2016 was a solid year for South Carolina music, but I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that 2017 looks to be much bigger. 2016 was weird to say the least. Politics made us sick and divided, musicians everywhere took sides, and so did their fans. Here in South Carolina some of our best musicians moved out-of-state, but plenty of younger ones took huge a huge step forward with their new releases.
Over the last two months both of these lists were slowly narrowed down, as we listened to each album and moved them up and down, finally settling like this, with 10 albums and 10 EPs all worthy of your listening pleasure.
#1 Grace Joyner-Maybe Sometimes- in C
On the follow-up to her début EP Young Fools, Grace Joyner built the strongest album of the year working hand in hand with some of South Carolina’s top indie musicians. Maybe Sometimes in C grooves and melts from track to track with heartfelt songwriting and strong hooks.
#2 Release the Dog-More Excuses
Release the Dog frontman Ross Swinson took his time with Release the Dog’s follow-up to their 2013 album Out for Justice, and it’s easy to tell it paid off. The guitar work on this album is the strongest of any in the top 10, and structurally and lyrically the band is at the top of their game. Here we have a Pacific Northwest sounding guitar album from the Southeast.
#3 Shovels and Rope-Little Seeds
I never thought a Shovels and Rope album would have to grow on me, but this one did, and got better with every listen. More than any album prior, this album feels like Michael Trent and Carry Ann Hearst intertwined both vocally and songwriting style wise.
#4 Stop Light Observations-TOOGOODOO
Stop Light Observations challenged the US political climate head on in 2016 both with their songwriting and the artwork surrounding each song. For TOOGOODOO they recorded live in a cabin at Toogoodoo Bluff, creating their best release to date, and capturing their raw energy.
Gláss never stay comfortable for long on Accent. The band that now calls Athens, GA home mixes cool guitar leads with warm distortion that writhes both on the album and in their live show. It’s meant to be that way, as the songs on this album are reflective of frontman Aaron Burke as he examines his immediate uncomfortable emotions after moving to the US.
#6 Slow Runner-New Monsters
After landing in the top spot with his solo album in 2014, Michael Flynn finds his way back to our top 10 list this year with his band Slow Runner. The duo made of Josh Kaler and Flynn do what they do best again here, writing and mixing both beautifully sad (and clever) and beautifully happy (and clever) music side by side.
#7 Tape Waves-Here to Fade
If you go to Tape Waves bandcamp you’ll see they have fans from all over the world, not just Charleston. It’s the beauty of the internet these days. Their music is reflective of their hometown, it’s both dreamy and melancholy with a definite coastal vibe.
#8 Autocorrect-As it Is
There’s a lot going on in Autocorrect’s album As it Is. It’s experimental musically, deeply lyrical and clever, but I didn’t “get it” until I saw it live. That’s where you see it come to life in all its raw emotional wittiness.
#9 Band of Horses-Why Are You OK
Hey! I finally feel like we can really claim these guys now as a South Carolina band. Before it felt like cheating a little, but now it feels great as they help carry the flag and bring along some of South Carolina’s finest artists. Would they take it as a compliment or not that I love throwing this record on when I’m cleaning up around the house? They should.
#10 We Roll Like Madmen-AF
Since recording this album the duo has relocated and now calls Atlanta home. It’s really a better fit for them, but when they were here (both Clemson and Columbia) both Jordan Young and Chris Tollack were integral parts of our music and arts community. AF proves they’re never shy to experiment with new sounds, and still sticks to what they’ve always done, which is combine vocal hooks in their pysch-dance music.
#1 Heyrocco-Waiting on Cool
On tour for this release Heyrocco hardly played any songs from it. I was hoping to hear “Slice of Life” and the quirky and 90’s esque “Venice Beach”, but had no luck there. These guys do what they want, and they’ll stick to it as they continue to explore new sounds from experimenting with chillwave to grunge.
#2 Ivadell-For the Birds
My only complaint with this EP is that it isn’t 4 songs or a full length, but alas I’ll just have to wait for that. Ivadell continues to grow as a band, firmly established as one of South Carolina’s finest guitar heavy bands.
#3 Alarm Drum-Fragments of
Their last album was solid, but what a huge jump Alarm Drum made from the Colorsick EP to Fragments of…. They’re quickly coming into their own, continually creating smarter and more creative music. It’s not just that they get better with each EP, it’s that they’re better with each new song.
#4 Dear Blanca-I Don’t Mean to Dwell
Dear Blanca might sneak their way onto our 2017 “Best of” list when they combine the two EPs they have here in the top 10 and rerelease them on vinyl. 2016 was a huge year for the band as they pulled in the #1 South Carolina album from Free Times for both of their releases.
#5 Canopy Hands-Whelm
Canopy Hands touches on dreamy textured indie pop in the same vein as national bands like Porches on their latest release Whelm. In South Carolina they stand above many of their peers in this vein, hopefully soon fighting for more national attention.
#6 Human Resources-Pizza Dreams
I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future with Human Resources, but they’re one of the most talented South Carolina band’s and SC music lovers are starting to figure that out. I say that because their members are involved with other rising bands from Susto to Tyler Boone. This EP thrives on it’s danceability and pop sensibilities.
#7 The Hadleys
If you follow The Hadleys on social media you’ll notice they haven’t been in Charleston much lately. They’ve been in New York making connections, playing shows, and writing new music. Heart Peaks paved the way for their new name and their new sound.
#8 Say Brother-Roam EP
Say Brother fans have been looking forward to new music from the band for years now, and with the Roam EP they finally have it and it doesn’t disappoint. They show off their Southern roots, a little bit of their softer side, and give their fans a taste of more to come.
#9 Dear Blanca-To Tell a Half Truth
See #4, To Tell a Half Truth is the companion EP to their other 2016 release. This EP was written around the poems of bassists Cameron Powell’s late uncle.
#10 MyBrother MySister
Released at the end of the year, haze//thursday is MyBrother MySister’s best release to date and a sign of where they’re headed. On this EP the recording’s finally catch up to their live sound, capturing their live intensity on record.
Alex McCollum-Combatting Colds
I’m not sure if this can even be considered a single, but this song from Alex McCollum, who is both half of Stagbriar and guitarist of ET Anderson, deserved some more attention. Close your eyes, throw on some headphones and hit play. Tis the season to combat colds.
Beach Tiger had a huge year on Spotify along with a couple of other South Carolina artists. This song finished the year with 678,000 plays on that platform, making me realize their audience might not be in South Carolina, but they’re definitely out there. I think we’ve learned that with several other South Carolina artists over the years as they’ve found fans well beyond our borders before they gained them at home.