story-to-tell veterans such as Chip Robinson for a night that should couple reverence for the songs with a few jokes at their writer's expenses. Thursday, May 9, at Deep South. $5–$8/8 p.m.
Captured! By Robots
Captured! By Robots broadcasts a backstory that claims its human singer-in-chains, JBOT, serves as the captive slave to the robot rock band that backs him. But the project actually originated much like automatic checkouts at grocery stores: Dealing with machines is sometimes easier than dealing with people. Tired of band life, former punk musician Jay Vance built these industrial animals. Together, they conjure newfangled classic rock anthems and a strange brew of covers, interspersing bits of stand-up concerning human weakness and the automated revolution within the set. This is a concept album, taken to delightful extremes. Tuesday, May 14, at Kings. $8/8:30 p.m.
Joseph Hill—the icon of Jamaican reggae hitmakers Culture—died in 2006, but neither his nor the band's legacy have rested since his death. Rather, his son, Kenyatta, presses on under the Culture banner; he uses a large band and, like his father, two more vocalists to bolster his light voice. This is, of course, something of a continued cash-in for Hill, but he's a remarkably enthusiastic leader, bounding around the stage like he's lifted by his family's heritage, not simply bound to it. With Crucial Fiya Band, King Ayoola, Sensory Expressions and Empress Charmaine. Thursday, May 9, at Lincoln Theatre. $15–$22/9 p.m.
"Warsaw" is the debut single from Parts of Speech, the third album from Minneapolis rapper and singer Dessa. Over a claustrophobic beat that cuts between moombahton esprit and Nine Inch Nails-sized industrial effects, Dessa embraces a narrative force and focus that pushes hard against the production, turning a tale of self-reliance into an anthem for it. After her surprising fork toward acoustic accompaniment on last year's Castor, The Twin, Dessa seems better prepared than ever to battle her machines. Sunday, May 12, at Local 506. $14–$16/8:30 p.m.
With two guitars unafraid of chugging toward infinity or spiraling off into the ether, Durham quartet HOG works upward through the muck and murk of Southern metal. Not unlike Savannah's Kylesa, they pair acid-stained solos and impasses to a sense of hardcore urgency, warping metal into a form that's immediate but obtuse, direct but damaged. Durham's Fanghole creates agitated instrumentals that suggest post-metal pioneers ISIS reworking their own blueprint with newfound economy. With City of Medicine. Saturday, May 11, at The Pinhook. $7/10 p.m.
Juan Huevos, Hemlock Ernst
Here's a bill where anything might happen: Chapel Hill emcee Juan Huevos is promising a "pure rap set," which should translate into 45 minutes of a mustachioed white man in something perhaps as skimpy as his underwear, romping about and ranting through surrealistic party raps. Hemlock Ernst is the solo guise of Sam Herring, the rasping frontman of Future Islands. "Hip hop is one of the first loves of my life," he explained at the third Hemlock show earlier this year before chirping over a buoyant boom-bap clip. Rapdragons, Napoleon Wright II and Human Pippi Armstrong open. Saturday, May 11, at Kings. $6/9:30 p.m.
Band of Horses
For a moment, it seemed that Band of Horses were destined to combine indie rock and Southern rock into something grand, accessible and good enough to fill arenas. Both their debut, 2006's Everything All the Time, and the subsequent Cease to Begin were epic and intimate, with refrains that felt like amphitheaters but details that felt like bedrooms. Since then, who knows? They've turned into a bad Band cover group trying to stake its own claim. With Futurebirds. Wednesday, May 8, at The Ritz. $42/8 p.m.
With all-and-everything production, gargantuan hooks and glib lyrics that say very little very loudly, Imagine Dragons are the college rock emissary of Las Vegas. Their full-length debut, last year's Night Visions, has sold extremely well, despite having a soul cut from the same plastic as the compact disc. Save money by staying in and waiting for one of the several commercials to use their "Radioactive." It delivers the band's full enjoyment in 30 seconds or less. Wednesday, May 8, at Red Hat Amphitheater. $29.50–$52/7:30 p.m.