By Grant Golden
December 10, 2020
It’s hard to find a sense of normalcy in this tumultuous year, but throughout the madness, there’s a gift that keeps on giving: the spine-tingling sensation of incredible new music. Sure as the sun must rise and set, North Carolina artists continue churning out innovative, captivating music with each passing day. So, as you’re wrapping presents, baking cookies, and following through with your own holiday traditions, we hope you’ll plug these songs into your speakers and find some solace.
In partnership with Come Hear NC, here’s our selection of North Carolina’s finest releases from the past month.
Reliably Bad – “Summer” / “Make It Out”
Greensboro’s Reliably Bad has been cooking up some of the state’s most robust pop music, and if this year has been any indication of what’s to come, then 2021 may be their year. In lieu of their usual packed-out dance-heavy house shows, Reliably Bad release a slew of videos of playful covers and sharp originals. Amidst all that, they’ve begun work on their debut full-length album alongside producers Charlie Hunter (a guitarist best known for his contributions to D’Angelo’s Voodoo, and work with Frank Ocean and John Mayer) and Gabe Fox-Peck (Young Bull).
Last month, the band released videos for their latest singles “Summer” and “Make it Out,” which showcase the breadth of Reliably Bad’s sonic horizon. “Summer” appropriately outlines one of the biggest struggles many have encountered in 2020…missing your friends and loved ones. Jessica Schneider’s silky vocals glide atop a full-bodied mix of keys, horns, guitars, and bass, enveloping listeners with a warm sense of comfort. “Make It Out” is a shuffling ode to grinding through everyday monotony to achieve your dreams. “I’ve been living the good life, cause it’s high time that I made it out,” Schneider sings with a soaring vocal line that coalesces perfectly with rising horn lines– it’s enough to send a chill up your spine.
Carlitta Durand – Kismet Green
Carlitta Durand’s musical output is a testament to quality over quantity. It’s been five years since the Durham-based artist put out a full-length album, but Kismet Green has proven to be worth the wait. Originally coming into the scene alongside NC hip-hop icons Little Brother, Durand has blazed her own trail with sultry, heartfelt R&B tunes since 2009, slowly amassing a collection of fantastic records along the way. Among those slew of releases, Kismet Green stands at the top.
Kismet Green is an ode to love and self-exploration, about finding balance in times of turmoil. Tracks like lead single, “My Business,” are excellent examples of this. Durand sings of “mind[ing] my business,” and keeping to herself while shouting out to self-love atop a smooth Streetiebaby beat. Standout tracks like “Yes” and “I Guess” follow the same suit, covering themes of self-actualization and positivity, serving as a much needed boost for this year. Above all, Kismet Green is a calculated album. Throughout each track Durand crafts deep melodies with powerful motifs that coalesce with soulful instrumental accompaniments, making for an immensely rewarding listening experience.
Dexter Jordan – Dexterity
This summer we premiered the fantastic new single, “Contradicting,” from Charlotte R&B artist Dexter Jordan and alongside said release was the promise of a new EP in the fall. True to his word, Dexterity dropped in early November and is packed with the same rich storytelling and attention to detail that hooked us in the first place. Making keen use of interludes to bridge disparate vibes and preface specific storylines, Dexterity is a testament to the progression of an already talented artist.
“Contradicting” is an undeniable standout on the EP, but efforts like “Acid Rain” and “Black Baby” explore compelling new territories as well. On “Acid Rain,” Jordan’s verses ride over muted guitar plucks but unfurl into an organic chorus that rises and falls in rhythm with percussive flourishes and swaying vocal hooks. As the EP closes with “Black Baby,” Jordan strays from personal struggles to societal ones, questioning “who gonna help the black baby,” and it’s a moment that plucks the listener out of the dreamlike world Jordan has created.
On each track, Jordan seamlessly crafts his own narrative alongside an array of different producers, making Dexterity an apt title for the EP. Dexterity is an album full of depth and discovery, but it also gives listeners that morsel of what’s to come next musically.
Zoocru – “2929″ / “9mm”
The work of Durham’s Zoocru is hard to pigeonhole, but to summarize it as anything other than transcendent would be a disservice. For the past eight years, this crew has built a strong following thanks to their off-the-wall progressive jazz and entrancing live shows. Members of Zoocru have lent their musical talents to Rapsody’s live act and as a band they have shared bills with some esteemed jazzed musicians like Al Strong and Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah. This year saw the release of two mind-bending singles that together clock in at just over seven minutes– but what an incredible seven minutes they are.
“2929” opens with discordant, airy chords that linger in the mix, only to have brisk drum lines and a dizzying guitar run cut through with precision. This lasts just under two minutes as we follow this rise and fall before playful chords fade away and the track closes out. When paired with “9mm” the two feel cohesive– even if the tracks exist as two completely separate entities. The latter track begins with a quote from the 2014 James Brown documentary Mr. Dynamite, then cuts into a expansive, explorative track packed full of contrasting melodies, breakneck drum beats, and fascinating rhythms. It’s hard not to pop on your headphones and bob along to these brilliant tracks.
The Hot at Nights – No Outlet
The Hot At Nights are arguably one of the most underrated acts in the North Carolina music scene. Comprised of three of the state’s most technically proficient musicians, Chris Boerner on guitar (Hiss Golden Messenger, The Foreign Exchange), Matt Douglas on woodwinds (The Mountain Goats, Ani DiFranco, American Aquarium) and Nick Baglio on drums (Boulevards, New Reveille), The Hot at Nights craft music that’s both mentally and physically stimulating. Their songs are inundated with grooves that branch off into experimental, jam-ready territory and their most recent two-track EP No Outlet brings the best of both worlds.
On “No Outlet,” sprawling guitar riffs from Boerner’s mesh with incandescent sax lines and snarling synths from Grammy-nominated producer Nicolay. Accompaniments from Nicolay and Erik Deutsch flesh out the depth of these roomy tracks, with synths and horns trading bass duties while Boerner’s reeling guitar lines weave in and out of Baglio’s grounding drum beats. Like musical macramé we see layer upon layer of instrumentation woven together to make a rich and cohesive output. Conversely, “Separation” showcases more nuance, with slow building layers of horns and swift drum hits that unravel into slow-burning melodies. No Outlet is a musical flex that satiates fan’s yearning for more of The Hot at Nights’ complex concoctions.
Sangstaa – Sorry…
While Sangstaa may now reside in L.A, his most recent album Sorry.. is very clearly informed by the parts of his life that remain in Raleigh. This young R&B songster is South Korean born, but Raleigh raised and, with two musically inclined parents, he’s been crafting his own unique sounds for years. Sangstaa’s art toes the line between hip-hop and R&B and, on his second full-length record of the year, he further develops his vulnerable yet blasé ethos with swaggering sincerity.
Sorry.. circles around a long distance relationship and the sacrifices that come with it, reading as a love letter for cross-country partnership woes. And, while the album leans towards a Post Malone-esque style of hook-heavy hip-hop/R&B, tracks like “Defeat” showcase Sangstaa’s aural range. “Defeat” feels like a Gen-Z take on The Cure with simplistic, washed-out drum beats that drive the track with shimmery keys, jangly guitar plucks, and reverb vocals.
It’s music with a distinct level of self awareness that’s also clouded in insecurities and self-doubt. Sorry.. is a snippet of Sangstaa’s potential and paves the way for what’s sure to be an impressive future for the young artist.
OG Spliff – “Luv Me”
It’s hard to stand out in the crowded Carolina music scene, but Winston-Salem’s OG Spliff’s doing his damndest to kick in the door. He made his way onto Spotify’s Fresh Finds: Best of Hip Hop 2020 playlist with his previous release “St Nick” and, more recently was included on Disclosure’s curated Spotify playlist for “Luv Me.” It’s clear that OG Spliff’s future is looking blindingly bright.
“Luv Me” kicks off with a steady drum beat, glissando keys line, and an old-school vocal cut that builds out the song’s hook as Spliff breaks through the dreamy production with hard-hitting lines.
Fellow resident of Winston-Salem, TiaCorine, takes over for the second verse and counters Spliff’s low-pitched vocals with a brighter cadence filled with clever punchlines and unique flows. Thematically, TiaCorine provides an excellent contrast to Spliff’s first verse, with lines that pull no punches for bum dudes that come up short.
“Luv Me” not only outlines a heavy series of internal struggles through a catchy beat and hook, but cements OG Spliff and TiaCorine as rising artists worthy of keeping an eye on in the coming year.
Nance + Pat Junior – With Eyes Closed
Pat Junior and Nance are two names buzzing in the NC hip-hop scene and, with their collaborative EP With Eyes Closed, it’s clear why they’ve garnered much acclaim. With Eyes Closed may clock in under 10 minutes, but it’s a musical flex that’s both playful and combative, as Nance spits on the opening track “Don’t Look Now,” they “kill it with no scope.”
Trading verses atop Pat Junior’s blue-chip production, Nance and Pat exude confidence on these four tracks, pulling together a concise yet flashy project. “Nvm.” finds Nance and Pat cramming rapidly changing rhyme schemes into a simplistic but addictive groove, with both emcees dropping equally impressive wordplay. But there’s also contemplation at play. “Take Care of You” briefly pulls back the curtain and focuses on self care: “Whether it’s mental or physical…” DL Zene sings on the hook, “we all just need a moment…”
Frankly when a 10-minute EP can showcase as much artistic breadth as With Eyes Closed, we might as well listen to the advice Nance and Pat are giving us.
Ivy Sole – Southpaw
The former Charlotte songwriter’s debut LP, Overgrown, garnered national attention with thought-provoking musings that blended Southern and international sonic palettes with a hip-hop sheen. And if her new EP Southpaw proves anything, it’s that Ivy Sole is a top-notch songwriter capable of knocking you off your feet.
Southpaw has a wide array of sounds, opening with a trunk-rattling title track that swings for the fences. On “Southpaw,” Ivy rarely pauses for breath with swift verses full of both braggadocio and stinging social commentary but, as the high-energy rhythms begin to fade, we’re given the soft, delicate production of “Kismet.” This one-two punch is an excellent example of the complexities that Ivy Sole contains. The tracks stagger between existential wonders, social anxiety, and a hunger for greatness. While the whole EP is fantastic, the three-track run of “Bittersweet,” “Name It,” and “Heavy” could go toe-to-toe with any major release of the year in impactful and insightful execution. “Bittersweet” laments over slow-moving progress while “Name It” outlines the struggle of growing up in the conservative South and the dichotomy of love for a place you desperately want to change. But closing track “Heavy” stands tall above the rest, living up to its name and traversing a longing for life-long partnership while facing mortality on a daily basis.
Southpaw packs a lot of weight into a five-song collection and, like a lot of music in 2020, feels influenced by the mid-summer social unrest spearheaded by the murder of George Floyd and the rising of the Black Lives Matter movement. It showcases Ivy Sole as something more than just an artist catching a national buzz, but rather a visionary act with a statement to be made.
Glorybound Ensemble and Solomon Fox (Young Bull) – Glorybound (The Live Album)
Throughout the past few years we’ve made countless references to the palpable gospel influence in the music of Durham’s Young Bull, but it’s rare to see one’s influences expounded upon in the manner found within Glorybound. Glorybound is the awe-inspiring work of Gabe Fox-Peck, Young Bull’s Grammy-nominated producer and pianist. Originally crafted as Fox-Peck’s creative thesis project in 2019, this surprise release is a live recording of the 15-plus person project that reimagines the work of American music icons Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Thomas A. Dorsey.
The music of Tharpe and Dorsey is largely credited as the foundation of modern R&B, blues and rock n’ roll, and Glorybound recontextualizes said music in multi-part harmonies and dynamic instrumentation. Combining traditional hymnals and original compositions, Glorybound is a refreshing revival of the early 1900s American songbook. But these tracks don’t just highlight Fox-Peck’s compositional intelligence, they also serve as a sonic representation of the early intersection between blues and gospel. Fox-Peck’s band dazzles with soulful arrangements of these traditional tracks, and a guest appearance from Young Bull cohort Mique serves as an album highlight. While there are specific tracks that certainly stand out (“This Train,” “Get On Board,” “The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow”), you’d be remiss to neglect the opportunity to sit down and soak into the electric sounds of Glorybound. It’s a mesmerizing musical accomplishment and a soul-warming listening experience.
In this article
- Carlitta Durand
- Chris Boerner
- come hear nc
- dexter jordan
- DL Zene
- Erik Deutsch
- Glorybound Ensemble
- hip hop
- ivy sole
- Kismet Green
- little brother
- Luv Me
- Make it Out
- Matt Douglas
- neo soul
- Nick Baglio
- No Outlet
- north carolina
- Pat Junior
- Reliably Bad
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe
- Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Thomas A. Dorsey
- Solomon Fox
- The Hot At Nights
- Thomas A. Dorsey
- winston salem
- With Eyes Closed
- Young Bull