The Carolinas’ 25 best albums of 2012

by Ryan Snyder

Every year, Shuffle magazine solicits music writers from across the Carolinas to rank the 25 best records to come out of the two states. The lists are composited into a single, marvelously flawed and debate-worthy product, as noted by the conspicuous lack of hip hop in the final list (found at that serves as an excellent starting point for all music Tar Heel and Palmetto. I don’t claim to have heard every record put out in the Carolinas this year, so naturally there are as many notable exclusions as there are potentially head-scratching inclusions. I did, however, attempt a valiant, cross-regional and cross-cultural survey of what the states have to offer, and my list goes like this.


Somewhere between Spider Bags’ wonderfully scuzzy Goodbye Cruel World, Hello Crueler World and the supposedly Bacchanalian Memphis recording session that produced its follow-up, the band’s chief songwriter and master of ceremonies Dan McGee got married. For most men, it’s a come-to-Jesus reappraisal of their lifestyle. For McGee, it was another excuse to throw a party. That follow-up, entitled Shake Your Head, tosses the band’s roadmap out the window and goes all in on ricocheting guitars and raw hooks. It’s a glorious rager crammed into 30 or so minutes that wastes absolutely no time on its way to kicking ass.


Mike Dean, Woody Weatherman, Reed Mullin. It’s been 27 years since the album credits on a Corrosion of Conformity record were so simple, yet there’s a kind of poetry that the self-titled comes now. That’s where all that nonsense ends though, because this is gut punch of an album from the band’s smallest, baddest lineup.


It’s likely that most will have typecast HGTR as some sort of brassy bluegrass revivalists at this point, but Patrick Leslie’s departure prompted a needed sea change. Their gooey pop core remains to a degree, but Sweat Like the Old Days is absolutely the throwback rock record that the band set out to make.


Another reissue, despite what Boone prog-pop quintet Naked Gods’ latest album implies, it kinda does jam, all with tongues firmly planted in cheeks and one hand with fingers crossed behind their back.


It costs money to sound this trashy. Delivered with basementquality fidelity, South Carolina’s Company upped the production on Dear America, their follow-up to their tinny debut Holy City. Of course, this positioning is partially assuming that they’re a clever Band of Horses parody.


Practically no one outside of Trade Street heard the unforgiving debut by Winston-Salem psych-rock quartet Ramps, but for a community that likes to keep it in the house, no one is complaining.


Floating Action earned a Top 5 nod in this space last year and followed it up with another strong effort that won them top honors in the final list. Call it the “Jim James bump.” Its release on the My Morning Jacket singer’s label elevated their profile, but Fake Blood reminds too much of Desert Etiquette with plus production. In this case, more was just a little less.


Russ Baggett’s recording career as been fluid to this point to say the least, but Some Army’s EP somehow feels defining for all its brevity. He boiled down all of the Honored Guests’ folky, poppy, shoegazey idioms into seven muscular tracks that will hopefully press forward in future releases.


Once you get past the tepid title track of North Carolina’s other J, Faithful Struggle reveals an affectation for old-school boom bap, pared down and smooth out, and a battle-tested rapper going highly conceptual.


You can spend as much time as you want listening to the music of Pittsboro songwriter MC Taylor, but there will probably always remain this ethereal quality about him that’s unfathomable. Lord I Love the Rain sorts out his existing enigma while creating new ones at the same time.


A tame year for North Carolina hip hop doesn’t preclude excellence entirely. Charlotte emcee Deniro Farrar traded couplets with Green Ova crewmember Shady Blaze from across the contiguous 50 and by all accounts, the pair still haven’t met each other.


The debut album by John Wollaber and Brad Morton’s chillwave quintet plays like the soundtrack to the wooliest of youthful memories, from the innocent (“We Were full of Brave Illusions About Each Other”) to the libidinous (“Hours We Could Have Spent F*cking on the Couch”).


Philip Pledger is the only constant of Winston-Salem fuzz-pop group Estrangers, and that includes his band’s creative direction. White Ballroom’s guitar-centric introversion belied the waves of blushing synths on Sunmelt, but there was nothing coy about it. It plays like a day spent smoking weed at the beach with your best friends, its songs unapologetically blissful.


Technically an independent release in 2011, new life was breathed into Durham sec-gospel outfit Mount Moriah’s stunning self-titled album when they signed to Merge Records.

Rayna Gellert — Old Light: Songs from My Childhood and Other Gone Worlds

The split from all-girl ‘grass group Uncle Earl worked out well last year for Abigail Washburn, and now add violinist Rayna Gellert to its made-good alumnae. Musicianship will never be in question with Gellert, but Old Light’s finest moments are when Gellert’s troubled relationship with its more haunting pieces are apparent.

Crystal Bright & the Silver Hands — Muses & Bones

A retooled lineup from her debut opened up the playbook for the mercurial, impossibly talented Bright, and Muses & Bones is a twisting journey through the darkest and most illuminated corners of her psyche. It’s a challenging listen that reaps new rewards every time through.

Paint Fumes — Uck Life

What is the sound of writhing around on a grimy basement floor at 3 a.m., covered in sweat and stale beer? That would be the Charlotte scuzz-rock trio Paint Fume’s December 2012 release.

Trioscapes — Separate Realities

Born from a larkish mutual affection of fusion pioneers Mahavishnu Orchestra, the strength of Trioscapes’ independent release was good enough that it won them a deal with Metal Blade Records. It’s not likely to have hit the sweet spot for bassist Dan Briggs’s Between the Buried and Me faithful, but it’s a creatively aggro investigation of the trio’s power and range.

The Bayonets — Driver

Driver represented a united front for the Bayonets after the band amicably agreed to drop Caleb Caudle’s name from the front, but unfortunately it could represent the end of the Bayonets after Caudle went to pursue a solo career. Still, it stands as the alt-country band’s finest.

Jack Carter & the Armory — anthropomorphic transfiguration

One of the most criminally overlooked releases of the year, Jack Carter’s debut featured arguably the greatest collections of Greensboro musicians on record in 2012.

Gross Ghost — Brer Rabbit

2012 was a great year for the revival of ‘90s slacker-rock, and the razor bladed hooks of Brer Rabbit are some the catchiest anywhere.

Whatever Brains — Whatever Brains

Matt Park of Airstrips commented in a piece earlier this year that Whatever Brains makes the kind of punk rock that can “make your blood shake.” There will be no argument here. Their eponymous album, released late enough last year to qualify for 2012, is a dizzying flurry of sonic haymakers that is Mayweather to your Pacquiao.

The Leeves — Monaural Vision

Note: This spot was initially reserved for the Leeves’ cassette-only release, but its disappearance from their Bandcamp page has made a revisitation for commentary rather difficult.

Diali Cissohko & Kaira Ba — Resonance

The brassy, euphoric sounds of Resonance are not entirely those of Cissohko’s centuries-long griot lineage, but they are those of compromise. So rather than being a skillfully executed collection of traditional pieces, Resonance is layers upon layers of complex, swinging melodies and moral treatises of ancient origin.

Elvis Depressedly — Mickey’s Dead

Essentially the polar opposite of Mat Cothran’s sometime’s annoyingly twee Coma Cinema, Elvis Depressedly is the bleakest of listens, but his lyrics occupy a murky corner of all our minds.