By Delaney Clifford
September 1, 2020
The show must go on, even in a pandemic. Live music may be on hold, but North Carolina’s musicians are still very active. Artists from all walks of life and corners of the state continue to create and release new work and, with no tours and shows, record sales and streaming income are more important than ever, particularly for local acts who rely on ticket sales to make a living.
In a new monthly series powered by Come Hear NC, we are connecting music lovers seeking a soundtrack for the times and new discoveries from North Carolina. Even though you won’t be able to catch them performed live this month, these albums and releases will still be wearing out the needle long after our beloved stages and music venues reopen.
Check out our NC Release Radar picks this month:
Emily Sage is a singer-songwriter currently based in Charlotte. After growing up in Portugal and moving to Nashville to pursue a degree in music business, she relocated to Charlotte, where she has succeeded in curating the CLT Loft Sessions.
Her style exudes the dreaminess of soul and often features the hallmark piano and drum sounds of early-American jazz, like on her 2017 debut album, Endless. Her newest material, however, delivers a different tune. “Here Now” is the second song released in 2020 from Sage and, in line with her evolving style, this stripped-down track highlights one of her biggest strengths– her voice. In “Here Now,” Sage channels the depth and expressiveness of her voice to address an estranged lover with a tender vulnerability enhanced by the raw sound of the underproduced track.
Perhaps one of the busiest North Carolina artists this year, the Winston-Salem singer-songwriter Sonny Miles has released three singles, a collection of collaborations and, most recently, a two-song EP by the name of Anger / Friday Night, August 14th.
After making his way onto Obama’s “Favorite Music of 2019” playlist last year with “Raleighwood Hills,” Miles set the precedent for his talent, but his mind is in the present, hard at work trying to outdo himself. This latest work epitomizes the artist’s refusal to be confined to a single genre. Self-professed as “undefined soul,” Miles has released music with leanings toward rock, gospel, and hip-hop, sometimes all in one release.
However undefined Miles’ music and persona may be, the soul is shining through on this latest release. On “Anger” the singer belts with an honesty and passion that may have made even the likes of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder blush. On “Friday Night / August 14th,” listeners get an energetic taste of what it’s like to party with Miles. It’s this kind of lyrical vulnerability and clear talent that sets him lightyears ahead of his youthful age and, with music like this, it’s clear that Sonny Miles will be a name many music fans in the Carolinas will know soon.
Tahmique Cameron, better known by his stage name Mique, is one third of the soulful hip-hop collective Young Bull, based in Durham. After releasing music with Young Bull since 2016, Mique established himself as a solo talent when he stepped into the spotlight on the group’s 2019 track “Voodoo.”
This year, Mique has branched out even further with the release of “Spark,” a mid-year single that highlights his vocal ability as it fits into a distinct blend of rap and R&B. The larger-than-life persona of these singles suits Mique well as he comes into his own, crooning and rapping over a smooth beat and resonant bass drops produced by Smwhereat4am, aligning himself with some of the best singers in the new generation hip-hop. Mique is also expected to release his debut EP this year.
Young Mister, the group led by Steven Fiore, is one of the best kept secrets of the Carolinas. Hailing from Tryon, NC, Fiore has led a bicoastal career thus far, playing with the likes of Slow Runner, Jump Little Children, and even Jeff Goldblum’s LA jazz band. Yet, Fiore remains firmly rooted in his home state as he continues to release music through Charlotte’s Refresh Records. Fiore originally found a home in Refresh with the release of his 2016 self-titled record, one that has gone on to become a classic in the canon of Carolina music.
Since then, Young Mister released another LP, an EP, and a handful of singles through the Charlotte label. In 2020, Fiore has kept with tradition, sticking to his nuanced, honest sound with his latest single, “Familiar Colors,” a track that yearns for the past, and mourns the old days. This single evokes the morose eloquence and longing of classic ‘90s and early ‘00s emo, reminding listeners that Fiore has found his niche and feels no need to separate himself from it.
Mipso, the Americana folk quartet founded in Chapel Hill, have had a busier 2020 than most. After an EP of remixes from their 2018 album Edges Run released earlier this year, the group added to their streak with Hey, Coyote, a two-song preview of the band’s upcoming record.
Mipso has a tried-and-true pathos that embodies the feeling of a warm hearth on a cold winter night, and the tracks on Hey, Coyote don’t depart far from that sensation. The band experiments with some modulation of the classic mandolin and guitar sounds on the new tracks while staying tight within their territory.
The “adapt or die” mentality of the modern music industry can push bands to transform their sound across projects, but Mipso stands strong and confident in a genre deeply rooted in the nostalgia of its fans. Mipso’s decision to remain steadfast shows an honest love for the style that brought them together to begin with.
A recent addition to the thriving music scene in Carrboro, Keenan Jenkins, better known as XOXOK, is a singer-songwriter who found his passions in music while earning his PhD in psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill. Jenkins didn’t find fulfillment or his artistic stride until fully immersing himself in his art with the 2019 release of his debut EP, Worthy.
Jenkins has gone onto release two singles this year, the most recent of which is “I’ll Be Fine,” a song of soldiering on with hope and resilience in the face of trial and uncertainty. Jenkins’ achieves an eclectic, almost otherworldly sound by layering a powerful falsetto over complex compositions, reminiscent of Jeff Buckley and Moses Sumney.
It’s this kind of textured, rich sound that defines XOXOK’s style and one that North Carolina music welcomes to its ranks of lauded singer-songwriters. While many of those artists continue to build upon established genres with their own unique flair, Jennings is breaking the mold and taking listeners into new sonic territory.
Self-described as “indie-funk,” BadCameo stands as one of Charlotte’s most experimental groups on the scene. Their enigmatic blend of synthesized ‘80s chic and the over-the-top, almost slapstick sexiness of ‘70s funk somehow works with a sense of effortlessness and a ton of fun. Combining that with the modern indie pop influence, listening to BadCameo is an experience akin to walking into some strange time capsule– you know where you are, but the walls are furry and you haven’t listened to stuff like this since your parents broke out their records.
After releasing their debut EP Neon Souls in early 2020, listeners received the latest single, “Pink Leather” at the end of July. The track embodies the steamy, wild energy that BadCameo exudes with ease. With Neon Souls, listeners get a full spectrum taste of what the band has to offer, and “Pink Leather” translates as a love letter to the band’s novelty. While that side of BadCameo will certainly entice lovers of the old-school style, new listeners and those unfamiliar may come to find the group as one of the more creative artists that Charlotte has to offer.
Self described as “fuzzy pop/punk,” Alright delivers that classic layer of ‘80s and ‘90s punk and alt rock of which millennials and Gen Xers can’t get enough. The Charlotte trio has been at it since 2014, beginning with the release of their debut EP Sleep Study on Self Aware Records, the local label that vocalist Sarah Blumenthal and bassist Josh Robbins have co-owned together since its induction as a zine in 2008. Since then, the band has gone on to release two more EPs and are currently gearing up to release their debut LP, I’m Doing This To Myself on August 28.
To prime listeners for the occasion, Alright released four singles over the summer, each marked with the classic lo-fi crunching guitars and fast-and-loose rhythm section that has come to define the group’s sound over the years. Their latest single “Dewdrops” dropped at the end of July, and it’s a good sign for how the album will take form. It pushes Blumenthal’s vocals to the forefront with stripped down instrumental support, eventually rising to crescendo before falling out like a soft echo in an old house. Alright has kept their style consistent and rock solid throughout their tenure, and it seems that I’m Doing This To Myself plans on keeping that record straight.
Anhad + Tanner’s music puts a modern spin on their diverse cultural music roots. Tanner Willeford is a Durham musician dedicated to jazz and classical music, and Anhad Khanna is grounded in the international electronica scene. Khanna is also based roughly seven thousand miles from North Carolina away in New Delhi, India.
Together, the duo creates a fusion that combines sounds of the East and West with a unique fluidity that separates them from most North Carolina acts of similar instrumental and electronic style. Their debut album, In Other Words, was released on August 14, and listeners are finally getting a first taste of what Anhad + Tanner have to offer.
Short but sweet at seven tracks, In Other Words is a sonic journey through the two artists’ musical worlds. While the record is rooted firmly in traditional Indian vocals and instrumentation, the more contemporary electronica gives the album a modern global music feel.
After two years of radio silence, the Charlotte rockers are finally back. Late Bloomer is hitting the pavement hard with their latest two-song EP, Tonight’s No Good For Me, released through longtime collaborators, 6131 Records. This new material is the follow-up to the group’s critically acclaimed LP, Waiting, from 2018, a record that exhibited a more restrained, patient side of the trio’s music. It seems that after this repose, Late Bloomer is ready to let loose again with the screaming guitars of “All The Gold” and booming choruses of “Soapy Water.”
Even if this EP signals a return to form, the group hasn’t lost sight of whatever reins they tugged on to produce Waiting. While both tracks on Tonight’s No Good For Me are markedly more erratic and chaotic than the songs on the former LP, they still stay grounded in the calmer, smoother emo sound running just below the surface. Are these new songs a singular callback to a more youthful iteration of Late Bloomer? Or is this an exercise in proving to themselves that they can still play just as fast and loose as ever? Any way you slice it, Late Bloomer is back with a vengeance and, as singer Neil Mauney declares on “All the Gold,” these guys refuse to go back down.
Chris Williams, better known by his artist name YUNG Citizen, is a Charlotte-based rapper and songwriter who has been a part of the local rap and hip-hop scene since his debut single, “Power People” in 2014. Since then, he’s released a collection of live sessions, an EP, and a handful of singles on which he’s collaborated with other Charlotte singers and rappers.
His July release of Formula I, a two-song EP, channels Williams’ frustrations and aspirations along with a new angle that may seem unfamiliar to long-time listeners. While he’s always had a dark edge to his lyrics and delivery, Formula I ups the ante on this side of his persona. Exhibiting a more sinister influence in place of the upbeat, playful confidence that fans have come to associate with YUNG Citizen’s older material, it’s evident that the young artist has shirked any doubt in his ability, and he’s coming to get what’s his by any means necessary.
In this article
- Anhad + Tanner
- chapel hill
- Emily Sage
- Here Now
- Hey Coyote
- hip hop
- I’m Doing This To Myself
- Keenan Jenkins
- late bloomer
- NC Release Radar
- Neon Souls
- Pink Leather
- self aware records
- Sonny Miles
- Steven Fiore
- Tonight’s No Good For Me
- winston salem
- Young Bull
- Young Mister