South Carolina made some serious noise on the national music scene this year, with the Greenville-born Marcus King Band releasing a self-titled album of heavy blues-rock produced by former Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes and Adia Victoria putting out the critically acclaimed “Beyond the Bloodhounds,” a stunning, genre-spanning work that mixed garage rock, gothic blues, dream-pop and soul. But back in the local-and-regional trenches, some amazing bands and venues were making their voices heard, as well. Here are some of the best musical moments of 2016.
Best Album (local): Carpoolparty, “Hot Tapes”
There were a lot of great albums released in the Upstate this year by bands like Fall of an Empire, The Francis Vertigo and Niel Brooks, but none of them were as intoxicatingly fun as Carpoolparty’s debut full-length, “Hot Tapes.” A blissfully kaleidoscopic mix of electronic dance beats, expertly deployed vocal samples and lush pop hooks crafted by the husband-and-wife musical duo of Daniel & Mary Olguin, “Hot Tapes” is a candy-coated rush of homespun technology and catchy melodies.
Best Album (regional): Soda City Riot, “The First EP”
Veteran Columbia punk outfit Soda City Riot has titled their new release “We’re Not PC, F— You!” — but anyone who’d already heard “The First EP” knew that already. The EP’s three songs rush by in an angry blur of roaring riffs, sneering attitude, gang-style vocals and adrenaline-fueled rhythms, all in service of some attitude-heavy sociopolitical commentary.
Artist of the Year (local): Darby Wilcox
It’s not just that Darby Wilcox has blossomed as a live performer, displaying a new level of swagger onstage, or that her music, aided by uber-bassist Samuel Kruer, has evolved from straightforward acoustic folk to something jazzier, smarter and funnier. And it’s not just that, along with Katie Hughes, she created the VILLive concert series in the West End last summer. It’s all that plus her tireless efforts on behalf of local music. Any show that Wilcox went to in 2016, whether as a performer or spectator, she pushed like a promoter, exhorting people to get their butts out to the show. That’s exactly the spirit that Greenville’s music scene desperately needs.
Artist of the Year (regional): Ashley Heath
The fact that Asheville’s Ashley Heath was able to finish her album “A Different Stream” is incredible. It was intended as a duo album until the other member of said duo quit during the album’s final stages, and it was recorded on the thinnest of all possible budgets. But the fact that Heath’s powerful, roof-rattling voice and uncanny understanding of acoustic blues still shines through after all that turmoil is a minor miracle. And the subsequent tour, which has seen her winning over fans a handful at a time thanks to her talent and personality, should warm the heart of any music lover.
Venue of the Year: The Spinning Jenny, 107 Cannon St., Greer
While people wondered when the next Handlebar-sized venue would show up in downtown Greenville, The Spinning Jenny lay tucked away in downtown Greer, offering up a beautiful room and one of the most adventurous concert schedules of 2016. From the down-and-dirty acoustic stomp blues of John the Revelator to the guitar wizardry of Jacob Johnson to the soothing vocal indie-pop of Bombadil, the Spinning Jenny’s carefully planned lineup of shows was a delight. And speaking of that…
Show of the Year (small venue): SUSTO, The Spinning Jenny, Nov. 12
Coming off one of the most divisive elections in this country’s history, Charleston’s SUSTO delivered a cathartic dose of musical healing, taking the mostly laid-back atmospheric alt-country of their debut album and cranking the emotion (and volume) to near-ecstatic proportions.
Show of the Year (large venue): The Mavericks, TD Stage, May 27
If there is a singer left on Earth who can make an audience swoon like Elvis once did, it’s the Mavericks’ Raul Malo. Over a two-hour set of expertly played, adventurous music that showcased the band’s exuberant blend of Latin, country and rock music, Malo didn’t miss a note, caressing the audience with a spine-chilling version of “Blue Bayou” and rousting them out of their seats with a ragged, raucous “Twist and Shout.”