"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.
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?
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"
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The collaboration between Arnold Dreyblatt and Megafaun at last year’s Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh was met with some understandably raised eyebrows. Dreyblatt is a respected, rhythmically inclined minimalist composer residing in Berlin, but born stateside 50 years ago. Megafaun is a Durham-based folk trio of much younger men with a taste for playful noodling and robust noise. The gaps between them—both generationally and stylistically—are many, but it turns out that their music moves with the same manic energy, a commonality they exploit on Appalachian Excitation, the collaborative LP they’ll unveil on Sep. 17 via Northern Spy Records. That's the album cover at the bottom of the post.
The album was tracked at the Pinebox Recording studio in Graham following their Hopscotch performance. That show reunited the artists, who first worked together when Megafaun backed Dreyblatt on a 2008 tour, and excited them about the possibilities of their collaboration.
“Right away, I realized that there’s a folk element and instrumentation that was available to me suddenly,” Dreyblatt said of Megafaun before last year’s Hopscotch. “These guys have such a wide musical background. They’re familiar with the whole avant-garde. They can play folk music, rock music. They’re songwriters. They’re incredibly flexible and just put their heart right into it.”
Dreyblatt’s work, refined and strengthened over decades, utilizes unique time signatures to wrestle chaos into driving catharsis. Excitation retains that power, augmenting it with skewed old time elements overflowing with effects and occasional blasts of steely distortion. The opening “Recurrence Plot” lumbers slowly to militaristic drums, allowing the feedback from intermittent guitar strums to grow into intoxicating plumes. “Radiator”—the last, longest and best of the four tracks—builds a magnificent clutter across its 10 minutes. What sounds like reverb-doused dulcimer is offset by jagged guitar jabs as the drums and bass shift quickly. The similarly insistent "Home Hat Placement" is streaming below.
Their collaboration may seem unlikely, but on Appalachian Excitation, it also feels inevitable.
“Calm Down” (streaming below) is the opener from Ruby Red—the third album from Chapel Hill and Raleigh's reliably hook-happy and heartbroken The Love Language, due via Merge Records on July 23. That’s the cover art at the top of the post.
“Calm Down” is also the first of a handful of songs on Ruby Red that finds the normally grandiose pop outfit digging into deep garage grooves, taking cues from rising Bay Area rock acts such as Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall. Stuart McLamb—the outfit’s singer, songwriter and only reliable member—seems to have been paying attention to his competition, balacing his blue-eyed pop melodies and profoundly emotional songs with hints of rock ‘n’ roll grit and tight psychedelics.
The song announces itself a with quick and meaty combo of drums and bass before building up a gauzy, jangling wall built from multiple guitar tracks. The tender touch is familiar. The surging rhythm is new, matching McLamb with a nervy and somewhat concussive backbeat that equals his own irrepressible verve. Fittingly, the song is about a relationship in which the singer never feels at ease. “You won’t let me calm down!” he shouts in the chorus, the musical momentum driving him just as hard as the lover in question. After the final chorus, the band locks into a wild, two-minute outro. Distortion solidifies into a torrent of noise as the groove escalates with Kraut-approximating intensity.
This isn’t The Love Language we’ve come to expect. It’s something bolder. Check it out: