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Music Review: 2019 SceneSC Sampler

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2019 SceneSC Sampler

Various artists, 2019 SceneSC Sampler (self-released)

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There’s something so pleasant about a good college radio playlist. With few interjections from the DJs, the music flows for long stretches without pause, teasing out similarities in songs that can initially appear quite divergent. At its best, it embraces wild swings but is also innately relaxing, with sounds that are often either grimy and fuzzed-out or sheeny and overexposed making for a mood that’s laconic enough to daze but not enough to put you to sleep.

The latest annual sampler from Palmetto-posi music blog SceneSC gives you instant access to this effect. Longer than past editions, comprising a whopping 30 songs and lasting nearly two hours, the collection relaxingly weaves in and out of various sounds. Consistently finding connections between seemingly juxtaposed songs — be it some shared ancillary instrumentation or similar textures in the production — its many stylistic transitions feel more like easy stair steps than strenuous leaps.  

Consider the opening trio. Columbia’s Kid Trails kick off with “Magnolia Farm,” one of the album’s true standouts. Setting a shimmery vision of country-rock to an insistent electro pulse, the sound is smooth but invigorating, its duality a perfect match for Patrick Jeffords’ words, which yearn for a retreat to the country following a soured romance. Myrtle Beach’s Cicala follows with “Arkansas,” its best song to date. Sparkling and galloping against the onset of burnout (“Wake up with a f#!king caffeine headache / And I can’t afford to take a break, too much to do, too much to say all these days,” Quinn Cicala cries), its well-twanged emo-rock rearranges elements that sound largely the same as Kid Trails’ tune to achieve a far more urgent and unrestrained result. The next song, “Saltwater Burns,” Charleston singer Matilda Dae’s tender, twilit indie pop duet with Billie Fountain, rides a throbbing beat that calls back to “Magnolia Farm,” and is underpinned by a chiming electric piano that echoes keyboard textures in both the previous songs.

Remaining just as thoughtful but not over-thought throughout, the sequencing allows highlights to blend easily into an absorbing whole without dimming them. 

And golly, are there a lot of highlights: from Flower Shopping’s convincingly Built-to-Spill bargaining with quarter-life crisis (“More Options”) to She Returns From War’s stunning cosmic country calculus of intimacy and distance (“Galaxy Sands”); from Secret Guest’s chaotic slacker rock live cut (“Live Dead”) to The Restoration’s intricately layered, National-as-folk-rock slow-build (“I’ve Got So Much to Give”); from Sunny Malin’s commandingly low-key rap single (“Champagne”) to Shirlie’s elegantly strutting R&B throwback (“Cool With It”). And that’s not to mention career-best (or close to it) contributions from Columbia favorites Stagbriar, King Vulture, and E.Z. Shakes.

But the most notable inclusion, Gold Light’s “The Garden,” arrives at the end. It affirms, better than any other song could, SceneSC’s deep affection for its home state. Setting his achingly nasal croon to spare acoustic strums, spectral electric fills and dusty piano, Joe Chang offers a moving tribute to the late Adam Cullum, who played in Gold Light in addition to leading the beloved Columbia indie rock band Can’t Kids before dying last year. “We all got brushes, all got touches / We all got tongues,” Chang sings, referencing the title of Can’t Kids’ first album, and sweetly embodying the way Cullum’s songs affected so many in this state.

One could argue that it’s ridiculous to pack so much onto this year’s sampler. That two hours is too unwieldy, causing much of it to be missed. But the sequencing entices you to keep hanging out with it, digesting and discovering new favorites over time. 

But more than that, the exhaustive tracklist reinforces SceneSC’s ongoing devotion to South Carolina music — and makes a solid argument for why you should follow suit.

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