20 Best Albums of 2019: South Carolina Edition
With each year that goes by, the South Carolina music landscape grows brighter and brighter. There’s something rumbling out there now, and the scene is more competitive than ever. Many artists that were just forming and playing their first local shows a few years ago are now out touring the country, some even hitting bills with big names and reaching people well outside of South Carolina. There are often nights here in Charleston with 3 or 4 great shows happening all at once, and you’re forced to make a choice. That’s a good problem to have, and its a sure sign that South Carolina music is headed in the right direction.
Now that the ball is rolling and South Carolina is starting to develop a viable foundation for artists to be heard and appreciated, there is more good music than ever coming out of this state. 2019 was a very good year for South Carolina music, and we can only expect that 2020 will see the same kind of development.
Because of this, and the fact that Extra Chill has also seen a ton of growth in 2019, we’ve decided to expand our year-end coverage this year. In the past, our best albums list included both full-length albums and EPs in one mixed bag. This year we’ve decided to split the lists, and so you can see our best South Carolina EPs of 2019 list here. We’ve also put together a list of the 20 best South Carolina songs of 2019, which you can see here.
Enjoy below our picks for the Best South Carolina Albums of 2019. Happy New Year!
See our best album lists from previous years: 2017 / 2018
20. The Old Earthquake – Loud Ones
The Old Earthquake is a folk rock duo based out of Greenwood, SC whose debut album Loud Ones came as a pleasant surprise in late September. The band was started by Darby Wilcox & The Peep Show pedal steel player Steven Cathcart and his wife Mary Lyle. It’s a showcase not only of the music that Steven had been writing, but also what he can do the home studio that he’s set up in his basement. Loud Ones is likely the first of many solid records to be produced by this little bubble of the SC music scene in years to come.
Genre: Folk rock
Editor’s pick: “So Simple”
19. Wallpaper – The Sun and the Shade
Wallpaper’s early 2019 album The Sun and the Shade is a soft psychedelic lullaby that radiates from Clemson DIY collective The Pablo Generation. The project is a musical outlet for Tayler Buchich, who recorded The Sun and the Shade in his Clemson bedroom, as a follow-up to his 2017 album Twisted with the Daisies. There is a steady psychedelic beat coming from the upstate of South Carolina, and Wallpaper carries that beat in its own sleepy, relaxed way.
Genre: Psychedelic folk
Editor’s pick: “No One’s at Home”
18. Horrible Girl and the Hot Mess – Do You Know Who Your Friends Are?
We came across Greenville’s Horrible Girl and the Hot Mess when working with Rock Hill venue The Courtroom on the 2019 installment of their annual Don’t Sweat It Fest. They’ve got this badass attitude that boils down to not giving a damn what you think, and their 2019 album Do You Know Who Your Friends Are? is packed with raw emotion and angst. This is done through an upbeat, lighthearted and irreverent lens that makes for a fun and somewhat cathartic listen.
Editor’s pick: “Graduation”
17. Coma Therapy – No Lights Here
A project that mostly flew under the radar in 2019 was the new band Coma Therapy, who dropped their debut album in October. No Lights Here is experimental, shoegaze-esque rock music coming out of Clemson. The album draws out subtle emotions through distant vocal delivery and dark, brooding guitars that often lead the music to a place of anger and distortion. They’ve only played a handful of shows thus far, but as a new band they’ve already established a mystique that goes well with the moody air cast by No Lights Here.
Genre: Experimental rock
Editor’s pick: “She Kills Flowers”
16. Youngster – Rosa‘s Cantina
Youngster’s 2019 full-length debut Rosa’s Cantina was a long time coming. The Charleston-based band is led by South Carolina indie veterans Blake Ratliffe and Dan Truncellito, who released their first EP as Youngster back in 2015. The songs on Rosa’s Cantina had been in the Youngster catalog for a while, but it wasn’t until they linked up with Matt Zutell at Coast Records that the tunes came alive in the studio. The result is a Youngster that is smooth, usually fun, and always goofy (see: “Gato”).
Genre: Indie rock
Editor’s pick: “Private Party”
15. Motel Glory – Let ‘Em Live
In 2019, Rock Hill veteran rockers Motel Glory had a blossoming of sorts when they signed on with Real South Records and released the full-length Let ‘Em Live. Born and raised in Rock Hill’s mostly underground DIY scene, Motel Glory represent that grungy dive bar rock sound that is full of energy and ready to kick back a few beers. Motel Glory have been around the block, and at this point they’ve become a staple of South Carolina rock music. Let ‘Em Live exists to show us why.
Genre: Alternative/punk rock
Editor’s pick: “Just Kidding”
14. Cicala – Post Country
The highlight of any Quinn Cicala project has always been Quinn’s disappointed delivery of songs about being disappointed. Post Country is no different, except it’s backed by a full band that drops Quinn’s first name and chooses instead to perform as just Cicala. The full band brings a level of life and depth to the songs that wasn’t present on Quinn’s debut release Dream I Had, and it places Cicala firmly onto the roster of modern emo bands. The title is both a tongue-in-cheek nod to the band’s Southern roots, and a somewhat apt description of how the album sounds. It’s Post Country.
Genre: Post Country
Editor’s pick: “24”
13. Crab Claw – Memories Arise
2019’s Memories Arise can be seen as a coming-of-age album for Crab Claw, or at least an “I’m kind of trying to grow up” album. It opens with a spoken word recording of frontman and songwriter Walker Trull’s mother telling a ridiculous, but touching story about her relationship with Walker’s father. That right away sets the tone for Memories Arise to be a more mature take on life than Crab Claw’s 2015 debut Pink Eye, but not too mature. Remember, this is Crab Claw we’re talking about. Memories Arise delivers Crab Claw’s irreverent, self-destructive themes through rock ‘n’ roll, with a side helping of the wisdom that can only come from growing up.
Editor’s pick: “Nose Beers”
12. Brother Oliver – Well, Hell
Brother Oliver’s 2019 release Well, Hell is an ambitious feat shows the psychedelic folk duo at their most mature, which also happens to be their darkest and most brooding. Over the past few years, Brother Oliver has grown from mostly acoustic beginnings, to later injecting some rock into it with their 2017 self-titled release. With Well, Hell, Brother Oliver has kept the rock element, but has honed it in a bit and in doing so have come across their own sense of musical identity. The result is Brother Oliver’s best work yet, and another feather in the hat of upstate South Carolina’s psychedelic repertoire.
Genre: Psych/folk rock
Editor’s pick: “Going Places / Filling Spaces”
11. 87 Nights – Eighty Seven Nights
87 Nights are one of the most hyped young bands in Charleston right now, and after listening to their self-titled debut, it definitely makes sense why. They came up out of the College of Charleston scene this past year and started pulling rowdy crowds to venues like The Royal American on a regular basis. Their album dropped in August, and it captures the energy that they bring to the live setting and puts it on full display. Eighty Seven Nights is a promising debut from such a new band, and it will be interesting to see if they can keep up with this strong momentum that they’ve created for themselves in the new year.
Editor’s pick: “I Ain’t Your Man”
10. J.S. Terry – And You Loom Over Me Like A Mountain
J.S. Terry’s sprawling 2019 album And You Loom Over Me Like A Mountain is a deeply layered, exploratory folk album that plays out like a journey through the forest. The record taps into that same psychedelic current that so many upstate South Carolina musicians seem to have found, and interprets it through the eyes of Campobello native Jonah Terry. And You Loom Over Me Like A Mountain is a patient, careful album that tells a story and takes willing listeners on a journey into spirituality and imagination. You should be one of those willing listeners.
Genre: Experimental folk
Editor’s pick: “The Unmistakable Sound of a Heart Beating in Love”
9. Contour – Live on Record
All of Contour’s releases prior to the 2019 album Live on Record were solo electronic recordings made by Khari Lucas. Contour had been playing around as a full band, but nothing that had been released truly reflected the kind of jazzy, free form experimental music that the band plays. Live on Record is the first recorded instance of Contour the band, which follows Khari’s winding bass and vocals through smooth, slow grooves that can really get you thinking if you’re in the right headspace. Based on our experience, Live on Record is best listened to late at night, when your mind is wandering and you’re looking for something to help it along.
Editor’s pick: “The Question”
8. Cayla Fralick – Anyway, Here
Columbia’s Cayla Fralick was part of the South Carolina music scene years back at part of the indie rock band Kemp Ridley. She had several years of absence while she finished up her MFA at the University of South Carolina. After completing grad school and getting a job as an adjunct professor at the University, Cayla found her way back to songwriting and in 2019 released Anyway, Here. The album is a passionate, emotional take on loneliness and relationships, both with yourself and others, that hits a deep nerve with its sincere delivery and emotional honesty.
Genre: Indie rock
Editor’s pick: “Amsterdam”
7. Veja Du – Veja Du
A real sleeper in 2019 was the self-titled debut from Charleston indie pop project Veja Du. The project consists of former Beach Tiger members Zac Crocker and Blake Shorter, and flew mostly under the radar all year until the album hit the airwaves in mid-December. Veja Du encompasses a wide range of electronic-influenced sounds, from stuff that can make you dance, to stuff that can make you think, and plenty of experimentation in between. It slipped out just in time for the end of the year, and it’s a positive mark for the South Carolina music scene in 2019.
Genre: Indie pop
Editor’s pick: “Scared to Fly”
6. Shovels & Rope – By Blood
Shovels & Rope have long been a household name to anyone in South Carolina who is even remotely tuned into the music scene, and right now that statement is more true than ever. Their 2019 release, By Blood, came on the eve of this year’s installment of the band’s annual music festival, High Water Festival. By Blood has Shovels & Rope at their grittiest and loudest, but still in tune with those moments of tenderness that fans have come to crave and expect from them. It’s their fifth full-length release of original music, and their first since 2016’s Little Seeds, with two Busted Jukebox cover albums in between. If nothing else, By Blood shows us that Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent still have plenty of songs left to write, and plenty of new avenues left to explore.
Editor’s pick: “Mississippi Nothin'”
5. Florida Man – Tropical Depression
With their signing to Spartan Records and subsequent release of Tropical Depression, Florida Man had something of a breakout year in 2019. Tropical Depression is easily the heaviest and most badass album on this list, and for fans of heavy music it hits just right. The beauty of Florida Man, though, and part of the reason for their burgeoning success, is how they find their way to moments of melodic clarity amidst the chaos. The album toes the line between heavy and catchy to create something that listeners on both ends of the spectrum can appreciate. From being tossed through a wall by “Brain Cell”, to bobbing your head along to “Holy Roller”, Florida Man’s Tropical Depression just gets it.
Editor’s pick: “Holy Roller”
4. Keon Masters – Many Thanks
With Brave Baby on hiatus, perhaps permanently, its members have each followed their creative spirits in their own directions. For former frontman Keon Masters, this meant going solo, and in 2019 he released his solo debut, Many Thanks. While the album does have some of that unmistakable Brave Baby energy, it stands on its own as a new project that could be viewed separately from Brave Baby, if it wanted to be. Whether or not it wants to be is up for interpretation, but regardless Many Thanks is worth the listen. The songs are lighthearted on the surface, but there’s a thread of unease that runs throughout as Keon explores relationships, society, and reality through the lens of a reluctant adult.
Editor’s pick: “Shingles”
3. Ranky Tanky – Good Time
While most artists featured on this list started with bedroom recordings, house shows, and dive bars, Ranky Tanky have a different origin story, one that is tied closely to South Carolina Gullah traditions. Four out of Ranky Tanky’s five members played together in the jazz quartet Gradual Lean back in the 90s. In 2017 they reunited to perform both originals and modern interpretations of traditional Gullah music, and teamed up with vocalist Quiana Parler to make that happen. Good Time is the second album release from Ranky Tanky, and it’s ripe with soothing arrangements anchored by Quiana’s powerful vocal range. Their sound is spreading rapidly, and Good Time has even received a nomination for a Grammy in category Best Regional Roots Music Album.
Editor’s pick: “Freedom”
2. SUSTO – Ever Since I Lost My Mind
This year, SUSTO took a big step and signed a deal with Rounder Records for the release of their third album, Ever Since I Lost My Mind. While this album does have what I think is the worst SUSTO song to date (“Livin’ in America”), it is on the whole a solid record, and a sign of Justin Osborne’s continued growth as a songwriter. With this album, SUSTO moves in a more rock ‘n’ roll direction, with harder-hitting guitar riffs and bigger hooks, but doesn’t forget about its acoustic roots. Ever Since I Lost My Mind was also produced by the Grammy-winning producer Ian Fitchuk, who worked with Kacey Musgraves on her beautiful 2018 album Golden Hour. As a result the record sounds crispy and clear, and allows Justin’s songwriting to find its way to the front, where it belongs.
Genre: Folk rock
Editor’s pick: “House Of The Blue Green Buddha”
1. Benny Starr – A Water Album
What makes Benny Starr so great is that when you go to see him perform, you’re there for the music, but you’re also there because you want to hear him speak. Benny cuts through all bullshit and gets straight to the root of Charleston’s issues with racism and gentrification, and he does so in a way that is positive and empowering, inspiring listeners to take action and make changes in their own lives. That’s why his 2019 release of A Water Album is at the top of this list, and why it easily transcends anything else that was released in South Carolina this year in terms of importance and lasting impact.
When A Water Album was recorded live at the Charleston Music Hall in September of 2018, it felt like a historic moment for Charleston. Benny Starr and the ridiculously talented Four20s took the stage before a packed room and proceeded to make a profound impression on every single person there, both musically and personally. With the exception of “Flowers”, Benny’s track with Matt Monday from 2016, the entire performance consisted of new original material. The fact that the band was able to pull off an album-worthy performance in one take (except “Sublime”, which they ran through twice) is impressive in itself. That kind of musicianship combined with Benny’s poetic and powerful message is a recipe for something very special.
The magic of that night was captured in its entirety on A Water Album, and now it has the potential to inspire people who were nowhere near the Charleston Music Hall when it was happening. If you only listen to one album that came out of South Carolina in 2019, have that be A Water Album by Benny Starr.
Editor’s pick: “Nostalgia” (feat. Shaniqua McCants)