Album Review: Tre. Charles – “Stressin.”

Lately I have taken to night walks. Slow solemn steps through darkness I wander, dressed in black, emerging in street light and disappearing again into the shadow we call night. Always I am joined by the company of music. Headphones on, ambivalence tuned up, I make my way through the side streets of my sleepy neighborhood listening to a debut song by a new local artist. His name is Tre Charles. His song, “Stressin”, debuts on 4/26. 

A soft melodic intro matches the pace of my strides as I ease into my ambling. The percussion enters and my feet fall into rhythm. Within a beat we are joined by a dulcet emotive voice. With a lyrical delivery focused on assonance, I allow myself to be carried by the sound of a resonant voice whose inflections tell me everything I need to know. There is sorrow here, longing, isolation, the tone of despair.

True to the genre of R&B, Tre’s debut song holds within it a meditative soul and emotive flow. Self-described as an embodiment of his “personal and social struggles,” this song is contemplative, emotional, and delivered by a voice embracing of its own vulnerability. It certainly pairs well with soul-searching shadowy night walks. 

Listen to the song and check out its accompanying music video, now live across platforms.

Album Review: Raund Haus – “RH – 101”

Featured artwork by Cool Boy 36, courtesy of the artist and Raund Haus.

Long meandering walks have become a regular ritual for me. Many miles I have trod, headphones on, walking to the beat of some tune, sometimes new, sometimes old, but always relevant to mine ears. Today’s walk featured a different palette of “eclectic” than the usual shades of strange that color my daily strides. An advance copy of Raund Haus’ Year 5 compilation had arrived in my inbox shortly before I ventured out into the afternoon sun. So there I was, buttoned up in my usual hat and head-to-toe black, stepping into the light of day in the welcome company of old friends.

Now 5 years alive, the Durham-based collective celebrates its birthday with the release of RH – 101, a compilation of previously unreleased music from artists who have been featured on Raund Haus releases and stages throughout their tenure. Illuminated by artwork created by the co-founder and visual expressionist we know as Cool Boy 36, the 101 release spans a spectrum of sounds akin to a mixtape of early demos. 

From the edge of noise to the sprawling influence of hip hop to the familiar dance-driven pastimes of house and techno, Raund Haus does it all. Filled out by a range of styles, including the pervading eccentricity of co-founder Trandle and the contemplative cadence of fellow co-founder Hubbble, our friends at Raund Haus have put forth a series of tracks which narrate the journey toward their present moment.  And I daresay the dance-inspired vibrations of Footrocket, Treee City, and especially Ronnie Flash had me sliding and gliding down Durham side streets, much to the amusement of my neighbors.

The 101 release feels very much like a walk through time, like a visitation with the accomplishments made thus far. At the 5 year mark, Raund Haus has created a portfolio of releases that span the globe, as well as events and parties which endure in local folklore. I expect their future steps will stride with the same originality as we have thus far seen. Exemplifying the soundscape range of the beatmaking multiverse, Raund Haus is ever pioneering into unfound sounds. Look out for the release of RH – 101 on February 26th.

Album Review: Flash Car – “Inchworm​/​Two Minutes ‘Til Midnight”

Being trapped in my house for the past 4 weeks, with minimal human interaction and too much homework to comprehend, has (almost) driven me to the brink of insanity. But I’ve found that new music makes quarantine a little more bearable. So, when my editor sent me a bunch of different links to musical artists across the Triangle, I couldn’t have been happier.

One of the links was for Flash Car, a modern psychedelic pop-rock group featuring the works of numerous composers. It contained two unreleased songs “Two Minutes ‘Til Midnight” and “Inchworm.” Both tunes play on my affinity for psychedelic sound and odd storytelling, so I was immediately hooked when I listened to them for the first time.

Inchworm/Two Minutes 'Til Midnight by Flash Car

“Two Minutes ‘Til Midnight” begins with a slick rhythmic cavalcade of drums and guitar, which pulled me in and made me feel like I was at my first house party, intoxicated with the buzz of laughter, dancing and cheap liquor. Fast-paced instrumentals match the nervous excitement and elation I tend to feel at the beginning of a party. As the song progresses, the instrumentals slow, mimicking a warp in time–the lyrics “silhouettes slide off the wall” is repeated as the tone becomes somber. The song builds back up to its original pace swelling into a crescendo of sounds that feel like bright colors and fireworks. Each element of the track comes together to produce the highs and lows of one trying to make the most of the night before midnight strikes.

Inchworm/Two Minutes 'Til Midnight by Flash Car

Similarly captivating, “Inchworm” turned out to be my favorite. On its surface, the track sounds like the backing for a circus act featuring acrobatic inchworms, but upon further inspection, reveals a tale of longing and wonderment for these elusive creatures. Each element of the song, from its lyrics to its trippy storybook melody, encapsulated me. I couldn’t help but make associations to Tim Burton’s old film school animations and Amanda Palmer’s Evelyn Evelyn. As the song progressed, I pictured a ringmaster, hued with old film grain, allowing a group of bright green inchworms to practice their acrobatic acts in the palm of his hand. As I listened to it over and over, I kept thinking, ‘I have to make an illustration,’ so I did just that. It’s not every day you hear a song that makes you think of so many niche things, but “Inchworm” did that for me. Even if you don’t associate Inchworm with Tim Burton, Amanda Palmer, or a circus, you’ll most likely paint a picture of your own while listening to this tune.

Flash Car did magnificent work. Each song feels like a gift, wrapped with a unique blend of psychedelic intrigue and individualism. Now that the songs are released, I hope you will enjoy them as much as I did. Also, Flash Car, if you’re reading, thank you for making quarantine a little more interesting.

Featured image is an original illustration by Jodie Londono. All rights reserved.

Album Review: Sea Moss – “Bidet Dreaming”

This is an unusual album review for Durham Beat because it is not local. I wrote this piece in an abrupt and spontaneous whirl of inspiration, like an impassioned quickie in a punk show bathroom. That’s what I felt like I was doing while listening to Sea Moss’s new album, Bidet Dreaming. This album is dirty, riotous sex.

Lately, I have been listening to a lot of loud music. I have been hungry for it. I love noise. To satiate this lust for loudness, I put out a call to my friends via Instagram stories to “please send more noise” and received a great many links to metal albums. However, one person seemed to know exactly what I was looking for when he sent me a few “hot tips” to explore, including Sea Moss, who he said would be playing this Wednesday at Nightlight with a couple of local noise makers. I went to their bandcamp page and started listening from the top to the Portland, Oregon duo’s May 2019 release.

Much like spontaneous heated passion, Sea Moss wastes no time getting to the crux of things with their title-track opener. It’s pandemonium, y’all. 

By the time I get to track four, “Appease the peas, please” I am steeped in gritty, glorious chaos. What unadulterated lust this song is. A teasing, noisy and percussive opening soon erupts into sex in the middle of the dance floor. 

I can’t wait to dance at this show.

Speaking of teasing, let’s talk about “Fancy Shit,” the sixth track on the album. The drums come in first, deliberately stumbling into a beat over the course of many timed pauses, staggering the build up with coy precision. A great tease will tell you that timing is everything. And when the song finally comes crashing in, they hold nothing back. 

All together this album reads like James Joyce’s Dirty Love Letters to his wife. Highly recommended reading. 

Sea Moss will be joining two local acts, sister,brother and Distributed Systems, at Nightlight on Wednesday. I have a feeling it’s going to be a hell of a night. I will certainly be there to find out for myself.

Featured image is the cover of “Bidet Dreaming” by Sea Moss.

Album Review: XOXOK – “Worthy”

Hit play. Listen. Pause. I need to see a visual of the person singing. What a voice! So, I look up XOXOK and find a video of XOXOK playing in a room with just his guitar.

Hang on… let’s back up. When I hit play, I was stunned by the voice I heard, but there was a voice in my head was saying, “This isn’t what you usually like!” Well, I made that little voice shut up and opened my mind to the music.

What I soon discovered was the enormous amount of talent and passion XOXOK has and puts so effectively into his music. His voice is rich and textured. A blend of modern R&B with a strong and powerful throwback to 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s soul. 

The backing vocals pick up his voice and compliment it rather than drown it out or compete with it.

When the first track, “Nancy” starts, it strikes me as straight up radio pop, then moves, slides and slithers its way into an “in the pocket” grove that builds and climaxes with the guitar solo. 

XOXOK can play the hell out of a guitar. The dynamics are incredible. You think you are being seduced and lulled, and then he hits you with noise, reverb so dripping and eloquent. It is this dynamic that shows his depth of talent.

“Flaws”… I want to hear this song in a film. I would love to see a Tarantino film or a film of that genre take “Flaws” and use it to drive a scene. It is a beautiful song that took me for a trip through the eras of influence XOXOK must explore.

Keenan Jenkins is XOXOK. Let that be known. He may hold a Ph.D from UNC, but his calling is truly vocal master and translator of guitar legends throughout time.

XOXOK plays The Station on May 11 for his album release party. I am sad I will not be there. The Editor will be having all the fun instead. As for me, my eyes and ears have been opened and I can’t wait to see him perform live.

If you can get to The Station this weekend for the show, then do it. You will be glad you did.

Featured Image by Wyatt Kane, courtesy of XOXOK.

Album Review: sister,brother – “Suicide Club”

Welcome to “Future Primitive Punk”! I have heard this music before; I haven’t heard this music before! Holy shit!

Get on a bike, ride the alleys, crash, wipe the blood off your knuckles, repeat. Go out to a show, stay out too late, over caffeinate, it all makes sense.

Opening up the album, “Sorry, Why are we doing this again,” lays down a hellish merry-go-round vibe that starts to drive and draw you in with a catchy dance rhythm. I love it. If only listened to once, one would think this album is a thrown together, haphazard piece of work. When you listen and listen again, you find yourself listening to each section like unfolding chapters that eventually bring you back to a common thread. It happens loud and quick, so pay attention!

Suicide Club by sister,brother


“living in an office
fiddling with an orifice
praying for the greenest lawn
knowing it will be gone by dawn”

Don’t believe that the lyrics, blanketed under distortion, are just screams. The message seems like a straight up FUCK YOU! But there is observation and reflection knitted into the sounds. Mark’s not just making “mouth sounds.” He may want you to think that, but it’s more than that.

Alison and Mark have taken programming machines, screams and instruments back to an organic level. It feels like a band, not a room full of robots.

“It takes a village to know we are fucked!” is a quick sucker punch of a song. Pointing the finger at others? Pointing the finger at the mirror. Hell if I know, but it’s fantastic.

Suicide Club by sister,brother


“But I am really scared
and fucking lonely too
I just don’t know what to do with myself
could someone please tell me what to do”

If you are familiar with Jello Biafra and the works of Dead Kennedys, then you might feel the spirit of “Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables” …a sense of humor rooted in alarm and a sense of urgency. Open up our eyes, wake up and make some good choices today!

After listening to the songs multiple time and returning to the track, “Why don’t you take a step back Judgy McJudgerton,” it hits me like a rock. Even though I really like what Mark and Alison are doing, I know they are writing works for themselves and the sheer joy of making art. How do I know this? Just read the lyrics below.

Suicide Club by sister,brother


“But I am fine being me so why don’t you shut the fuck up and just leave me be.”A

Featured image is original photograph by The Editor from 1/12/19 sister,brother album release show at Criterion. Full photo series on Instagram.

Album Review: Tan and Sober Gentlemen – “Veracity”

Veracity (n): conformity to facts; accuracy.

Synonyms: truthfulness, truth, accuracy, correctness, faithfulness, fidelity

Tan and Sober Gentlemen (TASG) are true to the Appalachian, Celtic bluegrass music which has so obviously and so deeply influenced their sound. As the album title suggests, true-to-self lives at the heart of their sound. While carrying on a centuries-old tradition, TASG have been able to push beyond what could easily become boring and stale, into a sonic dynamic blend of influences.

“Rabbit” kicks the door open and grabs me and swings me around! Imagine if the Avett Brothers sounded like they recorded after binging on liquor, unfiltered cigarettes, and were hyper from lack of sleep. Sound good? It’s great!

The gritty feeling continues… the group backing vocals keep the folky, Celtic tradition alive, but are delivered with a punk attitude.

If you’re looking for good choices in music to play around the fire as we bury the statues we’ve torn down, then put this record on.

On “Deep Chatham”, railroading drums drive the song from start to end. Tom Waits fans, listen close! The vocals channel Waits with a southern twang supported by a band on overdrive.

TASG is tight as hell. If you dare to play this super niche genre, then you best have your chops. As a drummer and guitarist myself, I am inspired by their musicianship.

Make no mistake; this is not fiddle-die-day generic interpretations of the Celtic sound. This is deeper, next step, rebirth.

I grew up in Boston listening to music like this waking up smelling of cigarettes and stout. This album plays like a story, an amazing evening I want to hear about again and again.

There are so many layers of exceptional playing on this album that I don’t want to single out one member, because all of them bring something incredible to the record. Check out their bios and you will see that there is a deep regional history within the band.

TASG are a unit of sound moving so fast it takes a second to grasp what the hell is going on.

One last item to touch on: How the hell can you possibly think you can get away doing a Pogues cover?! I’ll tell you… because your band kicks ass and pulls it off with accuracy and, more importantly, takes it beyond a cover and makes it your own. Tan and Sober Gentlemen, hats off to you!

Veracity by The Tan and Sober Gentlemen

Featured image is “Veracity” album cover courtesy of Tan and Sober Gentlemen.

Album Review: BANGZZ – “Fresh Cut EP”

I woke up this morning face-down on my rug. You see, last night I discovered the new Taco Bell Cantina on Hillsborough Street (Raleigh). It’s a concept restaurant: a hyper-modern, small-scale version that serves alcohol. They stock Bacardi and Cuervo (two words: Tequila Freeze), as well as vodka, wine, and a small selection of beer. I speculated to myself as to how long it would be until someone gets kicked out of Boozy Bell. Turns out: not even as long as I thought. I was sitting at my barstool for maybe half an hour when a man walks up to the counter carrying a 12-pack over his shoulder, then, after failing to coerce the cashier into selling him a full bottle of tequila, gets angry. The manager was not amused and ushered the man out. But it’s still heaven. I will be visiting the Cantina as often as possible before its inevitable shutdown. It’s the Taco Bell that we need, but not the Taco Bell that we deserve.

Anyways, it was pointless to lay around hung over on a beautiful Sunday morning, so I walk outside for some fresh air. I go to my car, roll up the glass, roll up the grass, and prepare to relax with Fresh Cut, the debut EP by BANGZZ.

“Pretty Is A Trap” comes crashing in with Blair’s punchy percussion and Erika’s shout-from-the-rooftop vocals. It shares a few highlights of the experience of being a woman: being subject to sexist and harassing behavior simply for looking feminine, being ignored for not looking feminine, and the ages-old scenario of men only listening to you when they want sex.

I remember hearing “Big Ol’ Dicks” when I saw BANGZZ at Manifest III. Screaming along with “NO! MORE! DICKS! IN! THIS! HOUSE!!” is glorious. I’d make it my motto. I’d have it printed on a welcome mat. But in all seriousness, “Big Ol’ Dicks” is about mansplainers and how badly they need to get the heck out. The closer, “I Just Cannot”, was the standout song for me, with a snarling riff and thundering drums. Its slight grunginess is noticeably different from the preceding 5 tracks, but I’m all for it.

The EP covers topics ranging from bad boyfriends to society’s view on marriage to the meaning of consent, and BANGZZ tells it like it is. It’s worth listening to at max volume–which I did, on repeat, hangover be damned! Fresh Cut was recorded by Emily Musolino at Blue Moose Studios in Durham, NC, and mixed, mastered, and rendered by the BANGZZ duo themselves.

Featured image is Fresh Cut album cover courtesy of BANGZZ.

Album Review: ZenSoFly – “Sunflowers”

I close my eyes. The sun beams warm rays in diagonal lines across my face as I reach my arm out the open car window and press my hand against the breeze. I turn up ZenSoFly’s Sunflowers and nod my head along with the beat.

In reality, it’s winter and as I write this, snow coats the railroad tracks outside my apartment window. Only through Sunflowers have I been transported back to this warm little slice of summer.

If you read my inaugural piece for Durham Beat you may know that rap and hip-hop are, admittedly, my least explored genres. I like a good Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, or Post Malone radio bop just as much as the next millennial, but it’s rare that I would dive into this genre on my own.

As with all things of course, there are exceptions. There’s Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar, and Childish Gambino and Khalid, and as nerdy as it is, the soundtrack to Hamilton — all in my regularly scheduled Monday-Friday desk rotation. And now, there’s ZenSoFly.

I was introduced to Durham-based artist ZenSoFly at Pinhook’s 10th birthday celebration back in November. In the weeks following the show, I had her Sunflowers EP blasting through my headphones at work as I bopped my head along to the beat and blasted through emails.

Sunflowers is the perfect soundtrack to get.shit.done, but to limit my review to that one purpose would be an injustice to the many layers of this EP. Much like its namesake, Sunflowers is bright and intricate, a beautiful display of ZenSoFly’s talents. This artist can rap, sing, write, and from what I saw, she can put on one hell of a performance.

Depending on where you listen to it, you may have a different experience with Sunflowers. The SoundCloud version starts with “Drip”. However, on Spotify, it starts with “Life at a Funeral.” For the purpose of this review I’ll explore the Spotify version, as ZenSoFly’s team has confirmed that it the Spotify track order is the intended order.

On Spotify, Sunflowers begins with the chimes of an organ, indicating the start of “Life at a Funeral, a track that offers a great beat, but is honestly a bit of a sleeper compared to its successors.

ZenSoFly finds her groove on the second track, “Getting Started.” My second favorite on the EP, this track shows off Zen’s ability to write a catchy hit that will stick in your head for days. As she repeats the lyrics “and I’m just getting started” I can’t help but feel that this song is prophetic in a way. But it’s the soft instrumental ending of this track that makes me feel a certain kind of way I can’t quite articulate…

Immediately following the “Waves Interlude”, Zen offers what may be the catchiest song of the EP, “Drip”. The verses of this track give her the opportunity to show off her rapping ability on top of the appropriate background sounds of dripping. And then there’s the chorus, which I’ve found myself humming and singing over and over again. Drip drip drop, drip drip drip drop. It’s incredibly satisfying.

For the last two tracks “Culprit” and “Something Special”, Zen slows it down a bit. “Culprit” has a nice beat and some quick lyrics, but it’s the breakdown that queues up the final track in the last minute that’s the real show-stealer.

Sunflowers ends with my personal favorite, “Something Special”. The track opens with an unexpected guitar riff reminiscent of 80s stadium rock, followed by an intro verse that’s repeated throughout the chorus of the track. But it’s the lyrics of the first true verse, and the sweet, sultry way in which she delivers them that really capture me on this track. “You got that ice cream that sweet tea that chicken with the corn on the cob \\ you got that visine that make me see so clear when I’m in the dark.” The imagery she uses here is what places me right in the middle of the scene I described at the opening of this piece. When a song can transport you to another place, then it is truly something special.

When it comes to albums, especially in genres I don’t listen to often, I have to listen to them several times to really form an opinion. I often have an initial listen, sit on it for a day or so then come back for a second and maybe even third listen before I can truly say whether I like it.

After several weeks of listening to Sunflowers, I think it’s safe to say that I enjoy this EP. I’d even go as far as to say I can add ZenSoFly to the regular rotation of hip-hop artists I’d list as favorites. But in all honesty, it’s not fair to box her into one, or even two, genres. Sunflowers spans hip-hop, dance, pop, and even briefly dips into a bit of rock.  Personally, I can’t wait to see where ZenSoFly ventures to next.

Listen to Sunflowers on SoundCloud and SpotifyFollow ZenSoFly on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Cover photo courtesy of ZenSoFly.

Album Review: The Muslims – “Self-Titled”

August 2017 was my inaugural experience of free, public events hosted in Durham’s Central Park as a fresh-faced resident of Durham County. I had been swiping through innumerable dating profiles to cope with the isolation of existing in a new city, while also preparing for graduate school and ravenously binge-watching HBO’s Insecure, before a blind date led me to stumble upon Laila Nur’s enchanting live performance. Nur’s banter with the audience espoused condemnations of institutional racism and gentrification, unabashed and at length, saying their artistry was an invitation to discuss issues not to avoid them.

A year later, I sat across from The Editor at Cocoa Cinnamon giddily fiddling with a handwritten list of bands I could review for Durham Beat, including a side project involving Laila called The Muslims, self-described as a “Punk band full of queer, Black/Brown moozlems & friends.” Punk, being an almost inherently political form, often still erases the narratives of POC and other marginalized groups—The Muslims adding themselves to the various outfits pushing against this problem within the genre.

Muslim Ban,” the track that placed both of its hands on my head and grabbed me through my ears, is a monologue drum and guitar instrumentation decrying, “We’ve been through this shit before/White people and building walls, that shit won’t keep us out/ Now they want a Muslim ban/Another racist president—white people fix your shit!” The music video for “Muslim Ban” opens with a fixed shot on a burning image of Donald Trump (or “Agent Orange” per the first track on the album) cutting to a sequence that presents an arrangement of sticky notes addressing this country’s many problems. “Muslims at the Mall,” a 90-second visual shot at Southpoint Mall, shows a person head-banging in a burqa comprised of Lilly Pulitzer fabrics, accompanied by a short burst of screaming vocals, irreverent and purposeful—the video was later taken down from YouTube and uploaded at Vimeo for an alleged violation of the former’s community guidelines. The Muslims, both an album and a band, are imbued with this sort of in-your-face gravitas and having fun while doing it.

During my aforementioned conversation with The Editor, one of the last questions she asked me was what I thought of genres. “Genre” serves the utility of creating a nomenclature for accessible consumption and comprehension, but The Muslims’ genre-blending content muddies these boxes, and their sound is not intended to be neatly packaged. The discussions happening within their songs shouldn’t necessarily be easy for the listener to comprehend or engage with, but rather a conversation on difficult topics ranging from oppression, marginalization to orange presidents. The Muslims launch their tour August 30th at The Fruit in Durham, NC with four other tour dates throughout August and September.

Featured image is The Muslims album cover.