At what point in 2012 is it acceptable to start talking about definite favorites of 2013? Is, you know, now acceptable? If so, go ahead and save a spot in your future lists and memories for Blood Oaths of the New Blues, the latest LP from Kentucky songwriter James Jackson Toth, or Wooden Wand. During the last 15 years, Toth has been wildly prolific, releasing troves of records both solo, with ex-wife Jex Thoth and with always-unstable ensembles of psychedelic-ready collaborators. That output has been inconsistent, with Toth's stunning turns of narrative and attention to detail beset by uneven production values and moments best left edited out. But Blood Oaths is masterful, bringing to bear the kind of arrangements that have lifted the recent records of Richard Buckner or the best songs of Phosphorescent. "Outsider Blues" is comical suicide music, while "Jhonn Balance" pays tribute to the late Coil founder with a divine mix of electronic noise and sleepy melody, reminiscent of Balance's stint in Psychic TV. As its name rightly suggests, Blood Oaths is a "blues" album that treats the term like a human condition and not a musical genre; in doing so, Toth delivers what might be his finest and most imaginative 40 minutes of music to date. Nathan Bowles, whose just released a beautiful solo banjo album of his own, opens. Also, Wood Ear. FRIDAY, NOV. 30, at DUKE COFFEEHOUSE. $5/9 p.m.
RYAN GUSTAFSON, THE HUMAN EYES
In 2009, Ryan Gustafson released Donkey LP, a confident and moody mix of cosmic country-rock that seemed primed to soak up some of the afterglow left by the departure of another area songwriter named Ryan. After limited output and only occasional appearances during the last three years, Gustafson will finally return early next year with Desert, a better-textured and entirely emboldened update on his steely-eyed reflections. Perhaps the welcome rock leanings of Desert have something to do with The Human Eyes, a Carrboro band with a sterling Gustafson-produced debut. Their Guiding Eyes for the Blind mitigates downtrodden lyricism with a measure of danceable zest, Smiths-like shimmer cascading off New Order bass thrum. THURSDAY, NOV. 29, at TIR NA NOG. Free/10 p.m.
WHATEVER BRAINS, THE SUPER VACATIONS, THE INVISIBLE HAND
How many hooks can you handle? In righteously different ways, these three acts—Raleigh's venomous post-punks Whatever Brains, Virginia's insouciant jangle drifters The Super Vacations, and Charlottesville's ebullient pop bruisers The Invisible Hand—deliver inescapable anthems, all anchored to themes that will pinball in your memory long after the bar is closed. The Super Vacations' 21-track LP, Thicker Milk, flirts with fidelity issues, wrapping the irrepressible bounce of tunes like "1,000 Mirrors" in wafts of static and smoke. Meanwhile, Whatever Brains released two of the most pugnacious but endearing records of 2011 and 2012; they're deep into a 2013 LP, so listen for and learn the unfamiliar. At night's end, take home Aja, the Hand's new EP of bite-sized, sing-along surrealism. SATURDAY, DEC. 1, at SLIM'S. $5/9 p.m.
THE SO SO GLOS
Raised in New York, where they've been longtime and ardent advocates for the city's DIY concert spaces, The So So Glos sound like the city to which they belong—loud, aggressive and likable, with sharp melodies given shout-out-loud treatment over a band that's as restless as a rush-hour subway car. Their best songs are panaceas for the cynical, with old-fashioned rushes of rock 'n' roll never to be turned down. This is a rare, quick trip south for the band, so catch them in close quarters. Buzz has slowly built behind Last Year's Men's 10-track, sing-even-if-you're-sad romp, Sunny Down Snuff, since its 2010 release. After this show, they head west to record its overdue follow-up. About time, boys. MONDAY, DEC. 3, at LOCAL 506. $8–$10/9 p.m.
Raleigh's Horseskull gets pedantic with its need to proclaim doom metal authenticity, from its hipster-baiting name and press materials (Hey, Horseback!) to its Electric Wizard-echoing logo and Saint Vitus cover. Good thing the jams hold up: Their "Arahary," for instance, is a long-range rumination on far-out blues, its central riff shot through passages alternately savage and cerebral. They're like the day laborers of heavy locals, more interested in continuing the trails of Sleep and Eyehategod than bushwhacking through forks of their own. Richmond trio Druglord depends upon the same down-tuned darkness, but they tend toward monolithic throb, avoiding the thrash tangents that can make Horseskull so notable. FRIDAY, NOV. 30, at DIVEBAR. Free/10 p.m.
STEEP CANYON RANGERS
While backing comedian, banjo picker and Father of the Bride Steve Martin, the UNC-rooted Steep Canyon Rangers played with Paul McCartney, appeared on Jools Holland, and won one of bluegrass's biggest prizes. Often lost in the entertainer-obsessed hubbub, though, is the fact that the Rangers have been making great records for more than a decade, using five-voice singing to document blue-collar hopes and hurdles. Tonight, they won't share the spotlight. Country crooner John Howie Jr. opens with his elegant new act, The Rosewood Bluff. FRIDAY, NOV. 30, at CAT'S CRADLE. $15/9 p.m.
A Mississippi native and former New Orleans and Austin resident now living in Florida, singer Beth McKee has long embraced the manifold sounds of the South, whether in her major-label country act Evangeline or her recent disc of covers by the great Louisiana polyglot Bobby Charles. Her music sits at the edge of the swamp and the city, adding cosmopolitan polish to the regional impulses of the places she's called home. SATURDAY, DEC. 1, at PAPA MOJO'S ROADHOUSE. $10/9:30 p.m.
Even when they were area college kids opening for The Avett Brothers and finishing their darkly flippant first EP, Bombadil's dual senses of adventure and ambition were obvious. The quartet made big records that plundered unexpected realms of pop and the roots that fed them; after delays due to health problems, membership adjustments and international sojourns, they are very much back, with new material and ways to explore The Band's great big Americana worldview. Megafaun member Phil Cook opens with his sweet, sincere solo tunes. FRIDAY, NOV. 30, at LINCOLN THEATRE. $12–$15/9 p.m.
If, for better and worse, bands like Mumford & Sons and Delta Rae represent a gathering tide of suburban folk music, it's easy to imagine Raleigh's young Saints Apollo being swept within the wash. So far at least, they've managed to avoid the gloss of some peers, harmonizing with a plaintive intimacy that recalls the early successes of another project that started in Raleigh, Bon Iver. With Tripp and The Pinkerton Raid. FRIDAY, NOV. 30, at SLIM'S. $5/9 p.m.
The last time alt-country perpetrators/ perpetuators American Aquarium played their hometown of Raleigh, they sold out the city's biggest downtown rock club. The show meant so much, in fact, that despite an emergency appendectomy that afternoon, bassist Bill Corbin still performed the entire raucous set. Perhaps in a smaller Chapel Hill club they can relax, easing back from the break-up-and-party-hard tunes to reveal their more ruminative numbers; that is, after all, where the nascent maturity and relative sophistication of bandleader B.J. Barham has its best chance to do more than surface. The Mike Roy Show opens. THURSDAY, NOV. 29, at LOCAL 506. $8/9 p.m.
O'Brother Moody Atlanta rock band O'Brother has toured with drama preeners Manchester Orchestra and bro-core dudes Thrice. But let's not judge them by the company they keep, even if an evaluation of the music the quintet makes yields the same result: O'Brother splits the difference between low-string doom metal, high-atmosphere post-rock and Isaac Brock-obsessed indie rock. Such combinations have been successful in the past, but O'Brother's need to over-emote obviates all subtlety, resulting in songs that are loud, audacious and, ultimately, flat-out fatuous. HRVRD opens. SUNDAY, DEC. 2, at KINGS. $10–$12/8:30 p.m.
I FIGHT DRAGONS
iFight Dragons Chicago pop-rock band I Fight Dragons is obsessed with old-school video games; they add the console sounds of yore to their punchy three-minute tunes, and their story lines often hinge on saving the world or beating the system. But their approach seems to be nothing if not viral bait, with video game sequences and dancing cartoon characters just begging OK GO to steal the idea. Too bad they don't put the Game Genie to better use—that is, breaking the formulas of the songs into something less predictable. With MC Lars and Skyfox. TUESDAY, DEC. 4, at MOTORCO. $12–$14/8 p.m.