So there we were, just lining up music reviews and premieres like normal, when everything went topsy-turvy. Still, while artists scrambled to retool their live events for this Very Scary Quarantime of ours (we’re documenting them in The Stream Warriors series), digital releases are a relatively undisturbed line of cultural production. As weird becomes the new normal—amazing, what humans can get used to—let’s catch up on some recent drops we missed while rushing out to hoard toilet paper and Amy’s frozen enchiladas.
The last time we heard a solo showcase from TAB-ONE, on the album Sincerely, Tab in 2016, he came in hot with exactly the sort of boastful verbal floor routines we’d learned to expect from the Kooley High vet. So it’s quite a contrast that “Birthday,” which opens his new album, Balancing Act, finds Tab fussing over his pregnant wife and spinning elaborate encomiums to his unborn child. This is but the first act in a whole drama about the joys and struggles of balancing family life, bill-paying, and music.
That’s right: The rascally Raleigh battle rapper has grown up.
Let’s be honest. This kind of record can be a drag. But rather than descending into badly sung musings and sluggish music now that he’s the married father of two, Tab still has a strong grip on his restive, engaging flow. The production (by Tecknowledgy, The Other Guys, and others) drapes scintillating electric guitars, buttery soul vocals, and flares of piano and strings on the impeccable boom-bap scaffolding where Tab rivets in his syllables with his usual urgency and precision. He’s somehow made a record about settling down that sounds vibrant and hungry—but then, hunger has always been his signature trait. Navigating playdates seldom sounded so hype.
By the way, Balancing Act continues a strong run by the Kooley High crew, following Charlie Smarts’ We Had a Good Thing Going in January. Oh, and Rapsody made this thing called Eve?
Last year, Durham label Raund Haus released a hallucinatory instrumental hip-hop jam called “Holy Shit” by local beat-music polymath RONNIE FLASH. Just recently, on March 20, as all hell broke loose, they dropped Flash’s self-titled album, and it enlarges on the mutant-house-music strains lurking in that slightly unhinged single. It’s a headphones record disguised in dancefloor dress, with familiar elements—metronomic bass booms, drum-tight claps, efflorescing soft-synth arpeggios—weaving in and out of eerie negative space. Drops arrive at strange moments or not at all; the beat might just shimmer apart into almost nothing and then slip back in through an unseen side door.
Not that it’s too cerebral—the field-stripped “All in the Knees,” a loping early-album standout, would have no trouble moving the floor at a Motorco showcase (remember those?). But don’t miss the bangers stashed at the end. The glorious dance-pop climaxes of “7-Minute Hug” and “Dance Until You Cry” are worth waiting around for in and of themselves, and they put a surprisingly euphoric, emotional cap on what’s otherwise a more coolly angular record.
Also new: a maxi-single by GAPPA MIGHTY, aka Raund Haus’s own Nick Wallhauser. As you might expect, the instrumental hip-hop strains of “Roll One” and “OZM” are superbly dusted, but it’s the songful course and gleam of “Horvath’s Wish” that we’ve got on repeat. That bass line! And it sounds like Ghostface is about to start rapping any second.
We’ve still got plenty of recent releases in the hopper, but let’s wrap up until next week with Do You Even Work Here?, the new EP by Durham electronic producer SSOFT. Following last year’s Air Maintenance EP, which we reviewed favorably while exploring its creator’s chillwave origins, it’s another sleepy-stoned acid-house mood ring—at least until the title track at the end, where loopy squeals evoke going gently insane during a laser-spattered dance party in the basement of The Fruit. But the tracks before that are all soft pastel colors and pulsating jellyfish shapes, perfect for that underwater shimmy that passes for dancing alone in your living room.
Contact arts and culture editor Brian Howe at email@example.com.
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