Local Arts

12 songs: A glimpse at where Charlotte-grown music is heading

Photo credits: Troy Tomlinson, Dolph Ramseur, BT Twitty, Milik Kashad, Kevin "Surf" Mitchell, Daniel Coston

Charlotte’s getting bigger and so is the pool of artists making music here. Where is the city’s homegrown music heading? Pop (and more) music writer Courtney Devores put together a dozen songs that show you – and in some cases, she thinks, it could be heading far beyond Mecklenburg County ...

El Malpais: “Little Bighorn”

When classically trained flautist Jude Salinas moved to Charlotte from California two years ago and met musician Wyley Buck Boswell, it was more than an unexpected love story. It was the seed for a whimsical musical collaboration where his experimental and mathy hard rock met her conservatory education. Flute’s never been an instrument that adapts easily to rock, but Salinas’ mastery of the instrument provides a lovely foil for Boswell’s prog-rock guitar workouts – a musical Beauty and the Beast. Explosions in the Sky proved there’s a big audience for instrumental rock, so it’s not hard to imagine there’s a place for El Malpais beyond the 485 beltway.

Junior Astronomers: “Laid Out”

Around for a decade, the Charlotte quartet may finally be getting a shot at national exposure thanks to intense live shows, relentless touring, and a push from Charlotte-based Refresh Records, who released the band’s second full-length, “Body Language” last month. On it the band pushes themselves artistically without losing its signature sound. While most of the local bands they came up with broke up and moved on, Junior Astronomers follows the advice of A-list peers and forges ahead with what may very well turn them into a recognizable national act.

Deniro Farrar: “Dreams”

The West side rapper gave fans two doses of new music this summer with “Mind of a Gemini II,” the sequel to his last project, and “Guilty Until Proven Innocent,” an ode to his younger brother, Anthonio (aka Tune), who is serving 18 years in prison for a 2013 murder. This track (note: graphic language) appears on the latter. While much of his hard-edge output shares a grim look at the realities of young black men, celebrating their roots as they struggle to escape their circumstance, he demonstrates the flipside with a Zen outlook and family-focused lifestyle as a father of two and an avid reader of philosophy who shuns meat and does yoga in the park. A Gemini indeed.

Flagship: “Mexican Jackpot”

Drake Margolnick and Michael Finster have made music in Charlotte bands for over a decade, but it’s the earworm “Mexican Jackpot” that’s caught the attention of alternative rock radio programmers. It’s not the first time, but a busy tour schedule and frequent airplay is growing its audience by leaps and bounds. The track appears on its sophomore album, “The Electric Man,” which was recorded shortly after the 2015 death of friend and former founding member Grant Harding – the electric man of the title.

Mercury Carter: “The Commencement of Mercury Carter”

Kevin (aka Mercury) Carter is unmistakable with his eccentric, vintage style and lovingly unkempt afro, yet it’s when he opens his mouth to sing that he really turns heads. A fledgling fashionista, Carter hung out as a teen at thrift stores like NoDa’s Rat’s Nest. (One afternoon the girl that worked there heard him sing and says she nearly dropped her bank deposit.) He’s since set fashion on the backburner to devote himself to music, although his eclectic eye and innovation are apparent in his new music video – a strange sonic and visual introduction to a voice that draws daily comparisons to Prince.

Foreign Air: “Call Off the Dogs”

As quietly as their former band HRVRD disappeared, with little murmur of a breakup, frontman Jesse Clasen and bassist Lee Herrera’s new project Foreign Air was opening for Phantogram and playing Shaky Knees, Firefly and HangOut Festivals seemingly out of nowhere. Why the fast track? Online heat with tracks like “Call Off the Dogs” that range from ethereal and tempered to bouncy with electronic flourishes and ample soul.

Dollhands: “VBS”

A throwback to the golden age of college rock, the young trio founded as a solo project by Eric Smeal mines the lo-fi fuzz of Dinosaur, Jr. and drive of Superchunk, but adds a more contemporary and immediate emotional heft on its new EP “Scribbles.” The EP, which is available digitally and on cassette (the economical choice of indie bands) is indicative of the rich indie landscape that’s happening here with Self Aware Records and peers like Mineral Girls, Faye and Melt.

Bless These Sounds Under the City: “On the Brink of Life”

Derrick Hines has been a local music fixture since the ’90s, when his funk collective the X-periment was packing clubs. He and bandmate Albert Strawn tone down the party on their sophomore full-length “On the Brink of Life,” but turn up the eclecticism and soul, flitting from delicate folk to quirky electronic with pristine vocals that rival Jeff Buckley or Thom Yorke.

David Childers: “Radio Moscow”

The Mount Holly singer-songwriter and baritone band leader has rocked stages from here to the Netherlands over the last 17 years and his songwriting is something of local legend. Long championed by Avett Brothers’ manager Dolph Ramseur, his new album “Run Skeleton Run” (out on Ramseur Records) features Scott Avett on four tracks and bassist Bob Crawford (Childers’ band mate in Overmountain Men) co-executive-produced the album with Ramseur. With Childers now retired from practicing law, the sometime painter and poet continues to grow his audience with appearances on “Mountain Stage” and NPR’s “World Café.”

Elevator Jay: “The River”

On Aug. 1, the Southern indie rapper releases “Ain’t Nothin’ Finer,” the follow-up to 2015’s smart and fresh “Sum’na Say” EP. Scroll through his Instagram feed and it’s no surprise that the first single “The River” celebrates Southern culture and one of Jay’s favorite pastimes – fishing.

Farewell Albatross: “Shellshocked”

When it comes to female-fronted rock bands, the South’s output has been pretty thin. That’s changing with fiercely feminist acts such as Atlanta’s the Coathangers and Nashville’s Daddy Issues. With women behind the drumkit as well as at stagefront, Farewell Albatross brandishes punk attitude, but it’s no straight and simple “1-2-3-4” band. Fierce and multi-faceted, its delightfully dark sense of humor is on full display in the video for “Shellshocked.”

Flatland Tourists: “Our Time”

A track from its upcoming 15-song album, “Carry Me Home” (out Sept. 12), “Our Time” shows off the group’s clean harmonies, Tom Eure’s expressive fiddling, and vocalist Rachel Garcia’s bluesy delivery. Her unique voice oozes personality that sets the Waxhaw outfit apart, as does the band’s ability to morph from traditional bluegrass to classic country to the pop chops it displays here.

You have other ideas, right?

Tell us about songs you think are Charlotte music’s future, and why, at living@charlotteobserver.com.