The Triangle's best 35 songs of 2007 | The Year in Music | Indy Week
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The Triangle's best 35 songs of 2007 


Welcome to the Independent Weekly's 2007 Mixtape. We asked our music writers to name their favorite songs to come out of the Triangle in 2007, and the top 35 results are reflected below. Beside the title of each song, you will find a free download of the track. To download a convenient .zip file of all 35 tracks, click here.

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Alina Simone, "Country of Two" Download now.
(54º40' or Fight!)

The idea of self-sovereignty—or at least of escaping to some foreign land and making it your own with someone you care for—perhaps never gets more tempting than when you're living in a country where it feels you can do little right. Such is the state of this union for the artist in 2007, especially an educated, literate, strong songwriter like Alina Simone, whose been going to Russia to study the songs of Soviet punk-folk singer Yanka Dyagileva for the past several years. "Country of Two," which closes Simone's debut LP Placelessness, finds Simone seeing that private place and imagining the runaway as society closes in. She can't deal with the noisy city or with its corrupted values, but she's confident she can deal with this lover she has found forever. During the album's epilogue, they're making their escape, hiding from the invasive glow of headlights. Let's hope they made it out happy. —Grayson Currin

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Birds of Avalon, "A Horse Called Dust" Download now.
(Volcom Entertainment)

Busting right down the rows between space rock and Southern rock, Birds of Avalon are may be at their most righteous and convincing with "Horse Called Dust." The dual guitars of Cheetie Kumar and Paul Siler move as well in unison as they do in divergence, plowing one moment (check the verses) and pirouetting the next (check the solo just before the two-minute mark). The rhythm section is reserved but plenty heavy, giving the aces room to move while putting a little extra push behind Craig Tilley's throttled, epic quest to ride on forever. —Grayson Currin

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Bowerbirds, "Dark Horse" Download now.
(Burly Time)

Somewhere in the first two minutes of "Dark Horse," Bowerbirds Phil Moore and Beth Tacular place themselves in a cabin in the woods, fighting bitter winds by stoking a fire to battle loneliness. And somewhere in the song's second half, that loneliness fades into the familiar interplay of the duo's voices, and a string accompaniment that starts stark but builds to a coda that turns cold into warm. —Margaret Hair

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Bull City, "Game" Download now.
(Urban Myth)

Bull City turns out a melodic and smart roundhouse with this crunchy rock ballad about ticking clocks and wasted hours. As the band so eloquently puts it, time both "sneaks up on you" and "slips away. Even without words, the stellar guitar solo and fading violins surrounding the peaks and valleys here convey the same thoughts, providing a gentle lullaby sway to vibrant crash-and-burn rock. —Kathy Justice

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Carolina Chocolate Drops, "Dona Got a Ramblin' Mind" Download now.
(Music Maker Relief Foundation)

Last time I crossed paths with the Carolina Chocolate Drops' Rhiannon Giddens, Dom Flemons and Justin Robinson, they were at RDU airport heading to a festival. They couldn't remember where, though: Indeed, it was that kind of whirlwind year for the Triangle-based string band, one that was kick-started by its Music Maker debut Dona Got a Ramblin' Mind. As the title track makes clear, the Carolina Chocolate Drops find the electricity in acoustic music, and they turn the traditional into something for today yet lose nothing in the translation. Neat trick. —Rick Cornell

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The Cartridge Family, "American West" Download now.

Raleigh four-piece The Cartridge Family seems to have time-traveled in from the pre-hyphen period of rock: guitar, bass, drums, keys, worn-to-hell copies of Blonde on Blonde and Ooh La La, a bunch of appealing songs, no fussiness. Witness "American West," which closes sophomore release Shine Like a Bottle. It's the sound of the band crashing through a sign reading "American dream" and settling on the realization, "There's a hole in the soul of rock and roll." Easy fix: Plug that hole with The Cartridge Family. —Rick Cornell

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Dan Bryk, "Discount Store" Download now.
(Urban Myth)

"The world's a great big awful place, and frequently unfair/ It really shouldn't come as much of a surprise to find that it's not enough to share": It takes an awfully catchy combination of hooks to make the assertion that we are vastly unimportant as individuals sound like a nonchalant chorus line. But that's exactly what Dan Bryk accomplishes with the title track from his Discount Store EP. Tinkering bells, offbeat vocals and one bouncy bassline culminate in an unlikely keeper. —Margaret Hair

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DATAHATA, "Cartesian Vortices" Download now.
(FrequeNC Records)

In his techno guise as DATAHATA, former Cold Side Zeke Graves negotiates the matrix of a dance groove like those speeder bikes in Tron: While synth squiggles tease and offer the suspense a good dance track needs to build, the hand-clap acid back-slap sneaks up. Equal doses of plate-shifting science and solid body-moving, the effect is dizzying as applied by Graves, who infinitely appreciates cyber-funky over clean sterility. —Chris Toenes

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David Karsten Daniels, "The Dream Before the Ring that Woke Me" Download now.
(Fat Cat)

"I tend to feel," David Karsten Daniels said when introducing this song on NPR's All Songs Considered, "like the simplest of forms are often the most meaningful." The music that follows bears out the axiom. While Daniels's 2007 LP, Sharp Teeth, had sharp lyrics aplenty, none of them were as affecting as this brief refrain—"There is a feeling you just can't explain/ There is a joy that you can't contain." Inserted "ands" bend the lines into circles, turning thoughts in perpetuity as the music moves from a casual acoustic strum to a symphonic majesty. —Brian Howe

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Day Action Band, "Back of Your Car" Download now.
(Captain Cape)

A song that's just waiting for the right Paul Giamatti film, Day Action Band's "Back of Your Car" is the sound of a father venting about a busted relationship and the kid that spends most of her time with mom. Except, if you're more into humming than listening, you'd hardly notice the rage: With a generous rhythm section, bounding piano and a cheery glockenspiel line, "Back of Your Car" cloaks its adult disappointment in a broad pop smile and a paternal benevolence. Old girlfriends may have new numbers or men. The kids may have new routines and friends. Day Action Band, though, maintains the same enthusiasm for hook, just now reckoned with new challenges. —Grayson Currin

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Des Ark, "Lord of the Rings and His Fascist Timekeepers" Download now.
(Lovitt Records)

Aimee Argote's vocal performance here is the sort of the thing that can stop casual listeners in their tracks: Sensitive and thin but resilient and learned, Argote wanders in alongside her own waltzing guitar and a piano that eschews the logical. In circular passes that split the difference between a yawn and a sigh, she sings. "I never met a chase that I could not catch/ Never fallen in love and not been bored by it." Argote stretches the last two words, emphasizing both her quest for excitement and her continual doldrums. When she bends these feelings outside of herself in verse two, indicting the casualness of people's fuckings and feelings, Argote sounds like she could bite through your thoughts with a word. —Grayson Currin

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Double Negative, "Retro Abortion" Download now.
(No Way)

This song encapsulates why Double Negative still works as a very referential band, and why hardcore and thrash still have listeners a quarter century after they got hatched: It foils lead singer Kevin Collins against backups in call-and-response—we're all in this together, no? When they could rev it up to blur-speed, the pace is gilded with a sliver of metal-tinged guitar. Double Negative's older than you'd imagine, but they're still pissed-off (and -on) kids, just smart and schooled and solid. —Chris Toenes

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Feltbattery, "A House Finch" Download now.
(Migration Media)

Plenty of songs are about the natural world, but about-ness isn't Feltbattery's thing. His music doesn't describe or proselytize, it observes and contains. "A House Finch" is nothing more or less than a forest in miniature: Birdsong, shushing static, burbling hand percussion, and a watercolor wash of drones conjure creatures, streams, wind and leaves. Like his idol Joseph Beuys, Feltbattery's Benjamin Trueblood regards art as an act of attention, and listening to his music draws us into this state of reverence. We sit in the forest with him, the world squirming around us, ears pricking up at the slightest sound. Idyll or elegy? Your call. —Brian Howe

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Filthybird, "The Gospel of Truth (As Judas Told it to Me)" Download now.
(Red String Records)

A paean to persistence, Filthybird's "The Gospel of Truth (As Judas Told It to Me)" is nothing less than one of the state's best vocal performances of the year. Above a Wurlitzer waltz, wide textural guitar and careful, Art Blakey-informed percussion, Renee Mendoza coos as she conveys the story of her life as a "bird singing in a Southern sky." She's the latest in a line of such birds, but those that came before her lost their voices. She doesn't want to, and, hearing this, you'll agree: Mendoza's arrangement is ingenious, especially when she uses the ends of lines like diving boards, bending them up and down several times before using them to spring into the next verse. Please keep this up. —Grayson Currin

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The Future Kings of Nowhere, "I'm Still Waiting" Download now.
(307 Knox Records)

A battle cry of sorts for a heart-and-smirk-on-sleeves band with a name like The Future Kings of Nowhere, "I'm Still Waiting" oscillates between doubt and confidence in self and in relationships. Frontman Shayne O'Neill's frantic strum is matched by Dan Kinney's fleet drumming, both offering a nervous energy that barely understands up from down. O'Neill thinks his feelings can make him famous, but he's not convinced. He thinks he and his lover can last, but only because they can be anonymous. He thinks about the best, but he's foaming from experience of dealing with the worst: "Suffer me up into brilliance/ Until no one doesn't know my name," he concludes each refrain. You have to wonder if the double negative was more convenience than conviction. —Grayson Currin

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Hammer No More the Fingers, "O.R.G.Y." Download now.
(Power Team Records)

Durham's Hammer No More The Fingers serve up Sloppy Joe power pop all over their self-titled debut, but "O.R.G.Y" is the noticeable standout. Loaded with noodly, slipshod verses and one hell of an earworming chorus, it's maybe the most anthemic song born in the Triangle this year. A lot like all of the record's high-points, this one is smartly penned, rambunctious and emphatic. But the falsetto twirks in the sing-along section are like silver slippers, some real this-is-exactly-how-this-band-should-sound stuff. It's incredibly easy to forget that this time last year Hammer didn't really exist. —Robbie Mackey

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Hazerai, "This Night" Download now.
(Cape & Chalice)

Over the course of three EPs in two years, Chapel Hill trio Hazerai hasn't attempted to reinvent the wheel of aggressive math rock from which they spin. They have, however, consistently reinvented themselves and written several great songs in the process. By shifting guitarist Steve Wright to bass and bassist Adam Kish to guitar for this year's 911852618 EP, Hazerai built broader songs from smaller parts, epitomized by the bludgeoning "This Night." The guitar hums and haws in the high end, while the bass splashes thick, brown mud against John Crouch's tortured drum kit. Wright barks at a black sky and writhes his hands against his frets, letting the song grab hold of silence before one final spit spray: "This night is shut shut it/ shut!" —Grayson Currin

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Horseback, "Blood Fountain" Download now.
(Burly Time Records)

Horseback's debut, Impale Golden Horn, reads as "Easy Listening" in iTunes. It seems like an ironic classification for a cacophonous drone-based record. But once you acclimate yourself to the album's oversized sounds, it's an oddly apt fit, especially for the plaintive "Blood Fountain." Featuring help from Heather McEntire of Un Deux Trois and Bellafea, Jenks Miller's maximalist meditation on blood coaxes a twinkling long-form guitar figure through a hedge of hymn-like hums. In no hurry to get where it's going, bereft of abrasive protrusions, it continually lifts and glides, finally bottoming out in a flurry of percussion that teases out the latent rhythm so adeptly that it sounds inevitable when it arrives. —Brian Howe

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I Was Totally Destroying It, "Summer State" Download now.

With its easy guitar-and-synth riffs and trumpeting of the Bull City, "Summer State" describes I Was Totally Destroying It's sound just right. Things are a bit carefree, and you get the feeling the band really believes anything that goes wrong can be fixed by being a little in love with Durham in the summer. What makes IWTDI so palatable is that the band is as fond of the present as it is nostalgic for the recent past. Such sincerity makes songs like "Summer State" infinitely repeatable. —Margaret Hair

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Jeff Crawford, "Never Set in Stone" Download now.

In a series of online videos promoting his solo debut Something for Everyone, attentive eyes could catch Beatles paraphernalia that adorns Roman Candle bassist Jeff Crawford's home studio. "You saw new where the old had left its mark," he sings in his sweet, country-touched way on "Never Set in Stone," setting up an unintentional metaphor for his new-again pop. Like Roman Candle's portraits of daily Southern life, Crawford's lyrics are informed by a number of things that have nothing to do with music, like classic Westerns. Here, the layers of handclaps, whistles and personal images merge into instant, endearing familiarity. —Margaret Hair

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Little Brother, "Good Clothes" Download now.
(ABB Records)

Getback is the second album Durham's Little Brother released through California indie ABB Records. The first was 2003 debut The Listening. In the interim, LB dropped 2005's The Minstrel Show with Atlantic. Then Atlantic dropped Little Brother. Back to the minors and with Phonte and Pooh swapping rhymes mostly minus third member and producer 9th Wonder, you'd half-expect a somewhat timid affair on the comeback. Instead, the Little Brother of Getback sounds triumphant and renewed: Above a horn-happy, stutter-step Illmind beat on "Good Clothes," for instance, Pooh and Phonte supply swagger about the hustle of getting superior threads on inferior funds. Maybe it's a metaphor for seeming spectacular when your finances are less desirable than they could be or were. Shame this song has to be seen that way, but this beat and Pooh's husky-boy humility are blessings enough. —Grayson Currin

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Megafaun, "Lazy Suicide" Download now.
(self-released, 2007; Table of the Elements/Radium, 2008)

Plenty of young musicians might cite The Band as an influence. Scarcer are those who sound more attuned to Levon Helm's recent solo record, the hillbilly romp Dirt Farmer. But the aging Helm is exactly who Phil Cook—voice all blue and brass—sounds like on "Lazy Suicide," as he twangs about "weak formaldehyde" amid tangled banjos. This back-porch lark turns into a full-fledged barnburner with the introduction of ragged vocal harmonies, junkyard percussion, and a hard rime of rock guitar. But the best thing about "Lazy Suicide" is the relish with which Megafaun repeatedly builds it up and tears it down, balancing their de- and re-constructive urges in one splendidly untidy package. —Brian Howe

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Midtown Dickens, "A.M. Dial" Download now.
(307 Knox Records)

"A.M." Dial" tickles serious life decisions with the feather of a ukulele: Suddenly, deciding between California and Carolina and college and the Peace Corps are just questions in a song with best-friend harmonies, squeaky horn lines and handclap charm. Midtown Dickens remains happy associates of a loose national anti-folk scene, and—given the band's occasional nonchalance with a missed note or a dropped beat—that makes sense. But check the honesty engrained into the layman's lament of a line like "Getting pretty sick of getting caught up in what to do/ I'd rather watch the Bulls and eat a hot dog—or two." Chuckle at the local reference, sure, but doesn't a front porch sound better than a cubicle? It's honest, empathetic music for young and old folks. —Grayson Currin

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The Moaners, "When We're Dead and Gone" Download now.
(Yep Roc Records)

"When We're Dead and Gone" starts about as blue as you can get: Its Delta harmonica and guitar feel as though they're pulling Moaner Melissa Swingle into the ground. "While our bones slowly sink back to earth's moist birth," she manages, "We'll finally be free of all life's confusion." On a song about making life worth the while until such sweet decay happens, Swingle's down-tuned guitar wends through a bridge that's just melodic enough to give the second half some hope for now. —Margaret Hair

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Nathan Oliver, "State Lines Pt.1" Download now.
(Pox World Empire)

UNC dental student Nathan White always seems to be on edge. On the debut record with his band Nathan Oliver, White goes from Pixies-fueled rock to songs that are pretty and hopeful, like an Elliot Smith in reverse. "State Lines Pt. 1" is side-two material, an acoustic track that eases between wistful verses and jaunty choruses. With songwriting that shows a propensity for the manic, "State Lines" finds Nathan Oliver at its most subdued but strongest. —Margaret Hair

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The Nein, "Attitude and Mirrors" Download now.
(Sonic Unyon)

Entropy and atrophy have always haunted The Nein's roughshod post-punk, although previous efforts have found the band courting and struggling against both. The Nein stopped equivocating this year, letting their music melt into a glorious, molten pool of disembodied vocals, crumbling guitars and haywire beats. This narrative of signal degradation plays out in its entirety in "Attitude and Mirrors": acoustic guitar flecks and distant vocals drift spectrally through a punishing industrial rhythm. Rock chords that sporadically shark through the mix sound almost nostalgic in context. They make "Attitude and Mirrors" sound like a funeral song for organization. —Brian Howe

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Patty Hurst Shifter, "Mr. Soul" Download now.
(Pants on Fire)

OK, this one's noteworthy for several reasons: First, Marc Smith gets a rare lead turn at the microphone, and it's crunchy good. It's also a requirement that all EPs feature a cool cover, and "Mr. Soul" fills that role nicely on Fugitive Glue, allowing it to be picked up by Uncut magazine for inclusion on the tribute CD that came with their Neil issue. And, ultimately, as this Raleigh quartet continues to sharpen its guitar-anthem sound with a natural ruggedness tempered by gliding pop hooks, Neil Young makes a fitting musical co-father figure, with Paul Westerberg in the other slot. Maybe Westerberg will get the nod on a future EP. —Rick Cornell

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Red Collar, "Used Guitars" Download now.
(307 Knox/Power Team)

"Used Guitars" is a power-pop anthem in a solvent of snarl, and it sits as the key of Red Collar's debut EP, Hands Up. But Red Collar isn't a freshmen team, and their experience builds into a chorus that's perfect for a band whose musicians have aged so well: "We were made to fail every day/ Maybe what we want, well it's just to much to ask/ I once reached for stars/ but now I sell these used guitars/ And I wish you all the luck that I never had." Go figure: Singing along to failure still holds redemption. —Margaret Hair

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The Rosebuds, "Silja Line" Download now.
(Merge Records)

Interest in The Rosebuds' third Merge LP, Night of the Furies, focused largely on the band's unexpected incorporation of electronic beats and synthesizers beneath Ivan Howard's still-warm drawl. "Get Up Get Out" made people flashdance at SXSW, and "When the Lights Went Dim" brought The Knife closer to home. But only "Silja Line (On Settling for a Normal Life)" suggests a band that can expand its new digital palette beneath Howard's sobriety with both grace and permanence: Supported by Swedish labelmates Shout Out Louds on a song about a Swedish cruise-line captain finding home in a village, gentle bass and chorus swells bend above sleigh bells and a strummed acoustic guitar. Like so, the first three minutes beckon through sadness. But the last minute shouts out in spite of it, thickening a traditional Rosebuds "Whoa" chorus with thick, alcoholic tongues. —Grayson Currin

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Schooner, "Carrboro" Download now.
(54º40' or Fight!)

Chapel Hill quintet Schooner opens second album Hold on Too Tight with this lo-fi pop ode to a woman who fails at escapism. She moves to a new town but spreads her friendship and love affairs too thin. Despite the song's deadpan bleariness and its protagonist's problems, there's sparkle in this blend of Reid Johnson's angst-ridden baritone and Kathryn Johnson's honey-smooth tone. It's like a sweet-tart for the ears. —Kathy Justice

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Snatches of Pink, "Opposite of Horse" Download now.
(8th House Records)

Heroin holds almost as hallowed a place in rock iconography as the groupie. It's the industry's preferred self-destructive palliative, offering escape from engagement and sociability into a distant, womb-like narcosis. Snatches frontman Michael Rank presents it here as love's antithesis, a tug of war between detachment and possibility. Rank's off-hand opening, "Well, hello again, I'm awake," sets the tone, invoking a spirit of casual surprise against a backdrop of disconnection. The song's spare intimacy conjures a small wedge of light into a dark, windowless room, with nothing more than an acoustic guitar and Rank's ragged ache of a voice. It reinforces your sense of its grip as he struggles in the fog: "Maybe I'm just half-asleep, sometimes half in love." The second verse greets a hello with a look-away, and the stakes come into better focus—smack will never abandon you, or what's left of you, anyway. As if weighing the alternatives, Rank returns to the "half-asleep/ half in love" line, and lingers on the word, "love," repeating it like an incantation, first hopeful, then more resigned. The guitar circles again and again, disappearing into the distance. —Chris Parker

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Spider Bags, "Waking Up Drunk" Download now.

Toby Keith had a song a little like this back in 1994 on his second album: "You ain't much fun since I quit drinking," he sang. Trouble is, Keith sounded neither drunk nor pissed off about not being drunk, and it was a little hard to identify with his sunny country sobriety. Here, using country as a template and liquor as motor fuel, Chapel Hill's Spider Bags sound slightly pissed off, more than slightly piss drunk and mostly amused. Sure, "Waking Up Drunk" will be remembered for its clanking-bottles refrain—"Waking up drunk makes me happy/ Lately, you just bring me down"—because it's fun. As important, though, are the moments of bleary philosophy, in which the mean ol' woman is just a memory relieved by the bottle and her memory is just something to be pissed out with the suds. Mean-hearted genius. —Grayson Currin

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Sweater Weather, "The Pains of Relocation" Download now.

The orchestral indie ensemble Sweater Weather likes minor-key bluster and complexly segmented structures. But on "The Pains of Relocation" they brighten up and straighten out for one of its most intimately affecting songs. It starts with a red herring—the shuffle of sheet music as the band tunes up discordantly—but the fog quickly blows away to reveal a simple scene: an unassuming lattice of acoustic guitar, Casey Trela's frangible voice snaking through it like ivy. Keys both lambent and sparkling begin to flit. Percussion tenses and coils. Eventually, it all erupts into a fountain of trilling woodwinds and weepy strings. This sort of upsurge is Sweater Weather's greatest asset, and it's all the more poignant here for the delicacy that presages and then reverberates through it. —Brian Howe

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Tooth, "Dogs of the Fight" Download now.
(Churchkey Records)

Much like new Southern metal heroes Baroness, Durham's Tooth has a developed sense of tension and suspense, both owing to an ability to springboard from one part to another while feeling largely controlled and natural. In the four thick minutes of "Dogs of the Fight," they don't veer wildly, choosing instead to grind through crunchy chords while anti-riffs shoot by like slow comets, or occasionally shifting through rhythmic gears that resemble second and third. But the anomalies the Durham quintet does manage here suggest a band that's recorded more than an EP. Witness the solo that lifts above the grind during the last minute. It shoots up and around, teasing something drastic but ultimately only highlighting what's already there—a band in control of its menace. —Grayson Currin

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Two Dollar Pistols, "Nothing Left of Me" Download now.
(8th House Records)

John Howie Jr., founder and leader of the Pistols, is a fan of those who can sing your heart right out with a song. It could be Mel Street singing "Lovin' on Back Streets" or Freddie North singing the same tune. On this ballad, Howie has his turn. "Nothing Left of Me" is country music as deep soul, and it towers in the way that songs designed for maximum emotion tower. But Howie doesn't oversell. When you make it to the top of the mountain, no sense in climbing a tree, you know. —Rick Cornell

Songs selected by Rick Cornell, Grayson Currin, Brian Howe, Kathy Justice, Robbie Mackey and Chris Toenes. In the interest of full disclosure, Music Editor Grayson Currin released records by Horseback and Bowerbirds this year, and Midtown Dickens member Catherine Edgerton is the Independent Weekly's News Clerk.


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