NC Release Radar: Our favorite recent music releases from North Carolina artists

 By Grant Golden

April 20, 2021

With the promise of live shows in our near future, music is starting to sound a little different. The screech of a distorted guitar, the resonance of bass, those few seconds when a drummer connects in the pocket–  they transport us to a place we can finally feel those sounds from a booming PA. Whether it’s frantic free jazz, swinging New Orleans soul or energizing hip-hop, North Carolina musicians have been producing a slew of incredible sounds that we can’t wait to soak in this season.




Austin Tighe – Alright, Goodnight

With the release of his sophomore full-length record, Charlotte’s Austin Tinghe displays an undeniable talent for sonic arrangements. This budding songwriter has written, performed and recorded each aspect of Alright, Goodnight, a record full of spacious instrumentals and affective lyrics.

Tighe’s lingering melodies hover atop a swirl of psychedelic sounds, with his baritone vocals weaving in and out of the mix. Tracks vary between straightforward jaunts like “Alright, Goodnight” and expansive, experimental excursions like “Gone?” and “Cellar Door.” While both variations have their own strong suits, Tighe’s willingness to explore the outer reach of these song’s sonic territories is what’s most exciting. It’s clear that there’s boundless potential with Tighe’s music and Alright, Goodnight is an inviting glimpse into what’s yet to come.

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Volz & Kamdoja It’s Up to You

Volz’s music tends to stretch the borders of what can be neatly packaged hip-hop, and the Winston-Salem artist’s latest collaborative EP with fellow Winston-native Kamdoja continues to expand that palette. While clocking in at around eleven minutes, It’s Up To You traverses miles of musical ground, blending hip-hop with elements of soul, electronic and R&B for a unique and fascinating result.

“Joansin’” is a perfect snapshot of this EP, built around fluttering hi-hats and a hypnotic guitar line, Volz and Kamdoja trade vocal duties that pivot between smoothly sung melodies and rapidly fluctuating flows. Each track on It’s Up To You is concise and catchy, with dense production and earworm hooks that prove Volz and Kamdoja are two artists with a knack for greatness.

Instagram (Volz / Kamdoja)

Woah – “Valleys”

Brimming with potential, Woah is a young indie-pop quartet from Indian Trail that’s churned out a string of impressive singles. Eliciting a misty air of nostalgia, Woah’s songs edge on shoegaze territory, but never stray too far from their grounded melodies. “Valleys” is the group’s latest release and comes with a lo-fi video to accompany the song’s hazy vibes.

With longing lyrics of fleeting memories from Michael Alexander Gomez, the vocals are washed in reverb, nestled in the mix among glistening guitar lines and crisp drum beats. Landing somewhere between melancholic and hopeful, Woah’s handful of dream-pop singles have garnered a steady online following for the band. With a move planned to Charlotte and a debut LP coming in the near future, it looks like the sky’s the limit for these young songwriters.

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Abigail Dowd – Beautiful Day

After a year’s worth of stay-at-home orders and limited interpersonal contact, the opening lines of the title track from Beautiful Day seem to connect on a different level. “Outside of my window, it’s a beautiful day,” Dowd sings, “I oughta go out for a while.” Recorded at the legendary Fidelitorium and produced by Grammy-nominated Jason Richmond (The Avett Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers), Beautiful Day is a powerful record of perseverance and passion.

Landing somewhere between folk music and roots rock, this Greensboro songwriter’s effusive songs are steeped in storytelling and soul. Dowd’s lyrics paint vivid pictures alongside shuffling percussion from Austin McCall and frequent organ flairs from Joe MacPhail. Add in bass, acoustic, electric guitar, dobro and pedal steel, and Beautiful Day boasts a fully fleshed-out soundscape for songs that are already strong at their core.

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Sam Fribush Organ Trio – Sam Fribush Organ Trio, Vol. 1: Riverboat & Vol. 2: The Root

Born and raised in Greensboro, Sam Fribush has been honing his New Orleans style brand of funk and soul since his teens. But when the pandemic forced him off of a worldwide tour with Pokey LaFarge, legendary jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter came knockin’ for a collaboration that has upended the local scene.

This dual-album release from Fribush, Hunter and renowned jazz drummer Geoff Clapp brings a traditional organ-trio sound to some fresh originals and beloved classic covers. Fribush’s Hammond organ sings with its trademark vibrato alongside Hunter’s dynamic guitar work, all while Clapp expands the track’s rhythmic scope. Breathing new life into classics like Bonnie Raitt’s “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About” and highlighting impressive originals like “Fly Fri” these two records beg for multiple listens and make us yearn for the proper return of live music.

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Blue Cactus – “Rebel”

Steph Stewart and Mario Arnez have been long-standing collaborators in the North Carolina music scene, but their work as Blue Cactus is their most pronounced and well-defined work to date. The Chapel Hill-based alt-country duo made national waves with their debut LP, earning praise from outlets like Paste and No Depression, but their follow-up album Stranger Again promises to take the group to even greater heights.

“Rebel” is a reeling roots rock record that skids out of control from the starting line, serving as an ode to both youthful recklessness and personal growth. “I was a rebel then / now I just get along” Arnez sings in the song’s hook. With robust production and undeniable energy, “Rebel” gives fans a tasty morsel of what’s to come on their second album on Chapel Hill’s Sleepy Cat Records, set for release on May 7.

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Afika – Chosen EP

Coming up in Greensboro performing with the remarkable full-band hip-hop crew The Urban Sophisticates, Afika Nxumalo has blossomed into an incredible musical force all his own. Now based in Brooklyn, Nxumalo’s most recent release Chosen is an affirming release that’s as sleek and polished as it is raw and gritty.

The EP’s title track was featured in the official trailer for Oscar-nominated film Judas and the Black Messiah, and from the opening vocal cuts it’s clear why. Building cinematic layers of choral vocal chants reminiscent of African a capella, the track ebbs and flows with hi-hats, piano keys and ad-libs as Afika spits with determination. “Tell ‘em get up out the way, you don’t know who I am/I’m chosen,” Nxumalo raps in the hook, and it’s this braggadocio that helps to make Afika feel like such an established force already. Tracks like “Gas” and “Navy Gang” boast the same intensity to make Chosen a stellar introduction for an artist we’re sure to hear more of in the national spotlight.

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Ghost Trees – Universal Topics

Charlotte’s bare-boned jazz duo Ghost Trees is an act that blends cacophony and melody in a mesmerizing manner. Saxophonist Brent Bagwell and drummer Seth Nanaa trade lead duties between sprawling sax runs and equally expansive drum lines. Skewing toward more open and avant jazz styles, Ghost Trees doesn’t rely on chords to provide a tonal center, but rather has trill saxophone lines running rampant across a vast terrain of percussion. Tracks like “Metzabok” feel frenetic, while “Man of Twists and Turns,” leans toward slow-stepping and calculating. Universal Topics is a release that’s as ambitious as it is raw and is well deserving of any jazz fan’s attention.

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Sweet Dream – Blessed

Since we first discovered Greensboro multi-instrumentalist Julian Creech-Pritchett last fall, the young songwriter has continued to expand on his already rich arrangements. With the recent release of Blessed, Sweet Dream churns out another collection of effervescent indie-pop tunes that linger in your ears.

“Blessed” saunters along like a New Age waltz, accompanied by bright, staccato flute lines to accentuate the slow-moving vocal melody. “Love is the Answer” brings jangly, optimistic bliss while “Hummingbird” evokes the feeling of a sun-drenched Southern spring with bouncing upright bass and finger-picked acoustic guitar. Blessed is an exercise in musical expansion, finding Creech-Pritchett exploring new instruments and aesthetics on a record that stands strong as both its own piece of work and a bridge to where his music may head.

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Ins Kino – “Coming Around”

It’s rare to find a debut track as promising and well-defined as “Coming Around.” The project of Raleigh songwriter Evan Farkas, Ins Kino’s debut track is an ambitious ode to reluctant acceptance that boasts horns, strings and an anthemic chorus.

The song opens with bareboned chords and light percussive hits, only to explode with triumphant horns, driving basslines and lackadaisical vocals. “Play it straight, we’re halfway there/Do you think they’ll mind us lazing around?” Farkas croons in the opening verse of a song that blends playfully pensive lyrics with infectious melodies. While “Coming Around” is a brief glimpse into Farkas’ work, it indicates lofty ambitions of the chamber-pop pomp yet to come.

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