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South Carolina’s Top Music of 2015

Brave Baby
Brave Baby photo by David Stringer

Brave Baby-Electric Friends

As soon as the recording wrapped for Brave Baby’s 2013 debut release Forty Bells, the wheels were already churning on demos and the crafting of songs for what turned into Electric Friends. Having the luxury of their own studio in Charleston, the songs on Electric Friends transformed over time as the band molded into their new sound, more heavily reliant on the vocals of drummer Wolfgang Zimmerman and the keyboard playing of Steven Walker. Electric Friends opens with a roll of the keys in “Daisy Child” and a sound that summons the same feelings the Beach Boys often do. On Electric Friends, drummer Zimmerman and frontman Keon Masters voices finally find each other like lovers in the night, weaving in and out of the forefront, with Zimmerman’s vocals mostly lying low as the bass layer, but more than ever taking the limelight. The best voices in music always have character, and that’s what they’ve both got here. It’s not one of those early Jimmy Eat World situations where one vocalist is eventually phased out, it’s something the band has embraced moving forward and it was the best decision they’ve ever made. While Masters might have what some would consider the voice of the band’s singles, the change-up of Zimmerman’s voice on the record adds texture and depth of which the album would fall flat without.

ET Anderson-ET2

In the middle of 2015 Tyler Morris retreated to a cabin deep in the woods to write ET2, the follow-up to the successful ET Anderson debut Et Tu, ______?. Writing and recording this album took on a new life as it turned into Morris loudest vocal outlet, a place where he could avoid the noise of the outside world. The album that came to be will forever be one of the most personal ones Morris has ever released. ET2 exudes a wide range of emotions — chaotic and angry at times, and at others confident and focused — the album captures someone who put everything he had emotionally into a recording. The hasty release of the album might have seemed wrong at the time, but ET2 is a brooding album Morris needed out there.

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Tyler Bertges of Hermit’s Victory at Papa Jazz Photo by David Stringer

Hermit’s Victory-Self Titled

Before the opening track “Night Owl” was on our 2014 sampler under the name Tyler Bertges, the brainchild of Hermit’s Victory, I received an email with four tracks that would go on to be on this debut. Blown away, I sat some friends down in my living room to play them the tracks. Who was Tyler Bertges and where did the songs come from? A year later he was signed to Hearts & Plugs and playing shows in Charleston ready to release his debut self titled record. As his moniker implies, Bertges avoids the spotlight, choosing instead to focus on writing and recording. Bertges grew up in Fort Mill, SC before moving to Charleston where he wrote and recorded this album surrounded by other members of the Hearts & Plugs community. Now living in Columbia, Bertges is focused on his follow-up release expanding on the soft hums and glow of his debut, crooning smoothly over its carefully crafted layers.

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Faline-Self Titled 

In Spring Hunter Park of She Returns from War posted a link to this album on Facebook sending me down a hole of repeated listens to a Charleston artist I had zero prior knowledge of. For her first album Jenna Ave-Lallemant surrounded herself with excellent musicians who helped transform her stripped-down guitar based songs into more textured and powerfully effective creations. Andy Dixon had a heavy hand in the album, recording, playing, co-writing, mixing, and producing. Jack Berg, who released one of our favorite albums last year under the PunksnSnakes moniker, handled the percussion and drums on the record. The talent Ave-Lallemant is surrounded by in Charleston isn’t lost on her. In this excerpt from a Charleston City Paper article she explains the influence local music has on her.

In fact, Ave-Lallemant’s constantly influenced by other artists she’s surrounded by in the local music community. “There’s like two ways of being inspired. There’s one where you try to take from it musically and sort of imitate or emulate that person,” she says. “And then, there’s another sort of inspiration. It’s just amazing to admire somebody’s talent and the way their life was completely built around that, you know?”

With this record she becomes the influencer.

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Ivadell Photo David Stringer

Ivadell-Maybe Tomorrow

Making their way out of Columbia hardcore bands, Ivadell formed in 2013 and released their debut EP The Young Design in January of the following year. That guitar heavy release along with the follow-up Flow set the stage for the band’s debut full length record in 2015. Recorded at Legitimate Business in Greensboro, NC with Kris Hilbert who the band had built a strong working relationship with, all three releases seem to flow as one, albeit with the new one being much more thought out and textured for an extended listen. Drums pound over guitars that hum thickly with Josh Gilley’s high register voice blanketing comfortably over each song. On their debut he sings “tomorrow is dying”, but on the title track of the new album he sings “Maybe tomorrow I’ll take the chances I’m given”. Maybe Tomorrow exudes confidence.

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She Returns from War Photo by David Stringer

She Returns from War-Oh, What a Love

I was sitting in the kitchen area of the Jam Room Recording Studio in Columbia, SC chatting with producer Don Dixon (R.E.M., Matthew Sweet) while Hunter Park was on the other side of the wall listening back through tracks and making changes with engineer Zac Thomas. Dixon heaped praise on Park, making note of her talent and her young age. The moment was overwhelming for me, sitting in the Jam Room with someone who touched an album in R.E.M.’s Murmur that shaped my musical life. I took his compliments of Park to heart and have since heard exactly what he speaks of. When it comes to Southern songwriters Park’s name will only rise over the coming years. She’s the new South, planted in Charleston with a story and lifestyle that leads to open and confessional songwriting both cutting and truthful. It’s one thing to just write it, it’s another to write it and live it.

AxB
Photo by Daniel McCord

Aaron James Burke-These are the Reasons for all of my Wrongdoings these Past few Years

His band Gláss is his main outlet. This nine track album is the third part of the ‘Foreign Bastard’ archive consisting of the following in the order listed:
-Gláss – Foreign Bastard (December, 2014)
-Aaron James Burke – These are the Reasons for all of my Wrongdoings these Past few Years. (August, 2015)
-Gláss – Accent (February 5, 2016)

This album is in such stark contrast to the Gláss recordings. These are the Reasons for all of my Wrongdoings these Past few Years touches home for Burke as he unloads much of his solo material. The results are beautifully dark acoustic recordings with impressive guitar playing, reminiscent of what could be early Sun Kil Moon or Richard Buckner, though Burke seems to come from a different mold. Now based in Athens, GA, any project Burke touches is worth your listen.

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Heyrocco at SXSW 2015 Photo David Stringer

Heyrocco-Teenage Movie Soundtrack

A couple of years ago Heyrocco played a show at New Brookland Tavern and played a different crop of songs than they’d ever played before. These new songs were much different than their previous chilled out pop songs, these were grungy and had more edge, obviously influenced by the likes of Oasis, Counting Crows and other 90’s bands who carried on the modern formula for popular music. Little did anyone know then the road they’d follow, turning into a full on grunge band, changing their look completely, moving to Nashville for a stint and eventually spending extended periods of time in England. Songs like “Mom Jeans” and “Loser Denial” defined the new Heyrocco and not “Elsewhere” which they transformed from more of a standard pop song that they recorded with Josh Kaler (Slow Runner) at Hello Telescope studio in Charleston, into the more distorted song it eventually became. The about face in sound over the last few years peaks my interest especially knowing they have the ability and drive to do whatever they want musically.

Danny Joe Machado-D A N A S C U S

On his first shot at writing music outside of The Restoration’s scope in years, Daniel Machado takes an interesting stab at going solo again. The album is deeply personal, but D A N A S C U S plays games with how personal it actually is. Built in Machado’s brain, the Danny Joe character is just that, a character, but one built using the parts and pieces of many of Machado’s personal life experiences. That’s what turns the album from something more Spinal Tap into something more relatable as a listener. The second track on the album “Dissolving” would fit right in on the soundtrack of Aziz Ansari’s new show Master of None as it takes on the constant crisis that is the years between ones quarter and mid life. The album is whip smart and well done, just as is everything that Machado seems to touch, though that Danny Joe asshole could move out of the way just a little.

High Divers
The High Divers Photo by David Stringer

The High Divers-Riverlust

It’s all about the bass and drums. It all begins with the rhythm and the groove. If that’s not there, then you might as well just throw the tune in the garbage. On their debut full length album Riverlust The High Divers have that and it drives each song with Luke Mitchell’s Americana inflections. Songs like “Give it Up” and “Summertime” just have hooks with bate, ones that stay in your head after only one listen. The latter half of the album finds its way into some darker more minor territories making for a more real experience, because you can’t know happiness until you’ve felt sadness too.

Top 5 EPS

Small Sanctions
Small Sanctions Photo David Stringer

Small SanctionsPara East

Small Sanctions, a project fronted by Grayson Venters, mostly went on hiatus after bass player John Fowler joined ET Anderson as a full-time member. Venters eventually joined ET Anderson on guitar as well, rekindling a musical bond Venters had with ET Anderson frontman Tyler Morris in Calculator. That resulted in some magical shows with ET Anderson who went from a two guitar and keyboard lineup, to a trio of guitars that intertwined tastefully and powerfully with Venters in the band. Those were fleeting days though, as soon after Venters — a lifelong resident of the midlands  — let his band and friends know he was moving to Los Angeles. The move prompted a revitalization of Small Sanctions, who still had money in the band account and a handful of songs in the tank. After only a week of rehearsals drummer Nate Puza and Venters spent a long weekend in Charleston in the studio with Wolfgang Zimmerman (Brave Baby, The High Divers, Susto) recording the four songs on Para East.  The resulting tracks showed close to the peak potential Small Sanctions always had, but didn’t reach on their first EP Feather Habits. For Venters it was a strong farewell release, but for fans it left them wanting more. Maybe we’ll get that from a newly formed SoCal project.

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All Get Out-Movement

All Get Out fans waited a long time for this EP and the results were nothing but pleasing. The fact that we didn’t get one of Nathan Hussey’s more balladesque songs is alright because we got some of those on his solo release, and well, this is just an EP. An EP that is unloading five songs written years before its release and demoed years prior as well, the release of Movement brought All Get Out back in a big way, and set the bar high for the bands sophomore full length album likely due out in 2017. Recorded in Columbia, SC at Archer Avenue Studio, engineer Kenny McWilliams caught some of All Get Out’s live energy on record, with instruments acting in unison, Hussey’s vocals still take center stage as he examines himself within each song as we all listen, relate, and revel when he pushes his voice to crack.

Fk Mt
Photo by David Stringer

fk mt.- Fertilizer

Only weeks before this came out it seemed like fk mt. was done. Like they’d go into the crypt with other excellent local bands who released much loved and listened to local albums. Lucky for us, this didn’t happen and the band seems more active than ever playing out of town and finding love from all over the internet. On this EP the band sounds like more than a three piece. There’s something fuller than before as the songs chug along with a slacker punk attitude that’s real. Recorded at the Jam Room, it’s a vein in which they excel.

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Lightness-2015 EP

The second album on our list recorded in Greensboro, NC at Legit Biz, the new Lightness EP has many of the same characteristics of the new Ivadell album. This EP feels like a stormy sea, but at the same time has an eery calmness that comes from the voice of Jules Campbell whose voices washes over nearly every note played.

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Dempsey Photo by David Stringer

Dempsey-In Retrospect

Dempsey is guitarist and vocalist Zach Santiago’s first attempt at being in a band, but they’ve come along so quickly you wouldn’t think that. They’ve only been a band for about a year, but this debut shows their penchant to write soaring emotional pop songs. Recorded at Archer Avenue Studio with Kenny McWilliams at the helm, McWilliams brought out the best in the band, with crisp recordings that retained the emotion in Santiago’s voice.