My Favorite South Carolina Music of 2016

Today’s Columbia Free Times edition included the compiled Top SC Albums list for 2016, for which I contributed my own picks and commentary. You can find the official Free Times list here, but I’m posting my own full Top Ten below.

1. Shovels & Rope, Little Seeds
Carrie Ann Hearst and Michael Trent have become the darlings, if not the flag-bearers, for the Americana scene over the last few years. This year’s edition happened in the midst of births (Their own new baby) and deaths (the tragic loss of fellow Charleston musician Eric Brantley), both extremes of life are represented in these songs that extend the duo’s impressive creative run through folk, rock, and more.

2. Gruzer, Let It Burn
Melodic and accessible without pulling any punches, the veterans in Gruzer make a statement with this EP that solidifies their place in the local heavy music scene. Combining near-thrash intensity with a core tunefulness that can appeal even to the non-metalhead crowd, tracks such as “Accessory” (which the band just augmented with a professionally shot video released this month) blast forth with an authority borne of experience.

3. Cole Connor, SODA
A love letter to his city, his scene, and the struggles of pursuing a hip-hop dream despite the haters and naysayers, SODA finds young rapper Cole Connor humble yet forceful, thoughtful but defiant, and in command of his lyricism like never before. His rapid-fire delivery slows down here and there but the tracks are jam packed with cameos from his New Success Culture crew, Fat Rat Da Czar, strings and more.

4. Barnwell, Motel Art
Tyler Gordon and company took the rootsy Americana rock tendencies apparent on their earlier material and polished them to great effect on this stellar set of shimmering songs that deliver on the promise of hook-laden guitar slinging pop-rock practitioners everywhere.

5. Prettier Than Matt, Better Left Said
Likeable is a mostly meaningless word that doesn’t get thrown around much in critical descriptions of most musical groups, but in the case of Jessica Skinner and Jeff Pitts, the duo known as Prettier Than Matt, it’s the first one that comes to mind because it actually fits them perfectly. Their latest finds the pair taking advantage of the best production and songs they’ve had to date, with results that reflect their sunny folk-pop sensibility in a definitely likeable way.

6. Alarm Drum, Fragments Of…
The latest from this young Columbia band sounds like it could have been recorded twenty years before they were born, but the gauzy retro feel only adds to the appeal of the tunes–alternately somnabulent shoegaze dreaminess and openly anachronistic guitar pop, sometimes within the same songs.

7. Sandcastles., Die Alone
Kari Lebby’s synth-pop project delivered a glorious mess of an album with more ideas than space to house them, like getting into multiple conversations at a house party and waking up the next day knowing you had fun but with no idea exactly what happened.

8. Carolina Chupacabra, Dying to Live
An intense slab of swamp metal sludge rock from a band that’s been kicking around for a while but never quite hit the right combination of power and precision that’s on display here. Even without knowing some of the back story behind Wade Parrott’s songwriting, the impact is at gut-punch level.

9. Dear Blanca, To Tell a Half-Truth
There’s a depth and diversity to the latest EP from Dear Blanca that belies its brief tenure; Dylan Dickerson’s voice may have to grow on new arrivals to the party, but the post-blues, scratchy indie rock formalism of his melodies is enough to hook all but the most jaded listener.

10. Mel Washington, Black Excellence Vol 2
The second set of Washington’s series of covers by influential black artists includes both new and old classics, from Drake’s “Hotline Bling” to Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” and he puts his own arrangements and singular voice to work on recasting them to great effect. This set leans more to the newer side with Kanye West and Valerie June, making the revamped versions even more stunning.

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