by Joanna Rutter

1. “Got to Go” by Boulevards

I’ve been on an almost-exclusive experimental hip-hop kick lately (Clipping, anyone?) and want to get out of that groove early in preparation for next month’s Phuzz Phest. Raleigh R&B artist Boulevards is my transitional act of choice. He seems to be borrowing the same glitzy funk hooks Daft Punk and Bruno Mars have been inspired by in “Got to Go,” and the plucky bass line in “Sanity” is solid earworm material. Warning: the scandalous lyrics in “To Death” might make you spit out your coffee if you listen to it too early in the morning. I’m told by one of my editors that Boulevards crushed at Phuzz last go ’round.

2. “Slumlord” by Neon Indian

Phuzz Phest’s headliner first arrived on the cusp of the chillwave surge in 2009, with a kind of auditory chaos that, listening alone with headphones, makes you feel like you’re having a bizarre dream about being lost in an H&M store, which is why I’m pretty sure his big hits like “Polish Girl” and “Deadbeat Summer” are more suited to large, dancing crowds. Deeper cuts off of his newest album, such as the funky dance-hall “Slumlord,” are a more nuanced taste of Neon Indian’s electronic stylings.

3. “I Want to Be with You in the Darkness” by Skylar Gudasz

Though Skylar Gudasz touts some boppy songs on her debut album, Oleander, I find myself gravitating toward the curl-up-and-cry songs like “Car Song.” Gudasz’s voice has just the right grit and warmth to make ballads like “Darkness” swell perfectly over with piano-chord progressions that break your heart, but somehow do so gently. I hope she plays this song at Phuzz in between her more upbeat stuff. I’ll locate the nearest puppy to hold as a single tear streams down my cheek.

4. “Cups” by T0W3RS

The track starts out deceptively simply, but a surprisingly layered wall of sound hits at the minute-and-a-half mark that perfectly encapsulates this Raleigh-based artist’s ability to play with expectations showcased on his latest album, TL;DR (that’s internet for “too long; didn’t read”). “Instillation,” also from that album, sounds like the guy from alt-J traded notes with the Runaways… and it works, which is maybe part of the reason this Phuzz Records artist is so locally beloved.

5. “Howlin’” by the Tills

Speaking of the Runaways and the Phuzz label, let’s talk about the Tills. Their work is a deliciously noisy mix of rock ‘n’ roll executed with raw energy and technical finesse. “Mary the Six Shooter” could be the soundtrack of a cowboy shoot-em-up movie, were it not for some toying around with chords that required multiple listens to fully appreciate. “Howlin’,” the titular track off of their new EP, is gonna sound awesome from a big stage with eardrum-killing speakers.

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