Our Twenty Favorite Local Records of 2017 | The Year in Music | Indy Week

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Our Twenty Favorite Local Records of 2017

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We've said it before, and we'll say it again: 2017 sucked. But if you were paying even the slightest attention to what was happening in the Triangle's busy music scene, you found plenty of bright spots. Some bands confronted catastrophe head-on in their songs, while others offered calm, introspective reassurances. Several longtime local acts pushed themselves even further in pursuit of their craft just as often as rookies made strong starts. Here, you'll find twenty of our favorite releases from Triangle artists this year. We hope you like them, too.


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AMA DIVERS
Shadow Seeking Sun
Built from Renee Mendoza Haran's field recordings that she made while on business trips, Shadow Seeking Sun is rooted in specific places (most of the song's titles are GPS coordinates), but its familiar sounds make it feel placeless, too. Haran's bandmates, Brian Haran and Chris Girard, wrapped her recordings with layers of fuzzy guitars and electronic elements, and her vocals are distant, inviting calls. The resulting album feels cozy and oddly comforting, something in which to fully immerse yourself and keep still. —Allison Hussey


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BODYKIT
No-NRG
Good luck finding a 2017 record as gloriously wrecked as Bodykit's No-NRG. The first full-length effort from former Whatever Brains members Rich Ivey and Josh Lawson is a blown-out exercise in primal rhythm. It contains some of the finest, strangest production on any synth record this year, national or local. On the somehow danceable "Exploded World View," gargled, sardonic vocals and fried-wire noise flurry around the relentless stomp of an off-kilter EBM groove. It radiates an appreciation for eighties underground punk and synth music while scanning as exciting and fresh—a nearly impossible trick these days. —David Ford Smith


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DRUG YACHT
The Van Warmer
A band named Drug Yacht—implying excess, impulse, and hedonism—should be loads of fun, and the band's The Van Warmer is exactly that. A rock band of particular burl and brawny, twitchy energy, Drug Yacht delivers raw, full-tilt boogie that doesn't skimp on whiplashing riffs or whip-smart humor, deftly balancing breakneck sprints, juddering paroxysms, and jocular triple entendres. —Patrick Wall






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FITNESS WOMXN
Macho City
Fitness Womxn's debut LP is equally angry and insightful in its delivery of the realities and frustrations that come with being female. With chugging bass lines, jagged guitar riffs, and take-no-prisoners percussion, Fitness Womxn offer extra catharsis and affirmation via pointed, shout-sung vocals. Macho City's lo-fi production means you'll have to listen closely to pick up all the barbs the band throws, but you'll be better off for hearing everything Fitness Womxn have to say. —Allison Hussey


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JAKE XERXES FUSSELL
What in the Natural World
The term "folksinger" is almost always misapplied these days, but not in the case of Jake Xerxes Fussell. He's a real-deal interpreter of traditional American roots music, from semiforgotten Duke Ellington tunes to songs from the Georgia Sea Islands. But while his nimble fingerpicking and his deep dives into music history for material mark him as a bit of a folk scholar, he's no hidebound traditionalist. He brings something of his own to the table, giving every tune he touches on his second album a fresh and thoughtful spin. —Jim Allen


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THE HOT AT NIGHTS
Three Kids
Ever eclectic, The Hot At Nights keep evolving on Three Kids by diving into electronic territory, augmenting adventurous arrangements of eight-string guitar, saxophone, and drums with extensive synthesizer explorations. The virtuosic trio's inventive, progressive jazz instrumentals defy constraints and conventions—deriving then contorting elements from the rock, R&B, roots, and rap music that its members craft in their many other projects—to cast compelling atmospheres. Three Kids is both thrilling and somehow singular, its only aspects that aren't unexpected. —Spencer Griffith


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IRON & WINE
Beast Epic
August's excellent Beast Epic was somewhat of a return to form for Iron & Wine, whose frontman, Sam Beam, now resides in Durham. On his last two Iron & Wine records, Beam leaned into dense full-band arrangements, pushing him beyond his usual gentle, folksy territory. On Beast Epic, Beam turns back toward simpler arrangements, but his songs shine brighter than ever. They unfold like delicate origami: they're carefully assembled masterpieces, impressive in the details that lie in every crease. —Allison Hussey


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RACHEL KIEL
Shot from a Cannon
Chapel Hill's Rachel Kiel has demonstrated her estimable talents for the better part of a decade, but October's Shot from a Cannon was a game-changer tour de force. With its crashing harmonies, surprise melodic twists, and yearning vocals, the record finds Kiel—abetted by a surfeit of local talent—finally alchemizing her diverse influences into a unique organic whole: equal parts noisy garage pop, decorous folk, and psych-addled roots rock. —Elizabeth Bracy


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MARY LATTIMORE AND ELYSSE THEBNER MILLER
And the Birds Flew Overhead
This LP from harpist Mary Lattimore (a North Carolina native who now lives in L.A.) and keys/synth maven Elysse Thebner Miller (Some Army, Jenks Miller and Rose Cross NC) is a little tricky, as it only got a small vinyl release from a boutique label based in Virginia. You can't stream it anywhere. But that's part of the magic of this gorgeous, spellbinding collaboration. Recorded at Kings last March as part of Three Lobed Recordings' Sweet Sixteen bash, the pair's two sprawling, improvised compositions are sparkling getaways. Their thoughtful interplay is fascinating, and carefully listening to every melodic detail they unwind is nothing short of meditative. —Allison Hussey


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REESE MCHENRY & SPIDER BAGS
Bad Girl
A match made in rock heaven, the powerful, bluesy wail of former Dirty Little Heaters leader Reese McHenry finds the perfect foil in the warped twang and blustery roar of gritty garage gods Spider Bags. Bad Girl proves that the two forces of nature are even more unstoppable together, erupting with explosive energy across the album's first side before mellowing on the more tender back half. Either way, it's shot with enough passion to make one's hair stand on end. (Disclosure: Spider Bags bassist Steve Oliva is the INDY's editorial and graphic designer.)Spencer Griffith


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PAT JUNIOR
black & mild EP
After the positive reception of last year's Learning to Live in a Day, pat junior went back to the drawing board in 2017 to reshape his production and songwriting style in a way that would help him more effectively express his journey as an artist and as a human. What resulted was an EP called black & mild, a six-track project that delivers on the musical creativity of his beatmaking abilities and in the intimacy of how deep he's willing to let his listeners into his psyche. —Charles Morse


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RAPSODY
Laila's Wisdom
With two Grammy nominations under her belt and a sold-out tour, Rapsody has proven with September's Laila's Wisdom that hard work indeed pays off. The album features soulful production from the legendary 9th Wonder and guest verses from hip-hop heavy hitters like Kendrick Lamar, Busta Rhymes, and Black Thought. You can hear the growth in Rapsody's cadence and flow, and she takes risks by manipulating sounds while offering clever wordplay and double entendres. —Kyesha Jennings


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RGB
Burgeoning
Formerly of excellent Raleigh synth-pop duo Faux Fleurs, Raleigh's Pranesh Kamalakanthan, aka RGB, revamped himself this year on Burgeoning, a sprawling and astral electronic record that cements him as one of the Triangle's premier young producers. Endlessly evocative and psychedelic, with cathedral-size pads and a minute attention to sample choice, Burgeoning rewards those who dig deep for its charms. The precise sequencing makes this a sturdy listen front-to-back. —David Ford Smith


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KATE RHUDY
Rock N'Roll Ain't for Me
Made with assists from members of Mandolin Orange and Mipso, Kate Rhudy's debut LP proves the young singer-songwriter has already joined those acts as local roots royalty. Like many of the finest folk albums, Rock N' Roll Ain't for Me is largely filled with frank, melancholy lyrics as Rhudy reflects on relationships and ruminates on life. Stunning harmonies gently lift Rhudy's plaintive melodies, but there are just enough toe-tappers and snark to keep things lively. —Spencer Griffith


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AL RIGGS
Hell House
On Hell House, this indefatigable singer-songwriter produced one of his strongest efforts yet, combining a poignancy with a willingness to travel into sometimes dissonant places. On tracks like "Go When You're Lonesome," delicate fingerpicking contrasts with Riggs's plainspoken baritone to conjure the dark beauty of Nick Drake and the Go-Betweens. Emphasizing a sparse sound, Hell House keeps Riggs's musings, which are rarely straightforward, at the forefront, beckoning you to lean in and ponder. —David Klein


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SOLAR HALOS
08.21.17
This is a Solar Halos release in name only. It's by no means a direct or even spiritual successor to the power trio's self-titled 2014 release. It's stripped of the blazing stoner-rock group's roaring amplifier distortion and thundering drum rolls, of Solar Halos' insistent urgency. Rather, 08.21.17 is a moody and mercurial two-part cello suite, the first half of which is accompanied by drums and filtered through myriad guitar effects; though it's wholly improvised, it seems considered and through-composed, no note or mute out of place. Released to coincide with this year's solar eclipse, it's the perfect soundtrack for a freaky natural phenomenon. —Patrick Wall


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SYLVAN ESSO
What Now
Few local bands have ascended to the heights of popularity reached by Sylvan Esso. The duo's second record, April's What Now, documents the band in a place of uncertainty, questioning success on songs like "Radio" and "Kick Jump Twist" and examining intimacy on "Die Young" and "Slack Jaw." What remains firm and unquestionable in Sylvan Esso's sound, however, is the unique way the outfit can lay smooth, hooky melodies over eclectic, driving synth bloops, making for lovely music even in the midst of uncertain times. —Noah Rawlings


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TRANDLE
hi key low key
Durham's Randy Maples tries to bottle the world in his art. He spent much of this as one of the several young minds behind the eclectic and exciting Durham label and art collective Raund Haus. Operating under his production moniker, Trandle, on the exhilarating hi key low key, his reach is unlimited, jetting from menacing piano to breakneck footwork to fried ambient to chipmunk soul. These varied interests play out over forty minutes in a warped display of raw production power. —David Ford Smith


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WAILIN STORMS
Sick City
On Sick City, Wailin Storms fully delivers on the promise of its name, hitting listeners with a Category 5 noise-rock squall that brings to mind the best of Young Widows, Swans, and Samhain. There might not be a more thrilling (or more horrifying) song written by a Triangle act this year than "Irene Garza," a true-crime song about the rape and murder of a Tejana beauty queen that rages between manic and maniacal. —Patrick Wall




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G YAMAZAWA
Shouts to Durham
G Yamazawa has managed to capture the attention of many outside of North Carolina via social media and a sequence of viral videos that demonstrate his undisputed skills as an emcee. His album Shouts to Durham is an ode to the Bull City, and the lead single, "North Cack," is a spiritual successor to Petey Pablo's "Raise Up," that celebrates everything Southern. With features from fellow North Carolina artists, Shouts to Durham is filled to the brim with unique storytelling and upbeat anthems. —Kyesha Jennings

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