I contributed my votes to the annual SC roundup in the Columbia Free Times and several of the following made it into that final list; here then are my original thoughts on a pretty strong batch of local albums from 2014:
Top `15 South Carolina Albums of 2014
1. Various Artists, Mostly I Just Want to Watch My Friends Grow
Like a multi-artist version of my favorite tribute album ever, K. McCarty’s Daniel Johnston tribute **Dead Dog’s Eyeball**, this local collection of artists covering the songs of Those Lavender Whales’ main dude Aaron Graves casts new light on his eccentric catalog while serving as a benefit for Graves’ cancer treatment expenses. A sentimental number one? Perhaps, but the consistent quality of these different takes on Graves’ compositions makes it an easy choice even without the emotional pull of the back story.
2. Ali Arant, June July
Now expatriate singer-songwriter Ali Arant got together with Pocket Buddha’s Darren Woodlief before moving north to teach at Wagner College, leaving us with this intimate, endearing acoustic folk document that’s focused on her warm, conversational voice and lyrics.
3. Can’t Kids, Ennui Go
The most consistently interesting band in town the last few years, this go-round finds the Kids more than alright; a less abrasive sound throughout lets details such as Amy Cuthbertson’s cello shine through even the weirdest bits.
4. Ruby Brunettes, Woodshed Sessions, Vol. 1
An accidental EP that shows the potent live act that Chris Compton and company have become; Catherine Allgrim’s voice is tied with the almost funky backbeat of “Lazybone” for most valuable player on this four-song live recording from the Woodshed online music program.
5. Milton Hall, Coat From Japan
for his latest occasional musical missive, Milton Hall enlisted another long under-utilized local musical treasure in guitarist John Furr (Blightobody, the Tantrums) along with drummer Stan Gardner for a retro indie blast that rocks more than Hall’s ‘outsider’ reputation would infer.
6. MyBrotherMySister, Go Back Home
Yes, they’re in high school; no, they don’t sound like it. MyBrotherMySister have a talent for updated 90’s rock sounds mixed with the warm guitar swirls of J Mascis and the us-against-them attitude of Sonic Youth—definitely not your average teenage garage band.
7. Jordan Igoe, How to Love
You may have seen her singing with Rachel Kate’s band, but until you hear the songs on her solo debut you might not realize the depth and sincerity inherent in Jordan Igoe’s own music, which encompasses classic country twang, pop cabaret balladry, and sorrowful, soulful blues. A Patsy Cline for the Lana Del Rey generation, Igoe oozes sex, southern charm, and supple, smooth style.
8. Muscle Memory, Yes! Always!
David Adedokun is a maddening example of an incredible talent whose output is too infrequent to gain him the notoriety he deserves; his last project Daylight Hours was released in 2008. This new EP is more polished and pop-sounding, taking a bit of the focus away from Adedokun’s intricate wordplay but framing the songs within appropriately majestic context.
9. The Post-Timey String Band, My God My God EP
Sometimes you can over-think things and lose the original inspiration; this EP takes the opposite approach. Recorded in a night, mixed and mastered in another day or so, pressed and released the same week prior to a camp conference, it captures the old-time gospel feel of the Post-Timey String Band’s sound nearly perfectly by mixing Kelley McLachlan’s aching spirituality with Sean Thomson’s multi-instrumental flair; including Timshel’s cellist Alderman Douglas fills out the tunes nicely.
10. American Gun, Promised Youth
It’s been a couple albums now since the original version of American Gun developed into the current Todd Mathis-led outfit; their alt-country leanings have likewise matured into a more mainstream rock approach not unlike Boxing Day/Capital, Mathis’ pre-American Gun band that briefly achieved major label status. His vocal twang is the connective tissue between the various incarnations, but Mathis has learned enough from each phase of his artistic growth to employ all of those lessons here.
11. Grace Joyner, Young Fools
She may be young, but Grace Joyner’s no fool; her mellow indie-pop draws from the grandeur of Nicole Atkins and imbues it with a retro Kirsty McColl vibe. She’s not a great singer but her near-monotone fits the synth-laden tracks such as “Holy” like Debbie Harry fronting Blondie—it’s more about the overall vibe and feel than any kind of overt musical showboating.
12. Dear Blanca, Pobrecito
Recorded with the band he’s been playing live shows with since soon after 2013’s excellent **Talker**, this outing finds Dear Blanca frontman Dylan Dickerson even more confidently ensconced in a wall of garage-punk-blues skronk that’s not unlike Jello Biafra fronting an alt-country act. There’s plenty of swagger and swing to these tunes, overcoming Dickerson’s acquired-taste vocals with energy and enthusiasm to spare and marking a band growing into a sound and style all its own.
13. Analog, Arrow of God
“Get your speakers wet, baptized in sound,” goes a line in “Baptized”, the opening track on this local hip-hop mainstay’s latest. It’s an apt image for the immersive experience that follows, tracing beats and rhymes in a self-referential manner that takes fellow emcees to task as much as their fellow man.
14. The Mobros, Walking With a Different Stride
Modern blues is a mostly stale format that repeats itself ad nauseum like a stuffy museum; Twenty-something singer Kelly Morris and little brother Patrick on drums kick open the doors and let some air out of the room. Kelly’s voice is rightfully lauded for its resemblance to an old black blues singer; what the formal studio experience reveals is the serious grooves the guitar-drums pairing can lay down.
15. The Fishing Journal, Feathers & Twine
Chris Powell’s post-Sonic Youth abrasiveness has emerged from the flat-out extremes of previous releases to a place where it pushes and pulls against itself as often as it blows up into full-frontal audio assault.