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

 By Grant Golden

March 17, 2021

For the first time in nearly 12 months, it feels like there’s a light at the end of our collective tunnel. The sun started shining a little longer, vaccine rollouts are making our world a little safer every day, and remarkable new music keeps gracing our ears. Whether you’re kicking off your spring cleaning, taking a sun-soaked hike, or celebrating a break from a long winter, we’ve compiled a list of fantastic new North Carolina music to soundtrack your days.

OCNS – Euphoria

OCNS first hit the North Carolina scene in 2012, but you wouldn’t be able to tell at first glance. While the Raleigh-based band garnered quite the buzz with a string of poppy singles in 2018, they’ve been all but scrubbed from the internet as a lead-up for their latest effort, “Euphoria.”  

“Euphoria” is a refined piece of music built around lush strings and synths; the track glides with wistful falsetto melodies. Tinkling piano hits are countered with legato bass lines that ebb and flow in a dynamic manner that fleshes out a rich and encompassing mix. As the vocals shift from a delicate falsetto to a plainspoken croon, the band’s sense of dynamism shines. “I don’t wanna be / I don’t wanna feel / I don’t wanna be all alone,” the lyrical longing aligns with the restrained downtempo soundscape to make for a compelling track that hints at excellence to come from OCNS.

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Devy Quills – It’s Only Up From Here

In recent years the Triad has had quite a hip-hop resurgence and, with It’s Only Up From Here, Winston Salem’s Devy Quills adds his name to the ever-growing list of promising young artists. Quills is a methodical emcee, spitting lively bars atop jazzy production, and this 17-minute EP is an impressive showing.

“To hell with punchlines, I want sunshine” Quills spits in the opening bars of a record full of vibrant beats and memorable melodies. While the sonic qualities are bright and buoyant, Quills’ lyrical content packs a potent punch. “Granny been a better friend to me than I ever been,” he raps on the brief and contemplative “Graceful Landings.” It’s Only Up From Here is a record that contains multitudes, packing in heavy introspection as much as it does pop-leaning anthems. Throw in a well placed Sonny Miles feature with “Gravy,” and you’ve got a record that positions you for nothing but success.

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Mavi – End of the Earth

Charlotte native Mavi gained national attention with his 2019 debut Let The Sun Talk, a contemplative record that showed maturity and insight beyond his years. Since his debut he’s only garnered more attention and critical acclaim thanks to a handful of fantastic singles and an Earl Sweatshirt collaboration. With End of the Earth, Mavi’s latest 14-minute EP, we see the young artist bridging a gap from Let The Sun Talk to his forthcoming full-length, Shango.

End of the Earth is a fantastic five-song run that showcases Mavi’s lyrical and melodic prowess. Straying away from hook-heavy tracks, each song on End of the Earth is patient but captivating. Mavi strings along long-running rhyme schemes to build anticipation, then drops the ground from under the listener with hard-hitting lines. Whether he’s rapping over trunk-rattling tracks like “Methods” or a percussion-less instrumental like “Town Crier,” Mavi crafts engaging melodies then packs them with impressive lyrical displays. End of the Earth is but a brief glimpse into the greatness to come from Mavi.

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Nia J – “Hazy”

Since 2019, Charlotte’s Nia J has steadily dropped memorable R&B singles that traverse the tumultuous nature of romance. Following in the path of artists like H.E.R and Daniel Caesar, Nia’s tracks boast a woozy R&B ethos around guitar-driven production, and her latest effort “Hazy” is another stellar outing.

Anchored by a dreamy guitar loop, “Hazy” is a track that explores the uncertainty of newfound love: “Just saw you but I miss you / Don’t know that I am meant to / But last night I dreamt I kissed you, is it nothing?” Between the sparse instrumentation and precise percussive hits, Nia J builds layers of harmonies around her own vocals to create a complex yet nimble soundscape.With a handful of standout singles now under her belt, one can only hope a full project is on the way soon.

Instagram / Spotify 

Letters to a Young Ghost – Letters to a Young Ghost

Raleigh’s electropop duo Letters to a Young Ghost is blazing their own compelling musical trail. Sarah Fuller (formerly of See Gulls) crafts entrancing electronic backgrounds for Robin Vuchnich’s haunting vocals. Each track feels like its own world, thinly connected to one another through unifying synth sounds and vocal modifications.

As their self-titled record progresses, Fuller builds out skittering percussive sections that pair excellently with Vuchnich’s intoxicating vocals and robust synth compositions. With arpeggiated synth lines and pulsating drum beats, tracks like “Paterotica” and “Diamond Mine” highlight some of the more compelling productions on the EP, while tracks like “Bluebird” and “Dog Star” allow Vuchnich’s vocal prowess to take the reins over subtle arrangements. With unique productions and a blend of personal and political lyricism, this EP proves to be an engrossing introduction to a fresh new act.

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Dollar Signs – Hearts of Gold

Charlotte’s Dollar Signs is an ever-evolving punk band with a propensity for perseverance. What began as an acoustic punk group over ten years back has evolved into a raucous quintet that wraps songs of an anxious existence into triumphant anthems. Hearts of Gold marks the band’s third full-length record and their debut on esteemed punk label, Pure Noise Records. Vocalist Erik Button spits sardonic takes atop careening instrumentation, tracks chug along with fast down-stroked guitar lines only to unravel with tumultuous drum breaks or uplifting horns lines. Dollar Signs pulls no punches on lyrical content–they delve into weighty topics like chronic depression– but they pepper these topics with a keen sense of self-awareness and dry humor. With Hearts of Gold the band further expands their sonic horizons while giving fans the trademark sense of wry hopefulness that keeps them coming back for more. 

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Jalisa – “New Love”

Watching an artist’s growth is one of the most fulfilling aspects of being a music lover. That’s why it’s so exciting to see a debut as fully realized as Durham’s Jalisa. Alongside the budding NC producer Soul (Rapsody, J. Cole), Jalisa crafts a song as rich as it is delicate. 

Musing on newfound romance, Jalisa’s lyrics and vocals are forward and confident. “Ain’t no mistaking this one for lust” she sings, “whatever we were looking for found us.” Her melodies are sleek, layering her own harmonies atop Soul’s, well, soulful keys, bass and drum beats. Throughout the track Jalisa displays an impressive vocal range with crisp falsettos and sprawling vocal runs that highlight an equally attention-grabbing low end. “New Love” is a short but sweet introduction to a new artist that’s brimming with potential and well-defined vision.

Instagram / Spotify 

AZUL – “Sleeps”

Raleigh’s Azul Zapata is no stranger to the North Carolina music scene. She first broke onto the scene with electropop duo Fluorescence, but her most recent work as AZUL is her most impressive output to date. Blending her Latin roots with elements of pop, jazz, blues and soul, Zapata gives not only a unique perspective on modern music, but also one with undeniable staying power.

“Sleeps” opens with an emotive trumpet line that slowly fades from the mix, giving way to a stirring bass line and snappy percussion. “I haven’t dreamt of you in months,” Zapata croons as the song slowly unfurls, interweaving elements of electronic soundscapes, piano-driven pop ballads and spirited horn breaks. “Sleeps” is the second single Zapata has released in 2021 and both tracks peel back new layers to this enthralling songwriter.

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Pat Junior – “Black Beamin” ft DL Zene, theDeeepEnd

It’s hard to think of a local artist that executes on a vision as clearly and intently as Pat Junior. The Raleigh-based producer and emcee follows up a flawless 2020 with the radiant new single, “Black Beamin’,” a song that celebrates black excellence in all forms.

With a theDeeepEnd guest verse and DL Zene on the hook, Pat and company craft an inspiring track that proves to be one of his most memorable releases to date. Over an infectious beat built around a simple vocal refrain and airy keys, Pat and theDeeepEnd tout self-love while uplifting black men and women, and honoring those lost in the continued fight against police brutality. “We black beaming” sings DL Zene, “Shining and dreaming/Thriving and fighting/For what we believe in.” Paired with the contagiously bright visuals co-directed by Pat Junior and J. “Slim” Robertson, “Black Beamin’” serves as yet another hit in a long string of home-runs from Pat.

Pat Junior: Instagram / Twitter, DL Zene: Instagram / Facebook, theDeeepEnd: Instagram / Twitter 

William Nesmith – Sunrise

Greensboro’s William Nesmith started his musical career as a songwriter, but his debut EP Sunrise proves that he’s got ample talents to be a pop artist all his own. Combining his upbringing as a classical pianist with radio-ready dance productions, Sunrise is an apt title for the introductory release to this bright artist.

Opening with the house music-inspired dance track, “Unexpected,” Sunrise runs the gamut of pop music styles. Blending pitched-up vocal samples with pulsing synths and arpeggiated piano runs, Nesmith’s debut is a unique musical excursion that shows the world a fresh new voice. As we hit the pivotal key change in the titular track, it’s clear that Nesmith is going to be a powerful musical force in the coming years.

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