NC Release Radar: Our favorite recent North Carolina music releases

By Grant Golden
January 20, 2021

The music industry has this off-kilter, unspoken rule of avoiding releases at the end of the year. Typically saturated with nostalgia-soaked holiday tunes or pre-emptive year-end coverage, it’s hard to garner much attention for late-year releases. But some of the finest art comes from breaking the rules and marching to the beat of your own drum, and sure enough a slew of North Carolina artists put out some of the year’s best music at the tail end of 2020.

In partnership with Come Hear NC, here’s our selection of North Carolina’s finest releases from the past month.

Thousand Dollar Movie – “Everything Lasts Forever”

The brainchild of bassist Jeremy Radio Smith (Public Radio, SOLIS, The Raineers, and John Mark McMillan), Thousand Dollar Movie’s brand of post-rock is a combustible ball of energy, liable to erupt at a moment’s notice. The Charlotte-based quartet– also consisting of Leo Solis (guitar), Kevin Smith (guitar), and Dominique Geralds (drums)– latest single “Everything Last Forever” is mechanical in nature with the bass, guitar, and drums all interwoven in a propulsive ebb and flow. Every line is a slow moving cog that keeps the wheels in motion. As the track progresses, we hear chaotic drum fills, rolling bass riffs, and oversaturated guitar lines take shape.

“Everything Lasts Forever” makes brilliant use of tension and aural spacing. Tremolo picked guitar lines heighten anticipation for a refrain, only to make way for snappy snare hits or a hard plucked bass run. While it’s easy to tune out and let instrumental tunes wash over you, a careful ear can pick up on the brilliant interplay on display within Thousand Dollar Movie’s work. Landing somewhere between shoegaze, noise rock, and post-punk, “Everything Lasts Forever” is a frenetic track that just feels right to keep ripping on repeat.

Carly Taich It Tends To Glow

Prior to completing her work on this six-track EP, Asheville’s Carly Taich was considering a retirement from music, but count your blessings that she didn’t. It Tends To Glow is a fantastical exploration of love’s highs, lows and all the twists and turns in between. This elegantly arranged folk/pop record is a self-described “six-sided die” that finds each track exploring a new take on how love can manifest itself. 

Songs like “Tomatoes” and “If You Want Me To” highlight Taich’s unique brand of brilliance, swirling together decade’s worth of pop styles into a unified and mesmerizing vision. “Tomatoes” features delicate, fluttering strings as Taich wrangles in a broken heart, whereas “If You Want Me To” swaggers to-and-fro like a tender doo-wop track. It Tends To Glow is both insightful and explorative, proving Taich to be one of the most fearless songwriters of western NC. “I keep plugging away at this dream I’m not even sure I care about,” Taich sings on album closer “Red Herring,” and it’s that kind of openness that makes this brief EP such a memorable outing.

Jalen Santoy II Shepherds (Deluxe)

While Charlotte’s Jalen Santoy dropped the stellar II Shepherds back in February of 2020, this Deluxe release adds a staggering eight new tracks, making it well worthy of its new release consideration. II Shepherds marked Santoy’s full-length debut and amassed over 100 million streams with attention-grabbing singles like “Foreplay” and “Dip,” and the Deluxe release shows that there’s plenty more in the tank for this promising young artist.

The variety in production on II Shepherds (Deluxe) allows Santoy to bob and weave through an array of different styles and flows, but he still manages to keep this ambitious 23-track release between the lines. Santoy’s lyrics bounce between growing pains and gold chains, lamenting over losses while swimming in the riches of success. But with that consumption comes introspection and self reflection. Tracks like “Hunnid Million Liquid” outline the pitfalls of this consumerism and the competitive nature of a capitalist society: “I know you might of made it out the hood, but you far from a rich n****, no you aint that / When you put them chains on know that you Black.” It’s a glimpse at the depth and insight that lies within this young rapper who’s already accomplished more than most.

G Yamazawa Durham vs. Everybody

“Y’all know what the difference is between you and me?” G Yamazawa questions. “I make this s*** look good.” 

He’s not wrong. On Durham vs. Everybody, Yamazawa celebrates his long-awaited return to Durham and lyrically finesses his way through the pocket of nine vigorous beats. While Yamazawa’s knack for undeniably heavy hooks shines bright on Durham vs. Everybody, he also shares the stage with some of the state’s most promising up-and-coming rappers, making for a well-rounded variety of flows on display.

Yamazawa spits like a rapper at the top of his game, while also inflecting a vocal cadence that clearly indicates he’s hungry for more acclaim. “Riddle Me This” and “Yao Ming” are some of the strongest tracks of his career, with competitive lines of braggadocio effortlessly injected with character. While one track may proclaim his greatness as a “hall of fame” caliber artist, the next reminds listeners that if he’s got “shoes on in the house / [he] get[s] fussed out.” It’s this blend of swagger and humility that not only makes Yamazawa so good, but also so damn likeable.

D-Town BrassDemiurge

The folks of Durham’s D-Town Brass exist in a lane of their own creation. The 15-piece psych-jazz ensemble revels in controlled cacophony and their recent release, Demiurge, serves as a much-needed escape from reality. Tracks like “Corporate Life Form,” “Late Melody,” “Human Resources,” and “Greasy Rider” are jam-packed with grooves, showcasing the fantastic arrangements from the bandleaders.

Like Sun Ra and His Arkestra or Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis, D-Town Brass has a knack for crafting tunes that careen into chaotic jams only to miraculously reel back into powerful refrain. Demiurge slaps your brain on a cosmic fishhook, tosses you into the ether, then gradually reels you back in. Go ahead and get lost in it.

TheDeeependIn My Head

In My Head finds Charlotte native and now Raleigh-based The Deeepend delving into some of his heaviest content to date. With topics ranging from existential crises to global socio-political observations, In My Head proves to be a huge step forward for the already impressive artist. “Once you get to know yourself, the world is yours,” he raps on “Loading Music,” and In My Head serves as a substantial statement of self realization.

Initially released exclusively on BandCamp, and prefaced with a stellar visual teaser from Ryan Pham, In My Head, feels like a professional level up for TheDeeepend. Placing roll-out methods aside, the album features some of TheDeeepend’s strongest work to date. “Solitude” showcases dazzling internal rhymes (“Rest in peace to all the broken hearted martyrs parked inside their hardships”) while also tackling the racial pay gap. TheDeeepend feels more confident than ever on In My Head, while he outlines his pitfalls and vulnerabilities in a duality that keeps listeners yearning for more.

Dream SitchDream Sitch

Asheville’s Seth Kaufman has long been one of North Carolina’s most underappreciated songwriters, so it should come as no surprise that his collaboration with fellow psych-folk songwriter Michael Nau, Dream Sitch, proved to be one of the finest releases of 2020. Blending elements of dub, pop, psych-rock and mo-town, the music of Dream Sitch feels plucked from a dream.

The songs on Dream Sitch echo with reverb, and the drums and bass cut cleanly through the atmospheric keys and guitar. Nao and Kaufman trade vocal and songwriting duties, often splitting the panning to encompass the listener with their entrancing harmonies. But a well-placed sax line or ear-worm vocal melody rips you from that trance and keeps you coming back for more. Tracks like “Now On,” “Soft Stars, Hard Thunder,” “Random Drips,” and “Oblivion Major” showcase some of the finer moments of this collaboration that one can only hope isn’t a one-off.

Southside Gauxst Hiding in Plain Sight

Some things just can’t be taught, and the presence that Charlotte’s Southside Gauxst has on a track is one of those things. His gruff, booming vocals sit front and center in the mix; even with a trunk-rattling low-end you’re focused on the eloquence of Southside’s flow. The grimy Southside Get The Money 2 just dropped in October, but Gauxst managed to cram in another release before the end of the year with Hiding in Plain Sight.

With sizzling hi-hats and sparse instrumentation, Gauxst makes the most of a roomy mix and comes in with rapidly spit verses on tracks like “PSM Freestyle” and “Dirty Rentals.” “You at Del Frisco’s it’s your birthday / I’m at Del Frisco’s cause it’s Thursday” he raps on “PSM Freestyle,” a track that showcases his nimble flow and ability to cram multi-syllabic rhymes into unexpected pockets of beats.

Pet BugEverything is Happening All At Once

Composed of members from Mineral Girls, It Looks Sad., and Ol’ Sport, Pet Bug is like a Charlotte pop-punk Megazord. Their debut record, Everything Is Happening All At Once, serves as a fuzzed-out ode to desperation, dissatisfaction, and desire. Punctuated by sharp, crunchy guitar riffs, scrappy distorted vocals, and crisp drums, the tracks on Everything is Happening All At Once are plain spoken but packed with sincerity.

The titular album-opening track sets the pace with a slow-rising energy that gradually builds to an explosive and attention-grabbing refrain: “I wish I could be better than I’ve been.” Dylan Fleming’s vocals and lyrics on Everything… continue with this same sense of despair, but are sung with a sense of acceptance and hopefulness. Tracks like “Busch Jr.,” “On My Mind,”  and “Misled” succinctly capture the record’s tone, but closing with “Bigger in Dreams” gives insight towards the band’s trajectory and dynamism. While most of the record is an “all gas, no brakes” kind of affair, “Bigger in Dreams” strips things down for a reflective, introspective track that questions: “What will we do with what we know now.”

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