(from To Be Loved; self-released)
Thad Cockrell's voice generally steals the show wherever it appears. When Cockrell sings, he speaks stories through implication, the creaks and croon of his tone telling us things about his troubles and joys his words aren't disclosing. But on the lead track from To Be Loved, a six-track EP Cockrell released last year while still calling Nashville home, he hides his voice behind a scrim of reverb during the verses. It's barely able to compete with the shuffling piano-drum-guitar unit behind him, and we understand that our narrator has trouble in mind, that he needs something to commit to aside from himself. Indeed, in verse one, he asks, "When I lose my vision/ may I use your eyes?" He's not bigger than his mortality, you see, and neither is his paramour: "If you lose your vision/ you can use my eyes," he tells her. Here, Cockrell gets over himself. He's never sounded this brave or sure of a song in his career. —Grayson Currin
THE CURTAINS OF NIGHT
Download "Total Domination"
(from Lost Houses; Holidays for Quince Records)
In the addictive Internet game Dino-Run, a player adopts the character of a raptor-like dinosaur fleeing imminent extinction by roiling currents of flaming asteroid debris and suffocating smoke. Try playing Dino-Run with "Total Domination" by The Curtains of Night, the titanic Carrboro duo, on repeat at full volume. With its martial percussion and chugging, tar-thick riff, the beast tumbles onward. Its steady, unilateral movement stalls at 2:20, as singer/ guitarist Nora Rogers howls and the amplifier suspends in a blitz of buzz. It's the sort of thing that makes one fear for the end of days, and the duo does little to assuage said fears, rolling into a slow—even glacial—second movement and leaving us, the listeners, feeling a little like Dino-Run's ultimately hopeless protagonist. That is, totally overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the surroundings. —Bryan Reed
DAVID KARSTEN DANIELS
Download "Martha Ann"
(from Fear of Flying; Fat Cat Records)
"I set out to make a classic rock album," Daniels said of Fear of Flying "and I'm not sure where I ended up, but I don't think it's in the '70s." Following up the orchestral pop catharsis of 2007's Sharp Teeth, "Martha Ann" is similarly cinematic, packed with horns, organs and strings to accent Daniels' guitar. The vocal harmonies—always with Sara Morris, occasionally with John Ribo—rise and fall dramatically, swelling at the end of the first line of each three-line stanza. It's as close as Daniels will probably come to sounding like The Band. But, despite the upbeat amble, the chorusless ditty ruminates existentially ("How could I even start to think / that the whole of my life was just for show?") over its two-minutes. Still, it resolves neatly for Daniels, who closes the too-short but mostly perfect 90 seconds of doubt with faith ("I only trust that everything will be all right / A choir of angels' light that you can bathe in"). Oh, and a guitar solo. —Spencer Griffith
Download "Down by the Riverside"
(from Hymn to Freedom: Homage to Oscar Peterson; Improv Media)
Deloatch dips into a deep musical well here. "Down by the Riverside" is a sturdy song, beautiful in a simplicity that's soared mightily across the boundaries of gospel and blues with rich imagery of long white robes, swords and shields. But Deloatch takes the deliberate, slow-burn approach and makes it her own. There's a reason this song is eternal, like the key phrase that shoots through it like quicksilver, which Deloatch delivers in a warm tone, hovering slightly over the final words: "I ain't gonna study war no more." It resonates. —Chris Toenes
THE DIRTY LITTLE HEATERS
(from Fatty Don't Feel Good 7"; Churchkey Records)
Behold the might of The Dirty Little Heaters, a powerful trio whose diminutive name does anything but justice to the heft of its sound. That sound is something like the greasiest, ballsiest garage-punk band in the darkest, smokiest dive bar you've ever encountered, fronted by Grace Slick. Indeed Heaters' frontwoman Reese McHenry carries that same depth and richness in her howls and croons, making her voice the band's centerpiece. This shouldn't discount the band's buzzing groove-punk, which on this B-side rides a spring-loaded bassline through sheets of amp-fuzz and a battery of drums. Just know that it's all therw clearing the way for McHenry's soul-inflected wonder. —Bryan Reed
Download "Raw Energy EP"
(from Raw Energy EP; Sorry State Records)
Double Negative is easily one of America's greatest current punk bands. This, the titular A-side to the band's clear-vinyl 7-inch record, should be all the proof one needs: It's a snarling explosion of scorched larynx howls and rocket-fuel riffs introduced by a series of cascading feedback flares and interrupted only two brief guitar divebombs. True purists recognize the template being stretched in new, exciting directions, while those only able to handle limp replications of Black Flag songs are left to cower in fear. Indeed, "Raw Energy EP" (and the remainder of the Raw Energy EP) hits these ears sounding as vital and dangerous as virgin spins of Damaged. —Bryan Reed
THE DRY HEATHENS
Download "Splendid Little War"
(from First Contact with Ground; Churchkey Records)
There's no room for subtlety in two-and-a-half minutes. Say what you want to say: "'Cause meanwhile down in Texas, they're breeding Hitlers/ Except with Bibles, and in the other hand a gun" and "A splendid little war 'cause not too many died." The music is no less in your face, as the song's not just running when it hits the ground. It's in full sprint, a guitar squeal serving as the starting gun. From there, it's all super-charged drumming, a feel-it-in-your-ribcage rumble of a bass line, and boiling-point vocals. But hooks and, miraculously, melodies are riding it out through the center of the whirlwind. It's a tuneful little chaos. —Rick Cornell
- Photo by Shaun Sandor
BRYCE CLAYTON EIMAN
Download "The Black & the Black"
(from Cassette Reworks; Blondena Music)
The title of Bryce Clayton Eiman's enveloping noise track stakes out the tonal range it's interested in exploring. Nevertheless, in "The Black & the Black"—a fugue for chainsaws, magnetic interference and electrocuted elephants—he manages to locate a surprising diversity of hue in darkness. Chaotic bass waves and richly textured distortion build until they scream like rending sheet metal, actual chords dropping out like sprung rivets. The violence is relentless but doesn't bludgeon you to numbness; the emergence of various impossible shapes keeps the murk intelligible. On the whole, it evokes one of Richard Serra's massive metal sculptures—not the calm, elegant final shapes, but the brutally physical process that creates them. —Brian Howe
- Photo by Obias Rose
THE FOREIGN EXCHANGE
(from Leave It All Behind; Hall of Justus/ Nicolay Music)
As a rapper, Little Brother's Phonte Coleman is as much of a womanizer as he is a marriage counselor. As a vocalist in The Foreign Exchange, though, he's a love solicitor, a moderator of the vast, love-themed séances that many of us don't have the courage or eloquence to facilitate. The sweetness of the entire second Foreign Exchange LP, Leave It All Behind, comes in Phonte's seductive songwriting, which doesn't suffer even when, like on this lead single, he and Mushsinah take a more conceptual route. They replace the idea of nighttime being the true sanctuary of intimacy, security and trust with the notion of daytime offering a test of fidelity. Will he leave, or was last night's tryst heartfelt enough to keep him there after the sunrise? In the end, he leaves, giving credence to the saying "man will roam." It's a conundrum for pleading women everywhere but an instinct for self-interested men. All told, it's a gender conflict that Phonte isn't afraid to confront. —Eric Tullis
Download "Hella Jean"
(from Rock & Roll Always Forgets; Bifocal Media)
Perspective is a hell of a thing: Sometimes, just a few steps back or away can change everything. In the five years since the band's second LP, How Good We Had It, Goner's members, who've spent the last 10-plus years rocking Raleigh bars, have been busy getting married, raising children and teaching elementary school. An extra dose of maturity gave the vets a new view on the bar scene, though a sagacious Scott Phillips is still hesitant to condemn or abandon it. "I've been getting out of the bar scene—slowly" Phillips told the Independent several months ago, after paraphrasing the narrator's perspective, as he talks to the troubled Jean: "''m not saying I'm better than you, but I see what you're doing, and I think we're both sad." In search of a way out, Phillips' layered keys lead the trio's charge here. Synthesizer adds a sweeping backdrop, while organ carries the melodic weight that Greg Eyman's rubbery bass and Chris Dalton's taut drumming follow. Rest assured, not everything's changed with the consistently punchy, catchy Goner. —Spencer Griffith