Christmas is less than a month a way. Hanukkah's even closer. Many of you have likely stumbled upon this post in the middle of a digital rush to secure presents for all the friends and family on your list, and while it's easy to get distracted by ads and offers from big box stores and internet wholesalers, there are plenty of choice gifts to be found in the area of local music. Here are a few suggestions:
The most essential slab of N.C.-based music on this year's holiday-release slate comes from Bitch Magnet. Landing in Chapel Hill after forming in Ohio, the band was among the first post-hardcore groups to trade in the angular and aggressive sound that would come to define '90s indie rock, particularly in the Triangle. Their headlong momentum was influential in the creation of Superchunk's pop-punk dynamo. Their taste for abrasive distortion and slurred words points to what Archers of Loaf would become. The band's succinct and self-titled box set collects their three albums (1988's Star Booty, 1989's Umber and 1990's Ben Hur) along with limited but illuminating bonus material. Bitch Magnet is reunited and back on the road with a spate of new tour dates, so now is the perfect time to discover them or get reacquainted.
Hiss Golden Messenger
(Paradise of Bachelors)
The first release of new music from Durham's previously reissue-only imprint Paradise of Bachelors, Hiss Golden Messenger's lush and intelligent Poor Moon is a masterpiece that new and old music lovers can agree on. Conceived by Durham's M.C. Taylor, the record is a symbol-rich spiritual exploration set to entrancing arrangements that draw from all over the American musical map. Funky bass lines saunter about, underwriting searing blues licks, which relent into patient banjo rolls. It's an intoxicating mix, maintaining incredible focus even as the band tries on myriad sounds. The songs themselves are brilliant, reckoning with religion in the perilous middle ground between atheist and believer. The music paired with its immaculate LP packaging will make it a great gift for most any music lover on your list. [Read our Nov. 23 feature story about Hiss Golden Messenger.]
Live on WXDU Vol. 3
Des Ark's Don't Rock the Boat, Sink the Fucker is one of 2011's best records, a powerful pop assault that moves with the ferocity of hardcore and rides evocative narratives about pained relationships and mixed up sexuality. It's great, but there's something about singer Aimee Argote in a stripped-back setting that the majesty of this full-band record just can't quite match. The vinyl reissue of Live on WXDU Vol. 3, the third in a series of live CD-Rs, is a great example. Argote digs into several of Don't Rock the Boat's most emotional songs over bare bits of guitar and banjo, heightening the fractured feel of her revealing narratives. Her piercing caterwaul diminishes into a quavering whisper during the most painful moments. It's singer-songwriter folk of the most powerful variety. The album is available now for pre-order and ships by mid-December, just in time to wreck the hearts of everyone on your list.
CyTunes Gift Certificate
For that friend on your list whose taste you can't quite pin down, a CyTunes gift certificate might be a nice idea. Started three years ago to honor deceased Triangle music super-fan Cy Rawls, CyTunes.org features an array of music from some of the Triangle's best. The tangled riffs of Audubon Park's Passion should please any fan of distorted-rock craftsmanship. The plucky and powerful pop of Schooner's Duck Kee Sessions EP should satisfy any hook aficionado. With a slew of other acts featured—including Superchunk, North Elementary and Wembley—a CyTunes gift certificate is a great introduction into the area's rich indie rock scene. Proceeds go to Duke University's Tisch Brain Tumor Center, where Rawls was treated.
Abdication ... for Your Love
If you're like me, after all this buying music for other people, you're going to want something for yourself. But if you're really like me, you probably won't be able to afford it. Problem solved: Reigning Sound's new mini-LP Abdication ... for Your Love is the year's best freebie, and it arrives just in time to save you from your holiday budget shortfall. On these eight songs, the Asheville garage vets gussy up their rough-and-ready rock with pristine production that makes good use of Scion A/V's corporate backing. "Watching My Baby" is among the group's best straight-ahead jams, and "Eve" is a delicate and devastating and late-night ballad, its slap-backed tones reverberating with regret. Go on, treat yourself. You deserve it.