Monday, January 07, 2008

The Year End Review of 2007 (The Stevies!)

Hello and welcome to the Fifth Annual Stevies Awards, which mean nothing whatsoever to any artist named, other than a pat on the back from a fellow artist or two... So why do it then? Well, because it keeps me off the streets, and hey its a way of passing the time. It should be noted right off the bat that these are my own personal views and have nothing whatsoever to do with Soundclick OR its management; they are just kind enough (Ed: or just plain unlucky) to let me mouth off in here.

This year is actually a landmark year for me, in a couple of ways.

This is the fifth year that I have been running these year end reviews/awards on Soundclick and that's some achievement on its own. Moreover, this year also marks the fifteenth year I have been doing reviews like this on-line. Although everything that is happening right now originated out of Soundclick (of which more later) I have been reviewing on-line music through many other sites and, before that, on Usenet and before that on BBS's (anyone remember them?). People often accuse me of being 'too soft' on artists or even - I noticed somewhere lately - 'sycophantic'. Hey, I like what I like and I do not intend to do it any differently. Some people accuse me of being too technical and some people accuse me of not being too technical enough, so whichever way I review I am bound to ruffle someone's feathers. So, let me make this crystal clear once and for all. I write these reviews for other people than the artist concerned. I write them for that nebulous entity 'the listeners', which is why my approach is quite different to other reviewers. The listener couldn't give a toss HOW you made the track, all they care about is whether or it it affects them and I review in the same way and the people who read my reviews understand that and they are the reason I keep doing this thankless (yep, that's what I said) task.

As I say, the awards and year end review concept originally came about on Soundclick because it had a large, active community (of which more later) and I wanted to highlight some of the very best talent I found there. That first year (2003) I selected Nad Sylvan as my Artist Of The Year. Nad also appears this year in a new group with old Soundclick friend Bonamici in the group called Unifaun. You'll find that listed in the MUST HAVE section of this review. Nad was followed by Jim-n-Lisa (2004), Maria Daines and Paul Killington (2005), Cam's Even Song (2006). I state here and now that I am proud to have chosen those people as being that special, because they all are - in their own different ways. Incidently, all of them either feature in some way in my MUST HAVE or Track Of The Year section in this years review. There will be a bit of a wait to discover who 2007's Artist Of The Year is going to be, so let's get off that subject while we still can...

Soundclick is still the main focus for these reviews although this year has also been one of expansion - the blog gathers some very dedicated readers - and taking in artists from lots of other sites. This year I have reviewed tracks requested through my own review blog, Soundclick, MP3 Unsigned, Songplanet, Popspace, Myspace, Artist Launch, Indieviews, Indiehitz Productions and loads of other small MP3 sites. The reviews themselves also appear on many of the sites mentioned.

I may be just li'l ol' me, but I know a lot of people so nrrrr :D

Words On The Web We Weave

As usual with these awards, lets' get the big stuff out of the way first; the places where we all live and communicate, the on-line OMDs (OMD=Online Music Distributor). Soundclick has undergone a massive change over the last year becoming more of a 'lets be friends' site than it's original stated intent as a musicians OMD. There are lots of complaints of course but hey, we all have to live with it right? Sure, we can do that, although I'm sure now of what the price might be. The heaviest cost to Soundclick of these changes is the gradual disintegration of the community that once lived on the forums. When I first moved my reviews from another site to Soundclick back in 2003, the forum was buzzing and extremely lively with many great threads and lots of characters who have since become very well known indeed inside - and outside - Soundclick itself. I am proud that - along with Cam, Doug Cash and other long term reviewers - we managed to turn around a moribund forum (Ed: he means practically lifeless) and turned it into the powerhouse forum known as Critics Corner.

Here, at the beginning of 2008, there is a very different picture emerging.

For the past year I have noticed a massive falling off in the number of posters/readers in ALL forums but particularly Critics Corner. This forum has been a massive source of interest to pretty much any Soundclick user but is a resource equally massively underused, more especially so in the last few months after (yet another) forum 're-organisation'. Whereas I used to get somewhere in the region of 35+ tracks in a 24 hour period on my Soundclick reviews list, these days I struggle to get 20. Not because my reviews aren't wanted, as the other music sites amply show, just that SC's forum community has splintered and emigrated to those other sites because of so many changes. I'm hoping that 2008 will turn that around, but I'm not laying any bets on it. I said these things to Soundclick staff before but got nowhere and this seems the best place to air this subject. I'd be interested in talking to anyone who share this opinion.

Having a very busy year on my own work (Ed: he IS a musician too remember) I have only recently gone back to picking up tracks from MP3 Unsigned, which has already borne solid fruit as my Tracks Of The Year will show, Songplanet, its radio, it's excellent DJ's and its singular approach gives me my continuing rock fix and lastly Chris Bishop's excellent Popspace has given me an entirely new place in which to peddle my wares; reviews and music. For those just starting this whole on-line music thing, as a long time on-line music operator I can only give you one piece of advice: spread yourselves out among as many sites as you can manage, it ALWAYS pays off.


As always, these awards are a highly personal opinion and have no bearing outside my own delusional mind and this year I have approached the subject slightly differently. I usually start by listing artists in rankings but this year I forgo that and just those artists who have made an impression on me one way or another are listed - and in no particular order.

2007's Movers and Shakers

Alchemystic - Avalanche - Omnisine - Fluidity - Cameron Pierce - Jim-n-Lisa - Cam's Even Song - Fear 2 Stop - One Kids Lunch - Pilesar - Crockmister (MP3Unsigned) - Soul Dust - Prash - Maria Daines - Alderman - Big Wheel - Azoora - Nuff X - Chistopher Martin Hansen - Mike-K - Cam's Even Song - dcallen - Fluidity - M J K - -LMS- Miami - Stella Polaris Project (MP3 Unsigned) - The Antennaheadz - Close (India) - Rude Corps - Project Overkill - Sound Radius - 1969 - Denny Schneidemesser - Tim Turner (Popspace) - Redshirt Theory (MP3 Unsigned)

Best Websites for musicians?
MP3 Unsigned or Popspace; both have active, sharing communities of like-minded people and the websites are run for the benefit of all.

Best Website Overall
Has to be Soundclick. Now at 3 and a quarter million members Soundclick is still far and away the largest OMD on-line and it definitely has the largest audience for many of us. It remains to be seen how the changes they have instituted will fare during the coming year and I wish them well with it.

Now for the really good stuff - the music...

2007 Tracks Of The Year

If you are one of those people who hates lists, this is where you should probably stop reading...

This year I have reviewed just under 400 tracks and heard roughly double that figure while going about my daily doings. Nonetheless, what sticks to my hard drive is what counts on that score and when you start looking at that, the numbers drop rapidly. Out of that 400 or so tracks, just under a hundred managed to survive the year intact and not all of them are tracks of the year, just the very best of the bunch. Last year there were 14 winners, the year before 12 so you can see, I do a fair bit of vetting to get the final results.

Two changes this year; firstly I'm also giving you a month by month breakdown of tracks I deemed either MUST HAVEs or of particular interest and secondly - because of the level of releases this year - I am including some artists who share more than one Track Of The Year. Some have delivered several tracks I would have deemed worthy for that status but there can only be one award per artist, no matter how many 'classics' you deliver. Life just sucks, doesn't it? Still, IMHO these artists have made themselves stand out above the crowd this year in a big way and I'm sure there aren't going to be that many surprises in this section. So, let's be at it.

Exceptional Tracks by the Month
Omnisine - In The Name Of God
Charlie A - Broken China
The Shed - Every Leaf

M J K - Never Loved Me
Amorphix - Beyond The Veil Of Light
Jim-n-Lisa - Sixteen Grams
Omnisine - Crimson Stars
Cam's Even Song - Gonna Sell Something to a Telephone Salesman
Fear 2 Stop - Givin' In

Azoora - Marzipan
Big Wheel - Curve
Avalanche - The Golden Sun
Kelly Sweet - Raincoat
Alchemystic - Cerulean Skies
Alderman - Visions

Nuff X - Undefined
Cam's Even Song - My Castle by the Sea
Sirisat Julia Claire - Searching 'Ong Namo'
Apesoundscapes - HazyDayz

Christopher Martin Hansen - In The Hedgerow
Maria Daines - Save Yourself
Azoora - Desert Storms
Lucie Dubue and John Collins - Men In Uniform
Big Wheel - Prism
UniFaun - To The Green Faerie

dcallen - Is This a Problem?
Sound Radius - Our Crowning Moment Suite
Christopher Martin Hansen - Dos Sol Etude
Denny Schneidemesser - The Magic Of Rain
Fluidity - Apologetic Me
Alderman - Sunset Over Andama Sea

Nuff X - Some Kind Of Beautiful
Soul Dust - About You
Mike-K - When I Think Of You with Christopher Martin Hansen
Alchemystic - Echoes From a Dead World
Cameron Pierce - Sincere Design
Matt Henderson - Easy
Fluidity - Jades Song

Avalanche - Deeply
One Kid's Lunch - Overdue Bible Commentary
Rude Corps - A Spark
1969 - Cellar Boy
Pilesar - Slipping on Eggs on the Floor
Policy Overkill - Happy Havoc Industries Overtime Mix
Cameron Pierce - Hesitation
Azoora - Love Will Find Its Own Way
Silvertrain - Nine Lives EP

One Kid's Lunch - Moment Of Truth
Pilesar - It's A Surprise (Open Your Eyes)!
Fluidity - Did It Again
Crockmister - Going Down To Babylon
Prash - Naach Na Na
Alchemystic - A Cold Light In The East
Terry Prong and Jim Miller - Coaster Boy
-LMS- (Miami) - All A Dream
The Antennaheadz - April

Cameron Pierce - What I Need You To Know
Close (India) - Always Winter
dcallen - Closed For Repairs
Stella Polaris Project - Hello Anonymous
Alchemystic - Into Infinity
IQ The Goon To End Them All - Old Man
Big Wheel - Beat Inertia
Potato Contraption - Sineisnt
Da Luck Ent - This Ain't Working Out
Avalanche - The Road Less Travelled
Omnisine - Slide
The Antennaheadz - Loveless Blues

Mike-K - Here We Go Again (ft Maria Daines/Jim Miller)
M J K - This Is Goodbye
The Antennaheadz - Mr Panache
Close (India) - Ghost Desert
Tedd-Z - Propaganda Ft. Civilian Slave
Stella Polaris Project - The Question
Christopher Martin Hansen - Caravan
Project Overseer - Eastern Passion
Fluidity - Pendulum
Sumit - Changes

Omnisine - Mora Piya
dcallen - When The Sky Falls
Big Wheel - All Over
Dan E Peck - Ibanez Strut (Bach)
Close (India) - Mouse Party
Tim Turner & Co - Diary Of A Nobody
Cam's Even Song - No Limits
M J K - Lose You
Youth_UK - Guessing Games
iOD!NE - Meander
-LMS- Miami - The End Of The World
Souls In Chains - Sleep With Angels
Redshirt Theory - Inside You

2007 Tracks Of The Year

Jim-n-Lisa - Sixteen Grams
Starting off with some previous Artist Of The Year's, Jim-n-Lisa have had a relatively quiet year, mainly because Jim Miller is working on every collaboration in sight. However, they did deliver this little gem in February and its rarely been off my playlist since. A classic J-n-L track.

Cam's Even Song - Gonna Sell Something To A Telephone Salesman/My Castle by the Sea
Last years Artist Of The Year continues in fine form too, with a couple of tracks that could well stand up to his previous releases, especially Telephone Salesman which is a particular favourite. Cam's Even Song continue to gain listeners and fans and rightly so...

Omnisine - In The Name Of God/Crimson Stars/Slide/Mora Piya
There's no doubt that Indian musicians have been making a big, big impression on me this year, there are no less than THREE India based artists in this years Track Of The Year awards - none more deservedly so than Omnisine. Almost every track he has been involved in this year is an undiscovered gem.

Fear 2 Stop - Givin' In
Fear 2 Stop continue to plough their own distinctive musical furrow with their usual style and aplomb and - over the course of this year - this odd, experimental track has become compulsive listening for me. I loved the direction the band stepped into last year and this is a worthy follow on. One of Soundclick's more original artists and bless them for daring to be different.

Azoora - Marzipan/Desert Storms
Out of a clutch of terrific tracks issued this year Azoora (JB Purcell, Paul Loader,Trudi Lawrance and Ben Cochrane) came up with these two monsters of how high the bar is. Class performance and production of a incredibly high standard mark these tracks as being way, way above the crowd. My own favourite is Marzipan but that's a style choice and both tracks are as state-of-the-art (performance, arrangements, production) as you will hear anywhere. As good as it gets.

Alderman - Visions/Sunset Over Andama Sea
Another artist who continues to grow at an amazing pace, my old friend Leif Liljeqvist (aka Alderman). It is especially pleasing to me to say that Alderman has had an excellent year - typified by this pair of contrasting tracks. In the four years or so I have known him this artist has dabbled in every musical genre known to humankind and nowhere to better effect than on SunsetOAS (world music) and Visions (film music). A worthy introduction to this artist if you don't know of him.

dcallen - Is This A Problem?
Reappearing during 2007 after an absence Dave Allen (aka dcallen) immediately stamped his presence with this excellent piece of electronica. Always a feature of these year end reviews in previous years, it is a distinct pleasure to welcome this artist back as this track will amply demonstrate. dcallen has his own brand of melodic electronica that is a treat to the ears, almost every time and that statement covers a LOT of tracks. So don't stint at the one, delve deeper. Dave won't mind.

Stella Polaris Project - Hello Anonymous
One of the best finds I've had this year came through MP3 Unsigned when I came across this duo. Ricky Mancini (aka MD-1 Project) and Melinda Mohn are the people in question and Hello Anonymous is a great introduction to them. Although I reviewed this as late as October this year, this hasn't been far away ever since. A dark, edgy intense slice of electronic glitchery topped by a gorgeous piano and an even more gorgeouser (eh?) voice, Hello Anonymous oozes more personality per square inch than anything else around.

Christopher Martin Hansen - Dos Sol Etude/In The Hedgerow/Caravan/Delusions
Over the years, this guitarist has featured well in both reviews and year end reviews but these four tracks have applied a death grip on my earholes that won't let go. Each track shows a different side to this artist, and some are very surprising. One of Soundclicks best acoustic guitar players and IMHO the very best (Ed: biased much?).

Fluidity - Apologetic Me/Jades Song/Did It Again
New Zealand's Fluidity (aka John Paul Carroll) has had a terrific year, honing his brand of guitar rock to a pointed and very effective stick to beat us all over the head with. Over the past few years his standard of work has improved enormously, helped by his musical and lyrical visions and a continuing knowledge of the necessity of production. These three tracks show the different strains of rock he pursues so well.

Crockmister - Going Down To Babylon
He snagged a Track Of The Year 2006 with collaborator Deggsy and Lullabye In Blue so it's only fitting that he should snag one this year in his own right. Craig Sofaly (aka Crockmister) and MP3 Unsigned also supplied this absolute jaw-dropper of a track late in the year and I haven't stopped playing it yet. Crockmister has always been a faultless performer and musician but this goes way beyond that. If there was any justice in the world this man would be a HUGE star, and this would be one of his finer tracks.

Prash - Naach Na Na
A very quiet year for Prash, another musician from India, after being all over the year end reviews for the past couple of years. His return to activity in September was marked by this excellent collaboration with Sunil Choudry and is an example of just how good this artist can be. World music at its finest.

Close (India) - Always Winter/Ghost Desert/Mouse Party
Although I only met Close (from India as it 'appens) as late as October this year, the impression they have had on me is startling. A true blending of East and West is a difficult thing to pull of successfully and not only do Close pull that off with considerable style, they manage to create a very distinctive, identifiable strain of world music. I expect 2008 to be a very good year for this most satisfying of finds.

Avalanche - The Road Less Travelled/Deeply/The Golden Sun
Keeping the rock torch up and burning brightly has fallen to several groups over the years but to my mind none of them have filled the bill as meatily as Avalanche. Rock from the old school, red in tooth and claw, from a bunch of guys with enough actual experience to float a thousand 'rock schools' American rock, in all its gory glory and then some.

M J K - This Is Goodbye/Lose You/Never Loved Me
Normally I can't stand the softer side of music but when the talent shines out of it I cannot help but respond. Florida's M J K has penetrated through my usual prejudice with his masterly vocal style and songwriting ability. He has a basic sound for sure, but the voice more than makes up for it. Listen to Lose You as an example and remember I usually HATE ballads.

Heh. You were beginning to think I would never end, weren't you? Remember, that was only a small sample of what caught at me ears this year. It's a big musical world out there.

2007 Artist Of The Year

Usually in these things, the winner of this award has become fairly evident to me from early on in the year but not 2007. I can say with all honesty that out of all the choices I have made for this award, this years award has been the least clear cut of all, and not because of lack of competition as the awards above have already shown. The competition is fierce and fighting fit. However, as always, the Artist Of The Year Award doesn't just take in the music, but the attitude and style of the artist themselves in their dealings in the wider community in which - hopefully - they are held up as good role models. Again, as always, there have been lots of definite contenders, many of which have ended up with a Track Of The Year anyway, but when push comes to shove the music - in this particular case - was the deciding factor. I have watched this artist from his beginning at Soundclick a couple of years ago and knew that he was something special, but the calibre and quality of his work this year has been nothing less than stunning. My Artist Of The Year 2007 is none other than....


From his days as CJ Freq-X, this artist has consistently delivered high quality, accessible electronica but the brace of tracks he has released this year surpass anything that has come before. From the anger and rock rage of In The Name Of God (a song in protest at yet another senseless bombing), through the smooth trancey style of Crimson Stars, the easy pop sophistication that permeates the excellent Slide and finally the majestic world music sweep of Mora Piya Omnisine seals the deal. Here is a musician firing on every cylinder he possesses and a couple he borrowed from his mates. Over the years I have known him I have watched his own distinctive style develop and 2007 was the year he started hitting it just right and I'll fight anyone who says otherwise. Well, I won't because I'm a well known coward, but I do know a man who can. Omnisine is going to keep on surprising us with the speed at which he changes direction but it will be a glorious ride....


So, there ya have it for another year. I look forward - even as I start digging into January's tracks - that this coming year will prove as fruitful as the last. Finally, I'd like to extend a personal thanks to all the artists who have let me paw through their work in the review process, especially those who haven't been mentioned this year, or have suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous Gilmore. Maybe your turn will come this year? You can but try...

As a man once used to say, may your God go with you...

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