(from You Got to Lose, You Can't Win All the Time; Music Maker Relief Foundation)
John Dee Holeman learned to play from listening to records by the likes of Brownie McGhee, Lightnin' Hopkins, and Blind Boy Fuller, crash-coursing in what he considers "the low-down blues." But "You Got to Lose, You Can't Win All the Time," the title track from Holeman's most recent record and a song written by the longtime Durhamite, shows that there's room for swing and rhythm in his take on the blues. Holeman faced serious hardships in '08, as his wife died early in the year and he had heart surgery in the summer. But the song isn't a form of self-consolation. Nope, it's addressed to an unnamed scoundrel and delivers the message that, though you might have taken everything and thought you got away with it, you'll get what's really coming to you down the road. Plus, John Dee still has those sexy-sounding backup singers. —Rick Cornell
Download "Ballad of Eric Rudolph"
(from Simple Truths and Pleasures; Moll)
Michael Holland creates an old time, post-murder ballad with the "Ballad of Eric Rudolph." Banjo trickles down the mountains, and mandolin careens through the underbrush, revealing Rudolph, hiding in the Appalachians for five years before his capture. Lyrics fabricate a conversation between the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park bomber and his pursuing sheriff, judge and jury. Speaking through a simple melody and no chorus, Rudolph seems defiant and unapologetic, saying first to the sheriff who might catch him and later to the jury who might kill him, "I'll see you in the sweet by and by." This religiously tinged line hints at the bomber's radicalism, but not everything in the song is factual. Rudolph never went before a jury, since he entered a plea bargain. Holland's re-imagining of the story transforms Rudolph into the anti-hero of folk ballads as old as knotted trees and keeps alive the tradition of an evolving oral history.—Andrew Ritchey
Download "Done Waiting"
(from Done Waiting; self-released)
The Triangle's best break-up anthem of 2008 doesn't waste time on sentimentality. Instead, the churning drum beats and growling guitar lines of I Was Totally Destroying It's "Done Waiting" go straight for the narrow strip between broken-hearted bitching and fuck-you-styled kiss-off. Textured with thumping bass and circular guy/girl vocals, guitarist John Booker and keyboardist Rachel Hirsh shift gears between a relationship's rough beginnings and its stuck-in-neutral end with words about self-destruction, failure to connect and drunk-dialing. It comes swirled in a pool of guitar and keyboard-fueled, stadium-sized disconnect, equal parts sweet addiction and bitter pill. —Kathy Justice
(from Zilla's World; Kick-a-Verse)
There's nothing fancy about these four minutes: K-Hill offers a snappy snare beat and a rubbery bassline, which bounces directly during the verses and bubbles into thick little pockets during the choruses. Keisha Shontelle, a Wilson soul singer and dynamic emcee who's worked with Little Brother and Freeway, offers the four-letter titular refrain with a tastes of honey. The versed—delivered by Shontelle, Hill and newcomer Ill Killa Chant—boast historical hip-hop idolatry like so many before it. But it's the song's indelible esprit—an expression of genre allegiance and a taste of hope for its future—that sets "L.O.V.E." apart. This is a head-rocker that feels good in all the right ways. —Grayson Currin
Download "Kool With It"
(from Summer Sessions EP; self-released)
A fitting introduction to Kooley High, "Kool With It" rides a hydraulic beat, bass bouncing across bold horn samples, hot and thick as summer air. MCs Rapsody, Charlie Smarts and Tab-One trade lines, referencing Family Guy in their lyrics and Digable Planets in their easy chemistry. Certainly, this is as clear a mission statement as any the group could've offered—to be, as Rapsody boats in the hook, "so K-O-O-L/ Y'all better ask 'cuz y'all can't tell." Simple, direct and effective credo established? Check. —Bryan Reed
Download "No Regrets"
(from N.C. Chainsaw Massacre; self-released)
Leave it up to L.E.G.A.C.Y. to find a patois-yelling guy named Lunatic The Messiah. Also, leave it up to L.E.G. to use the word "zurbert" to explain how he receives fellatio. What does all this have to do him having a sans-regretful career in hip-hop? In case you can't tell, N.C. and hip-hop aren't as synonymous as they were several years ago, and L.E.G. will probably be the first one to tell you that—post-Justus League dominance—it's because creativity and true artistry have taken the backseat to mimicry and mediocrity, both antithetical to what he's presented. As one of the more outspoken members of this area's hip-hop community, LEG's offering on this track is an overt way of not only separating himself from his past relationships in the music business but also ushering himself into another one of his defiant rebirths. He's the friendly jerk, rock star, rapper we all love to hate. He loves that. —Eric Tullis
Download "Walk Around the Lake"
(from All Alone in an Empty House; Trekky Records)
Much like Thad Cockrell's "Pride (Won't Get Us Where We're Going)," Lost in the Trees' "Walk Around the Lake" reflects the realization that the world is bigger than one's own woes and will. Ari Picker—formerly of The Never and now the leader of the more orchestral-minded Lost in the Trees—not only admits his problems and the pain they've caused people, but he also thinks about what he can do to help the next generation skip his steps: "Late at night/ I stay up and write a book about my life/ So no one would ever make all of my mistakes." Picker's sentiment is a welcome break from the oft-solipsistic perspective of orchestral indie rock this decade. Another welcome diversion comes with the strident strings that cut across this acoustic jangle. Much like Bowie & Eno's use of strings in Berlin (see "D.J."), they bend a pop moment just enough to eliminate any sense of listener listlessness. —Grayson Currin
(from V; Fractured Discs)
The next track on V, the sequentially titled new record from long-may-it-continue-to-run Chapel Hill institution Lud, is called "Those Stupid Bastards Poisoned the Town." The least the quartet could have done is to have aimed for a little consistency by naming these four minutes "Those Cheap Bastards Cut the Track in Pieces." An expertly conceived, elegantly crafted homage to the Krautwork giants of West Germany, "Tribute" aims more to the half-hour mark live. Still, these moments are as comfortable as any you'll find on wax this year: Lee Waters sits in the groove with patience, while Kirk Ross cues up a one-note platform over which lead guitarist Bryon Settle hovers, pealing layers of effects from his strings only to lay them over the graceful Motorik motion. the short-fade ending isn't quite coitus interruptus, at least. But, still, does something this accomplished ever need to end? —Grayson Currin
Download "Lovecraft in Brooklyn"
(from Heretic Pride; 4AD)
In 1925, the Rhode Island-born H.P. Lovecraft wrote, "To my soul nothing was more deadly than the material daylight world of New York." Lovecraft moved to New York after marriage but quickly fell out of favor with the city, as evidenced by the above admission in his semi-autobiographical short story, "He." John Darnielle grabs hold of Lovecraft's animosity for the city and multiplies it here, both temporally and thematically: We're greeted by the sight of a kid in a Marcus Allen jersey who needs a cigarette and a narrator who fears New York both day and night. He hates the city's heat, the waste of cold water from an opened fire hydrant, the woman behind the counter and the bent reflections he sees of himself in hubcaps. He considers the sight of his brain in a Mason jar as he buys a switchblade and thinks of common folk like zombies. Led by drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Peter Hughes, the band matches Darnielle's urgency word for note, meeting his anxieties with a rhythm section that pounds like a troubled heart. That ironic mutualism is especially apparent after hearing Aesop Rock's "Lovecraft" remix, which mostly mutes the song's despair and urgency. —Grayson Currin
Download "In Gold"
(from Anchors; Blondena Music)
The true charm of Andrew Weathers' "In Gold" rests in its unflinching simplicity. We end much like we begin, which is to say lifted lightly by a string of small guitar notes bounced, split and scattered by a series of delays and filters. Like Rhys Chatham's pieces for 400 guitars but divided by 400, "In Gold" creates an elevated envelope, a little world of minimal music that sounds safe, comfortable and eternal, one hopes. Anchors is the first album from Weathers, who formerly performed as Pacific Before Tiger. It's maturity is prepossessing: This isn't a rainbow in curved air. That's too busy, too dependent on colors that could clash. This is wisely a pencil-then line of brightness scattered in a welcoming gray sky. —Grayson Currin