NC Release Radar: Our favorite recent North Carolina music releases

By Grant Golden

February 10, 2021

As winter rolls on and we delve deeper into our pandemic-induced hibernation, we’ve gathered a fiery collection of tunes to keep you warm as the temperature drops. With everything from searing psych-rock excursions to slow-churning soul ballads, it’s hard not to find something you’ll love within this month’s Release Radar. From returning greats to hungry and talented upstarts, dig into some of our latest favorite North Carolina releases. 

LesTheGeniusAll In Due Time

Raleigh’s LesTheGenius was propelled into the spotlight with placement on Obama’s top songs of 2019 playlist. Despite those impossibly high expectations, he’s continued gathering momentum with a string of remarkable singles. All In Due Time marks Les’ debut full-length and serves as an impressive display of his full artistic range.

LesTheGenius’ strongest talent lies in his versatility. Capable of swiftly spat rhythmic flows and pop-ready melodies, Les commands attention over an array of different production styles. No two tracks are the same on All In Due Time, but each one builds on luscious production and Les’ trademark nimble flow. Tracks “Utopia” and “Hundred Grand” are heavy hitters on the album while collaborations with Sonny Miles and Jaxson Free help the overall pacing avoid an ‘all gas-no breaks’ pitfall. All In Due Time is a rewarding debut that proves that sometimes you should believe the hype.

Alan Charmer – “Squeeze” 

Charlotte music scene stalwart Terrence Richard is best known for his work in the coarse indie-rock outfit Junior Astronomers, but his solo debut as Alan Charmer showcases an impressive amount of versatility. “Squeeze” finds Richard’s raspy voice re-contextualized in a hazy R&B track that captures feelings of an unattainable longing. 

Squeeze” is built on synthesized swells cut with jagged percussive hits and an occasional electric guitar slicing through the mix. With Alan Charmer, Richards is able to channel the frenetic energy of Junior Astronomers through a more subdued channel, one that’s brimming with both tension and cathartic release.

Solomon Fox – “Body’s An Ocean”

With each release, Durham’s Solomon Fox (Gabe Fox-Peck) further solidifies his stance as one of North Carolina’s most talented artists. “Body’s An Ocean” is the first single from Solomon, his debut full-length, and it’s a robust indie-soul track that wows from front to back.

“Body’s An Ocean” outlines a “will they-won’t they” love story between the narrator and his best friend’s partner. Opening with fluttering keys, the track builds up with shuffling percussion and a subtle bass line, highlighting his dynamic range. While the track feels sparse in composition, it’s adorned with methodic harmonies, ad libs and production techniques that make this a lavish musical experience. If “Body’s An Ocean” is any indication of what’s to come on Solomon, we’ve got an early contender for one of the finest albums of the year.

Speed StickVolume One

Carrboro’s Speed Stick is a local super group of massive proportions. Initially consisting of the drumming duo Laura King (Bat Fangs) and Thomas Simpson (The Love Language), Speed Stick added to its core Ash Bowie (Polvo) and Charles Chace (The Paul Swest) to make for an all-star local crew. On Volume One they’re joined by even more guests from The Breeders, Superchunk, and The Love Language.

Volume One is an experimental rock record that careens into a variety of genres while maintaining a sense of cohesion thanks to their powerful rhythm section. Tracks like  “Protect Your Magic” and “Plants” are swirling, hazy psych joints, while “Twin Collision” and “Let It Shine” lean into blissed-out pop goodness. There’s a lot to love on Volume One and enough variety to keep coming back for more.

Hiss Golden Messenger – “Sanctuary”

Durham’s M.C. Taylor is a wordsmith capable of saying a lot with a little, and the timely release of “Sanctuary” served as a sigh of relief amid the political turmoil of early January.

“Sanctuary” is a song of refuge and hope, a between-rounds pep talk for a down and out fighter. The track’s visual accompaniment shares a similar message, featuring frolicking youth and a 52-star U.S. flag, representing the battle for statehood of D.C. and Puerto Rico. The track opens with bare-boned acoustic guitar, but gradually unravels with bright keys, warm bass and rich background vocals. “Sanctuary” is a jubilant track that satiates our hunger for new music from one of North Carolina’s finest songwriters.

Kooley High – “Hold Up”

North Carolina hip-hop titans Kooley High are back with a fresh single after 2020 saw the crew lean towards solo releases. “Hold Up,” produced by Klimbeats of Kiev, gives a nod to the early ‘90s hip-hop percussive styles while maintaining a heady cloud-rap soundscape.

Kooley High always finds strength in interplay, and the uplifting rhymes and wordplay of Tab-One and Charlie Smarts continue to captivate listeners. “Hold up, get your f**kin goals up / Turn your TV off, get off your phone and turn your soul up,” Tab spits in a verse split between boastful claims and odes to self-improvement. Smarts chimes in on the second verse with more of Kooley’s clever and timely punchlines, while the two come together for the song’s catchy hook that “run[s] circles ‘round rappers like a donut.”

Kaze4LettersWake Up EP

“Y’all ain’t seen Superman fly in a minute” raps the elusive Durham emcee Kaze4Letters on the barn-burning track “Crossroads.” Prior to his 2020 album, A Thousand Shades of Black, it had been seven years since we heard from Kaze but Wake Up serves as a reminder that he can still hang with the best.

Wake Up is an ode to Black lives lost to police brutality and serves as a call for collectivism in the fight against white supremacy and societal discrimination. “Crossroads” plays on the old blues trope of selling your soul at the crossroads, but brings a contemporary hip-hop take on the tale, with a wailing harmonica solo to boot. Closing out with a Sonny Miles-produced collaboration, Kaze’s Wake Up EP highlights standout tracks from his 2020 release and places the rapper right back at the top of the NC hip-hop totem pole. 

KismetKismet EP

This Asheville-based trio consisting of Maddie Shuler (vocals, guitar), Katie Richter (vocals, trumpet), and Lilly-Anne Merat (vocals, keys), closed out 2020 with a striking debut, a three-song EP of slow grooving indie soul. With heavy focus on three-part harmonies that embellish already powerful melodies, Kismet is an act that has truly hit the ground running.

While the EP clocks in under fifteen minutes, it’s still full of nuanced musical phrasing. “Shadow” blends complex chord structures with Latin-style horn flares, peppering a brooding track with accents of brightness. “Tell Me” opens the EP with a reflective mid-tempo bop that bounces with staccato keys and vibrant horns. As “Wave of Gold” closes out the brief musical outing with a triumphant song of love, one can’t help but hope for more from this upstart group.

Nance – “Comfort Zone” ft Liion Gamble

After releasing a collaborative EP with Pat Junior last year, Nance is coming out swinging in 2021 with his latest single, “Comfort Zone,” a simultaneous ode to ambition and a eulogy for complacency. 

Produced by frequent collaborator Bardo, “Comfort Zone,” builds around dreamy instrumentation and a driving beat. While the production is gripping, it’s Nance’s unabashed vulnerability that makes “Comfort Zone” such a great track. “This year I’m showing up for me / Jumping off the ledge, I’m tired of living comfortably,” Nance raps, and goes on to outline struggles over the loss of his father and battles with self-doubt. Rather than lamenting over these moments, he’s channeling emotion into aspiration. “Comfort Zone” feels like a proclamation of intent, and one that begs the question of what to expect from this hungry artist.

Future Friend – “1997”

Music made by siblings tends to transcend usual collaborations; it’s as if there’s an intrinsic emotional understanding that lends itself to compelling art. Perhaps that’s why Charlotte’s Faith and Mitch Froemming are able to come together to craft tracks as well defined as “1997.” Soaked in sepia-toned nostalgia, “1997” is a contemplative, yet uplifting pop track. 

Driving, down-picked guitar lines interweave with fuzzed out arpeggiated synth lines to build out a densely packed soundscape. Faith sings of “faded out polaroid[s] stuck in your memory” as Mitch’s production blends crisp claps, snaps and pops for a tight percussive pairing. On “1997,” the Froemmings have skillfully captured the lyrical and musical embodiments of yearning to make for a standout pop track.

Godric – “Orange Swade”

On his blazing hot single, “Orange Swade,” Godric boldly proclaims “I’m a star, lemme say it again” and that may ring true if he keeps going at this pace. With unwavering confidence and attention-grabbing lyricism, Godric dazzles more with each subsequent release. 

“Orange Swade,” produced by Tommy Coyote, marks Godric’s third single since his 2019 debut. On the track, Godric pulls out his own brand of drip as he deems himself “Dapper Dan Jr.” Even without a proper hook, “Orange Swade” begs for repeat listens thanks to Godric’s sheer charisma and passion.

Listen to our Best of North Carolina 2020 playlist:

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