Now Hear This: Editors’ Picks (Spring ’13)

baobab

Baobab
BAYOHBAHB
(self-released)

Rare is a second record that so purposefully builds on the strengths of its predecessor. Bolstering the percolating electro-folk of Baobab’s self-titled debut, Durham’s Phil Torres infuses his self-produced constructions with stronger melodic hooks and an even more meticulous array of charming effects. The instrumental offering “Thohoyandou” builds by way of Torres’ typical Graceland-inspired picking and afrobeat backing vocals, but soon twists with psychedelic reverb and a pillowy cavalcade of rhythmic samples. Sharper too is Torres’ lyrical focus. After painting an idyllic island landscape by similar means on “Loh Dalum Bay,” he poetically crushes the dream via human greed on the darker, fuzz-beguiled “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”: “Most of us will meet our needs, but few are good at stopping there.” It’s just one perfectly crystallized sentiment on a record filled with them. —Jordan Lawrence

TOMPKINS2875

Charlie Poole & the Highlanders
The Complete Paramount & Brunswick Recordings, 1929
(Tompkins Square)

These recordings by North Carolina banjo maestro Charlie Poole are among the rarest of collector’s items; under contract to Columbia, Poole — who’d moved nearly a Gold LP worth of trio music for the label — wasn’t allowed to record his old-time orchestra quintet of twin fiddles, guitar and piano. So behind band moniker The Highlanders (The Alleghany Highlanders for Brunswick), Poole went elsewhere to varying effect. The hard-driving fiddles and pounding piano overwhelm Paramount’s notoriously poor hot mic — and Poole’s banjo and vocals — on chestnuts like “Tennessee Blues” and “Richmond Square.” So the real gem here is the Brunswick four-part skit-song “A Trip to New York,” a time-capsule chronicle of a typical trip North to record. This is a Golden Age of Radio nugget worth the price alone. —John Schacht 

Coma CinemaPosthumous Release(Fork & Spoon/Orchid Tapes)

Coma Cinema
Posthumous Release
(Fork & Spoon/Orchid Tapes)

The first three Coma Cinema LPs were self-produced, attacking listeners with intricate scuzz and an aggressive sense of depression. Posthumous Release, the fourth album credited to Mat Cothran’s Columbia-based project, abandons that approach without feeling alien from his previous work. Produced in Los Angeles by Trung Ngo and Brad Petering of TV Girl, the album peels back some of the fuzz, allowing Cothran to stretch out with patient acoustic odes and buoyant but bitter rock numbers. His imagery is still shocking — “Fuck me in the graveyard/ Confession’s always in my mind” — but his mood is one of simmering resignation. Showcasing newfound maturity, he exploits the full range of his fragile and expressive croon, finding wisdom and beauty within his scathing verses. —JL

The Dead TonguesDesert FireAnt Music

The Dead Tongues
Desert
(FireAnt Music)

With Desert — Ryan Gustafson’s follow-up to 2009′s Donkey, released under his given name — the Durham singer applies his own nuance to classic songwriting touchstones. These 10 tracks waver between moments of nothing-left-to-lose freedom and love-lost misery; this is “fuck it” music in both incarnations of the phrase. The bulk are straightforward folk- and country-inflected rockers, recorded and played loosely but with obvious love. Opener “Call Out to Me” could be Blonde on Blonde-Dylan as done by Beachwood Sparks, piano and guitar lines chasing a compelling descending chord pattern to capture the narrator’s laid-back demise “on a bed of smoke.” On both “No Intentions” and the title track, he cranks up the tension with cathartic bridges using Al Kooper-like organ for fuel. There’s a tendency to tag “Ryan Adams” on any Triangle rocker accenting his sad songs with country and folk elements, but Desert never undercuts its dark themes with self-pity. And so far, Gustafson’s proved he’s a damn fine songwriter, too. — JS

Dear BlancaTalker Post-Echo

Dear Blanca
Talker
(Post-Echo)

In recent years, old-school slacker rock has found new life, bands like Yuck and Cymbals Eat Guitars picking up the playbook passed down by bands like Pavement and Archers of Loaf and putting their own twist on those cherished sounds. At first blush, Talker, the debut LP from Columbia’s Dear Blanca, seems an obvious extension of this trend. The anxious snarl of leader Dylan Dickerson, once the drummer of the post-rock outfit Pan, packs claustrophobic aggression, and the songs’ dryly distorted riffs invoke a similar mood. But true to Dickerson’s espoused influences — The Minutemen and Townes Van Zandt — there’s more to Dear Blanca as the band indulges in bittersweet melodies, robust horn charts, and achingly personal songwriting. There’s nothing slack about it. —JL

The Kingsbury ManxBronze Age(Odessa)

The Kingsbury Manx
Bronze Age
(Odessa)

For 14 years, Chapel Hill’s Kingsbury Manx have managed a purposeful and patient evolution. The band’s comfortable but exacting pop exudes a kind of organic precision, like ivy woven through white-picket lattices. But these polished players have learned a lot over the years. Bronze Age — the Manx’s sixth LP and first in four years — reveals the full breadth of their mastery. The album includes a new element, Minimoog synthesizer, which matches coarsely distorted guitars on standouts like “In the Catacombs,” achieving a gritty sound that’s both polite and spacey; think indie pop as informed by Ray Harryhausen. The brisk and beautiful “Handsprings” is a jaunt of smooth harmony and tinkling piano, while the surging “Solely Bavaria” whirs with warming synthesizers and chugs with riffs that are rugged but rigorous, a manicured answer to Chapel Hill’s indie rock legacy. Bronze Age isolates and highlights the diversity of the Manx’s talents, stripping away the group’s occasional tedium and delivering some of its most thrilling songs to date. —JL

deniro

Deniro Farrar
The Patriarch
(self-released)

The ridiculously badass cover for Deniro Farrar’s new mixtape depicts Darth Vader dressed as a Pope, a pointed political jab and an embodiment of the N.C. hip-hop patriarch the Charlotte MC aspires to be. He’s not there yet, but the album proves that he has the potential. The beats inject the bone-chilling grime of Wu Tang classics with pointed synthesizer loops and aggressive syncopation, nodding to the past but clearly concerned with the future. Farar rarely seems to be pushing himself, but his charismatic confidence and luxuriously graveled flow make his mid-tempo ghetto histories feel profound. “These niggas out here singing like they on the choir,” he offers on “Snitches” as a choral sample emphasizes the morbid humor. He finds your lack of faith disturbing. —JL

Golden GunnGolden Gunn(Three-Lobed Records)

Golden Gunn
Golden Gunn
(Three Lobed Recordings)

Sneaking in for RSD (and available digitally), this collab between HGM’s M.C. Taylor and Scott Hirsch and New York-based blues-guitar wiz Steve Gunn is loosely based around a Kerouacian character named “Dickie.” The nine tracks alternate between the two artists’ fingerprints but fold together in sublime fashion. “Vysehrad” slinks sexily into focus, synth and wah-wah guitar draping the acoustic melody in deliciously sticky textures. “The Sun Comes Up a Purple Diamond” digs a mile-wide, organ-washed groove that Gunn vamps over while conjuring a road vets’ weary sunrise. Horns buffer the greasy groove — part JJ Cale cocaine riff, part AWB low-rider rumble — of “From a Lincoln Continental,” while “Dickie’s Theme” corkscrews various guitar layers to morph trad-blues into psychedelic dreaminess. No mere throwaway, Golden Gunn cries out for future entries. —JS

The Holland BrothersDueling Devils(Euramerican Soul)

The Holland Brothers
Dueling Devils
(Euramerican Soul)

The dual visions of twin brothers Mark and Michael Holland combined into a rootsy whole in 90s Triangle fixture Jennyanykind, locating somewhere between The Band, The Stones and Jon Spencer. Here, though, the Hollands divide the work down the middle and strip it back to the foundations: Michael’s five live songs feature originals, traditionals and old schoolers from Charlie Poole and WC Handy based loosely on Piedmont finger-picking; Mark’s five originals are rooted in Charley Patton’s Delta style. Michael’s sound like they were recorded by the Lomaxes; Mark’s exhibit higher fidelity, backing vox, hand-percussion and the occasional accent (harmonica, melodica), but they’re just as rough-hewn. Jennyanykind’s LPs had a tendency to wander, but here simplification reigns to the brothers’ overall benefit. —JS

Various ArtistsPet-Tich-Eye (self-released)

Various Artists
Pet-Tich-Eye
(self-released)

An ambitious project striving to unite Triangle-based musicians, visual artists and nonprofits, the non-sonic aspects of Pet-Tich-Eye would take more than this blurb’s scant 100 words to explain. But the corresponding compilation is easy to enjoy. Featuring 10 songs written and performed by one-off triumvirates of area heavyweights, the selections are diverse and impressive. “East Coast/West Coast Time” reimagines the synth-lush arrangements once favored by The Rosebuds as the backdrop for Ivan Howard and Mount Moriah’s Heather McEntire to merge their sumptuous Southern coos. Better still is “Somewhere in Between (Breathe),” a stunning composition that uses imposing drones crafted by Horseback’s Jenks Miller and Megafaun’s Phil Cook to power Kane Smego’s smoldering spoken word. —JL

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