Not to say that a few dozen bands in Raleigh and Chapel Hill aren't noteworthy and distinguishable (because they are), but if the bands at the core of Durham's still-rising music scene share one characteristic, it's this: They bear the personality of the people that form them. From the barside mannerist hip hop of Juan Huevos and the spittle-covered busted lip of Chest Pains to the breakneck heartbreak of The Future Kings of Nowhere and the pungently reconstructed Americana shapes of Megafaun, Durham bands are a community of neighbors unafraid to be individuals.
On these terms, Bull City trio Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan and duo Beloved Binge—both of whom take their members' surnames or aliases as band names—are at the top of the crop. CG&J's second full-length—and first for Durham imprint 307 Knox—isn't a breakthrough as much as it is a boiling distillation of the music they do best. Opener "Mama Says I'm Crazy" is one of the band's biggest feats yet, essentially cycling through its whole discography in five minutes. Echoes of classic rock (listen around the two-minute mark) infiltrate dissonant passages. Three minutes into the track, everything stops, each member creating incredible tension by playing very short bits—a brush hits a drum, one guitar note flashes, a bass throbs. CG&J's enthusiasm for sidetracking its own material is the revelation here: In fact, were it not for Anne Gomez's gnashing vocals—which are bolder, yet more controlled than ever this time—the closing minute could be the coil of a thrash jam. Luckily, it's simply the spring for 20 more ferocious minutes.
Throughout Hot Licks and Rhetoric, Gomez's bass playing provides a thick contrast to the flighty guitar of David Jordan and the relentless drumming of Dave Cantwell. Jordan finds movement in unlikely streams of notes, his combination of sharp slivers, grinding riffs and piercing feedback coalescing around the ghosts of Pere Ubu and James Chance. Cantwell nails closer "Gidget Runningstar" to the floor, stretching and stacking time in perfectly unpredictable patterns. The album's other highlight, "Gidget" lets Gomez explode. She lands the scream of the century before washing her voice in reverb and delay, the album ending in her vocal ellipsis, as if the whole affair has been thrown after a moment of cathartic exhaustion.
On Beloved Binge's second album, Blender Theory, the former Seattle band still sounds like a cross between Pacific Northwest stables at Up! and K. But it's difficult to recall anyone sounding exactly like this. The bulk of Blender Theory is just beyond mid-tempo, using slightly cynical retellings of relationship troubles and social declarations for pep-pop acquitted of its quest for perfection. It's convoluted but somehow comfortable. Eleni Binge's time shifts behind the drum kit and Rob Beloved's serpentine-note guitar lines suggest a certain affinity for math rock. But perfection and precision are subsumed by an overarching playfulness. A song about factory farming shaped by a razor-wire electric guitar and tumbles of fills ("Heartburn") leads a beautiful, chiming number that wraps dusk-dream nostalgia in Yo La Tengo harmony ("Sunday Stopped Honking").
But who else sings like Beloved Binge, a band that often juxtaposes Beloved's thick, bassy tone with Binge's thin, bouncy air? And more than once, Beloved and Binge sing separate but similar verses simultaneously, using the technique on "Vacuum" to press an argument inward. Somehow, the song refuses to lose its prepossessing charms. Then again, if you can add distinct xylophone and bouzouki melodies to a guitar-and-drums instrumental closer, why not?
Cantwell, Gomez & Jordan; Beloved Binge; and Eberhardt host a triple CD release party at Duke Coffeehouse Saturday, April 5, at 9 p.m. Tickets are $5.