New York's The Babies come led by Cassie Ramone of the Vivian Girls and Kevin Morby of Woods, but don't let that guide your pre-emptive assessment. Indeed, the quartet forgoes the itinerant sheepishness of Morby's band and the sloppiness of Ramone's, ripping into bittersweet and buoyant pop songs that are impossible to fight. Their second LP, this year's terrific Our House on the Hill, brims with stories of jilted and hopeful lovers, given life by guitars that jangle and jar, a rhythm section that's passionately restless and the kind of shameless singing that turns good choruses into unforgettable refrains. "Get Lost" is an anthem of romantic escapism, where narcotics and held hands comingle as though The Babies are co-writing a Ke$ha single. If you see the show tonight, chances are you'll be humming some of these tunes tomorrow at work. With Flesh Wounds. WEDNESDAY, DEC. 19, at THE PINHOOK. $8/9 p.m.
In the past, singer and fiddler Rayna Gellert has been relegated to the roll of roots-music sidewoman, either bowing in all-female old-time collective Uncle Earl, supporting pan-African jam band Toubab Krewe, or backing various singer-songwriters. But her second album under her own name, the recent Old Light: Songs from My Childhood & Other Gone Worlds, should make moonlighting unnecessary: A thoughtful mix of antiquated folk standards and originals that play at the divide between memories that have been made and remain to be made, Old Light shows Gellert not only as an emotive singer but also as the welcome traditional enthusiast unafraid to tinker with the past. Be careful: Her droning take on the centuries-old "The Cruel Mother" will chase your dreams. THURSDAY, DEC. 13, at BERKELEY CAFE. $10–$12/8 p.m.
In 1996, at the height of their record-industry buzz and just after they'd made their major-label debut, The Backsliders got quiet at The Brewery: "If you can't seem to find me," bandleader Chip Robinson sang, his times-and-tales-pocked voice nestled within the boys' stately shuffle, "Well you know just where I've been/ Somewhere out there on that crazy wind." Said wind serves as a fitting description of the missed opportunities that soon followed The Backsliders, who broke up three years later as the spoils of the alt-country slot machine went to other players. They've reunited occasionally and have recently spoken of a busy 2013; tonight, Robinson will lead the quartet without guitarist Brad Rice. Expect them to slip between quiet grace and raucous upheaval, the duality-cum-mutualism that long ago made The Backsliders one of the country's best rock 'n' roll bands. With Erin Nenni Band. SATURDAY, DEC. 15, at THE POUR HOUSE. $8–$10/10 p.m.
SAVAGE KNIGHTS, FATHER FIGURES
Neither New York's Father Figures nor Raleigh's Savage Knights play free jazz; in fact, both bands tend toward rather terse and tightly arranged pieces that are more likely to last for five scripted minutes than barrel ahead for an indeterminate length. Yet both piggyback the fierce tones of giants like Albert Ayler and Eric Dolphy to their elaborate constructions, affording meticulous music the kind of urgency one might expect from radical improvisation. The Knights twist shards of glinting metal and deranged noise into their pieces, while Father Figures flirt with a near-burlesque sense of playful eccentricity. Clear Spots, a quartet of Raleigh music vets including Rocket Cottage's Chris Nilsson and The Countdown Quartet's Steve Grothmann, makes its public debut. TUESDAY, DEC. 18, at KINGS. $5/9 p.m.
Released last year, The Gathering is a wintry seven-song cycle written, sung and played by several of the state's leading contemporary folk purveyors, including Polecat Creek founder Laurelyn Dossett and Carolina Chocolate Drop Rhiannon Giddens. Alternately sentimental, funny, cheery and dark, it's an elliptical rumination on the worries and rewards of the holidays in the Carolinas. The sound of sterling bird song comingles with the hugs of strange uncles, while the smell of mom's cooking in the kitchen brings estranged families back within distance of one another's smiles. The quintet responsible for The Gathering graciously returns for an encore of last year's performances with the North Carolina Symphony. Visit pinecone.org. SATURDAY, DEC. 15, at FLETCHER OPERA THEATER. $22–$29/8 p.m.
A warm-up for the proper Backsliders gig in just two nights (see No. 3), this more intimate set should allow frontman Chip Robinson the chance to show you three things—his allusion-rich songwriting, his lived-in voice and his complete subservience to delivering these tunes with the utmost intensity. Robinson is a supreme conduit of song; check him in both contexts. With Mike Ferrio. THURSDAY, DEC. 13, at SLIM'S. $5/9 p.m.
In 2012, when indie rock runs over with the refuse of corporate branding and polyglot demands, perhaps it's wrong to call the Chapel Hill veterans of Lud "indie rock." But goddammit, it fits: Adding languid Southern ease to songs both subtly snide and sophisticated, hearing Lud is like drinking sweet homemade lemonade on a front porch while reading the most obscure and ponderous tomes of Western philosophy. They're one of the region's great and long-overlooked treasures—classic indie rock with itinerant regional charm. Phatlynx handles instrumental takes of classic rock blasts with house-party verve. Also, Kitty Box and the Johnnys. FRIDAY, DEC. 14, at THE PINHOOK. $6/10 p.m.
THE MPS PROJECT
The relatively new jazz trio The MPS Project occasionally slips into hold-music territory, with times and tones so shiny that it's sometimes hard to see the complicated machinations beneath. But when the group goes acoustic—that is, piano, small drum kit and upright bass—and cuts away from its own composition, they're fascinating and intuiting instrumentalists, playing in devoted arches that suggest the tantric builds of The Necks. Expect openers Onoheim to set a standard of stretched canvases. THURSDAY, DEC. 13, at CASBAH. $5/8 p.m.
Behind a table of flashing lights and bright screens, drum sequencers and electric outputs, the tag team of DJs Apple Juice Kid and JIL lock their eyes to their dials and bob and bend to the massive rhythms of their machines. The goal, it seems, is to beat back political unrest with, well, beats, turning multimedia dance parties into invitations of initiated solidarity. Father Figures continue their two-day Triangle tour in the opening slot (see No. 4). Also, Brazos headlines. WEDNESDAY, DEC. 19, at CASBAH. $5/10 p.m.
LEFT OUTLET, BLACK TAXI
This strange four-band bill is capped by the grit, glam and excess of Left Outlet, a long-running Raleigh rock act whose attempts to let Bowie sing with Sabbath get more intriguing by the show. New York's Black Taxi offers a haberdashery of last decade's indie ringleaders, from The Walkmen and The Big Pink to Interpol and Ariel Pink, with a clean streak of Maroon 5 exuberance. Once and Future Kings aims to pull Radiohead back to earth, while Mumu Tutu suggests The Stooges in Affliction T-shirts. You don't have to like everything in a sampler, you know? THURSDAY, DEC. 13, at THE POUR HOUSE. $5/9 p.m.
Not to be all "I liked their earlier stuff" about it, but Of Montreal used to be a band as devoted to their songs as their theatricality: Consider their first few albums, strange little collections of curios that delighted with quirky sophistication alongside tunes that were charmed and charming. In recent years, though, the dramatic flourishes and puerile pranks have subsumed the music. There's nothing wrong with costumes and nudity and general merriment, of course; it's just a bummer to see them get in the way of one of America's grand psychedelic inheritors. With Foxygen. SATURDAY, DEC. 15, at CAT'S CRADLE. $17/9 p.m.
Every rising tide requires a filter. If you've enjoyed the rather recent insurgence of independent and interesting hip-hop courtesy of rappers from Danny Brown and Das Racist to G-Side and Cities Aviv, you might be tempted to scope Ninjasonik, a New York duo attempting to sprout grassroots. Don't: Falling into an unseen abyss somewhere between Flosstradamus and a male version of Yo Majesty, Ninjasonik writes really silly songs over really standard beats. They're more dependent upon style (crazy hair, weird beard, matching tats) than substance, putting them at odds with the scattered movement to which they might be linked. With Titan. THURSDAY, DEC. 13, at LOCAL 506. $8–$9/9 p.m.