NC’s best releases of 2013: Nos. 11 – 1
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11. OUR OWN MASTERS VALIENT THORR
Valient Thorr take an axe to gross consumer culture immediately on Our Own Masters, their first LP in three years, with the razor-sharp “Immaculate Consumption.” It’s a jagged, relentless assault that recalls the best of Thin Lizzy or Pentagram at high RPM, and if it’s a departure from the legend building of the Chapel Hill metal warriors’ first decade, it’s because they’re now imposing their agenda on the legions of Thorrians they’ve accrued over six albums of ball-breaking metal. There is a closing moment of fealty to a greater power, however. Between the hook “My body aches for dry land” and the direct lift of the riff from Queens of the Stone Age’s “No One Knows,” “Call Off the Dogs” plays like a plea for a Kyuss reunion.
10. SEASON OF 1000′ COLORS ESTRANGERS
Few bands have demonstrated the kind of concerted growth in the past two years that Winston-Salem’s Estrangers have. The dreamy summer psychedelia on their 2012 EP Sunmelt might as well have been a different band from their patchy, introverted 2011 debut Black Ballroom (and in some ways, it physically was).
Season of 1000 Colors retains the band’s love affair with fuzz and reverb, but it does so within prescribed limitations, both vocally and melodically. Its greatest realization, though, is the ascension of David Todd Murray’s pristine synths from the melodic underpinning to a key role on tracks like “Love’s Pure Light.”
9. MEMORIES & BIRDS KENNY ROBY
Kenny Roby presented his first album in seven years as if no one was going to remember the decade of creative stick and move that preceded the layoff. In classic Roby fashion, he’s come back with a haymaker from the blind spot. Ever the maverick, Memories & Birds is eight songs of lush, attentive Americana that radiates lyrical authenticity against a bed a strings and woodwinds while closely admiring the kind of grandiose arrangements that drove Lee Hazlewood to the periphery during his LHI years.
8. MIRACLE TEMPLE MOUNT MORIAH
Strangely enough, North Carolina did not stop making music after all the praise that there was to be shoveled in 2013 was heaped onto Mount Moriah’s Miracle Temple by February. It still seems like ages ago that Heather McEntire and Jenks Miller released the album that was said to recast country music with a more earnest purpose, but ironically, its resignation towards times and sounds that can’t be had again have kept it strong and playable.
7. TODDLERS TODDLERS
Chapel Hill’s Toddlers ran the gamut of releases in 2013. Their surprise February EP 19 was a promising sampling of murky pop noir and sonorous post-punk that hinted at a heavy Cure influence, which was followed by a brooding RSD single that paid homage to darker sources, like Bauhaus or Sisters of Mercy. Their Mitch Easter-produced full length in October buffed out the grungy topcoat and offered great, if icy power pop, propelled by Nathan Toben’s corduroy vocals and disconsolate lyricism.
6. HOME ADDRESS FOR CIVIL WAR EROS & THE ESCHATON
How Adam Hawkins and Kate Perdoni found a home in Greensboro is a marvelous story of its own, one that seems to evolve with every telling, but the basic premise is that things just happen. Their debut as Eros & the Eschaton, Home Address for Civil War, is reflective of that. Their amorphous harmonies are lost under fuzzed-out, sea foam melodies, their meanings purposefully left to individual interpretation. It’s a seraphic union that obliquely recalls Mike Milosh of Rhye in its rigorous androgyny, but it’s a record that demands attentive listening — what the takeaway is, is less important.
5. BLOOD DRIVE ASG
Every single track on Blood Drive, the fifth album by Wilmington sludge-rockers ASG, sounds like it could crack the rotation of your typical modern rock station. Now, that’s not to say that ASG makes the kind of butt metal that gets played these days; just the opposite. It’s that their sound is so ingenuously simple that metal fans would demand that music like that of Blood Drive penetrate the airwaves instead. It’s Mother Love Bone meets Clutch — frontman Jason Shi’s anti-gravity vocals float above riffs so sludgy it’s like wading through the Cape Fear River basin after a hurricane in flip-flops.
4. SHE GOT GAME RAPSODY
If you follow producer extraordinaire 9th Wonder on Twitter, you know he retweets EVERY. SINGLE. INSTANCE of praise for his protege Rapsody’s excellent mixtape She Got Game.That in and of itself was a full-time job, and the praise (even if to excess) was deserved. In a year in which the most prevalent story in country music was that female artists were becoming the torch bearers of its truest traditions without the financial success of their male counterparts, there’s a case that Rapsody was hip-hop’s Kacey Musgraves. She’s an old-school firebrand with a full quiver of emotions at her disposal — anger, hope, resentment, pride and love — and she deploys them all to outstanding effect as she went bar-for-bar with the likes of Phonte, Ab-Soul, Chance the Rapper and Raekwon.
3. HAW HISS GOLDEN MESSENGER
Michael Taylor came to North Carolina to study and record the state’s abundant folk music traditions and in the process, his band Hiss Golden Messenger became one of their healthiest tributaries. The band’s fourth album Haw assimilates historical Tar Heel influences like it does great sidemen. Phil Cook, William Tyler and Nathan Bowles all make their mark amidst Taylor’s roots poetry, songs that deal in death, family, spirituality and the endless joys of self-discovery. It’s a country record at its heart, if only by proximity, but it’s also an expression that’s too righteous for labels.
2. THE PATRIARCH II DENIRO FARRAR
It’s not an indictment of Charlotte rising star Deniro Farrar that some of the audience who heard his set at a Show of Hands concert back in the fall complained to organizers about the emcee’s lyrical content, but on the audience themselves. There’s imminent truth in his words that shouldn’t be casually dismissed. Farrar spits it how he lives it, walking the line between the light and the dark, always leaning one way while being dragged in another. On The Patriarch II, he offers some of his most poignant verses, begging for the freedom of his brother while asserting that his career isn’t predicated on fame or money — though those will come — but just to have his family whole again.
1. SINGS MARLEY CARROLL
To say that Asheville music polymath Marley Carroll has been swimming against the EDM current following his deeply affecting 2007 debut album, Melanaster, provides an incomplete picture. A classically trained pianist with an almost symbiotic relationship to the groove, he just hasn’t been bound by the same creative constraints as your average ProTools wiz kid. On his new album Sings, Carroll shines in reconciling the tricky relationship between melody, space and beat with tunes that could stretch across an African veldt (“Speed Reader”) or create a inescapable sense of claustrophobia. More so, he transcends the lockstep comparisons to Caribou’s Dan Snaith that have harangued him since Melanaster simply by making this completely intuitive as a dance record, while also maintaining the level of sophistication that has become his calling card. !