North Carolina Release Radar: Our Favorite New Music Releases of 2023

By Grant Golden

May 16, 2023

Melancholy Angel by David Childers

David Childers is one of those “your favorite songwriter’s favorite songwriter” kind of musicians. His decades of sardonic, existential songwriting have made him a favorite of roots rock staples like The Avett Brothers, and his most recent effort has proven one of his most subdued to date. Childers has dampened his fiery energy from previous releases for an understated mixture of country and folk aesthetics. The bulk of his record features powerful original tracks like “Kiss Me Like Judas” and “All Our Good Times Are Through,” but Childers brings some exciting new takes on beloved old tracks like Prince’s “I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man.” Melancholy Angel shows a sense of restraint to Childers’ renown sound, but still posits the musician as one of the state’s finest songwriters. 

Charlietape by Charlie Smarts & DJ Ill Digitz

Two of Kooley High’s anchors came together for one of the most impressive North Carolina hip-hop releases of the year with Charlietape. The lone members of Kooley High who still live in New York– DJ Ill Digitz and Charlie Smarts– paired up for a remarkable 19-track outing that blends nostalgic, early ‘90s boom-bap sentiments with contemporary flare. Ill Digitz’ production interweaves various vocal snippets, samples, scratches, and percussive hits to build immeasurable depth. Charlie’s lyricism is as strong as ever on tracks like “Haters Anonymous,” “Yadda Yadda” and “Air Max 95,” showing off witty wordplay, introspection, earworm hooks. Pair that with guest verses from Tab-One and Skyzoo, additional production from 9th Wonder, and shout outs from legendary hip-hop DJ Peter Rosenberg, and you’ve got an affirming record of hip-hop excellence.

Currently by Tre. Charles

The work of Durham’s Tre. Charles is amalgamous at its core, blending atmospheric folk with R&B melodies and trap-inspired production, providing a unique glimpse into the songwriter’s psyche. Charles creates vast soundscapes with droning pads and reverb-washed harmonies to give space for his entrancing vocals to weave in and out the rhythms. The EP’s opening track “Lately” laments a hustle-heavy lifestyle, juxtaposed with a downtempo arrangement, while tracks like “Memory” and the record’s closer “Stessin.” are much more melodically driven tracks. While the EP comes in at just over 11 minutes, Charles builds a rich world of sounds, one that allows listeners to tune in to a captivating musical exploration with unbridled potential.

Summer Rooster by Elevator Jay

It’s been four years since Elevator Jay released a full-length record, but Summer Rooster proves that he hasn’t missed a beat. Collaborating with Houston-based producer 2nd Prez, Jay brings an authentic early 2000’s crunk-rap swagger to this half-hour selection of tracks. Harkening back to acts like UGK, Jay’s lyrical acrobatics and spacious downtempo beats showcase his musical maturity. Jay makes this record feel like both a victory lap and a nod to the legends that inspired him. Sprinkling in references to Southern culture, Charlotte staples, and hip-hop icons, Summer Rooster is both an ode to old school Southern hip-hop and a bold step forward for Elevator Jay’s rise to stardom.

“Mother’s Daughter” by Skylar Gudasz

Skylar Gudasz’ latest effort “Mother’s Daughter” is a timely tip of the hat to matriarchal guidance. Gudasz pairs this bright synth-heavy tune with a sprightly visual accompaniment, finding Gudasz and cohorts dancing through fields to the catchy, insightful hooks. “I’m my mother’s daughter / wild child of the summer,” Gudasz croons, as she goes on to impart her mother’s wisdom. It’s a track that’s both playful and powerful, standing strong on its own while also serving as an aural nod to the direction of her forthcoming full-length record (recorded with Ari Picker of Dante High).

“This World” by Jack The Radio featuring Tamisha Waden

Raleigh’s Jack The Radio has been a long-standing stalwart of the region’s alt-country scene and in recent years has delved further into the multi-media aspect of their art. Their most recent single, “This World,” serves as an accompaniment to the fifth issue of renowned comic book artist Skottie Young’s I Hate Fairyland. “This World” parallels the story of the series’ hero Gertrude, slowly unraveling from a subtle acoustic ballad into a triumphant anthem with gospel-tinged backing vocals from The Foreign Exchange’s Tamisha Waden. JTR tells a succinct story with satisfying dynamism on “This World,” satiating folks who have waited three years since their last album.

“Ketchup” by Defacto Thezpian

Defacto Thezpian’s newest project is both his most ambitious and succinct, with A Minute In packing fifteen songs into fifteen minutes. The record’s lead single “Ketchup” comes paired with the first visual accompaniment for the record, bringing a surrealist approach to the brief yet bombastic track. Musically, Thezpian and producer Mario Lenard blend together buoyant rhythms, sun-soaked samples and synths, and staccato vocals for an enriching aural adventure. On the other side of the spectrum, viewers soak in a wide array of objects covered in ketchup, ranging from fries to broccoli to butts to toothbrushes, as Thezpian emphatically proclaims that “actually, I am better than a movie.” After catching the first video from A Minute In, that’s a statement hard to argue with.

Donnie Doolittle by Donnie Doolittle

The work of Charlotte’s Donnie Doolittle exists within its own microcosm. Landing in a desolate space between Leonard Cohen, Orville Peck, and Bauhaus, Doolitte’s work is driven by baritone vocals, dark synths and temperamental melodies. Doolittle’s work slings an Americana vocal twang atop New Wave sentiments, combining goth-rock tones with bright keys and guitar runs. Tracks like “Resurrect Me” and “Utopia’s Shit” present Doolittle’s artistic breadth, a bewitching background to highlight his affecting vocals– showcasing moody lines like “my soul is gone, it’s just my body left.” While Doolittle’s been a long-running part of the Charlotte scene with acts like Stone Figs and Little Bull Lee, this self-titled debut is arguably his most cohesive vision yet.

Nuevo South Train by Larry & Joe

Grammy-nominated multi-instrumentalist Joe Troop works to spearhead a cultural conversation between Appalachian roots music and Latin American folk, and his work with Venezuelan harpist Larry Bellorín as Larry & Joe has proven to be a fascinating exploration of the two sounds. Larry’s Joropo folk style swings and sways alongside Joe’s fiddle and banjo with guest contributions from renown musicians such as Charlie Hunter and Brevan Hampden. Bluegrass standards like “Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms” sit comfortably alongside Venezuelan standards like “Moliendo Café,” but the group’s original tracks like “Border Wall” and “Larry’s Cachapa” help to make Nuevo South Train feel authentic. Larry & Joe give a nod to their respective country’s storied histories while blazing forward with roots music innovation.

Arms by Mellow Swells

Mellow Swells brings a frenetic indie rock veneer to a groove-filled funk and jazz foundation. Shimmering guitar lines cut through bouncing bass runs and blistering drum fills, as passionate vocals fluctuate between calm croons and spirited shouts. Arms displays the band’s wide sonic palette with upbeat tracks like “I Don’t Mind The Wait,” the math rock-inspired “Wound Up,” and the slow-brooding, controlled chaos of “Keep On.” Arms is a record that warrants several listens to dig into all the complexities; it packs in plenty of nuance to keep listeners at attention long after the album’s end.

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