2019 gave us much in the way of music to celebrate in Northeast Florida; a glorious and eclectic mix of output, to be sure. Here are three tunes we really dug in ’19.
The Young Step
“There’s joy in the rain after a month of heat. There’s another hurricane, though it’s not on the beach,” croons The Young Step’s Ben Whitson (guitar, vox) over tasteful, subtly-funky guitar licks and ambient synths on the group’s track “Ghost Town.” It’s a super catchy, ’80s-evoking pop tune from a group that, by the time the song dropped in Nov. ‘18, it’d been a minute since we’d heard from.
As a follow up to the group’s 2016 debut–the energetic, eclectic, and certainly fierce El Clásico–the track is certainly disparate. But a lot has happened since then. Professionally, the group–which consists of Whitson, along with husband-and-wife duo Micah and Lauren Gilliam–enjoyed a modicum of success. They earned a regional following, touring the country and even making a stop at Austin’s SXSW. All good things, to be sure. In the meantime, the group’s current home base of St. Augustine was ravaged by back-to-back hurricanes–Matthew and Irma–and, according to Whitson, they’ve individually experienced their share of emotional hardships. Those hurricanes, then, became apt metaphors. As did the many specter-related yarns spun about in the Oldest City.
“I think we’re attracted to [ghost] stories because we can relate to the idea of ghosts in a lot of ways,” says Whitson. “In the moment pain can make you feel like you’re the only one experiencing it and there’s no one who can relate to you. Like a ghost who no one believes in.”
In light of “Ghost Town,” this is a track–and a band–we believe in.—Matthew Shaw
In stark contrast to his other release (as RickoLus) this year, Rick Colado teamed up with South Florida rapper Bleubird to form “Yacht Rap” duo Hurricane Party. Their live shows, where both artists don crisp white coveralls, are high-energy raucous dance parties saturated with a cacophony of unexpected samples and colorful projections. The feeling at a Hurricane Party show is such fun, lively, and communal; despite any and all external circumstances. The duo’s first full-length record, Juice, captures that feeling quite well.
If anyone can harness the feeling of excitement mixed with the nervous anticipation of impending meteorological doom, it’s Floridians. Hurricane Party’s namesake track is the embodiment of the idea that we have no idea what’s about to happen, so we may as well try and enjoy ourselves. “Hey, it’s a hurricane party / g’on and tell e’rybody” is repeated over a marching drumbeat and anxiously building synth, intoning that all are welcome at this humid, rainy fete. We’re told to “walk away from everything [we] got in storage”, basically because it’s uncertain that anything will be there in the morning.
Hurricane Party truly embodies much of what it is to be a young-ish Floridian in the era of climate change. Fun, music, community, and partying in the face of danger. As Hurricane Party says, “If your neighbor got a good foundation / bring the beer and change the station”.—Nicki Wolfe
As muses, weather systems played an outsized role in the minds of Northeast Florida artists in 2019. From yacht rap duo Hurricane Party’s toying with the thought of impending doom on the track “Hurricane Party” to St. Augustine’s The Young Step contemplating how tropical disturbances relate to the many specter-related yarns told around their hometown to Jax-based singer-songwriter Cory Driscoll’s concept album, Tropical Depression—which represents perhaps the most ambitious of the recent influx of hurricane-related sonic projects—it’s clear that the effects of climate change are changing the lyrical content locally.
Driscoll wrote Tropical Depression during the period between Hurricanes Matthew and Irma, and the album is a reflection of his experiences in Northeast Florida, one that he describes as collectively consisting of “beauty, power, and, at times, devastation.” The album’s not all doom and gloom, as the jangly, uptempo number “Vacation Artist” sees light beyond the grey clouds. “You’re a vacation artist, staycation dad / a nonchalant tourist with a gift for the gab,” Driscoll sings during the tune’s buoyant chorus, before reminding the listener (himself?) “That ain’t half bad. It ain’t half bad.” —Matthew Shaw
These entries originally appeared as part of our feature “The Music We Needed: 19 Songs we loved in 2019” in Void Magazine, Vol. 10, Issue 6.