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Top Tunes

It’s time to kiss another year goodbye, and per City Paper tradition, we asked our music writers reflect on some of their favorite local music. Charleston musicians have truly rolled with the punches to embrace the weird-yet-liberating dynamic of 2021, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the results. It’s impossible to spotlight all the tunes that have wowed us over the last 12 months, but here are some of our go-to favorites. 

Kate Bryan

Doom Flamingo, Flamingo

Doom Flamingo’s EP, Flamingo, the flip side to 2020’s Doom, is a much-needed respite after another chaotic year. Continuing in the band’s synthwave tradition, Flamingo calls to mind the ’80s-style sonic winks and motifs that we treasured on Doom, with a brighter outlook. It’s impossible to write about Doom Flamingo without acknowledging the expansive glory that is singer Kanika Moore’s voice. She shines on Flamingo, expressing her range and poise as her vocals meld soulful pop with a rhythm and blues dynamic. In short: The album sounds like a party. But that’s not to say it feels surface-level. The songs are crafted to create complexity, resulting in a listen that’s both sophisticated and fun. That’s Doom Flamingo for you: the group that delves into the yin and yang of the musical experience, highlighting the intersection of light and dark in a dance of duality that is a sheer delight for the listener.

Easy Honey, Peach Fuzz

Easy Honey’s second full-length album, Peach Fuzz, is thoughtfully composed to include roles for each instrument with compelling equality, creating a soundscape that is layered and nuanced. The band hones an amalgam of sonic choices: strong and innovative drum beats, playful guitar licks and solos, and layered vocals in counterpoint and echoing harmonies. What makes Peach Fuzz so appealing is that it harkens back to something, but the experience can be interpreted a myriad of ways — one listener might hear a tinge of ’90s alt-rock grit and another might note a nod to the psychedelic ’60s. It’s not pure nostalgia nor is it literal — Peach Fuzz is innovative. Easy Honey distorts familiar themes through their distinctive lens, resulting in rock ‘n’ roll filtered through a surfer’s daydream. The band’s experimentation with an inward-looking, somber acoustic sound is noteworthy, particularly on the track, “Habitat.” 

Whitehall, Swordfish Catcher

Maybe it stems from a general sense of malaise from our current times, but there’s something uniquely satisfying about the angst expressed throughout Whitehall’s sophomore album, Swordfish Catcher. It feels like a coming-of-age. The indie-rock group takes a turn toward a harder sound, and while fans of the band’s debut album might lament the missing saxophone, this album makes up for that loss tenfold. The guitar is grungy yet precise, leaning just garage-rock enough to feel cathartic while still showing off technical skill. Lead singer Paddy McKiernan’s vocals are at once crisp with agitation and also smooth, deploying contemplative lyrics that acknowledge a sense of failure and disillusionment within the self. Introspection aside, the album maintains an energetic pace. Swordfish Catcher standouts include “Tuesday,” “New Hampshire” and “Tape Deck.” 

Kevin Wilson

Kozelski, Collector

Songwriter, musician and producer Jeff Kozelski, a longtime mainstay of the Holy City music scene, told the City Paper that Collector is a pretty special album for him, and not just because it is the first to be released under his surname. This LP represents a big step in his own artistic evolution, while at the same time still channeling a mix of early influences like Jimi Hendrix and Jerry Garcia. The songcraft is strong, and several tracks on Collector were astutely written around odd occurrences Kozelski witnessed firsthand. For instance, “Cold Dice” is about a homeless woman Kozelski saw pull out all of her hair while he was visiting San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district. “The best part is having other people decide what they think it all means. I’d hate to ruin that,” Kozelski says.

Mike Martin & The Beautiful Mess, Home

Charleston’s own honky-tonk heroes have cooked up something special with Home, leaning heavily on the many flavors of old-school country and early rock ‘n’ roll for their latest release. Interestingly, this particular song-cycle was inspired by the unsettling news that Martin’s mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the blood. “Who am I and where did I, and my parents, come from? Why do I even sing country music? These were the questions that suddenly became important for me to answer,” Martin said. “You and Merle and Me” is one of the beautiful ways in which Martin draws a few conclusions regarding these heavy matters at hand. The entire album should be played loud and often. 

Shovels & Rope, The Human Race

Johns Island power couple Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent (aka Shovels & Rope) told the City Paper that even when COVID derailed their never ending tour, they were able to keep busy at home working on a book that shapeshifted from a children’s tale into a graphic novel for adults. Fortunately for us, they also managed to make enough new music to fill two LPs. The first one is another collection of covers in their acclaimed Busted Jukebox series. It arrived early in 2021. Since the other full-length album containing a fresh batch of original tunes won’t see the light of day until after the new year, Shovels & Rope decided to drop this fine little EP to hold us over. It boasts the thought-provoking title track as well as a radio-friendly single, “Domino.” 

Chelsea Grinstead

Baby Yaga, I’ll Ruin Your Life

Sometimes, you need to just throw care to the wind, and Baby Yaga frontwoman Presley Randall provides space in her songwriting to do just that. What appears on her two-track EP, I’ll Ruin Your Life, is a grungier, uptempo approach to her the more polished girl-rock she delivered on Baby Yaga’s 2020 EP, FUCK. “Did you say female rage? Hold my beer,” Randall told the City Paper. Above the noisy, dissonant punk melody on the first track, “Dog House,” there’s a polite tone in her voice as she sings a cringe-worthy reflection of self-love with the admittance, “I forgot which mask to put on today.” An irreverence for normal social dynamics is cleverly spun on “Black Hole” with the line, “I’ve been kind of disillusioned since I moved out of the suburbs and into other suburbs.” I’ll Ruin Your Life makes a speedy descent into DIY ethics, drawing to a close in a haze of grumbling guitar feedback. 

Lureto, Walk Thoughts

Doom Flamingo keyboardist Ross Bogan strings together contemplative instrumentals in his current side project, Lureto, with guitarist Wallace Mullinax, drummer Jonathan Peace and bassist Ben Mossman. The atmospheric rendition of The Doors’ “People are Strange’’ that opens Lureto’s debut EP, Walk Thoughts, leaves an imprint as the four songs unwind in a doldrum of piano driven melodies and languid guitar rhythms. The cheerful riff in “1B” is a dose of energy before moving into the pleasantly peaceful track, “City Parking,” which to be honest, is a great song to blast while driving. The last song, “5th,” tucks in surf rock with textured, spacey accents to equalize the entire experience. On a side note, Lureto’s first single, “Pew Pew,” is an excellent introduction to the group’s mind-bending ambiance. Walk Thoughts is a meditative compilation of easy, nuanced listening, providing a great accompaniment to any task at hand. 

Sounds of Blackfox, Sometimes Things Work Out

As a newer addition to the Charleston scene, Sounds of Blackfox entangles classic indie rock with a haunting, airy aesthetic. The band constructs a beautiful apprehension throughout its first album, Sometimes Things Work Out, distinguishing the build-and-fall progression with frontman Tyler Thirkettle’s soulful vocals that express a sophisticated yet weary narration replete with intricate lyrics. Bookends “BumBumBum” and “Electric Vibrations” are contrasts for the LP’s soft rock configuration. The crisp, percussive tension on the first track underlays its lyrical exploration of devotion and betrayal that starts with, “You say you’re feeling so deprived / Do I even look surprised?” The closing track is a funky number embroidered with staccato rhythms and vocals reminiscent of Jamiroqaui’s brand of acid jazz. Sometimes Things Work Out is both a sweet relief and an insistent experimentation.