It’s difficult to imagine a tougher year for local music than 2020. With a pandemic raging and a shutdown in the spring, there weren’t many live shows to be found, meaning that most of our Upstate talent lost their primary sources of income. And thanks to social distancing, it was difficult for bands to get together at all to rehearse or record.
Luckily, though, there were some bright spots here in town and in South Carolina overall in 2020, and here’s a look back at them.
Album of the Year (Upstate): Gláss, “Wilting in Mauve”
A challenging, compelling collection of songs, “Wilting In Mauve” is gothic but not goth-rock, heavy but not metal, complex but not progressive-rock. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Aaron Burke created an alternately hypnotic and jarring album, unleashed his angular shards of guitar noise, and trusted his intuitive rhythm section of Alex Angell (bass) and Sam Goldsmith (drums) to drive it home.
Album of the Year (SC): Babe Club, “Remember This Feeling”
Former SUSTO members Jenna Desmond and Corey Campbell may have taken a while to complete their first EP as Babe Club, “Remember This Feeling,” but the wait was worth it. The EP is guitar-fueled indie-pop at its best, a perfect balance of heavy and light, sweet and bitter. In a perfect world, songs like the wistful shimmering ballad “Together” or the dreamy mid-tempo rocker “Automatic Love” would be blasting out of every radio in sight.
Best Band (Upstate): Salti Ray
The Spartanburg quartet Salti Ray absolutely love being a band and being on this scene. Their passionate music reflects it, their pure joy onstage reflects it, and their dedication to other acts on the scene reflects it. Their shows (and their new EP, “The Right Thing”) are joy personified.
Best Band (SC): Boo Hag
There are only two guys in Boo Hag: singer/guitarist Saul Siebert and drummer Scott E. Tempo. But they have enough creativity in them for a 10-piece ensemble. The two albums they released this year, “Burial Ground” and “Ballads from the Bordello,” sound like they were done by different bands. “Burial Ground” is half hazy garage-prog experiment and half gothic swamp-punk, and the all-acoustic “Ballads” sounds like a collection of recently unearthed tunes from a demented early-20th-century vaudeville show. Boo Hag’s artistic path is simply them doing whatever the hell they want to do.
Person (s) of the Year (Upstate): Mike Frazier, Sharon Murry
Mike Frazier, owner of Smiley’s Acoustic Café in Greenville, and Sharon Murry, co-owner of The Spinning Jenny in Greer, reached out to their communities during the darkest days of the shutdown. Frazier hosted livestream shows at Smiley’s and hired local musicians as singing delivery people to help keep them afloat, and Murry brought in a group of local college professors to teach socially distanced camp-style art and playwriting classes for 20 children at a time. They both expanded the model of what a music venue can do at a crucial time.
Artist of the Year (SC): FatRat Da Czar
Columbia rapper, producer and activist FatRat Da Czar founded World Famous Hip-Hop Family Day, a free festival that is a tribute to a genre of music created entirely by African Americans. Past editions of the festival have featured classic hip-hop acts like Kool Moe Dee, Kid ‘n Play and Slick Rick. Despite the pandemic, FatRat managed to put on a safe and socially distanced version of the festival this year at The Senate, bringing legendary rapper Rakim to Columbia and adding a conversation with the crowd about issues of civic engagement and how to take the energy from the Black Lives Matter movement and translate it into action.