NC’s best releases of 2013: No. 25-12
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25. CIVILIZED JEWS & CATHOLICS
Don’t be fooled by the title of Jews & Catholics’ Civilized. The unholy combo of Eddie Garcia’s ravenous riffs and Alanna Meltzer’s classical iconoclasm on upright bass are anything but. Like the weather, if you don’t like it, just wait a few. Stabbing, abrasive Dino Jr. Jr.-style rock becomes gurgling doom metal on a whim, and twisted jangle finds empathy alongside dreamy shoegaze.
24. SOUL ON FIRE ETHERNADASSASSIN
You won’t find a single feature through the first 11 tracks of rapper ethemadassassin’s streetwise third LP, Soul On Fire. It’s a lonely road he walks, and at times it feels like he’s overcome by the swirling orchestral instrumentals, but there are occasions where he asserts himself as being among the sharpest of underground emcees.
23. COLORADO UNIFIER
Aslan Freeman is no stranger to change. After bouncing from project to project for a few years, quietly honing his pop-rock chops, he finally settles into the project that could become “the one” in Future Ghosts. Change wasn’t done with him, as the band was hit with a cease-and-desist order over use of its name, the Greensboro band called Future Ghosts became Unifier and their debut album Colorado is a monument to the kind of non-pandering, assertively accessible pop that practically began and ended with Jimmy Eat World. Freeman’s lyrics challenge, his riffs are choppy and bright, the toms and hats want to bust eardrums, and while there’s really not a standout track, it makes for inspiring sonic scenery.
22. EP THE BRAND NEW LIFE
The Brand New Life’s last offering before leaving Greensboro for the greener musical pastures of New York City is also a bold departure from the Afrobeat fusion on which they built their name. It does, however, present the Brand New Life at its playful, mischievous best. Its four tracks utilize tricky time signatures meant to fly past all but the most astute listeners, mixed in with conventional four-on-the-floor beats. That it was nearly two years in the making was a far cry from the breakneck two days of live tracking spent on their seven-song 2010 debut.
21. DARK HOLLER POP MIPSO
You have to admire songwriters who are willing to venture outside their immediate area of expertise to cull a turn of phrase that could either elevate an entire song, or cause it to fall apart upon examination. When Joseph Terrell of Mipso sings “sign me up for experimental laparoscopic cardiology” on the heartbreaker “Red Eye to Raleigh,” no one cares that he’s not singing about an actual medical procedure, least of all the cardiologist-turned-label owner that made a gem of crossover bluegrass and whip-smart folk-pop like Dark Holler Pop possible.
20. MERMAIDS MICHAEL RANK & STAG
There’s a difficult choice to be made between Michael Rank’s two excellent 2013 LPs. Ultimately, it would reflect your preference between the Rolling Stone’s Beggars Banquet and Sticky Fingers. Rank and Stag’s comparisons to the Stones are earned: he makes gritty, passionate country rock with gravelly vocals and reckless, bluesy guitar abandon. His October release, Mermaids, find kinship in the former with its more measured execution and lavish arrangements. After the post-divorce exercise in emotional release on February’s In the Weeds, Rank is evolving in the opposite direction, and on Mermaids his damaged growl finds a new home amidst an ace collection of players like John Teer and Emilie Frantz.
19. ANTI-AMERICANA: SPEAKING TO THE UNCON- SCIOUS MIND OF THE SOUTHWESTAMERIGLOW
A few years ago, Israel Darling’s Jacob Darden committed a classic rock gaffe: Fed up with making music, he hocked nearly all of his instruments and amps, swearing off songwriting for the less complicated life of chasing a girl around the Northeast. Predictably, the itch for songwriting returned, and Darden flayed away the Biblical complexities and knotty arrangements of his most notable work down to the simplified garage-country found on Anti-Americana, the debut EP of Ameriglow.
18. METRICS OF AFFECTION BOMBADIL
Durham chamber-folk quartet Bombadil were strangely silent following their pretty good 2011 record All That the Rain Promises, but their quirky Ramseur Records release, Metrics of Affection, was worth the wait. It fell on the opposite end of the color spectrum from the darker previous record, but its most noteworthy accomplishment was as a spectacular piece to their ostentatious live shows.
17. LOVE IN FLYING COLORS THE FOREIGN EXCHANGE
It was hard to stand out in a year in which artists like Autre Ne Veut and Blood Orange took grown and sexy sounds into the next millennium, and as such Phonte Coleman and Nicolay’s fourth album more or less maintained a holding pattern from 2010’s Authenticity. Their brand of R&B remains inherently good for your soul, and Love In Flying Colors is like chicken soup in that regard.
16. NATIVE AIR LOWLAND HUM
As tempting as it might be to say that newlyweds Daniel Levi and Lauren Goans make sweet music on their debut album as Lowland Hum, it would be the kind of egregious clich’ that’s beneath Native Air. It is indeed one of the sweetest, most intimately penned records to come out of North Carolina this year; between their tranquil harmonies and Daniel Levi’s uncanny melodic sensibilities, it moves as impulsively as a new-fallen leaf on an autumn breeze from top to bottom.
15. LOVE & BARBITUATES E. NORMUS TRIO
The award for oddest arrangement of the year goes to Asheville jazz futurists E. Normus Trio, whose Love & Barbiturates explores the unlikely (or maybe likely) kinship between its two titular concepts via bass clarinet and N/S Stick. Jay Sanders is a force on the eight-stringed N/S, conflating the guitar and bass parts at once against the torrential rhythms of Michael Davis. At its center is Steve Alford, whose melodic ideas are more in line with Dolphy than a traditional clarinetist like Goodman. Together, they’re one of the state’s most interesting fusion combos, and Love & Barbiturates is an exciting manifesto on the future of Tar Heel jazz.
14. SAMANTHA’S VACATION/POSTCARDS FROM MSSR PERDUSAMANTHA VACATION
One part acid-splashed techno and one part druggy cosmic missive, the debut release by Chapel Hill producer Daryl Seaver under the name Samantha Vacation is the latest territorial expansion by the ridgidly DIY Long Island Electrical Systems (LIES) label. If there’s a groove in this glorious mess of neon kicks and ghostly vocals cut on discernibly crappy gear, it’s always one step ahead of you.
13. SHARP OBJECTS OMNISCIENCE
The reappearance of Bear Creek emcee Omniscience from the ether is one of the more improbable occurrences in hip-hop this year, but the one-time major label castoff found believers in Milwaukee beat miners Dope Folks Records. A steady stream of prime wax that began with the reissue of his once-lost ’93 release The Funky Oneliner, a prized relic of Greensboro’s superb rap past, opened the door to more sold-out reissues and recently opened the door for new, independent material. Sharp Objects shows that the old dog can still bark, spitting lines like “Fuck a spoon, I’m a show you how to eat with a pen” in his grainy flow against Debonair P’s meaty boom-bap.
12. WELCOME TO REIDSVILLE YOUNG DIRT
American Aquarium’s BJ Barham sings an eponymous ode to his Reidsville home that paints it as a drowsy small town whose denizens are more concerned with Ford vs. Chevy, and everyone is “too much in love to give a god damn.” From the perspective of rapper Young Dirt on his debut mixtape Welcome to Reidsville, that same Small Town, USA is trapped-out hustler’s utopia, and he’s got his flow tight enough to rise above it while still repping it (he’s sure to distinguish the Tre Fo from his city in the opening bit). Refer also to the tape’s best track, buoyed by an incredible finger-picked guitar sample, the Robb County-produced “Country Boy”: “Passport, laptop, headphones, I’m trippin’ like whose life is this?/ Who’da thought west-end Reidsville be overseas on this business trip?” Awesome. !
THE TOP 10 RELEASES WILL RUN IN THIS SPACE ON JAN. 8.