The last 12 months have been very busy for local bands and listeners, but 2010 doesn't look to disappoint. From bands and records to rooms both big and small, we take a look at 10 stories that should have an impact on what we hear here next year.
College sports pundits used to say that Florida State University head football coach and perennial national title contender Bobby Bowden didn't reload, he only rebuilt. Maybe the concern, then, is that after such a productive 2009, the pace of Triangle releases in 2010 would slow down. That doesn't appear to be the case—already, there's word of new LPs or EPs by The Dirty Little Heaters, Lonnie Walker, The Love Language, Annuals, The Moaners, Megafaun, Jews & Catholics, Hammer No More the Fingers, The Dry Heathens, Spider Bags, Lost in the Trees, Brett Harris and Phonte Coleman. And we'll be dutifully awaiting debuts from In the Year of the Pig, Mount Moriah, Minor Stars and Motor Skills and still be hoping that the third release from The Prayers and Tears of Arthur Digby Sellers finally finds its way to the public. Also of note: A new Gilbert Neal album is imminent.
Phonte Coleman, rapper
Don't let the singing fool you: Phonte Coleman still does this rap shit. If over the past year you were ever sidetracked by his gig as the frothy frontman of the Grammy-nominated R&B brigade The Foreign Exchange, remember that Coleman—also half of the rap group Little Brother and an in-demand guy for features on other artists' material—has long had a reputation as a superior emcee, not a soul man. For his first solo LP, due to drop in 2010, he's planning on revisiting those old habits. "I'm going to try to lean a little heavy on the rhyme side," says Coleman. "I wanna make this the starting point for the uninitiated fan. I need this to be the record where a fan can start with this solo record first and know that it encompasses the sum of everything I do." For Coleman, that's a splendid lot.
Merge Records to work
Merge managed to squeeze out a handful of strong records in 2009: an epic disco yarn from Destroyer, another dream of a Clientele LP and Polvo's scorching In Prism. But the label spent a lot of its resources celebrating its 20th year of business with a five-day festival, a massive box set, a covers compilation, celebrity mixtapes and a book of label friends holding record covers. This year, they'll return to new music: Spoon and Shout-Out Louds both have LPs due next year, and The Arcade Fire's third LP is slated for summer arrival. New songs from The Rosebuds are in the works, and, as noted, The Love Language—the latest addition to Merge's roster—is preparing album two. Merge's bands generally like to come play for their label heads, too, so look out for tour dates.
Orquesta GarDel's passion and perfectionism have made their gigs a sanctuary for the hardcore salsa community. In 2010, they are poised to push the envelope further by releasing the Triangle's first all-original salsa album. "You can count on GarDel to release some sort of album in 2010," says pianist Eric Hirsh, "be it EP, LP, CD or exclusively digital." Tracks for their first two originals have already been recorded, and this winter they are pressing to get on with new songwriting. "Judging from the response to our collaboration with The Beast [on 2009's Silence Fiction], it could be well received," Hirsh says. 2010 will likely shape up to be decisive for GarDel: Either they remain a regional salsa band that creates a few magical nights a year for dancers, or they hammer out a studio milestone. Our hopes (and bets) are on the latter.
Downtown Raleigh amphitheater
Admittedly, there's plenty to be skeptical of here—a city-owned amphitheater booked by Live Nation in regretful proximity to the ghost of Kings Barcade. The best the city's helped us hear is a dinosaur concert series in Moore Square and some annual entertainment with Raleigh Wide Open. But this 5,000-person-capacity, open-air amphitheater (meaning there won't be a massive tent shielding the Shimmer Wall) fills both a critical size gap in Triangle rooms and offers a year-round option for events in downtown Raleigh. What's more, Live Nation doesn't have exclusive run of the space: They'll book between 15 to 25 dates there each year, leaving the rest of the calendar open to Raleigh Convention Center and any Triangle promoters (like Cat's Cradle or Lincoln Theatre) to rent. "We have said we'll build a first-class amphitheater," says Raleigh Convention Center Assistant Director Doug Grissom. "It's in the contract." Fingers crossed.
Flying Tiger, good sound
This year's much-lauded 17-track compilation Hear Here: The Triangle not only offered a dozen or so noteworthy songs, it also introduced bands to the new Raleigh studio Flying Tiger Sound and its affable young producer, B.J. Burton. The room is equipped enough to capture big sound but sympathetic enough to let bands play like themselves: The Love Language, for instance, sported its characteristically ragged approach on Hear Here, while The Kingsbury Manx sounded no less pristine and meticulous than normal. As a result, Burton's got several high-profile Triangle projects on the books for next year—new music from The Love Language and Veelee, as well as the release of EPs by Lonnie Walker and Annuals recently completed at the promising Peace Street space.
Ride this Drughorse
A loose nine-band, 20-plus member organization based in Chapel Hill, Drughorse might represent a rare intersection of commerce with community and cooperation. Musicians and songwriters like Carter Gaj, James Wallace, Jeff Crawford and Josh Pope serve as the anchors, moving between bands like The Love Language, Max Indian and Ryan Gustafson (who made one of the most overlooked records in these parts in 2009) to provide support as needed. Michael Reklis—a longtime Chapel Hill manager, label head and promoter—lends the collective his organizational support, and it seems to be working: So far, these nine bands have between four and six LPs slated for release next year, including records from Max Indian and The Light Pines. A handful of new projects are in the earliest phases of gestation, too.
If, by now, any of our local aspiring rappers haven't given up on getting signed to a major label, they're as good as mute. If, by now, any of our local aspiring rappers haven't realized that a flurry of Twitter or Facebook shout-outs to empty seats doesn't compensate for artistic effort or effective networking and promotion, they're as good as tongue-tied. They may be late, but hip-hop artists around here are finally revisiting the "Independent as Fuck" credo of the mid-'90s. It's simple but challenging—make your music, start your label, tour the globe. And when you're done, check the comment section on your blogs to see if you have any new fans.
It's been a little more than a year since Skylight Exchange yielded the space at 405 1/2 Rosemary St. to a full-time Nightlight, and the room is finally staking out a strong identity as a club. Along with full booze licenses and an incoming draft beer selection, there's now an open floor big enough to accommodate larger crowds, plus the club is consistently improving its sound system and building a new stage. After some turnover, the club's booking seems to be finding its groove by shaking things up with touring bands, packed local bills, rock operas, theme nights, dance parties, art shows and community events. Keep an eye on Mansion 462 on Franklin Street, too. Despite some booking woes and rumors that it was closing last summer, the club seems to be regaining its footing, with shows now on the books through the end of January. Club manager Brad Waycaster says the space is for sale, but he hopes to make the venue last.
The Independent Weekly's music festival
The word is already out unofficially, and the proper permits are now snaking their way through city government: Next September, the Independent Weekly plans to present a 10-venue music festival in downtown Raleigh featuring more than 100 bands. We're going to call it Hopscotch, and we're hoping it's going to be fantastic. Look for the official announcement early next year.