Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Year End Review of 2006 (The Stevies!)

Hear The Tracks@ Soundclick
Hear The Tracks @ MP3 Unsigned

Hello and welcome to the 4th Annual Stevies awards.

In case you think I have gone power crazy (Ed: again...) let me just explain a couple of things. I have been presenting this end of year review on Soundclick for the past four years. The awards, such as they are, mean nothing. I know that, and you all know that too. Let's just say it's my way of thanking the hundreds (nay thousands) of artists who supply us with music on a daily basis throughout the year. Certainly for me they provide the soundtrack to the year and that is the principal reason I started these awards in the first place, to highlight the most distinctive artists I have come across during the year that provide the real sparkle amongst the HUGE music archive that is Soundclick, MP3 Unsigned, Songplanet et al. So, what qualifications do I bring to this? Well, as many of you know, I have been reviewing internet-only musicians for around twelve years and consequently get through a hell of a lot of tracks during a year. I review (on average) 700+ tracks a year in their own right, and actually hear double that, so I think I have a good idea of what is on offer out there - and how good it is. Put it like this, out of all those tracks only 114 made it onto my hard drive, out of which tonights winners are chosen. This is a highly personalised choice and it's obviously biased towards those who don't treat this as some game. The level of musicianship that I look for isn't as relevant as some of my reviews may seem to indicate, I'm much more interested in the tracks impact on me, sonically, philosophically and spiritually.

In other words, did it tickle my musical G spot? As in oh baby, ooh baby yeah, yeah.....right there....

Finally, I'd like to personally thank all the people thoughout this year who have remembered an important, and little known fact, about this mysterious person who bombards your eyeballs (and hopefully earholes too) with this unending stream of modern music. At this stage of the game it is self-evident that I am probably better known these days as a reviewer but - believe it or not - I am also a producing musician with a ton of my own tracks out there. A very special, and heartfelt THANK YOU to all the people who played/downloaded/commented/reviewed on those tracks, you have no idea how much those interactions mean to me. So, if you read the reviews, listen to some of my music too eh? See, that's the thing about being in a (makes quote sign) 'community' (untangles fingers) it means you interact with the people you share your day with - virtually or otherwise. In conversations with people the same question comes up with mind-numbing regularity, 'how do I get better known?'. A variant on the well worn 'how can I get famous?' granted, but it is an important question. Right now I belong to, and interact with six separate music sites (OMD's = Online Music Distributors) on a daily basis; posting tracks and commenting on forums on all of them. Sure it takes time but that, grasshopper, is the answer. Nothing is easy, and the groundwork you have to put into establishing yourself online is time consuming and often infuriating - but the end result is worth it.

The only advice that I have for any artist in widening their audience is to widen their field of activity to other sites. A lot of musicians tend to stick to the site they know best, or the one they feel is more fitted to their style. The scene that I knew back in the days is much, much wider now but is centered around Soundclick, Songplanet, MP3 Unsigned and a collection of smaller - but no less significant - OMDs. A lot of the characters that infest this wider network of sites also belong to a great many of them and that is where the bulk of the tracks I review come from. They ARE a distinct community even if it gets a little murkier when you look closely, and as such provide the backbone to most of the forums I belong to. Many of them are personal friends who have grown along with me at being (dare I say it?) a bit adept at working an internet crowd. Get involved and you will find that the payoff is more attention and some substantial shift in plays/downloads whatever. You'll meet some real nice people along the way too, and that's an added bonus. Join in on forum activity, get to collaborating with your fellow musicians, THAT is what the internet is all about. It is certainly NOT about exhorting everybody to peep your shit - whatever that might mean. It's about showing this world who you really are, not hiding behind a gamers mask or anonymous score settling. So do some of that and whammo, you see a community right before your eyes you never knew existed.

I personally feel that the internet music community is so diverse that there will never be a worldwide 'this is where it's at' thing because it's everywhere - all at once. However, sites like Soundclick will always be a distinct gathering place though because it is - for all its alleged faults - undoubtedly the very best OMD out there and far and away the largest in terms of audience. Other sites fill some very worthwhile niches but Soundclick has everything from the truly lame to the truly sublime and that is what keeps the whole ship afloat.

Mind you, the competition you face as a fellow internet musician is razor sharp and ready to rumble - as these awards will hopefully show you. So let's get to it:

The Awards
The real movers and shakers of 2006 are - as usual - broken down into divisions...

Premier League
Alchemystic - Smalllife (MP3Unsigned) - Omnisine - Fluidity - Cameron Pierce - Jim-n-Lisa - Cam's Even Song - The Shed (MP3Unsigned) - Fear 2 Stop - HELLbus - One Kids Lunch - Xanthe - Burp - Pilesar - Deggsy & Crockmister (MP3Unsigned) - Soul Dust - Prash - Maria Daines - Alderman - OnOffOn - Silvertrain - Sylvan & Bonamici (Artist Launch)

2nd Division
Herult Hennereg - Amorphix - Nuff X - Rooney Tunes - John and Lucie Collins - Ditheramb - Thielus Grenon - Brent Toland - Monktrump - Christopher Martin Hansen - Avalanche - K-Gi - Big Wheel - Mule - Gloria J - Onager - Redshirt Theory - Starting Over - Greenie - AndyF

The Wild, Weird and plain Wonderful
Guanoman - Steve Smith - Policy Overkill - Rude Corps - Mosquito Death Squadron - Conkuss - The Hive - Decollage

A couple of words on these artists, and the changes from last year are in order. 2006 has been a bit of a bumper year for me with bands and artists that have impressed the bejeesus out of me with track after track of highly competent, professional sounding music. In particular, newcomers (as it were) such as Smalllife, The Shed, HELLbus, and One Kids Lunch have shown a very high degree of professionalism in everything they have released and that is a most welcome thing. In the up and coming section you should note newcomers such as Herult Hennereg and Amorphix for some outstanding musical scores, albeit of a dark nature. The mighty Avalanche, Ditheramb, and a great many others kept the rock wagon rolling in the time honoured fashion with some startlingly different takes on what it takes to be a rock god. K-Gi surprised the hell out of me with a couple of intense tracks and I personally look forward to hearing much more from this artist in the coming year.

And then there are the rest :P

What can be said about the wackier corners of Soundclick that hasn't already been said? Just because I call them weird, or wacky doesn't mean that any of these musicians are some kind of trained monkeys. Quite the contrary, the artists I have singled out above have a highly developed sense of what music is and what it's not - even though they all experiment fervently with sounds of the not music variety. Steve Smith, in particular, serves double duty here. Firstly for his highly individual take on what he produces in his own right, and for the depth; readability and sheer common sense of his reviews. There is no doubt in my mind that 2007 will be peppered with epistles from him and is - again - something I look forward to. I do love a good challenge. Policy Overkill, Rude Corps and Conkuss are relative new to these awards - never having made it before. All three of these artists, in common with the rest of their grouping, push the envelope on what experimental really means, and all of them make music that breathes and has legs. Its nice to see old friends Guanoman, Mosquito Death Squadron and The Hive still right there at the rockface plugging away.

Tracks Of The Year 2006
One of the most looked-forward to categories and one I think may not contain as many surprises as expected...

Burp - Recent Colloqy
It's only right that Burp, who has featured in every single Stevie so far, should start off the list of this years top tracks. It's been a busy year for this Munich based musician, but his collaborations with Chinese vocalist Nini have hit a special chord. This track is everything I need from a Burp track, but the vocal icing is so special it puts it head and shoulders above most electronica of note.

Cam's Even Song - Just The Truth On Christmas/Face The Music (Ballad Of The 4 Lepers)
Absolutely no surprise here that these two tracks have wheedled their way into my life. They typify the incredible year this one man music machine has just delivered to us. To me, they also show the Cam we have come to know and love from two very complimentary angles, and both are growing better with time. As a for instance, I have kept every track this artist has released this year and that's a far the biggest winner in terms of 'keeper' tracks...

Deggsy/Crockmister - Lullaby In Blue
Although 2006 has been a relatively quiet year for this MP3 Unsigned duo (they almost scooped the 2005 Artist Of The Year award but were pipped by Maria Daines and Paul Killington), they still managed to land this little beauty right at the beginning of 2006 and it has become such a staple on my playlist it richly deserves its place. A class, class track

Fear 2 Stop - Dishevelled
One of the most pleasureable moments for this reviewer during the year was the resurgence (nay resurrection) of my old nemesis Fear 2 Stop. The sight of previous F2S tracks had been enough to put most reviewers in the nuthatch, these were a TRUE experimental band - with all that that entails. However, 2006 showed a new side to this much derided band, a funkier, chunkier version of what they had been doing previously and a music that I can honestly say could only have come from this particular band. An excellent track and a fine indicator of the band's newfound confidence in its ability to (finally, at last) get their point across, Success story of the year methinks.

HELLbus - Table Fate
My first introduction to this amazingly talented electronica artist was through this track, which at the time was only available through SC's new pricing policy. Shortly after this artist proved his dedication to the scene by releasing free downloads of everything else - except this - and who could blame him? Table Fate has become an old favourite for me, shortly joined by other classics such as Lift and the incredible Miss Your Little Black Heart. All of which have taken up permanent residence on my hard drive. Let's hope 2007 will prove as productive; IMHO one of the best electronica artists around as any of these tracks will illustrate.

The Shed - The Parson, the Pauper and the Peeping Tom's Daughter
I've been reviewing MP3 Unsigned artists for around two years and I'd never given a perfect ten to anyone under that site's review rating system - until this track. With it's instant Pogues connection TPTPTPTD was bound to hit certain pleasure spots for people who like that style, but it's hugely live sound and a classic performance and the sheer energy and verve of all the musicians and producers involved introduced most of us to Ireland's new favourite sons, and the fuss they created with this track was massive. They have delivered an absolute string of class Must Have's this year showing that this initial introduction was but the tip of a deep iceberg of great music. At this moment in time ALL of this bands tracks live on my hard drive, and they have been in contention for my Artist of The Year award since this track. Sure, and they played a blinder....

Jim-n-Lisa - Missing Douglas
Now before you all go groaning and holding your heads in 'alleged' pain, just because Jim and Lisa Miller are friends of mine doesn't mean that they get here on the strength of that alone - as you well know. Since snagging my 2004 Artist of The Year award, this Texan twosome have consistently delivered very high quality music in any number of genres including - as you can see - the silly genre. What is happening musically on Missing Douglas is anything but silly as has been this artist's style since first coming to my attention in 2004. I take a personal satisfaction in knowing that I backed a winner back then and the fact that I have four of their tracks on my hard drive from this year alone is an indication that they are growing their field of expertise with great skill. Oh, and the tempo the song is 42. Whatever that means.....

K-Gi - Dutty Water
K-Gi slammed into my world this year and in only TWO tracks imprinted his style and musical knowledge onto my playlist; Fans Against Doping is - in two words - fekkin slamming but it was this second track that really won me over. Dutty Water is brilliantly realised, creatively arranged reggae that pays such a bow of respect to it's predecessors, it fair took my breath away. It's a given that if someone is going to take on my own favourite genre, I'd be harsher than most but this is a perfect reggae track in all respects. Sufficient references to reggae's old school, and enough modern production nous is what I'd expect from a reggae track, but I wouldn't have expected the performance that this vocalist delivers on this wonderfully uplifting track.

OnOffOn - Bridge To Presage CD
I get - as you can imagine - a lot of CD's during the year; mostly I DO listen to them but very rarely write CD reviews. In fact I think my ONLY CD review this year was this one. I've always liked OnOffOn ever since I was first introduced to them a couple of years ago. They've always had tremendous inventive musical power at their elbow and most of their tracks are absolute masterpeices of how to do it right. Bridge To Presage however (already, I think, Album of The Year at IOMA) completely eclipses everything that has gone before; showing a breadth of experience and maturity that is truly humbling. The entirety of this album could not be summed up by taking a peice away from the whole and make sense of it. Bridge To Presage is a breathtaking, wonderfilled musical experience having it's roots in jazz and covering all the bases from here to eternity. True innovation doesn't come much better than this. If you always thought jazz was dull, I consider it my sacred duty to convince you otherwise and this is my first treatment for you. Swallow it down. Right Now.

Maria Daines/Paul Killington - I Am The Owner Of This Coat
Last years Artist Of The Year has been suspiciously inactive for much of the year, at least on the online scene. However, my puny, insignificant membe... ummm award paled into the background when the full glare of internet publicity (Ed: ain't that a hoot?) fell on Maria and Paul when they also won IOMA's Artist Of The Year 2005 Award. That, my friends, is pressure. Nonetheless, I've been keeping tabs on the Cambridgeshire contingent and know that they have lots of real-world stuff happening (a live band, gigs, opening of supermarkets, that kind of thing) but they've also become highly involved with animal welfare; as is typified here in the most heart-breaking song you are ever likely to hear - whatever your thoughts on animal welfare are. With its understated arrangement and production, I Am The Owner Of This Coat leaves Maria to fully express every single emotion it is possible for that tremendous voice to pour into an already emotive subject. The CD Music United For Animals has just been released and boasts this front and centre as track one - which it is, in every respect. (Ed: right, and this would be the vocalist you keep referring to as The Gob would it?)

One Kids Lunch - Prayer For The Clueless
One of my personal Soundclick favourites this year, OKL can sit back in this New Year knowing that they have infected my hard drive with FIVE tracks; one of only three bands to do that this year. Mind you, OKL can certainly live up to their intial promise, as any of those tracks can show. However the classic pop (think Beatles) that they delivered with this quite silly track (hey read the lyrics, I laughed like a drain) ensured them a look-in for Artist Of The Year - let alone the five tracks I mentioned (this one; Nah; Okiedokielala; Fly Me and Things To Do). As inventive lyrically as they are musically, One Kids Lunch have given me much pleasure this year and a feel good artist you really should get to know better. Prayer For The Clueless is one of the funniest takes on Christianity and its meaning in our lives I have ever heard and my wife agrees and she practices it on a daily basis. Me, I'm probably bound for that hot place for my incessant curiosity, which OKL also fulfil quite handily too. I expect big things from this crew...

Smalllife - Need To Buy A Woman
The other big winner this year with five tracks nailed to my hard drive comes from Smalllife, a classic rock band in every respect. To be sure, there are plenty of bands around who do classic rock, and many who do it well. However there's a substantial difference between playing classic rock music and BEING it, ya know what I mean? Each successive track just serves to hammer home that difference with explosive performances (a nigh impossible task in sterile recording environments) and first class production. What really single them out as being something very special indeed is the songwriting quality and insane rock vocal ability of Jaymz Lee Shaw, it's frontman. These guys were born to sound like this....

Ditheramb - Crushed To Dust
Trust Austraila to turn everything on its head, as Ditheramb easily expand the genre that is known as metal. Again, from a standing start Ditheramb have established themselves well in the space of the year. Now on more websites than you can shake a stick at, Ditheramb are one of the most likely bands to appear higher in these awards as this track will amply illustrate. There are many sides to this excellent power group, all of them fascinating in their own right but this one snagged me most,,,

Xanthe - Social Awkwardness
Consider that this artist hasn't emitted so much as a peep throughout the whole of 2006. How - in Gods Green Earth, you may be sputtering - is it possible she can issue ONE track and it immediately snags a track of the year? Well, consider this. I have known Xanthe for over four years now and she has consistently figured in my year end awards for a plain and simple reason - there is no-one quite like her. Over that time Xanthe has shown time and time again that she has an unerring grip on what works and what doesn't. Allied to that she sings with a quiet power that has captured her many fans, this reviewer amongst them. Social Awkwardness is an absolutely classic Xanthe performance in every respect and shows her time out of this insanity did her no harm at all. Social Awkwardness is a masterclass of understatement but which carries such a sucker punch it ain't even funny. The lady is in the house.

Phew, and not even a break for commercials....

Artist Of The Year 2006
So it is blindingly obvious now at the end of the year who the clear winners are; in contention for the award all year has been pretty evenly spilt between the bands I have already named; Cam's Even Song, Smalllife, One Kids Lunch, The Shed and - surprise surprise - Fear 2 Stop. Admittedly, F2S were in the running more for their brave new look than for the quality of the music but hey, they have made a major breakthrough and I am happy for them. (One day guys, one day...) All of the first four artists I mentioned have delivered a huge amount of musical pleasure to me this year and if the Artist Of The Year were just about that, we would have four winners this year. It isn't, of course, JUST about the music and that is where - I hope - my award may differ from a good many. For me as the person unlucky enough to have forced myself to choose between these equally appealling musicians, the essential point of the AOTY award has always been about that special difference that makes them stand out more than others. Consider the roll call of past AOTY award winners; Nad Sylvan (2003), Jim-n-Lisa (2004), Maria Daines and Paul Killington (2005). Not a dud among them and all more than worthy of real world success as well as getting a bit of it on here. But what else are they, besides extremely talented musicians? All of those artists defined what had been going on that year and - probably unknown to them even - came to the party with the right ethos and attitude to really do well out there in the wider internet world. All of those artists continue to dazzle to this day and make me immensely proud that they have proved eminently worthy of my (and your) trust. The next AOTY also brings that same ethos and attitude to this little world of ours and proveably makes a difference. Please note the italics. It should come as no surprise whatsoever that my Artist Of The Year 2006 is...

Cam's Even Song (Cam Bastedo)

Believe me when I say that I have struggled and struggled against Cam getting this award because we are close, and I would hate for this to be seen somehow as a reward for being a friend. The devil of it is, Cam has made it quite impossible for me NOT to grant him this singular (but slightly used) honour and again the facts bear me out. With no less than SEVEN tracks on my hard drive the music machine that powers Cam's Even Song, Cam Bastedo, Retrograde Pop and Sonic Salad should have won the award on that basis alone. Not just good tracks, mind. KILLER. The two I picked as Tracks Of The Year are but two of a veritable flood of great tracks from this artist this year. IMHO Cam has picked up some considerable speed and recognition factor this year, all so richly deserved, and I expect that his increasing lyrical maturity will only get more powerful and more imaginative. Which is quite a bold statement to make considering the deluge of Cam quality we have experienced this year in every respect. I believe the man is just getting started, as it happens, and I look forward to the coming year with intense interest on behalf of all Cam watchers everywhere. A singular artist, a pillar of the Soundclick community since the year dot and a concise and instructive reviewer into the bargain. Cam does it all with infinite charm and grace and is a worthy AOTY for all those qualities.


Aaaallllllrighty then. Phew. The excitement. The tension.

2006 for most of us was - as ever - a turbulent year. Along with the list of the superstar Fallen can be added signifcant numbers of unsigned, unknown artists but I'd like to mention at least two of them because I knew them personally. The year opened with the tragic and most untimely death of Canadian singer Mary Gottschalk long an MP3 stalwart and respected songwriter at a time when it appeared she was just beginning to make significant headway in this scene. She is much missed by myself and a great many others. Her creative flame is being kept alive by her husband and a new CD of unreleased material is expected shortly, A South African artist I first met about 3 years ago Pagoda wasn't always musically to my taste but he was a decent, honourable person who made a lot of friends who will miss him. I do hope the year was kinder with you, and that this coming year gives you all you need to thrive and survive.

So, there we have it. Let me restate something. These are my own personal choices based on what has passed by my earholes this year. A lot you may agree with and a lot you won't but hey, that's the stuff of life. My utmost thanks, as always, to the hundreds (nay fekkin thousands) of musicians who have trusted me with their babies this year - I hope I have done them some justice, been honest with myself and you and raised a chuckle here and there. 2006 has been an incredible year musically, as I survey the tracks and artists that stand out most over the year. It is a constant surprise just how good most of the music is on sites like Soundclick, MP3 Unsigned, Songplanet, and millions of other sites which deserve your support. All of which should lead you straight back to my opening thoughts... Now that, my friends, is mastery of language.

OK, sure I'll settle for mutilation too...


On to the next....

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