So many great Palmetto State releases were put into the world in 2019 that we could not limit ourselves to just an albums countdown this year. Both veterans and newcomers to the state’s music scene made wide ranging, wonderfully original music and we couldn’t help but talk about the individual tracks that made our year. So here it is, our inaugural “best songs” list.
In terms of self-imposed rules, this list is limited to one entry per artist/band and is presented in no particular order or ranking. The entries were also chosen on or before December 18, 2019 so any songs that were released after that date were not considered, though there have already been some great things put out since then. With that said, we happily present Extra Chill’s Top 20 South Carolina Songs of 2019.
Tom Angst – “Friends”
Danielle McConaghy’s vocals have never sounded better and Tom Angst has never been heavier than on “Friends.” The band’s “twee pop/alternative” sound and delivery don’t just get thrown out the window, they get obliterated into dust under a thunderous blast of electric guitars and stomping drums. There’s nothing wrong with “twee” but “Friends” certainly is not that. McConaghy sings “hard to love you” alongside layered vocals as the song builds into a dreamy climax. It feels like a liberation, a life-changing separation that has to happen for some greater good no matter how hard it is to accept. The kind of change that can only be soundtracked by an uncharacteristic blast of wistful rock music. Even though McConaghy has moved on to the other Carolina under the name Fleur Geurl (we would’ve included her new song “Mudpies” were it not technically a North Carolina release) the last hoorah of Tom Angst was an excellent one, accentuated by the might of “Friends.”
Cry Baby – “Can’t Wait”
After a year of regular reminders, it’s almost redundant at this point to bring up Cry Baby’s “boy band” sound and presentation. Despite their well worn descriptors, “Can’t Wait” proves that the “taking slow jams seriously” motif is more than just a cool quote and that the band’s early 2000’s pop debonair is far from just a schtick. Not only do they mean it, but they are very, very good at it. As strong and well executed as their more dance oriented songs are, “Can’t Wait” is the track that fully showcases the band’s impeccable pop sensibilities. The slow grooving, twinkling instrumental filled in with the “whatcha say, baby” whispering backup singers is the kind of starry night gloss that only a handful of acts can emulate full scale. This is also the perfect song for lead vocalist Jamie Gray’s alto range, who keeps the hefty, layered production grounded with a sincere performance. It’s a sweet, glittering and truthful slice of romantic longing from one of the most exciting young bands in the state.
Teiji Mack (feat. Jah Jr. & Offkey) – “(Pre)Subscriptions”
Together Teiji Mack and Jah Jr. only need about two minutes hammer in a song that poignantly relatable and pugnacious enough to get you on your feet. The song carries a newfound tenacity that otherwise takes a backseat on Teiji Mack’s excellent Lavenders for Ty album. The album has a dreamy tenderness to it for the most part, until the chimes of “(Pre)Subscriptions” roll in and Teiji kicks down the door while snarling “cross my heart and testify that y’all ain’t really built for this.” Jah Jr.’s flow struts confidently through braggadociousness and treads through reflections on his own demons with captivating expressiveness. The understated star of the show however is producer Offkey, who turns in an ominous beat with a stellar drum part that launches the song’s energy into the stratosphere. He completes a foreboding big three that will hopefully keep collaborating down the road, because if this is any indication, they are capable of making some of the best rap that South Carolina has to offer.
Solar Punches – “Put Some Air in the Room”
“Put Some Air in the Room” is a six minute saga of energized electro-repetition and heightening anticipation, and in a state with a small market for electronic and dance music it is something to behold. It’s everything you could ask for in a song by a self-proclaimed “dance-punk outfit”; a pulsating beat, some clean cut drone drops thrown in for good measure, raw vocals that blend in fantastically (even though you aren’t always sure exactly what they’re saying), and some electric guitar licks dotted throughout. It’s well crafted, head bobbing mayhem until five minute mark in which it descends into a psyched out slow march that gives you some time to catch your breath. It’s a glorious trip to a space club far, far away and you aren’t going to be able to help yourself from moving at least a little when you go there.
Art Star – “An Unintentional Error Regarded as Revealing Subconscious Feelings”
Who would’ve thought that Freud-punk would work so well? Art Star’s two minute masterpiece is built on a meteor of heavy, distorted guitars, unrelenting drumming, and Freudian concepts like “phantom feelings” and “psychosexual development”. The song itself is like getting on a roller coaster that, despite having a short run time, still throws you through every drop, loop, and whirlwind of speed that you could ask for in a ride. As awesome as the rhythm and bombardment of punk instrumentation is, singer Mia Mendez’s performance is what ultimately makes the song so damn special. Mendez goes above and beyond the call of duty, striking that perfect balance between ferocious and blasé that only Kim Gordon before her could master. As great as the entirety of Art Star’s Akin to Sin EP is, “Unintentional Error” pulls ahead from the crowd as a stampede all by its itself.
Leone – “In Ur World”
“I’m a squirrel in your world, I’m just passin’ through” is how Rock Hill’s Leone starts off “In Ur World”, and that sets the tone for the most enchanting track off of one of the year’s best R&B releases. Like all of the Angst EP, “In Ur World” draws from various styles and eras of Soul music without letting one dominate or call attention to itself. It’s not throwback Soul, it’s not Neo-Soul, it’s just well crafted, well performed, undeniably stellar Soul that draws on a little bit of everything. “In Ur World” thrives on a smooth melody and catchy retro-futurist funk flairs. There’s a sly sense of humor and undeniable charm in the way Leone pleads to the song’s subject, and some of the lines that he uses (“take a row in my boat, seven seas we sail”) are just corny enough to the point of working, especially when placed into the song’s damn near flawless production. You can hear in the song how much fun he’s having with this, but how seriously he takes it at the same time.
Florida Man – “Brain Cell”
There’s a lot of weight put on an opening song. Fortunately for Florida Man, “Brain Cell” is the perfect siren to alert listeners of the incoming storm (that’s a play on the EP’s title, tee hee). The Charleston noise-punks hold nothing back, populating the song with a downpour of electric guitar and singer Jim O’ Connor roaring out his hardcore inspired vocals. There’s no real build, no pent up energy, not a second of open room, the punk quartet gets right down to business as they guide the listener through their descent into the maelström. Like the best Florida Man songs it incorporates bits of various styles of punk that give a familiar hand to hold onto while still creating an original sound for themselves. As O’Connor raspily screams out “paranoia” and guitarist Andrew Barnes pounds out a hard, almost thrash metal riff, you know that Florida Man is taking you somewhere dark, but there’s just enough light for you to be able to dance and ultimately find some solace in the depths.
Benny Starr (feat. Niecy Blues) – “War”
Pulling one song out of Benny Starr’s monumental A Water Album isn’t easy. We have to give an honorable mention to “Flowers” featuring Matt Monday, which is the gospel-charged sparkplug in the middle of Starr’s live album. But when it’s all said and done, “War” is an opera all its own. As with the rest of the album, Benny Starr shines with his down to earth lyrics delivered with slam poetry flourishes (“my life is like cognac neat on a jazz beat, yellow cab creepin’ I’m takin’ it to the backseat”). The album’s house band Four20’s also give one of their more subdued performances on the album, but through the twinkles of keys and occasional runs of cymbals they do more to build a world within the song than anyone could with an elaborate display of musical showmanship. Of course, there’s the song’s centerpiece Niecy Blues who gives an absolutely spellbinding performance. It plays out like a continuous train of thought, not relying on hooks or motifs but rather the truth and humanity of the words that they sing, pushed forward by the heavy-hearted runs of Niecy Blues and Starr’s hushed intropections as they weave in and around one another.
Sorry, Peach – “Solitude”
Upstate band Sorry, Peach quietly made one of 2019’s most interesting albums in South Carolina with Don’t Ask Me If I’m Okay. For the most part, the album operates in a sphere of indie pop music, calling on lovelorn piano songs, acoustic guitars, the occasional string section and large scale pop twinkling. The album’s first nine songs are unified by that style until the final track drops its listener into the booming, electronic rabbit hole of “Solitude” and to put it plainly, it’s awesome. It has a sinister twist to it, with a heavy droning beat, crackled electronic claps and a horn section that marches above the rest of the song like a band of rubber hose cartoon devils. The vocal melody plays a part in that dark nature as well, lethargically swinging through the chorus. “Solitude” is a wonderfully unexpected changeup from an exciting group with a hook that’ll stay on your lips for a good while after your first listen.
J.S. Terry – “Weak Eyes / The Migration of the Blue Ghost Fireflies”
“Weak Eyes / The Migration of the Blue Ghost Fireflies” is the quintessence of J.S. Terry’s romantic folk theatricality. It weaves its way through violin strokes, banjo plucks and the ambient sounds of rural evenings while the band chants “I can see the sun fall / I can see the moon rise” followed by Jonah Terry lamenting that “in the night I miss you more than I should” before plummeting into an electric, distorted chasm and climbing back up into a soft piano part and more nighttime insect serenading. “Weak Eyes” plays out like an abstract Americana stage play that comes from an artistic vision of remorse coupled with optimism. It all comes across cleanly and clearly thanks to Terry’s ability to stitch together fragments of folk music to make a song that never goes the same direction twice but sticks its landing beautifully.
Shirlie – “Cool With It”
It’s hard to hear a bassline that smooth with that kind of tone and not be put in something of a good mood. So far the only release by Charleston sextet Shirlie is a joyful piece of bedroom pop and Vulfpeck-ish funk. Singer Taylor Moody gives a perfectly laid back delivery on the head swaying line “I’m tryna play my cards right this time” and the band rolls through condensed guitar plucks, sharp hi-hats, and electronic rings. Clocking in at only a minute and a half in length and remaining in the same mode throughout the song limits the scope of “Cool With It” but there’s a lot to be said for the pure catchiness and touches of vintage cool in this nugget of a song. Los Angeles based producer Satchy ties the whole song together in a neat bow, making for one of the most gleefully infectious tracks that South Carolina saw this year.
Coma Therapy – “Sissy Spacek”
“I’d like to set your hair on fire, I imagine that’s what fall looks like.” Those are the first words of “Sissy Spacek”, set to Coma Therapy’s dreary post-punk sound. Like the best shoegaze/goth rock inspired songs “Sissy Spacek” lives in a dimly lit, reverb armed echo chamber. It’s high lead guitar part is captivating throughout the song, both on the smooth, bouncing main riff and when it rips into a full nostalgic, yearning solo in the song’s final minute. It’s drum deliver quick punches, the vocals are desolate but tinted with just the right amount of expressiveness, and the chorus swirls into a gorgeous, thick electric fog. All of Coma Therapy’s solid debut EP No Lights Here. carries that post-punk torch but “Sissy Spacek” truly sounds like a hidden gem unearthed by digging through cassettes from the era of My Bloody Valentine. Not only is this one of the year’s best songs, Coma Therapy is one of the most alluring new additions to South Carolina music.
Terraphonics (feat. Shaniqua McCants) – “Move”
When Extra Chill spoke to Terraphonics’ guitarist and producer Thomas Kenney earlier this year about “Move”, Kenney said that the song is intended to depict the feeling of staying up into the early hours of the morning. The almost nighttime sleekness of the song certainly conjures up that kind of sensation and imagery. Terraphonics brings their usual stellar musicianship to “Move”, building a little microcosm of modern jazz and soul scattered with a film noir type of ambience. On top of that, the band could not have brought in a much better singer for this song than Shaniqua McCants, whose old soul voice is essentially another instrument being used to its fullest to create the hyper-cool world of “Move.” McCants sings the song’s hook “let the night light rain down” with an Eartha Kitt type of hypnoticness.
Cayla Fralick – “Amsterdam”
Like much of Cayla’s Fralick’s debut album Anyway, Here, “Amsterdam” is equal parts universal and painstakingly personal. Within the song’s four minute time frame a full short story of loss and efforts to amend a relationship unfolds while still being open enough that you really can’t help but insert yourself into its vignettes, each of which is equally melancholic tinged with just enough hope and positive severance that it avoids complete despair. It’s production does a strong job of backing up the positive and negative balance of its lyrical content. The whole song has a nighttime highway nostalgia to it. In our interview with Fralick this past May, she discussed how Anyway, Here came from a bleak crossroads in her life, and “Amsterdam” best represents that acceptance of a need to change that Fralick took upon herself while writing the album. Taking it in might make you a little blue, but as the song indicates, that’s a vital part of the healing process. Few songs this year captured specific, widespread emotions so concretely.
Baby Yaga – “Ah”
Baby Yaga’s name comes from a force of nature, witch-like figure in Slavic folklore called Baba Yaga, and the band’s lone single from 2019 titled “Ah” is definitely more Yaga than Baby. “Ah” is a gradual swelling of a garage rock song. The band comes armed to the teeth with heavy drums and distorted bass and guitar that forebodingly back frontwoman Presley Randall’s lyrics about a ticking time bomb of a relationship. Randall carries the song with a restrained roguishness before the whole band rev their engines and speed to the finish in true garage fashion. It does more than enough to emulate the type of early grunge acts that Baby Yaga have expressed their love for. “Ah” may not be the most thought provoking or most musically complex entry on this list, but it doesn’t need to be. It’s a lively, vigorous example of the lasting capabilities of rock music and the creative minds in South Carolina who are keeping it fresh and exciting.
Keon Masters – “Feel Nuthin’”
No entry on this list gives off the vibe of its respective album cover more than Keon Masters’ “Feel Nuthin’.” The album, titled Many Thanks shows a colorful poolside scene with an empty pair of yellow beach chairs and the legs of a lone individual on a pool float. Even though it’s a bright, colorful, upbeat song that hearkens back to 1980’s summertime pop rock with a hint of early Vampire Weekend, it’s a pretty lonesome, self-reflective song. Masters sings “you said ‘Iove you but you feel nothin’ / I said I want to but there’s still nothin’. Now you’re sittin’ in the room wonderin’ ‘what are we doin?’”. The chorus promises that the singer and his subject are “destined to feel alright” but there’s still a dark cloud hanging over to the sunny, beach-ready, feel good local song of the year. While that may sound negative, it gives “Feel Nuthin’” a welcome complexity. It’s got a fantastic groove (highlighted by its bass line), its sharply produced, Masters gives one of his best singing performances, and there’s more to it than meets the eye.
Pray For Triangle Zero – “Groove is in the Ark”
Columbia based experimental project Pray For Triangle Zero have almost twenty genre classifications listed at the base of their Bandcamp page ranging from “jazz” to “shoegaze” to “juke”. Their seventeen minute odyssey “Groove is in the Ark” utilizes every single one of those titles and more. Over the course of the song, a smorgasboard of beats, grooves, bleeps, bloops, drones, plucks, chimes, slaps, and so many other glorious sounds get their turn in the spotlight. It plays like a collection of short, stellar beats and tracks that Lucas Sams (the brains behind Pray For Triangle Zero) made and cobbled together into one flowing, smooth sailing voyage through modern music. No matter your taste, it’ll hold your attention and get your ass moving. And if you have not taken many forays into electronic music, you could do worse for an introductory crash course than “Groove is in the Ark.” Electronic music is notably sparse in South Carolina and we’re grateful for artists like Pray For Triangle Zero and songs like this that do what they can to keep experimental music alive down here.
Canopy Hands – “Dextro”
“Dextro” is the kind of song that ought to be synchronized with the overhead lights at a roller rink or light up floor tiles at a dance hall. Over the last few years, Canopy Hands have constructed a reputation as one of the most consistent dream pop/R&B acts in the state, and always providing the right amount of shimmer and shine. “Dextro” is no exception, in fact it may be the Charleston band’s best song to date. It’s rolling bass, dripping guitar and sturdy synth driven, club ready track with a tight chorus Each individual part of the song could be taken away from everything else that’s going on and it would still probably sound good. Together its exemplary dance pop that may end up sticking in your head for a couple of hours after you hear it.
Contour – “New Garden”
“New Garden” is one of the best examples of Contour’s versatility as a producer and prowess as a singer/songwriter. From the production side, part of the allure is the inability to pin down “New Garden” within any particular genre of music. It doesn’t adhere to any preordained style, living within a mildly psychedelic soundscape and populating it with hints of R&B and chillwave along with a great organ-sounding part that holds an almost gospel hum throughout the track. That openness is kind of poetic, given that it’s a song that’s lyrically built on questions and an apparent meditation on the narrator’s own sense of place. His vocals feed into that sturdy production, flowing along with the song and finding their own individual groove amidst everything else that’s going on within the song. They also elevate what may be Contour’s best lyrics to date (“just like the world at night, there is so much that hides / when you’re anonymous you see the light”). It’s a grounded trip to an otherworldly place.
B. Fraser – “A-Zack on Titan”
“True Charleston emo” has never been truer. Well sort of. In terms of genre classification and the sonic nature of it, this is an emo song just like the rest of B. Fraser’s Our Friends EP. The genre is inherently associated with confessional, usually pessimistic lyrics but “A-Zack on Titan” is one of the most entertainingly heartfelt and sentimental songs of 2019. It boasts an absurdly catchy guitar riff, zealous vocal harmonies and wonderfully wholesome lyrical content. The band almost endlessly lists off their close friends and why they’re thankful for every one of them. It helps to already know the men of B. Fraser personally given that this is a rather personal song, but even if you don’t there’s still an undeniable charm to “A-Zack on Titan.” The joy and energy with which they play it is contagious and it’s a fitting close to an EP that preaches the beauty of friendship. It may be kind of goofy. You could call it sappy too. But it’s almost 2020 for goodness sake. A little goofiness with the people that we love can be the brightest light in a dark tunnel.