By Grant Golden
June 23, 2019
While North Carolina has always been a bastion for fantastic up-and-coming artists, it’s hard to deny that the Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill) serves as a cultural hub of sorts when it comes to independent artists. Whether it be the dense collection of venues, colleges, festivals, or iconic independent labels (Merge Records and Yep Roc both have planted their roots in the region), the local music scene has always flourished in central North Carolina. With all that noise, we’re here to sift through the static and shine a light on some of the most promising acts in the Triangle area.
Arson Daily – Raleigh, NC
This young trio may have gotten their start in the mountains of Boone but, since their move to Raleigh several years back, the band has flourished. Swiftly growing from tightly packed basement shows to shoulder-to-shoulder gigs at some of the area’s premiere venues, this no-frills alt-rock band is continually subverting expectations with their sonic exploration. Landing somewhere between Cage The Elephant and Portugal. The Man, Arson Daily brings hook-heavy, explorative garage/indie rock to the masses and they show no signs of slowing down.
Dante High – Chapel Hill, NC
While many may best know Ari Picker for his work in the highly esteemed orchestral art-rock outfit, Lost in the Trees, his newest project Dante High strips down all of the pomp of his previous affairs. Trading in extravagant string arrangements for simplistic synth lines, Dante High packs in the same emotions as Picker’s previous efforts, but allows you to dance through the pain with anthemic pop tracks like “Green Swamp,” “Parking Lot Soul,” and “Meltdown.” Their self-titled debut effort was a dip into the brilliance to come from Dante High, nostalgia-soaked, new-wave leaning pop that still feels contemporary and compelling, and judging from Picker’s previous musical outings the best is still yet to come.
Jooselord – Durham, NC
Few local artists, regardless of genre, pack the full vision and execution of Durham’s Jooselord. Oozing with confidence and charisma, Jooselord is an unparalleled emcee that’s as capable of delivering hard-hitting, mosh-ready bangers as he is introspective, socially aware diatribes. Coming strong out of the gate, Jooselord’s 2018 full length debut, S.K.U.L.L, was a 30-track double album that’s earned him spots opening for Ghostface Killah and Raekwon and on the highly acclaimed AC3 festival in Atlanta. Jooselord throws all expectations of your average local artist out the window. He brings a fully fleshed out collective, a wildly entertaining stage show, and, if 2019 is half as productive as 2018, then you’ll be seeing a lot more of him very soon.
M8alla – Durham, NC
Mballa Mendouga, the brilliant mind behind M8alla, wears her heritage and her influence on her sleeve. She makes music for “immigrant women with American degrees and bottom grillz,” which perfectly encapsulates the duality behind the music. As an immigrant woman (Paris by way of Cameroon), Mballa’s debut effort, Never Leave Quietly, traverses a wide array of topics ranging from internal debates to the international political conflicts that have shaped her own life. But even if you ignore the lyrical content of her music, M8alla’s sonic qualities are more than strong enough to draw you in. Each track contains its own world, bouncing between smooth R&B vocals and swiftly spat, aggressive bars. M8alla’s music contains enough personality to stand out among a crowded field while packing in enough earworm hooks to continually draw in new listeners.
The Muslims – Durham, NC
Times of political turmoil often serve as incubators for punk rock brilliance and you can look no further than The Muslims for evidence of this. Forming shortly after the inauguration of Donald Trump, The Muslims are a band comprised of queer, black and brown Durham-ites that aren’t afraid of calling out the bullshit they’re surrounded by with unabashed, occasionally satiric punk rock. Their most recent 2019 release, Mayo Supreme, contains short spurts of brilliance like “Fuck the Cistem” and “Islamarado,” tracks that perfectly encapsulate the messages that The Muslims are trying to convey…they’re mad as hell and they’re not going to be quiet about it.
Noah Cross – Raleigh, NC
The music of Noah Cross is enriching and, while it’s filled with melancholic, downtrodden lyrics, it’s also embedded in infectious, uplifting guitar lines and driving rhythm sections. Harkening back to late ‘90s/early ‘00s emo like Sunny Day Real Estate or American Football, Noah Cross will engage you with riveting rhythmic and ever-changing song structures. The second you find yourself locked into the sweeping rhythms of their swelling verses, you’ll find the song break down into a melodic, low-key chorus that brings you back to earth and firmly ensconced in your feels.
Pat Junior –Raleigh, NC
All about the hustle, Pat Junior is one of the few acts in the area that may be just as good of a producer as he is an emcee. And trust, that’s damn good. Pat Junior is an eclectic artist that’s capable of riding damn near any beat that’s given to him; he digs deep into the pockets of the rhythm and pulls out compelling rhyme schemes that are packed with intention. When you’ve got a penchant for great production and equally impressive flows, it’s hard not to stand out in the scene. Whether you’re into head-bobbing, low-key bops or chest-rattling bass-heavy bangers (which “S.O.T.B” is the track for you if so), Pat Junior will definitely have something you’ll dig.
Reese McHenry – Chapel Hill, NC
Reese McHenry has been a heavy hitter in the Triangle music scene for over a decade now, but one could argue that her work has never been as fully fleshed out as it has in recent years. While her start came with Dirty Little Heaters back in 2005, McHenry has gradually built up steam to the point where her name alone can compel listeners’ ears to perk up in anticipation. Her sound lands somewhere between garage rock, soul, blues and Motown, and her lyrics are drenched in sincerity and emotion, bouncing between anxious bouts of self-reflection and chest-pounding confidence. It’s aggressive, bare-bones rock n’ roll with a swing to it. McHenry has a timeless voice that’s dripping with emotion and her 2019 release No Dados has been gaining heavy acclaim across the country.
Sonny Miles – Raleigh, NC
To put a single-genre tag on multi-instrumentalist Sonny Miles would be to do his music a disservice. There’s a bit of indie rock, a bit of neo-soul, a bit of rap, and a dash of myriad genres depending on the track you decide to spin. Miles is unabashedly himself which is what makes his music so exciting. His tracks are tightly packed soundscapes, vocal samples or found sounds will serve as rhythmic counterparts to groovy bass lines and bouncing drum beats. Miles’ vocals are nothing to gawk at either though, whether he’s gliding in with a sharp falsetto on tracks like “FAUX!!! – clout commander” or crooning atop acoustic guitar on tracks like “money,” his voice draws in the listener and compels you to peek into this intimate, yet inviting affair.
Truth Club – Raleigh, NC
One couldn’t think of a more apt name for this upstart indie rock quartet, as vocalist Travis Harrington seems to wear his heart on his sleeves in the rich, plaintive songs that make up Truth Club’s 2019 debut Not an Exit. Truth Club’s music feels like a hazy dream, based in optimistic rose-colored nostalgia that teeters into unabashed realism. Mesmerizing vocals glide atop densely packed instrumentation that’s filled out with perfectly interlocking parts, swiveling synths, airy guitar lines and driving bass rhythms. Truth Club is a fresh band that’s positioned themselves brilliantly in their early years, so it’s exciting to see where they go from here.
Young Bull – Durham, NC
It’s hard to think of a local hip-hop act pushing things forward more than Young Bull. While they may have started as a project for a school talent show, they’ve bloomed into one of the most promising young acts of the genre. Thanks to their immense and immersive productions, Young Bull seamlessly blends live instrumentation with sample-based soundscapes to make for an organic base to their impressive lyricism. Vocal duties are traded between Tahmique Cameron and Christian Sinclair, allowing them to seamlessly flow between sultry R&B/Soul and smooth, funky hip-hop at the drop of a dime. Their debut effort Sopadelic has amassed over 3,000,000 Spotify streams and their impressive follow-up EP Midnight Sun chronicles the further growth of this young but talented crew.
Youth League – Durham, NC
It’s rare to see a trio produce a soundscape as expansive as Youth League. With a heavy foundation of looped guitar riffs built around tapped-out melodies, Youth League boasts buoyant instrumentation with sparse crystalline vocals that feel reminiscent of the early aughts emo and math rock. Most of the band’s songs keep you locked in with their enchanting guitar work, which makes that occasional and heavily emotive vocal presence all the more powerful. Their vocal hooks dig in deep and further drive home their antic instrumentals, keeping the listener teetering on the edge of their seats and yearning for more. While Youth League benefits from an amalgamous sound, they are also capable of drifting off into post-rock, spacey realms thanks to their experimental nature. To say the sky is the limit for Youth League feels restrictive, as their sound has already traversed into the great unknown.