NC Release Radar: Our favorite new North Carolina music releases

 By Grant Golden 

August 5, 2021

It’s been a tumultuous summer to say the least– we’ve seen the country start to reopen and subsequently, concerts and festivals bringing artists back to our beloved stages. But it seems the dog days aren’t behind us just yet, as fears of another lockdown begin bubbling to the top of our national conversation. While many are still sipping their poolside drinks, others are slowly prepping for a much quieter fall. It’s times like these where music can help shape our emotional states, and whether it be contemplative folk-rock, hazy techno bangers or uplifting and triumphant hip-hop, our favorite North Carolina artists keep helping us through the good times and the bad.

Hiss Golden Messenger – Quietly Blowing It

The music of Durham’s Hiss Golden Messenger is akin to a long, heartfelt talk with a wise old friend. Both uplifting and insightful, songwriter M.C. Taylor has a way of capturing a wide open narrative in a matter of minutes. Quietly Blowing It continues the band’s tradition of groove-packed songs full of pastoral ambiance, making a unique brand of funky alt-country that folks of all ages can enjoy. With topics ranging from the woes of capitalism and the hunt for the almighty dollar, to spiritual struggles and powerful perseverance– Hiss Golden Messenger has knocked it out of the park once again.

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Joe Troop – “Love Along The Way”

Winston Salem’s Joe Troop has made waves across the roots scene as the founder of Grammy-nominated string band Che Apalache, blending bluegrass foundations with Argentinian influences and socially conscious lyrics. Troop’s first solo record, Borrowed Time is set for release on August 20 and if the lead single “Love Along The Way” is any indication, it’s set to be yet another fantastic record from the trailblazing banjoist. With a steady rolling rhythm and unifying message, “Love Along The Way” seeks to bridge the gap between our cultural divide by joining together and spreading love despite a “mucked up system that don’t give a damn.” Troop’s message helps to make this bright bluegrass tune even more dazzling, building anticipation for what’s sure to be a stellar debut album.

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Pat Junior – Gold Fangs on Sunday

Raleigh’s Pat Junior has become one of North Carolina’s most beloved hip-hop acts, and releases like Gold Fangs on Sunday prove why. GFOS is a showcase of Pat’s exceptional production skills alongside creative partner J. Pelham, but it also flexes his continued lyrical growth. With densely packed internal rhymes that are packed with positivity and pouring with passion, GFOS is both an easy and uplifting listen. “Black Beamin’” celebrates black excellence, “Feels Like” bounces with a pulsing beat and swinging horns and “This Fire” highlights darker, cinematic production– it’s all a triumphant outpouring of sincerity in the form of top-notch hip-hop music. 

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Treee City – The Way

Durham’s Treee City is a prolific electronic music producer in the Triangle scene whose music has steadily evolved to incorporate various genres. With elements of buoyant pop and hip-hop structures that morph into heavy techno and house, The Way is a culmination of his years of output. Standout track and opener “Ancient Grains,” patiently unravels from a lone expansive synth line into a club-ready blend of stabbing low-end, shuffling percussion and rhythmic vocal samples. The rest of the four-track EP follows a similar cadence, bringing an immense display of both dynamism and restraint to make for an intoxicating affair.

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The Phantom Friends – “Catch The Feeling”

The Phantom Friends are a high-energy, Charlotte based indie rock act that brings heavy hooks and vivacious rhythms to the forefront. The Phantom Friends blend synthesizers and guitars as leading instruments with a breakneck rhythms section that propels their tracks forward. Their latest effort, “Catch The Feeling” is a catchy pop track that gradually unravels into confined chaos– with snarling guitar, arpeggiated synths and booming drum breaks. Tracks like “Catch The Feeling” help to encapsulate The Phantom Friend’s infectious live energy, something that’s hard to accomplish for many musicians but feels effortless for these Charlotte rockers.

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Cuzo Key – Nionek 3

In recent years Charlotte’s Cuzo Key has steadily built his name as one of the area’s premiere kick-back rappers. Cuzo takes heady, downtempo beats from a slew of local producers and infuses them with bursts of lively rhyme schemes to add complexities to these already dense soundscapes. Tracks like “Norf Charlotte Wings” serve as a superb display of this, with a slow-burning sax sample and hissing vinyl crack, Cuzo skates across the lush production with tightly packed rhymes. “Bitch I’m so cool / Old school like soul food” Cuzo spits on the hook, a simple but attention grabbing line that lingers in your head thanks to his impressive melodic interplay.

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MoonLander – “Brightside”

What’s now a common tale for countless artists, 2020 was set to be a breakout year for Concord’s MoonLander. After having signed a management deal with the same company behind the multi-city Breakaway Music Festival, MoonLander’s momentum was stopped in its tracks by the lockdown. But the young pop-leaning hip-hop act proved his determination by releasing Houston 97 in November and more recently the single, “Brightside.” The track showcases both MoonLander’s integrity and persistence. “They said be better, I’m on it” he raps on the track that highlights both the struggles of being an artist and craving social interactions during the pandemic. “Brightside” is an uplifting record of hope that positions MoonLander as an act that’s poised for success, and with an opening slot for The Chainsmokers this October in Charlotte, it feels like his “giant leap” isn’t too far away.

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Clint Roberts – Rose Songs

Asheville’s Clint Roberts is an artist whose work is enriched by his carefully crafted storytelling. Having cut his teeth in the Western North Carolina scene, Roberts’ debut full-length album Rose Songs is a powerful country outing that’s both sleek and gritty. Produced by Grammy Award-winner Ben Fowler (Lynyrd Skynyrd, Brooks & Dunn), Rose Songs balances Fowler’s polished Nashville twang with Roberts’ evocative lyricism to make for a remarkable debut. Tracks like “Nero’s Waltz,” “Amarillo” and “Annabelle” pinpoint the finest parts of Roberts’ debut, with vividly painted pictures portrayed atop luscious soundscapes. Throw in a fantastic countrified version of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven” and you’ve got one heck of a debut record.

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Alexa Rose – “Human”

Asheville’s Alexa Rose is an artist whose music seems to transcend time. While Rose’s songs and lyrics are fresh and inventive, they aurally harken back to traditional folk sounds that feel built into the world around us. Her 2019 album Medicine For Living garnered attention around the regional scene but if “Human” is any indication, then her forthcoming release Headwaters has potential to give way to national acclaim. “Human,” surprisingly enough, is a track that traverses the nuances of humanity and our desire for both fluidity and rigidity. Beginning with a sparse arrangement of acoustics and vocals, “Human” gradually unfurls into an entrancing blend of instrumentation that ebbs and flows in dramatic fashion. Rose’s full-bodied vocals guide listeners on an emotional journey that leaves you craving more.

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Antion Scales – Ya Thought

There’s some things that you just can’t teach, and hunger is one of them. When desire, passion and talent coalesce there’s an inevitable magic that’s bound to occur– that magical intersection is where Greensboro’s Antion Scales Ya Thought lands. Scales’ nine-song EP is packed to the brim with energy and entertainment, his flow is simultaneously lackadaisical and drawn out while maintaining a methodical cadence that fits as much content as possible into these roomy beats. He “done tapped in like morse code” as he puts it on “Won’t War,” and while Ya Thought is only around 20 minutes in length, it’ll keep you coming back time and time again. Tracks like “1:42 am,” “Judo Chop” and “Moody” (all boasting visual accompaniments) prove that Antion Scales is an act you’re going to want to keep your eye on.

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