At various points during Throned in Blood, the 2010 LP from scabrous blues-metal-and-more duo Jucifer, singer Amber Valentine and drummer Edgar Livengood sound alternately like Black Flag, Sleep, Jefferson Airplane, Melt Banana and a front-porch bard committed to eternity by Alan Lomax. Those references might suggest an intimidating and occasionally unapproachable mix, and it's true: Despite all their talents, the couple—who roam the country by van, living on the road and setting down only long enough to unpack, play and pack again—has long struggled to filter its touchstones into a discrete and identifiable unit. That's translated into their lack of marketability, meaning that their sound (defined by its very lack of definition) has often forced them into the non-commercial doldrums between indie rock and heavy metal.
But the web of influences Jucifer has carved into its bludgeoning rock tunes during the last two decades creates a fascinating, hyperlinked discography, where the goths hang out with the hippies, where the punks carry both electric and acoustic axes. It's all united by Valentine's voice, a superbly visceral and flexible instrument that's capable of coupling all those guides to one controlling force. Great duos depend upon chemistry and compulsion; add Jucifer to the list. With Spit-Face and Thrash Can. THURSDAY, DEC. 6, at VOLUME 11 TAVERN. $8/9 p.m.
LEE FIELDS & THE EXPRESSIONS
By the time he'd finished his teenaged years, Lee Fields—a Wilson, N.C., farm kid with dreams of making it big—was a married entertainer in New York City, attempting to work his way toward fame. Now in his 60s, Fields' reputation has never approached that of his ostensible hero and fellow Carolinian, James Brown. But recent soul music resuscitations have steadily pushed Fields toward bigger stages, giving his unadulterated zeal, raw voice and expert band a hard-earned payoff. "Take it from me, I've seen everything," Fields sang on last year's Faithful Man. "You try to be cool, but you're playing the fool." Wiser and still married, Fields brings his wisdom back to Carolina. With Outside Soul. SATURDAY, DEC. 8, at MOTORCO. $10–$12/9 p.m.
"Hey, if pixie dust is not in your heart," croons Mark Eitzel above a chilly synthesizer drone and a creeping nylon-string guitar, "it becomes the dirt that buries you." Those words come from Don't Be a Stranger, the American Music Club leader's Merge Records debut and one of two essential records the Durham label released this year. A collection of tragicomic portraits built by invective and empathy, Stranger finds Eitzel funneling the poetic and quotidian into songs that shine strange light on simple situations and hanging onto life because it's a subject worth a little more insight. Stranger is a quietly antagonistic record; let Eitzel look you in the eyes when he sings to you his assessment. With Des Ark (going solo) and Kenny Roby. SATURDAY, DEC. 8, at KINGS. $12–$14/9:30 p.m.
LOST IN THE TREES
This season, Duke Performances has commissioned performances by Megafaun, the Mountain Goats, Tift Merritt and New Music Raleigh. Tonight's premiere gives the music of Chapel Hill's Lost in the Trees—or, more specifically, singer, songwriter, composer, performer and bandleader Ari Picker—the full gravity of a chamber ensemble. Picker's music thrives upon extreme dynamics, with keening peaks and withering lows working in tandem to create miniature symphonies within an indie rock framework. This elaborate expansion should turn Lost in the Trees' topographical map of Picker's emotions into a real-life landscape. If you've been underwhelmed by the band's past, this is an enticing invitation to try again. FRIDAY, DEC. 7, at DUKE'S REYNOLDS INDUSTRIES THEATER. $10–$32/8 p.m.
THE HAPPY VALLEY PALS
You're not expected to know the name of The Happy Valley Pals or necessarily the names of the old tunes they play. You won't be quizzed on how fiddler and guitarist Wayne Martin met bassist Dwight Rogers, either. Rather, the takeaway from the latest edition of the thoughtful Music of the Carolinas series is the function of music-making as a community affair. The Pals, who've been playing these songs together for decades, will explain and play "Breaking Up Christmas," a tune and tradition whereby neighbors would gather for late-night parties full of friends picking familiar songs and dancing to them. This isn't a holiday-themed show as much as a demonstration of a song's larger folk capabilities. SUNDAY, DEC. 9, at N.C. MUSEUM OF HISTORY. Free/3 p.m.
JESSICA LEA & DAVID MAYFIELD
Like many pairs of siblings separated by only a few years, David and Jessica Lea Mayfield shared childhood experiences and some interests. But they spent those childhoods together on a tour bus, playing bluegrass gigs with their parents and soon developing their own crafts. Jessica, the early bloomer, has released two sublime albums of songwriting that travel past alt-country until they reach almost-gothic territory; David, who backed her before pushing his David Mayfield Parade into the public, has the less notable voice, but his hyperkinetic, bluegrass-honed dexterity and lovably goofy showmanship have quickly made him a draw. THURSDAY, DEC. 6, at KINGS. $12/9 p.m.
DUKE NEW MUSIC ENSEMBLE
While improvising, musicians will often lift the theme from a ubiquitous tune and spirit away, manifesting their technical and mental capabilities by recycling source material that's considered common knowledge. Their skill sets become apparent and accessible. Tonight, the composers and players of Duke New Music Ensemble do something similar with numbers by, among others, Katy Perry, Radiohead and Lil Wayne; expect songs as pervasive as the common cold to sound ingenuously unorthodox. THURSDAY, DEC. 6, at MOTORCO. Free/8 p.m.
These bands made two of the Triangle's most intriguing records this year: T0W3RS' first year of band existence culminated in the wonderful Wyatt, a brazen set of six rock songs that delight in undeniable melodies and kaleidoscopic flourishes. On their winning second LP, Subtle for Flames, Waumiss offers the sound of pop music as witnessed in hypnopompic and hypnagogic states. Textures surface and retreat like mirages, and structures expand and disappear like psychedelic stairwells. SATURDAY, DEC. 8, at THE PINHOOK. $6/10 p.m.
DIALI CISSOKHO & KAIRA BA
Aside from introducing area audiences to harp-banjo-dulcimer centaur the kora, Senegalese émigré Diali Cissokho has also effectively and impressively put his instrument at the helm of a rock band. Sure, some of this ensemble's drums are played with hands rather than sticks, and Kaira Ba's songs aren't erected or edited for typical formats. But the dynamics at work within this five-piece—the way the songs build, spiral and surge into moments of sudden triumph—should sync well with new Western listeners. Kaira Ba just might be the state's next great export. The seven-piece Africa Unplugged opens. FRIDAY, DEC. 7, at KINGS. $8/9 p.m.
JOHN HOWIE JR., MELISSA SWINGLE
He sports a slippery country baritone, and she possesses a curling backwoods alto: Both John Howie Jr. and Melissa Swingle sing in unmistakable tones, having supplied their idiosyncratic instruments to some of the region's favorite bands. No longer a Two Dollar Pistol, Howie patiently leads his Rosewood Bluff away from his honky-tonk calling card; Swingle is just finding her sound after the end of The Moaners, drifting back toward the agitated lurk of Trailer Bride. Rootsy Charlotte shufflers Leadville Social Club open. SATURDAY, DEC. 8, at CASBAH. $5–$6/9 p.m.
At that moment when North Carolina hip-hop seemed prepared for national ascendance, with Little Brother on a major and 9th Wonder working with stars and their extended coteries earning wide attention, L.E.G.A.C.Y. could have been the rogue success. His reckless charisma and dramatic delivery offered support for his "rock star" proclamations. But here he is, hosting his ninth local birthday celebration, in which he parties while the decent-to-avoidable bands of his pals perform. It's a fitting metaphor for the disappointing torpor of what could have been his career. FRIDAY, DEC. 7, at BERKELEY CAFE. $7/10 p.m.
JOHN HOLLENBECK LARGE ENSEMBLE
John Hollenbeck is a remarkably inventive drummer, with twin senses of rhythm and texture that should make most instrumentalists envious. But the compositions for his 18-piece Large Ensemble, including arrangements of Glen Campbell and Imogen Heap, often lack the heat of his small-group work, making for a lot of sound and a little fury, but very little focus or emotional content. SATURDAY, DEC. 8, at DUKE'S REYNOLDS INDUSTRIES THEATER. $10–$32/8 p.m.