Honorable mention

Natalie Prass at the Garage

Let’s face it; Natalie Prass deserves her own list. An Ohio native with formative experience in Virginia who is now based in Nashville, Prass is a genuine new talent — and utterly unlike any other act booked at this year’s Phuzz. With her lilting voice in the foreground, her band found a sweet spot that swerved easily between country twang and soulful rhythm with the occasional inflection of reggae.

Wolves Wolves Wolves Wolves at the Garage (Jordan Green)
Wolves Wolves Wolves Wolves at the Garage (Jordan Green)

Wolves Wolves Wolves Wolves

Say it with me all four times. The Winston-Salem punk-rock group just got off a successful tour of Europe, with a homecoming show that was punch-drunk with exhaustion but brimming with hidden reserves of energy, even though their time on the road evidently hasn’t taught them much about tuning their instruments.

Boulevards

Making the best of an early set at 8:15 p.m. on Friday, Raleigh’s Boulevards still threw a ridiculously funky and sexy party. And there may be nothing more infectious than when Boulevards periodically asked, “What’s that smell?” and the audience responds, “That’s that funk!”

Estrangers at the Millennium Center (Eric Ginsburg)
Estrangers at the Millennium Center (Eric Ginsburg)

Estrangers

“Cape Fear” from Estrangers’ 2013 album Season of 1000 Colors is like a modest surf song, the kind that surges on the wake of a speedboat plying the intercoastal waters. That is to say it’s pleasant but not overwhelming. Estrangers showcased two songs recently recorded at the Fidelitorium for a forthcoming album — “Creepstar” and “High Beams” — that show the band flexing new muscles. “Creepstar” packages a surf exposition, taut pop vocals and two revelatory guitar solos, the first economical and the second a snarling reprise. “High Beams” establishes a hooky pop-rock floor and then, improbably, evolves into a loose extended jam.

Phil Pledger, the band’s leader and festival organizer, finished out a strong set and then rushed out to square away an issue with headliner Foxygen’s hotel accommodations. He also played guitar in Judy Barnes’ Sunday evening set at Krankies. A true indie-rock renaissance man!

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Futurebirds at the Millennium Center (Eric Ginsburg)

Futurebirds

Fresh off a US tour, the Athens, Ga. band seemed happy to alight in Winston-Salem, and they were perfect for a rainy Sunday evening. With a laidback, psychedelic country sound, they could have played for three hours and it would have been fine with me. With three guitarist-singers harmonizing with warm, warbly voices and vamping on gnarled and fluid guitar lines, the sound of the lap steel floated above like a hummingbird.

Reanimator after dark (Eric Ginsburg)
Reanimator after dark (Eric Ginsburg)

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