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

By Grant Golden

December 9, 2021

As the year draws to a close and the days grow shorter, you might be cherishing this chance to reflect on the year past. Or, as you hunker down from the cold, you might be yearning for the sunlit days of summer. In either case, there’s always a tune to help you through it. 

In recent weeks we’ve seen some of our state’s finest local musicians release new projects, while budding new acts have dazzled with strong debuts. So cozy up to some instrumental piano compositions, dance around to ‘80s-inspired pop, or zone out to cinematic beats, because we’ve got another fantastic roundup of recent local releases.

Whoop – Whoop

Although Whoop has only been around for a year, this eclectic group of Raleigh-based musicians has crafted one of the year’s more compelling debuts. Whoop garnered a regional buzz with “Cool,” a track that effortlessly exudes its titular vibes, but Whoop’s self-titled full length proves that the group is capable of a cohesive and captivating collection of tunes. Whoop! is a nimble record that encompasses the grit of rock, the bounce of reggae and the complex flares of jazz, all held together by the emotive performance of 22-year-old vocalist Fal. With an equal blend of dance-ready tracks like “What I Want” and slow-grooving bops like closer “Nash Park,” Whoop showcases a well-rounded vision bustling with potential.

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The Muslims – Fuck These Fuckin Fascists 

Since their inception in 2017, Durham’s punk outfit The Muslims have represented punk in its purest form. Fuck These Fuckin Fascists marks their debut on the iconic Epitaph Records and finds the band at their sharpest to date. With a combination of sardonic humor and outright rage, vocalist QADR traverses topics like white supremacy, anti-immigration, people that refuse to wear masks and much more. From the album’s opener “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” to the surreal closer of “John McCain’s Ghost Sneaks into The White House and Tea Bags The President,” it’s all gas and no brakes for this progressive punk trio. In a climate where many are preaching to find even ground and compromise ideals for “unity,” The Muslims throw up a middle finger and tell listeners to “crotch pop a cop.” And that’s punk rock.

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Phil Cook – All These Years 

For over a decade Durham’s Phil Cook has established himself as one of the state’s most masterful musicians. While Cook has garnered heavy acclaim wearing many musical hats, with contributions to artists like Bon Iver, Kanye West and Hiss Golden Messenger, his light shines brightest in his solo work. All These Years is Cook’s first instrumental piano release and it’s a blissful collection of pensive tunes. Recorded at NorthStar Church of the Arts in Durham and written on a Blue Ridge Mountain retreat, All These Years is both a coy and expressive project. Cook describes the record as “hymn-provisational,” following sonic structures of hymns while remaining improvisational in nature. Songs like “Bicycle Kids” are bright and buoyant while “Aubade in F Major” and “Alone” feel more restrained and contemplative. As the record progresses it’s hard not to kick back and let Cook’s meditative melodies guide you into a state of tranquility.

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704chop – Broken Soul 

Charlotte’s 704chop brings a refreshing sense of honesty and profundity to our local hip hop scene. After amassing millions of streams from his 2020 record, Loyalty Means Everything, Chop continues to develop his musical style with the strong collection of tracks on Broken Soul. In a record filled with soulful production and straightforward lyricism, Chop’s brings desperation and loneliness to the forefront in a way that few artists can. “I don’t wanna be numb no more/I need love” he plainly spits on standout, “Numb,” a line he quickly delivers with little pageantry. Powerful lyrics like this are peppered throughout the album and give depth to an already fascinating artist. Whether he’s ruminating on the loss of loved ones, misgivings of things to come, or trying to focus on living in the present, Chop produces insightful and clever rhymes with strong melodies that linger long after the music has ended. Fans of no-frills, hard-hitting artists need look no further than 704chop.

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Southside Gauxst – Still Hiding In Plain Sight  

Southside Gauxst further solidifies himself as one of the most underrated Charlotte artists. Following up from last year’s Hiding In Plain Sight, Southside Gauxst has released another dazzling collection of hard-hitting bass-heavy tracks with Still Hiding In Plain Sight. Eschewing a traditional verse-chorus-verse layout, Gauxst’s flow swerves in and out of spacious beats and builds anticipation for his resonant hooks. Opening track, “The Fifth,” showcases his rhythmic vocals, while tracks like “The Score” and “Landlord Freestyle pt. II” highlight his clever lyricism. With such consistent and well-rounded artistry on display, it’s hard not to be a fan of the Gauxstman.

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Dante High – Dante High II  

Soaking in the musical vision of Chapel Hill’s Ari Picker is one of the most fulfilling parts of following the local music scene. Since his days in the orchestral folk outfit Lost in the Trees, Picker has created vivid art that transplants listeners to a carefully crafted time and place. Dante High II is the heavily anticipated follow-up to Dante High’s self-titled 2018 debut, and it’s every bit as satisfying as fans hoped. Soaked in ‘80s nostalgia and polished with a dark veneer, Dante High II is a record with deep grooves from robust synth lines, soaring vocal melodies and sax riffs from Matt Douglas (The Mountain Goats) that would make The Boss jealous. “Victims of Victims,” “Deeper Love” and “Casual Dancer” are brighter standouts while tracks like “Carphone” and “Cult Leader” showcase the more subdued and brooding nature of the band’s songwriting prowess. Whether you’re here for the ‘80s cheese or the sing-a-long ready hooks, you’re bound to walk away with something to love.  

Chris Buxton – We Don’t Have Long 

Charlotte’s Chris Buxton is shaping up to be one of the region’s burgeoning pop artists.His combination of pop melodies and hip hop rhythms pairs well with fast cars and open windows, landing somewhere between wistful nostalgia and euphoric youth. Clocking in under 15 minutes, We Don’t Have Long highlights Buxton’s brevity and intentions of grandeur. On the opening track, “Rents Due,” Buxton boasts of freewheeling elopement and escapism of the 9-to-5 grind, while on “Good Days” he embraces complicated feelings of a lost love, and closing track “Slide” displays a bold sense of dynamism. We Don’t Have Long is a well-rounded record that gives an enticing glimpse into this young artist’s future.

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Axnt – On Impulse

Charlotte-based producer Axnt has become one of the more acclaimed beatmakers in the state, after a handful of remarkable releases with Durham’s Raund Haus collective. Axnt’s music is cinematic in nature, full of deep worlds and brilliantly melded textural samples. Tracks like “92!” highlight Axnt at his finest, with disparate vocal samples placed over propelling percussive hits, all weaving through lingering synth pads. Never settling on a genre, tracks range from hip hop-inspired beats to a jungle and IDM influences, The dynamic builds tension throughout the record, ultimately making for an entrancing listen that’s easy to get lost in.

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Cam Cokas – Sketches  

Debut albums are truly special. They are an exploratory glance into an artist’s potential, and that’s what makes Sketches such a fun listen. The ten tracks that comprise this Asheville-based songwriter’s debut record are lush and lively, ranging from slow-rising R&B ballads to danceable pop jaunts. Cam Cokas morphs guitar and piano samples into contemporary R&B soundscapes, embellished with layers of rich harmony and dense percussion. Tracks like “Rio,” “Move On” and “Lifeline” showcase Cokas’ strong sense of melody, rhythm and dynamics. Sketches is a strong stand-alone project, but it also breeds excitement for the years to come as he further refines his songwriting and production skills, exactly what a debut project should do.

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Josh Moore – Sunrise 

Carrboro’s Josh Moore is probably your favorite local songwriter’s favorite local songwriter. It’s been six years since the folk artist’s last full-length record, which makes the opening notes of Sunrise that much sweeter. Gentle guitar strums and Moore’s smooth vocals crooning of long summer days and nights elicit a warm feeling that remains throughout the duration of the album. Alongside heavy-hitting supporting musicians like Ryan Gustafson (The Dead Tongues), Skylar Gudasz, and Libby Rodenbough (Mipso), Moore crafts plain-spoken pastoral folk. Sunrise is a record embellished with passionate vocals and uplifting arrangements that accompany messages of strength and positivity. Album opener “Sunrise” is a triumphant track of perseverance, “Beauty of this World” brings subtle horns to a track celebrating existence, and “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” shuffles along with bright nonchalance. Sunrise serves as a welcomed return to music from Josh Moore, and we can only hope we don’t have to wait another six years for his next outing.

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