Most year-end lists have already been published at this point, as December has become online media’s norm to do so, so you could be tired of them by now. We’ve never been able to get in that head space though, still living in the fleeting moments of the end of the year and trying not to look back too soon. It was the beginning of December when we actually started to go back and listen to all the South Carolina music released and make initial rankings and constantly re-ranked those. We worked from a list of over 200 SC releases this year, visiting some that we missed for the first time and giving others a fresh listen with more perspective. This perspective only made us reflect more on the year as a whole and it wasn’t until after Christmas and even New Year’s Day that we really grasped what 2018 brought us, and what was taken away.
2018 was a mixed bag of good and bad as most years are. The typical highs and lows of life apply here, but again this year the lows were painfully low, but the highs were always welcome and were abundant. As a wise man once wrote about us, we see South Carolina music, and the state as a whole through rose-colored glasses. So here’s a look back at some of those moments, both good and bad.
Several South Carolina bands hosted music festivals, but only one in South Carolina. That’s strange to say, but it’s a good thing. Shovels and Rope returned with a wildly successful second year of High Water Music Festival, bringing a host of great artists to Charleston to show off their neck of the woods to fellow bands. Susto hosted Fine 2Day, a two-day festival at Codfish Hollow in Maquoketa, Iowa bringing several South Carolina bands to the picturesque eastern part of that state. And though it was late in 2017, Marcus King’s festival at Pisgah Brewing Company, just over the border in Black Mountain, NC, is also worth noting when we’re talking about local bands who’ve grown big enough to host their own festivals.
It wasn’t just the bands hosting festivals though. We saw Charleston music outlet Extra Chill host their first festival, and as you would imagine it was a success as they experienced some well deserved growth this past year. Free Times Music Crawl returned after 6 years off and was warmly welcomed back by bands and the community alike. Also returning was the Elliotborough block party/festival in Charleston. It’s already hard to believe it’s been two years since that 2016 lineup that included Susto, The High Divers, Whitehall and more. Summer Shindig returned for another successful year at The Royal American and so did Jam Room Music Festival to the streets of downtown Columbia. We must celebrate the continuance as much we celebrate the births and rebirths.
Columbia, SC went from not having enough venues to having an abundance. The White Mule, which closed its Main Street location years ago, rose from the ground taking over the old Speakeasy location in 5 Points. Curiosity Coffee expanded and opened a stage, while Music Farm Columbia rebranded as The Senate and finished the year with a strong slate of shows.
2018 also saw the return of South Carolina icons Hootie and the Blowfish as they celebrate the 25th Anniversary of their chart topping album Cracked Rear View. 2019 will see them hit the road visiting 44 cities and releasing their 6th studio album with Universal. They weren’t the only influential band to return though. Jump, Little Children released their first album in many years Sparrow, reuniting for a tour and making our dreams by true by having us work with them for a special listening party and tour warm up show at Footlight Players Theatre.
Overall it was a great year for music scene veterans. I use that veterans term loosely of course. It has less to do with age, and more to do with being active in the music scene. Artists like Zach Seibert and his project EZ Shakes had a huge year, releasing two amazing EPs. John Furr, who is also in EZ Shakes, continues to be an integral part of the local scene here, both creating new art and helping shine a light on Columbia’s music history. Chris Bickel dug up some archival footage and shared that on his Youtube Channel. If you watch the Lay Quiet Awhile video you’ll see Dan Cook, who returned to the music scene with an excellent release from his new project A Spot on the Hill.
What we lost when our favorite local podcast The Fringe called it quits, we gained in the growth of Real South Records as DJ Edwards focused his new-found time on hosting a festival, releasing some amazing records, and overall taking a huge step forward as an entity. I’m still not sure how Charleston Scene editor Kalyn Oyer, who was the other half of The Fringe, pumped out the amount of quality content that she does and did the podcast. I’m still thankful to have been one of the last guests on the show.
We worried about the Pablo Generation dying out, but they’ve proven strong with Pablo still standing and the house shows solidified for a time to come. All of the bands connected have only grown in strength and creative ability with fantastic releases from Apricot Blush, Daddy’s Beemer, and a new release from JS Terry on the horizon. We know it’s in great hands with Walker McDonald and company.
South Carolina acts like The Marcus King Band and Susto continued their rise, touring all over the world and carrying the South Carolina banner. They aren’t the only ones of course. More and more South Carolina acts are spending most of their year on the road, just look at The High Divers and The Artisanals as they stay on the verge of breaking out even more.
There were some lows of course. We said goodbye to one of our favorite bands Secret Guest, and to Makeout Reef in Charleston, though they continue to do cool things in other venues. We didn’t get to say goodbye to our own camera equipment, which was stolen from my car, but luckily insurance covered all of that and we were back in action less than a month later. What hurt us most as a music scene, and will for some time is the all too soon loss of members of our music community. In June we lost former radio personality for 105.5 The Bridge and podcaster Richard “Box” Bachschmidt. Not long after was the stunning loss of Columbia musician and Can’t Kids bandleader Adam Cullum. Both left a cavern size hole in the music communities that continue to heal.
Our 2018 Best of list is topped by an artist who isn’t based in South Carolina at the moment. It’s been a tough decision, and something that’s weighed heavily on the mind. But history and how we got here also weighs heavy. We started this website over a decade ago because we felt some of our favorite local artists weren’t receiving the recognition they deserved. One of those being Austin Crane, who now plays under the Valley Maker moniker. We’re not ready to give up on those who moved for more fertile pastures whether it be for musical purposes, economic, educational, or an array of other reasons left up to imagination. The rest of the top 10 is filled with artists from around the state who all put out outstanding albums this year.
The Marcus King Band’s Carolina Confessions showcased the band’s sharp chops and songwriting ability with an incredibly strong follow-up to their 2016 self titled album. This was the album that offered them their late night debut performing the opening track on Carolina Confessions “Where I’m Headed” on Conan. We’d say they had the biggest year of any South Carolina based act.
She Returns From War followed up her 2015 album Oh, What a Love with Mirrored Moon Dance Hall, what we consider her best album to date. Hunter Park found a truly magical niche area musically and as a songwriter unlike anything we’ve heard. There’s some truly dark southern swamp witch sorcery going on here. Kid Trails frontman Patrick Jeffords took a leap forward with his debut full length album Displace, an album that’s reflective of his life over the past years. The High Divers latest album Chicora is brilliantly crafted and worthy of national attention. They’re true craftsmen of songwriting in the classic American rock style. Hermit’s Victory returned with Easy Fruition, the smoothest, most easy listening and low-key creative album we fell for. Micheal Flynn’s latest album Pretend Like was unexpected, and incredibly written. As only Flynn can do, he works in witty and clever on one track to heart tugging on the next. Jump, Little Children returned 15 years after their last album, and their fans were waiting with open arms. Sparrow didn’t disappoint, and only built anticipation for new music from the band who has found a second life after a couple of years of shows and the new album. Apricot Blush dropped an adventurous heady folk album, pushing the limits of Jackson Wise’s imagination. Rounding out the top albums list is Darby Wilcox and her album 11:11, one of the many outstanding releases by Real South Records in 2018. That’s one of the albums that we caught onto a little late, and really fell for with her new southern songwriting style. When people talk about the new South, I imagine songwriters like Darby Wilcox.
As in the past, we see a division between an EP and a full-length album in the rankings at least. Though the line has blurred more than ever between the two, we go with the 25 minute mark for the most part as the division between an album and an EP. This seemed to be the year of the six or seven song release, or even the two EP release. We happen to like that, but for the sake of the year-end listicle we combined them.
It was an extremely strong year again for South Carolina EPs. Daddy’s Beemer hopped on our list last year, and topped our 2018 list with their Pucker EP. It’s strong through-and-through and solidified Daddy’s Beemer as a band to watch. The band relocated to Charlotte, NC this year where they’ve been able to get on the road more.
Danger Boy was like a tornado moving through the music scene at the beginning of the year, with an amazing live show and excellent new EP in Lavender Realm, but just as quickly dropped off the map on their own accord. We enjoyed them and their live show while they lasted and look forward to their return whenever that may be. Real Work came out of nowhere this year, the excellent debut release from a band featuring former members of Baumer, Rejectioneers, and Needtobreathe. EZ Shakes made our list last year, and followed that up with a more formal release of those same songs, and a new EP which even topped that. Flower Shopping and Barnwell are the same band rearranged, with Flower Shopping being the project of Ross Swinson, and Barnwell Tyler Gordon. Though in the same rock vein, there’s a clear difference and something different to enjoy from each. Boo Hag are the most true to identity bands we’ve ever encountered and dropped not one, but two 7 inch EPs to follow-up their 2017 release The Further which landed at #4 on our 2017 list. Diaspoura dropped Traumaporn in December, with the video for “Glisten” debuted via Nylon. Diaspoura’s one of a few artists that are redefining what people think of when they think South Carolina. Rounding out the top 10 are Gardeners and Slush, both new bands on the rise with debut releases full of promise.
1) Valley Maker-Rhododendron
2) The Marcus King Band-Carolina Confessions
3) She Returns from War-Mirrored Moon Dance Hall
4) Kid Trails-Displace
5) The High Divers-Chicora
6) Hermit’s Victory-Easy Fruition
7) Michael Flynn-Pretend Like
8) Jump, Little Children-Sparrow
9) Apricot Blush-Where Blew a Flower, May a Flower Blow No More
10) Darby Wilcox-11:11
1) Daddy’s Beemer-Pucker
2) Danger Boy-Lavender Realm
3) Real Work-Real Work
4) E.Z. Shakes-The Wolf/Eyes on Fire
6) Flower Shopping-Flower Shopping
7) Boo Hag-Testify/Crawfish
8) Barnwell- Lose Your Teeth
9) Gardeners-Along the Heather
10) Slush-About Years