H.C. McEntire’s album Eno Axis comes out on Merge Records August 21, but we got our first taste way back at the start of 2019, though we didn’t know it then. “Houses of the Holy” seemed like a one-off between the Mount Moriah bandleader’s 2018 solo debut, LIONHEART, and whatever would come next.
Since Merge revealed the tracklist, we know it’s the final song on the new album, and for sure, McEntire’s electric-folk sanctification of Led Zeppelin would be a hard act to follow. But “TIME, ON FIRE,” the single that dropped with the announcement, is a strong contender and an interesting counterpoint. As an alternate title, “Holy Are the Houses” would totally work.
The new single is a country cruiser with a secret post-punk chassis, as if Loretta Lynn had been sneaking around listening to Shudder to Think—or maybe to one of McEntire’s old bands. Some Mount Moriah fans might not remember when she used to bruise and blister in Bellafea, whose dark-mirrored sound ran parallel with Des Ark’s as the Triangle’s post-punk pacesetter in the aughties.
Though McEntire has dialed back the dynamic range in her spectral country music, the dark-shrouded atmosphere of those early days still clings like nocturnal dew. At the start of “Time, on Fire,” a long drone spreads out the stars, which linger over the glass-shard verses and chugging choruses (recalling the stealth-pop of another McEntire band, Un Deux Trois) and then swirl into a stellar guitar solo.
McEntire’s distinctively crimped and fluted voice flashes silver, copper, gold. The song catches her in a metaphysical mood, watching the days burn off through a windowpane. The split-screen video looks like three unsquared Instagram posts and mostly captures small household actions, quietly emphasizing the song’s intimation of something mundane and precious constantly slipping away—now, and now, and now.
Wow, OK, that got kind of dark. That’s on me. But we can lighten things right up with the anthemic folk-pop wattage of “LIGHT,” Autumn Nicholas’s new burst of fresh air. The singer-songwriter from Fort Bragg is no stranger to the Triangle, composing music for Durham company OM Grown Dancers. Recently she’s been in LA working on her second EP, from which “Light” is the first single.
The song begins with just Nicholas’s clear, darting voice and an acoustic guitar. Then it incandesces with dramatic Adele-like flourishes: ethereal harmonies, swelling strings, booming drops, a stadium-sized kick drum. As the arrangement builds higher and higher, Nicholas is always a step ahead, as if powered by the sheer conviction of her assurances about identity and belonging, which feel hard-won.
There’s no doubt lurking in dark corners because there’s nowhere for them to hide. “Light” is a pure beam of inspiration that dispels shadows. Check out the stripped-down acoustic version from Sofar, too:
If Nicholas’s song is everything under the sun, Jay Bishop’s “OUTER SPACE LOVE” is completely over the moon. The choice cut from the Durham native’s new album, Steppers, is a flight test for all its beloved vintage tropes—only the driest drum machines and the wettest reverbs for Bishop, the funky-robot-est bass arpeggios and the silkiest bright-tinted synthesizers.
Really, Steppers is less a spaceship than a time machine, and it lands at a cookout in Durham circa 1990. This is Bishop’s love letter to a rich strand of premillennial Black music that ran from underground to mainstream, from boogie and electro to the Princely heights of pop and R&B—from Vicky D and Leon Sylvers III to titanic teams like Jam and Lewis, L.A. Reid and Babyface, and the architects of new jack swing.
It’s a style of lush, sculpted electro-pop that exists at the nexus of house music, soul music, and funk, and Bishop, a singer of winning simplicity, recreates it down to the last plashing chord and liquid bass. The album even opens with an homage to George Clinton’s spiel at the beginning of Snoop’s barbecue classic Doggystyle. Bishop calls it music for aunties and uncles to two-step to at the family reunion, for backyard cookouts and basement spades games, for washing the car in the driveway on Saturdays and cleaning the house on Sundays.
There’s something extra-poignant about Bishop’s ode to the domestic, community-based soundtrack of his life: He made it in Tokyo, where it was issued July 3 on Late Pass Records. Though he still has a home in Durham, he’s been in Japan for the last three years for his wife’s work.
So Steppers transfigures around another corner in space and time, in one of the billions of personal labyrinths that make up the master pattern. A car or boat or plane will take you back there, wherever it is. But only music can take you back then. During this endless month we’ve been trapped in since mid-March, these musical escape pods from limbo are especially welcome.
Wow, that got kind of dark again. I’m fine, really.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.