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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Sylvan Esso announces new single; debut LP forthcoming

Posted by on Tue, Jan 21, 2014 at 2:52 PM

  • photo courtesy of Middle West Management
  • Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso, one of Durham’s most promising new bands, is the duo of singer Amelia Meath (Mountain Man) and electronic producer Nick Sanborn (Megafaun). The folksiness of their established projects gives way to intricate, dynamic electronic pop that mines an unsuspected seam between the experimental vocalism of tUnE-yArDs and the acid house of 808 State.

Today, new song “Coffee” premiered on Stereogum. The stately track will appear on a twelve-inch single, backed with “Dress,” on March 25 via Brooklyn’s Partisan Records, which has previously released music by Mountain Man. Sylvan Esso’s 10-song, self-titled album, home-recorded by the band and mixed by BJ Burton, follows in May.

Chances are good that you’ve already heard Sylvan Esso’s double A-side 12” on Trekky Records, which features “Hey Mami” and “Play it Right.” The singles paint an accurate picture of the rest of the album, mixing atmospheric effects such as traffic sounds, Meath’s fleet and elaborately layered vocal runs, and Sanborn’s mammoth, squelchy bass synthesizers.

But there are some surprises stashed amid the consistent approach. “Wolf” adds in the faintest rhythmic background of acoustic strings; “HSKT” bends toward dub with its loose, tuned bass drum pads and delay effects; and “Come Down” finds Meath harmonizing with herself over abstract computer-music squiggles.

Most arresting of all is “Could I Be,” where Meath’s voice slides, like an electronic tone from a ribbon controller, over a warm and sticky haze of synth pulses. The perky music masks often-sinister lyrics about predatory courtship, supplying the effervescent surface with hidden depths. Sylvan Esso takes the new material on tour in about a week, beginning in Washington D.C. on Jan. 28 and rolling into Seattle mid-February.

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    “Coffee” b/w "Dress" 12” single out March 25 on Partisan Records

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Future Islands sign to 4AD, discuss new LP

Posted by on Thu, Jan 9, 2014 at 12:34 PM

Future Islands' Sam Herring, front and center at Hopscotch 2013 - PHOTO BY ABBY NARDO
  • Photo by Abby Nardo
  • Future Islands' Sam Herring, front and center at Hopscotch 2013
Most likely, it's no longer accurate to call Baltimore-via-Greenville's Future Islands rising stars: These guys have risen. Yesterday the emotionally charged dance-pop trio announced its signing to 4AD, making the band labelmates to big-draw acts such as Bon Iver, Deerhunter and tUnE-yArDs and part of one of the most influential catalogs in indie rock lore. This marks a split from their longtime label, Chicago's Thrill Jockey. Future Islands also revealed the March 25th release of their new LP, Singles. There's a whirlwind February tour with dates across Europe, and then the band hits the road in earnest this March for a full-on US tour including Coachella appearances and stops in Asheville and Saxapahaw.

Yet the genesis of Future Islands' potentially biggest release to date happened in a humble hunting cabin in Wayne County; the band holed up there for a week in early 2013, writing and demoing tracks and prepping for a reunion as their former act, Art Lord and the Self Portraits.

"We always bring it back to North Carolina. That's our heart," says vocalist Sam Herring as he leaves Asheville (where the band was briefly based) to drive to the Triangle. There are several dedicated Tar Heel tracks on Singles, numbers like "A Song for Our Grandfathers" and "Back in the Tall Grass." The week in the cabin allowed Future Islands the time and mental space to write introspectively, Herring says, but was only the beginning of a year the band effectively took off to write the record.

"We wanted a break because we've been pretty much on the road for five years straight," he continues. In the past, Future Islands has written songs in brief tour breaks—a week home here, a week home there. This time, they were able to pace themselves and eventually demo some 25 tunes, of which 10 made Singles. And that is where the name comes from, Herring says: Each song that made the cut feels strong enough to be a single.

A different vibe emerged, too, as the band allowed itself to take a little time at home; by comparison, Future Islands played maybe 40 shows in 2013, versus its usual 150-plus. Herring, for example, went through a breakup without the distraction of tour life. Accordingly, his songwriting turned introspective.

"Usually, if I'm going through some shit, I'm just, 'Well, I'm going on the road in a week and I'll be fine.' I won't have to deal with it," he says, as emotionally honest over the phone as he is with a microphone.

Yet the band goes back to its normal speed—near-constant touring - in a few weeks. A March 5th show at Haw River Ballroom brings them back to the state of their—and their new album's—genesis.

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    Sam Herring talks the band's move to 4AD and the North Carolina origins of their new LP, Singles.

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Black Skies announce new LP, premiere song and video

Posted by on Wed, Nov 13, 2013 at 2:11 PM

Black Skies have never been known to rush; in eight years, the sludgy Chapel Hill trio have managed only two full-length efforts. They released the first one, On the Wings of Time, two years ago. The second, Circadian Meditations, is out November 19. Like its predecessor, the new record moves at a tectonic clip,  especially when compared to the brisk and brutal EPs that preceded them.

With production from Harvey Milk's Kyle Spence, who also handled their last LP, the record comprises six muscular numbers, each scorched and bruised by molten distortion. The drums come from Caltrop's John Crouch, as former drummer Timothy Herzog is now busy with Godspeed You! Black Emperor. As with Caltrop's best work, Circadian Meditations alternately grinds and tangles, building patiently.

"Celestial Coronation," released with the video below, sums up many of the record's strengths: Kevin Clark's lines are lithe but weighty, twisting through adventurous melodies grounded in low-end. Michelle Temple sings with an authoritative monotone, emerging at the song's most dramatic moments and providing a much-needed focal point. All of these tricks are familiar, but Black Skies execute them admirably, especially given their years of refinement.

"Time Lord," another song from the album, is streaming at the group's Bandcamp page. In addition, Black Skies recently released a single featuring an unused cut from the Circadian sessions and the B-side from a limited-run split with Caltrop. Both songs are also available to stream.

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    In eight years, the sludgy Chapel Hill trio have managed two LPs. The second, entitled Circadian Meditations, will be available on Nov. 19.

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Opening Flower Happy Bird (featuring Airstrip's Matthew Park) post catalog for free

Posted by on Tue, Nov 12, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Among the cooler aspects of Bandcamp—besides the ability to stream music and buy vinyl on a single page—is that many musicians have used the service to re-release old material, often for free. This tactic has been especially beneficial for some artists in North Carolina. Heads on Sticks offered two archival EPs before releasing 2010's Mocking Bird, establishing local love that helped jumpstart the fledgling project. Ashrae Fax—the once -defunct electro-pop outfit that preceded the folkish oddities of Durham's Filthybird—offered their 2003 swan song Static Crash a few years ago. Today, they're touring behind a reissue from popular Brooklyn imprint Mexican Summer. In this instance, paying it forward has occasionally paid off.

It's easy to envision similar luck befalling Opening Flower Happy Bird. Between 2005 and 2008, the duo of Brian Collins and Matthew Park—who now guides the sludgy pop outfit Airstrip—created four splendid recordings, merging airy pop with sturdy electronics. Recently, OFHB posted the entirety of their catalog to Bandcamp, making it available to stream or download.

The highlight is 2007's Endings. Working through longer songs, one of which approaches nine minutes, the duo patiently assembles far-flung elements—skittering drum machines, keyboard static, reverb-drenched harmonies—into a luxurious drift . Fans of Park's subsequent efforts will find plenty to enjoy: These skeletal rhythms would later inform Veelee's taut minimalism. The disorienting melodies appear with more muscle during Airstrip's more restrained moments.

More than a point on one dude's artistic journey, OFHB were an unheralded treasure, one that new fans might now have a chance to embrace. A physical reissue would also be appreciated. Any takers?

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Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Rosebuds scare up a pair of Halloween treats, offer a free download

Posted by on Thu, Oct 31, 2013 at 11:17 AM


Man, The Rosebuds really love holidays: Last year, the Raleigh-nurtured duo of Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp released an entire full-length of Christmas songs, a move that felt a little uncharacteristic. After all, The Rosebuds don't revel in chipper melodies like their yuletide-favorite label mates She & Him; their records are more often dominated by foreboding atmosphere and dark imagery. To wit, see the entirety of 2007's Night of the Furies. "Whisper" and "Where the Freaks Hang Out," the two horror-themed singles they released this Halloween week, stick closer to their strengths, making appropriate fun of their oft-gloomy vibe.

"Whisper"—which comes with a cinematic video about a monster hunter out for zombies, with a reanimated Howard among their ranks—moves like a Furies B-side. Its threatening throb is graced by spectral synth and guitar, as Howard relates a surprisingly thoughtful ghost story. "Where the Freaks Hang Out"—inspired by the 1967 Rankin/Bass special Mad Monstery Party?— is far more campy, but no less fun. The video features karaoke lyrics and a band of marionette miscreants. In the song, Howard is led to a very real haunted house, filled with werewolves, ghosts and assorted ghouls. Future Islands frontman Sam Herring interrupts with his gravelly incantation, channeling Vincent Price a la "Thriller" with hilarious accuracy. Check out both videos below, and, for a special holiday treat, download the extended version of "Where the Freaks Hang Out," featuring an intro from Herring.


"Where the Freaks Hang Out"

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Lost in the Trees premiere video, announce new LP, Past Life, for February

Posted by on Wed, Oct 30, 2013 at 9:52 AM

  • File photo by D.L. Anderson
  • Ari Picker

 "Rites"—our first taste of Past Life, Lost in the Trees' new LP, due Feb. 18 via ANTI—isn't a great single. That's not to say that it's a bad song. Premiered Monday by Rolling Stone along a with minimal, sing-along video, its arrangement is airy and calming. Back-up singers and reverb follow Ari Picker's ever-delicate singing, intimate emotions expanding subtly like ripples on a pond. The music is skeletal, with guitars and bass that mainly keep time and a few piano notes to fill in the gaps. Following two albums of string-buttressed sorrow and redemption, Picker promised that the new record would strip back and focus on different feelings; "Rites" achieves at least one of those goals.

It's pretty, but it feels slight without context. The group's recent live sets traded strings for more distortion and more guitars, and it's easy to imagine "Rites" as a clearing of the air between more challenging inclusions—one of which might be "Lady in White," a haunting electro-ballad streaming without explanation on the band's website.

"Rites" also reaches for references the band has yet to provide. "Where does your art come from?" Picker whispers at one point, appearing to answer his own question: "The lion and the lamb." On its own, the couplet carries little definitive meaning, but it could easily work as part of an album-spanning conversation, like the ones have elevated Lost in the Trees' past LPs.

  • Pin It
    "Rites" is our first taste of Past Life, Lost in the Trees' new LP, out Feb. 18. It's a good song, but it's not a great single.

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Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Beast + Big Band ready new EP, Gardens, out Oct. 22

The Beast adds a little orchestra

Posted by on Wed, Oct 9, 2013 at 10:27 AM


For a few years now, Durham's The Beast have thrilled Triangle crowds, using sometimes rather smooth jazz as an unlikely propulsion for restless, forward-thinking hip-hop. Since 2012, they've augmented that sound for a few gigs with their Big Band, a 13-strong configuration that includes orchestral players from the consistently ambitious New Music Raleigh and members of other popular groups, including Peter Lamb & the Wolves and Lost in the Trees. Together, they've opened for Nnenna Freelon, the Grammy-nominated mother of Beast MC Pierce Freelon, and hit the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival. Building on this success, they entered Durham’s Sound Pure Studios in early January to record Gardens, a four-song EP named for Duke University's annual "Music in the Gardens" series, where the Big Band played their first gig. Out on Oct. 22, it's the Beast's first release since 2011's Guru Legacy EP.

As you might expect, lead single "Cost of Living" (streaming below) promises a more expansive sound than previous Beast efforts. The 13 musicians tracked each song live without overdubs, playing off the chemistry they built during a year of shows and rehearsals. Here, the ensemble conjures soothing grandeur through undulating bass and keys, countering softly swaying strings and horns. Grooves emerge and decay. Freelon sings more than he raps, his adequate pipes elevated by an unflinching anthem for college graduates in poverty: "My education wasn't meant to be my execution," he moans, "but this student loan, it feels just like a guillotine."

The Beast + Big Band will celebrate the release Oct. 24 at Durham's Motorco Music Hall. Following that performance, the group's core quartet will enter the studio to cut another four-song EP with a more electric feel. They hope to release it before the end of the year.

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"New Vinyl" from King Mez

Posted by on Wed, Sep 4, 2013 at 3:15 PM


King Mez has avoided becoming a walking, rapping contradiction for so long now that he's plateaued somewhere in the pre-boil plains, where he's both grounded by chastity and tempted by upscale tastes. On "New Vinyl," the DMV producer Oddisee outfits the Raleigh-raised MC with an elegant drum lounge—just a few BPMs and horn blares away from a splurge.

This MC/producer combination could scream perfection if King Mez screamed at all, but its strength lies in teaming two elite members of hip-hop's humble-brag society, where less is more as long as your less is 100 percent untouchable. In one verse, King Mez can rap, "I know deep down, I ain't doin this in vain/ Cuz I like nice things, but I ain't doin' this for no chains"—and in the next verse, he can get a little irked when a pretty woman accidentally spills salmon juice on his Yeezy 2s. No problem.

Now he has homies who work at DONDA, prodigal producer-friends, and a new publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music, whose logo you'll soon see on King Mez's upcoming Long Live the King 2 project. This song is just a pit-stop treat until that release in the fall. For the uninitiated, King Mez describes "New Vinyl" as "yacht music," and while he might not share his counterparts' love for their first huge jewelry purchase (see J. Cole's "Chaining Day," Big Sean's "First Chain"), he still thinks as big.

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    A new song from the local rapper is a prelude to this fall's Long Live the King 2 album.

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Jenks Miller announces new solo album and Horseback compilation for late-summer release

Posted by on Mon, Aug 12, 2013 at 3:17 PM

  • File photo by D.L. Anderson
  • Jenks Miller

Stasis, it seems, is never an option for Jenks Miller. With the adventurous kind-of-metal outfit Horseback, Miller stretches strains of noise, black metal, doom and blues across albums that play like ominous expeditions. Even in the more restrained country-rock of Mount Moriah, Miller's guitar offers a sense of adventure, itching to stretch beyond the genre into new territory. Various experiments under his own name have explored harsh electronics, subtle drones and folk-rock mutations.

So it should be little shock that Miller, never one to idle, recently announced two forthcoming releases. The first, a three-CD collection of Horseback rarities called A Plague of Knowing, arrives Aug. 20 via metal powerhouse Relapse Records. It collects limited vinyl releases, live cuts and new material Miller says will help fill the gaps between Horseback full-lengths. The second, Spirit Signal, is an improvisational collection to be released under Miller's own name by the experimental New York label Northern Spy on Sept. 3.

Recorded earlier this year, Spirit Signal finds the usually meticulous Miller embracing his improvisational impulses, with six pieces that were each developed, recorded and mixed within a single day. The cover, a photo by local artist and WXYC DJ Julianna Thomas, was taken during a period of dense fog in Chapel Hill, at roughly the same time Miller was recording the album.

You can download "Through the Fog" in exchange for an email address:

Or just stream it:

We caught up with Miller soon after he ended a tour with Mount Moriah to talk about compiling Horseback's one-offs and how he's developing a distinct solo identity apart from Horseback and Mount Moriah.

Continue reading…

  • Pin It
    A Plague of Knowing arrives Aug. 20 via metal powerhouse Relapse Records. Spirit Signal comes out Sept. 3 via New York's experimental Northern Spy.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Loamlands announce debut EP, premiere single

Posted by on Tue, Jul 30, 2013 at 12:30 PM

  • Photo courtesy of Trekky Records
  • Loamlands

Some Kind of Light—the small-platter introduction to Durham's Loamlands, due Sep. 24 via Trekky Records—is quite promising, even if it doesn't feel altogether new. It's steeped in the fiery, minimal folk-rock that has taken hold in many parts of the South, especially the Triangle. It makes sense that the group would trade in this style. Kym Register and Will Hackney, Loamlands' core duo, are buds with several acts exploring similar territory: Mount Moriah, Hiss Golden Messenger, Megafaun. One member of that last band, Brad Cook, plays bass on the record and in the live band alongside Lost in the Trees drummer Kyle Keegan. Register and Hackney's old outfit, Midtown Dickens, was trending hard in this direction before splitting up earlier this year.

But it's easy to excuse a new band borrowing tricks from those around them—especially when they nail every one of them. "Scottsboro" breezes through Mount Moriah's playbook, riding a spacious electric guitar and a striding rhythm that's half CCR choogle, half Fleetwood Mac stomp—appropriate as Register's voice, raw and expressive in a way it's never been before, reveals shades of Stevie Nicks. The closing "Can't Tell" colors its Big Pink lilt with blasts of searing blues slide, a combo that Megafaun has all but patented. Loamlands pulls the looks off with passion and conviction, filling these sounds with their own vibrant spirit.

Of the EP's five songs, there is one glimmer of the distinct outfit Loamlands could become. "Another Reason," streaming below, is the band's first single. Driven by hypnotic picking and some truly cutting electric fills, it's almost claustrophobic in the verses, bearing down hard on Register's calming coos. But the arrangement expands during the chorus, capturing the infectious sense of wonder that made Midtown Dickens so special. It's a uniquely potent offering, one that elevates Loamlands to another level. Check it out and see Some Kind of Light's very floral cover art.


  • Pin It
    Some Kind of Light, the debut EP from Durham's Loamlands, drops on Sep. 24 via Trekky Records. Listen to the lead single.

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