Pontiak, Guardian Alien
As 2014 begins, New York's Guardian Alien and Virginia's Pontiak will release new albums on the same day and the same label, the artistically exploratory and long-risky Chicago imprint Thrill Jockey. Taken together, these records—Guardian Alien's Spiritual Emergency and Pontiak's Innocence—paint a wonderfully boundless picture of what rock 'n' roll can still be.
Pontiak, a band of three brothers named Carney, is bedrock stuff. They pit woozy blues against overdriven tumult, mirrorball organ against barbed guitars, fraternal harmonies against soulful soliloquies. More and more, Pontiak's records play like mixtapes, with a unified mood spread through an assortment of songs that could be culled from a record store's stacks of used wax. They build their live show like a DJ set, meant to slingshot through this variety with momentum and without pause.
Very little feels secondhand about Guardian Alien, though: A collective of sonic rovers, they use a tape-collage sensibility to build dioramas. Spiritual shrieks, ponderous samples, howling guitars and assorted contraptions serve as the layers that wrap around the drumming of founder Greg Fox, a marathon man of rhythm whose shifting sense of time is the current flowing forever beneath this band. The sidelong title track of Spiritual Emergency is an aptly named anthem of eternal unrest, with all those fomenting elements eventually bursting like an overworked automobile engine. Tuesday, Dec. 3, at Kings. $10/9:30 p.m.
Vaz is mean. An outgrowth of the similarly mathematical and malevolent upper Midwest act Hammerhead, this duo has pulled corroded guitar lines through start-and-stop drums for a dozen years. Singer and guitarist Paul Erickson sounds forever irked, too, delivering frustrations in a tone somewhere between Steve Albini's cynical sneer and David Yow's unhinged yawp. After a long break in the middle of the last decade, they've returned with two consecutive blunderbusses, 2011's Chartreuse Bull and the recent Visiting Hours. Produced by Ben Greenberg of The Men, Hubble and ZS, the new material pushes Vaz's menace to new lengths and limits. With instrumental bursts that hit longer and harder and production that makes the band feel terrifically trapped, it sounds as though Vaz is trying to fight their way out of a locked, padded room—paranoid, addled and awesome. Friday, Nov. 29, at Local 506. $8–$9/9 p.m.
Peggy Sue is a co-ed trio from Brighton, England, with two albums of wry, stoic and tense reflections to their credit. Their third album, Choir of Echoes, arrives in late January through Yep Roc. Its first single, "Idle," is a stunner. Like its predecessors, the number first embraces the dry approach of PJ Harvey or Shannon Wright, with deadpan but exquisite vocals cast over a filigree of electric guitar. But there are unexpected turns here, such as a racing midsection that suggests the Motorik builds of M83, a Robert Johnson homage and the sort of drum-and-voice coda Jolie Holland might've tried in a riot grrrl phase. In the song's best moment, Peggy Sue digs into three-part harmonies for voice and guitar, with frontwoman Rosa Slade and secondary singer Katy Beth Young moving in phase with the arrhythmic patter of drummer Olly Joyce. It's an auspice of what seems destined to become an early 2014 stunner. Wednesday, Dec. 4, at Local 506. $5/8 p.m.
The Moral Tourists
The recurring Durham series "The Homosexual Agenda" has presented a gothic prom, dance parties and burlesque. This time, it opts for the caustic three-piece rock of The Moral Tourists, a former Oakland band whose Sarah Vroom now lives in Durham. They're reuniting for this holiday set. The Tourists' short and belligerent songs are as funny as they are fitful. "Calling in Dead" is a Sonic Youth-styled resignation of employment. During "668 Neighbor of the Beast," a repetitive riff and rudimentary rhythm section underpin a ridiculous situation—the louse next door, at 666, wears horns and makes the hood hot enough to induce rashes. With DJs Dudefemme and Dreamboat. Friday, Nov. 29, at The Pinhook. $5/10 p.m.
The VaudeVillain Revue
This edition of the VaudeVillain Revue positions itself as vaudeville for nerds, with cringe-worthy elements such as "nerd-girls" and "an evening of nerdlesque." But Eight Bit Disaster, the evening's musical entertainment, is worth a listen, for both the kitsch of what they do and the strength with which they do it. The inversion of chiptunes, Eight Bit Disaster arranges video-game theme songs for a funky five-piece band, led by the three-saxophone arsenal of Elliot Wernlund. They dig deep, too, so you'll hear more than the theme from Zelda and the chirp of Tetris. Saturday, Nov. 30, at Motorco. $8–$10/10 p.m.
The introductory three-song demo from new Raleigh band Noctomb positions the crew as capable and curious heavy metal magpies. They push the lumber of doom and the viscosity of stoner metal into the same space as the ferocity of black metal. It's not a unique combination, but they shift the mix in interesting ways, moving constantly between up-tempo sprints and down-tempo lulls. Aether Realm, Escher and Gorbash join this regional bill. Wednesday, Nov. 27, at The Maywood. $8–$10/9 p.m.
Raleigh's The Amateurs aren't quite the same local reggae standbys they used to be, back when they seemed to materialize at community parties and in opening slots out of smoke. But their mix of open-ended improvisation and West Indies grooves remains as steadfast as ever, with distended solos from saxophone and guitar and keys spliced into old Jamaican favorites and revamped covers. Their update on Peter Tosh's cover of Chuck Berry's "Johnny B. Goode," which recasts the titular guitarist as carrying his instrument in a gunny sack, is particularly extended and indulgent, as the band colors the narrative with guitar heroics of their own. Friday, Nov. 29, at Southland Ballroom. $5–$10/10 p.m.
Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys
When Michigan's Lindsay Lou & the Flatbellys move through Kentucky and dip down below the Mason-Dixon Line on their tours of the south, the journey must feel a bit like a musical pilgrimage. Their sound, after all, is a peppy bluegrass update, with Lindsay Lou's lucid voice flitting over upright bass roots and mandolin darts. Last year's Release Your Shrouds was an enthusiastic set, with songs about love and a love of adventures that often felt irrepressible, if somewhat light. Saturday, Nov. 30, at Casbah. $10/8 p.m.
Mel Melton & the Wicked Mojos
Chef, restaurateur, bandleader, harp player, washboard wearer, singer, songwriter, party provider: Mel Melton is a busy man, as he's something of a one-man New Orleans outpost in the Triangle. In a little strip mall on the edge of Durham, he plays zydeco, cooks gumbo and generally holds court. Tonight, his basic trio of Wicked Mojos backs him as he directs the dance floor, a quick place to work out the calories from those deep-fried, Cajun-spiced turkeys he sells for Thanksgiving. Saturday, Nov. 30, at Papa Mojo's. $12–$15/9:30 p.m.
This season's holidays make shopping malls and airports busy, but they often slow the movement of touring bands, at least momentarily. That gives new local acts and strange one-offs access to marquee nights. Sky Express—a nebulous trio featuring Adam Rowe, Ben Smith and sitar player Viswas Chitnis on guitar and keys—headlines. Also, Broads and Psychedelic Fleurs. Friday, Nov. 29, at Kings. $7/9:30 p.m.
Selena Gomez's Halftime Show
The NFL will soon celebrate a century of Thanksgiving Day football, a tradition that's turned into a ritualistic post-feast naptime for many families. Aside from the Super Bowl and the playoffs, it's the time of the year when non-football fans often watch a little bit. Let's hope middling actress and hollow singer Selena Gomez doesn't scare them off when she performs at the half of the Dallas Cowboys' 4:30 p.m. game. Gomez' new album, Stars Dance, is an unmitigated pop atrocity, with surface-level sexuality offered over beats so slick that the feeling just slides off of them. Take your dessert at halftime?
Jon Oliva is a polarizing figure: Best known to most as a crucial member of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Oliva and his brother also started Savatage, an early prog/power metal band whose importance is alternately overstated and understated. With Jon Oliva's Pain, he took the ridiculousness of the style to extremes, playing anthems mechanically as though he were forever trying to conquer a mountain. He's still a good singer, but for all its emotional weight, the music lacks frisson. He's touring his solo material, an uncomfortable thought. Sunday, Dec. 1, at Lincoln Theatre. $17–$20/8 p.m.