September 28, 2017
The Carolinas have long been a wellspring of bands and artists across a variety of genres, providing a fertile and diverse musical landscape for bands to cultivate their sonic identity via the lens of their geographical one. From the classic indie rock of Superchunk and Archers Of Loaf to the hip-hop bedrock of 9th Wonder, the heritage vibes of Carolina Chocolate Drops and Shovels & Rope, and the only highlight of the mid-90s swing revival, Squirrel Nut Zippers, the Carolinas have birthed a host of bands across as wide a swath of genres as can be found.
As bands like Sylvan Esso, Hiss Golden Messenger and Phil Cook emerge onto national and worldwide stages, there is a crop of new bands eager to assume the mantle as the Carolinas’ torch-bearing bands.
This Charleston quintet, unabashedly ambitious in their sound, creates music that is lofty and ethereal, while being rooted firmly in standard-bearing indie rock. The soaring, reverb-soaked vocal style of singer Justin Osborne immediately recalls Band Of Horses’ Ben Bridwell. Except, unlike Bridwell, Osborne’s voice sits astride a variety of vibes, as the band readily shifts gears and runs through influences as quick as the needle moves across the platter. At times their bedrock grooves could almost be described as Krauty, as their classic Southern rock is viewed through Damo Suzuki’s rose-colored glasses.
Midnight Snack is what would happen if Ariel Pink produced Sam Herring’s solo debut. The Asheville band’s bedroom stank mixes Michel’le vibes with not-quite-GBV-worthy sonics, giving their late-night makeout jams a veneer of welcome psychedelic filth. Not quite introspective enough to be experimental though not quite self-aware enough to be pop, Midnight Snack doesn’t shy away from working in well-worn territory, but they do it adroitly enough to excite salty old music writers like myself.
From their heavily curated aesthetic to their Eastern-tinged, reverb-drenched jams, Charlotte’s Shadowgraphs could just as easily have existed in several different musical eras. From the Beatles-esque sweetness of their melodies to the driving Krautrock beds of their rhythm, to their often Britpop tones and noodly leanings, Shadowgraphs exist somewhere at the intersection of The Lightning Seeds, Can, The Cardigans, Herman’s Hermits and Deerhunter. And, while they wear many of their influences proudly, Shadowgraphs, like most bands on this list, have a concentrated sound that is very much their own, very much inviting, and very much really, really good.
A majority of Young Mister’s songs can just as easily soundtrack a drive down the Blue Ridge Parkway as they can a weekend trip to Wrightsville or Isle Of Palms. That is to say, this music is best enjoyed with the windows down and the warm sun beaming in on you. Odes to California notwithstanding, the Waynesville, NC singer-songwriter (aka Steven Fiore) crafts music that is breezy yet urgent, harkening back to early-aughts like style boys Phantom Planet or The Thrills. Fiore’s compositions brim with Geoff Lynne-esque walls of sound and the classic warmth of organic guitar and drum tones.
Out of Asheville, The Tills blend rock that is almost as cocksure as Sweet, as psycho-delic as The Reverend Horton Heat, as urgent as the MC5 and as quasi-terrifying as Alice Cooper in his groovier days. They are the lost link between early King Tuff and The Growlers of late, and they make music that is at once frightening and frighteningly good. As heavy on the psych vibes as they are on songwriting chops, The Tills are a grand amalgam of their myriad impressions. While bands like this often find themselves flying off the rails into unfocused dreck, The Tills have found their sweet spot in some deep corner that has somehow yet to be mined.
The Queen City’s Junior Astronomers ply a singular brand of sharp-edged rock that isn’t definable by a small handful of adjectives. Pulling cues as readily from Britpop as they do from garage rock meccas like Jay Reatard’s Memphis, Junior Astronomers achieve the oft-impossible task of blending influences without biting them. Additionally, there is a welcome undercurrent of gnarled emo bands like The Promise Ring or fellow Tar Heel group Milemarker. Their tone is sincere, their songs are present and their aim is quite true.
Trading in lite psychedelia, Ancient Cities are a newish Charlotte band whose acid-tinged pop sensibilities recall Laurel Canyon more readily than they do Plaza Midwood. Since their formation in 2013, the band has enjoyed a rapid, though steady upward rise, finding themselves on such hallowed stages as Newport Folk Fest, FloydFest and the Bristol Rhythm and Roots Reunion. Taking their cues from current rawk supergroups like The Arcs or Spanish Gold, Ancient Cities’ sonics are mustard thick as their songs meander without getting lost. Add a healthy dose of measured aesthetic and you have one of the most next level-ready bands playing around the Carolinas today.
At once a groovy, tune-filled and heavy psychedelic band who trade in jams with a lackadaisical bent, Boone’s Naked Gods are amongst the most singular bands making music in our area today. Taking the best of cues from the Dead and blending them with a sense of the true slacker ethos perfected by Pavement or Apples In Stereo and the driving groove of Can or Hawkwind, Naked Gods exude a vibe that could be at home as easily in the mid-90s as it could in the experimental mid-to-late 1970s. There are bands that could be huge and bands that should be huge. Naked Gods are definitely the latter. Here’s hoping that they’re both.
Kym Register is Loamlands. A staple of the burgeoning Durham scene, Register creates the kind of Americana that pushes the genre forward, rather than resting on the foundations of its history. As Register describes it, Loamlands is “a musical endeavor aimed at telling stories of being from the South through present day queer caucasian eyes” and can be seen as much an exercise in social commentary as it can an artistic undertaking. Regardless of where the songs come from, the music itself is impeccably written, immaculately rendered and heart wrenchingly performed, making Loamlands, one of the most endearing new acts our area has produced in a long, long time.
Rainbow Kitten Surprise
Boone’s Rainbow Kitten Surprise has been one the most meteoric North Carolina bands in recent history. From forming in 2013 to selling out venues like Raleigh’s Pour House, the band’s profile can be traced back to their triumphant sets at New York’s now-defunct CMJ Music Marathon and Georgia’s Savannah Stopover. They fall somewhere on the less grandiose side of Kings Of Leon and the less adventurous efforts of Modest Mouse, though they do it with aplomb and assured conviction, making their amalgam of well-treaded folk pop endearing.
Listen to our Best of North Carolina Playlist.