By Grant Golden
October 1, 2020
There’s a lot to miss about our local music scene as we all struggle through the coronavirus pandemic. You might miss the way the bass thumps in your chest or how your shoes stick to beer-soaked floors at your favorite local dive, but the euphoria of finding an act that you know you’re going to fall in love with is what we miss most.
That’s why, in partnership with Come Hear NC, we’ve dedicated this monthly series to the discovery of new local releases that have caught our attention. It’s important to scratch that itch of discovery, so check out our picks for this month’s NC Release Radar:
While Raleigh’s Tanajah is fairly new to the North Carolina hip-hop scene, she’s come through with a clear vision and mission to spread good vibes and blaze her own trail. Landing somewhere between Noname and Hiatus Kaiyote, Tanajah blends jazzy/soulful instrumentation with self-affirming lyricism, making for an undeniably addictive output.
Following up on her latest releases, “Smile” and “On My Way,” Tanajah’s newest single, “Self Care,” is an ode to tuning out and turning up. The song comes together around a simplistic, warbling Wurlitzer piano line, but shuffling percussion and sprawling bass lines add a danceable element to this low-key banger. “Self Care” is just a downright fun track that rides the wave of good vibes in a time where they’re direly needed.
Few local artists display the same level of vision and ambition that Carrboro’s Body Games does. While they’ve long been a staple of the Triangle music scene thanks to their immersive live productions, they’ve been silent for the past few years after their debut LP Damager. But that silence doesn’t equal complacency.
Bandleader Dax Beaton has grinded away for the past several years on Super Body Games, the world’s first “video galbum.” Super Body Games is a 32-bit RPG that serves as a vessel for their newest EP of the same title but, instead of a quick download, fans must play through the RPG to retrieve “tune runes” that can be used to purchase/download tracks from the EP.
While the EP has yet to be released in its entirety for download, their track “Night Magic,” serves as a great glimpse into the overall direction of their new work. “Night Magic” uses disparate vocal chops to create the song’s hook while slow-building synths and hand-drum samples create tension and ambiance around this heartfelt, contemplative song. “Night Magic” is a refreshing track that blends melancholy and merriment in a way that only Body Games can, as an invitation to dance through the sadness until it all feels better.
Throughout recent years, Durham’s Al Riggs has established themself as one of the state’s most prolific songwriters, gaining enough traction to serve as support on a nationwide tour with The Mountain Goats in 2018. But even among the large array of Al’s records, Bile and Bone stands out as something special. The album is a collaborative project with Lauren Francis, guitarist and former member of Riggs’ live band, and the two brilliantly counter one another to make a record as cinematic as it is threadbare.
There’s a fine balance between delicacy and weightiness on Bile and Bone. Riggs’ sparse acoustic guitar strums and soft-spoken vocals sit low in the mix as electric piano, glockenspiel, and soft harmonies swirl into ambient flourishes for Riggs’ powerful songwriting.
Tracks like “Love Is An Old Bullet,” “Apex Twin,” and the title track “Bile and Bone” standout among these often dream-like soundscapes. The album as a whole is a fantastic excursion into the ethos of one of the state’s most creative songwriters.
Saman Khoujinian and Gabe Anderson are the powerhouse duo behind Carrboro’s Sleepy Cat Records, a tour-de-force in the North Carolina scene for forward-thinking roots music. When they’re not championing releases from local favorites like Blue Cactus or Libby Rodenbough (Mipso), they’re releasing captivating cosmic country under the guise of T. Gold.
T. Gold’s latest single, “You’re Not Gonna Live Forever,” is a rumination on the human condition. The group tackles camaraderie and mortality with a sense of lightness despite the heavy subject matter. While the lyrical content keeps the track grounded, there’s a sense of weightlessness aided by misty slide guitar, subtle vocal harmonies, and restrained clarinet lines.
“You’re Not Gonna Live Forever” feels like walking in a dream; the sounds are rooted in familiarity but feel new and inventive. All in all, it’s a much needed reminder that, even in dire times, we may as well go through it together rather than alone.
The work of Charlotte’s Simon SMTHNG contains multitudes. Plucking samples from far-reaching corners and melding them with electronic keys and drum rhythms, Simon SMTHNG’s music is a hypnotic affair that one can’t help but get lost in. At the beginning of July, Simon released As It Was, and just recently followed it up with a four-track jaunt entitled Explorations. Both of Simon’s most recent records take listeners into an illusory land of wonder, worthy of sinking yourself into.
As It Was feels like a natural progression in the world of this spirited producer. The tracks are fueled by sepia-toned samples of lush strings, synth plucks, and soulful keys that cut in and out of the mix alongside tight drum patterns and occasionally humorous vocal samples (look no further than “Cambodianbreastmilk” for a remarkably heady exploration of Chapelle’s Show vocal cuts).
On Explorations Simon condenses these lofty ambitions into a short four-track excursion with equally entrancing results. “An Exploration of the Outer” is shaped around a repeated, formless vocal refrain that gets sidechained into both the driving rhythm of the track and the main melody. “An Exploration of the Soul,” on the other hand, is primarily driven by simplistic keys that serve as a playground for a rapidly changing breakbeat drum pattern and sparse vocal cut.
Either way, Simon SMTHNG’s past two projects prove that there’s many more worlds left to explore in the universe of this creative producer.
If there’s anything that North Carolina’s music scene is lacking, it’s out and out indie pop music, which is where Winston Salem’s Victoria Victoria shines brightest.
“What To Do” is anchored in a low-end heavy synth line that counters singer Tori Elliott’s airy, expressive vocals. Luscious horn lines and soaring harmonies intertwine with the bass and melody to give unprecedented depth and modulation.
“All the world is spinning still and growing old without us” Elliott laments over a sax line as contemplative as the song’s lyrics. Throughout the brief three-minute track, we’re transported to a world of uncertainty and elusion that’s presented through a bright, poppy sheen, making an otherwise unnerving subject matter both palatable and prescient.
Yes Chef! is the newest project of Charlotte-based emo-indie powerhouse Leith K. Ali (It Looks Sad, Ol’ Sport) and their debut EP, Drive Safe, serves as an incredible introduction.
Drive Safe is filled with anthems of ambition and defeat, of perseverance and its payoff. The 20 minutes that make up the record are an exploration of emotional turmoil lined with triumphant blends of brass and woodwinds. The lyrics are stark and matter-of-factly sit atop contrasting textures. Many of Ali’s vocal lines are paired with harmonies from KC Marie Roberge, giving the vocal melodies more of a voluminous element that pairs well with the robust arrangements.
Tracks like “Bank Account,” “Empty” and “Chelsea” outline struggles with an ever-changing world and the angst that comes with it. Ali’s lyrics are peppered with references to universal woes, of the constant fight between achieving your dreams and keeping the lights on, and the caffeine addiction that comes with it.
Drive Safe feels like much more than a dive into emotional depths because it also champions a sense of hope. If daily life is a thunderstorm, Drive Safe represents the sun shining through as the storm begins to clear.
A.yoni Jeffries is a Durham-based musical powerhouse whose work perfectly toes the line between introspection and social commentary, and her most recent full-length album Potential Gon Pay is a brilliant display of this blend. This Afro-indigenous artist champions individuality, sexuality, spiritualism, and more with a raw lyrical approach.
Potential Gon Pay interweaves soulful hip-hop and R&B with A.yoni’s Jamaican and Native American roots, making for a truly unique output. It’s rare that an album can so cohesively consolidate such an expansive range of sounds and inspirations, but A.yoni Jeffries does it with ease. Tracks like “Um Baya” and “Siddung Pon It” boast a Reggae-inspired bounce and vocal cadence, while “Incredible” and “Apologize” show A.yoni singing and spitting over sample-based beats.
Potential Gon Pay explores growth and realization while coming to terms with love and loss. A.yoni Jeffries is undoubtedly an artist that you’ll want to keep your eyes on.
Phaze Gawd’s newest release AyoPhazoGo! couldn’t be more aptly titled, because this Durham-based emcee barely lets his foot off the gas in this 23-minute musical marathon. While Phaze Gawd’s previous work has primarily been produced by Charlotte’s A Man with Antlers, AyoPhazo… introduces a new partnership with Brazilian producer Monk Beatz and finds Phaze Gawd finessing his flow atop bass-heavy beats full of passion and personality.
AyoPhazoGo! is packed with off-the-cuff references to anime and nerd culture alongside playful bragaddocio that provides pinpoint precision to the character of Phaze Gawd. While the record’s strongest moments come in with windows-down, trunk-rattling bangers like “AyoPhazoGo!” and “Chop Chop,” there’s enough dynamism in tracks like “Motorola,” “Scary Thots,” and “Glacier” to make the album feel like a well-rounded vision.
The album opens with a message from a character, Megumi, outlining that “you are only as real as the people who believe in you…praise Phaze Gawd.” And, after an outing like AyoPhazoGo! one can only assume that Phaze Gawd’s about to get a lot more believers.
3AMSOUND may be an often overlooked hip-hop act for now, but projects like Still Alive help ensure that he won’t be for long. While the Raleigh-based rapper has been grinding away for years now, showcasing his work at esteemed festivals like AC3 and Hopscotch, his new record displays a deeper sense of direction than we’ve seen from the young artist.
Still Alive blends elements of dark-washed psychedelia and trap with an astounding sense of scope. The production at times feels post-apocalyptic, with pitched vocal samples and sharp synth stabs adding texture to disparate keys, booming bass, and blazing hi-hats. Within this comfortable sense of dissonance, 3AM’s vocals sit firmly in the mix, slightly modulated and acid-washed to blend with ease.
Tracks like “Mystery,” “Lantern,” and “300 Miles” serve as succinct glimpses into the sonic explorations within the album. Lead single “Mystery” is built around a tinny, simplistic guitar line, but filled out with nuanced production choices like long-kick drum hits, pitched-up harmonies, and a driving vocal cadence. “Lantern” is shaped around discordance, but flittering flute samples, sprawling vocal lines, and a grounded beat help to bring this dreamy soundscape back to reality. Conversely, “300 Miles” feels like more of a straight-forward, club-ready banger with danceable polyrhythms and earworm hooks.
Still Alive positions 3AMSOUND as a versatile and inventive artist capable of both rich exploration and unambiguous output.
In this article
- “Night Magic”
- “You’re Not Gonna Live Forever”
- 32-bit RPG
- A.yoni Jeffries
- Al Riggs
- Bile and Bone
- Body Games
- Gabe Anderson
- north carolina
- Saman Khoujinian
- Self Care
- Sleepy Cat Records
- Super Body Games
- T. Gold
- Victoria Victoria
- video galbum
- What To Do
- winston salem
- Yes Chef!