Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Year End Review of 2008 (The Stevies!)

So, here we are again at the end of one year and the beginning of the next so it must mean that oil stain on my character needs to vent the years doings by coming up with my own (highly personal) review of the year and some of the musicians who have made the year happen for this reviewer. It all, of course, means squat out there in the real world. After all, who gives a twopenny toss WHO is my Artist Of The Year? For that you would have to speak to past winners of this tawdry bauble but when I mention names such as Nad Sylvan (AOTY 2003), Jim-n-Lisa (AOTY 2004), Maria Daines and Paul Killington (AOTY 2005), Cam's Even Song (AOTY 2006) and Omnisine (AOTY 2007) you can be sure that consistency and ability is but one part of the whole picture. Anyway, more on that later, let's get started...

Welcome to the Sixth Annual Stevies Awards, my own personal round-up of the tracks and artists that have made an impact with me - and my readers - over the past year. Please note that these awards have nothing whatsoever to do with Soundclick or any other website that hosts my reviews, or with any of the musicians featured. This is just my personal impression of the year just past and is based on the amount of tracks that managed to stick to my hard drive this year. So what kind of year has 2008 been generally? Well, I expanded my reach a bit more by the continued success of my Rebelriffs blog which is going great guns at the moment, giving me a goodly slice of the tracks I have reviewed this year. other tracks came from an assortment of sites primarily Soundclick, MP3 Unsigned, POPspace, MySpace and a million other budding OMD's (Ed: OMD=Online Musical Distributor).

Words on the Community we live in

My home site, Soundclick, appears to be doing slightly better in terms of forum activity and - wonder of wonders - the owners of the site have become increasingly more visible on the forums and that is definitely a good thing. Their new system for the musicians is still only in Preview but I am quite excited about some of the changes they have made, many of them based on forum suggestions. Sooner the better, I say. The forum too seems to have gained SOME impetus from the inclusion of a Forum button on the front page and we can only hope that this continues because IMHO the forums are a vital and needed part of what Soundclick offers to the musician.

I still have tremendous loyalty to MP3 Unsigned and POPSpace because of their attitude towards the musicians they host; POP in particular being an absolute goldmine of outstanding artists as you will see when we get into the Tracks Of The Year section. However, this year I would like to highlight a new site that is....mmmm how can I put this?......actually an old site. A while ago a musician called Dazed (hey big guy!) put his money where his mouth is and bought the old Mixposure name and is now hosting a vibrant and exciting new site. Although at this moment it is awash with guitarists and their mates, the roster is slowly expanding to include some of the more original artists around. It's also the new location for the ever popular Mike-K's Saturday Night Rocks, whose shows have sustained this reviewer for years and is unquestionably my favourite internet radio show.

All in all, I'd say that the scene that I kinda/sorta cover is in good health this year, although I have noticed a discernible lull in the amount of knockout tracks I have been getting. Quite why that should be, I really don't know other than the fact that I am reviewing things from just about everywhere and in every state, some years are bound to be better than others.


Again, let me make this clear from the beginning, this is my own PERSONAL opinion and there are bound to people who disagree vehemently with my choices. In which case, I urge them to go ahead and write their own versions - which I have noticed happening this year for the first time.

2008's Movers and Shakers

Those artists who have made an impression on me one way or another are listed - and in no particular order. The letters after the names denotes their home site: MP3U=MP3 Unsigned, POP=Popspace and Project Overseer Productions main site, MS=MySpace. All the others either come from Soundclick or are from sites I don't normally frequent or are too small to count right now. So 2008's winners are :

333maxwell - Azoora - Cam's Even Song - Cant Stop The Daggers - MD1-Project (MP3U) - Pilesar - Largo - The Antennaheadz - Dan E Peck (MP3U) - Corey Drumz - Steve Altonian - Stella Polaris Project (MP3U) - Wired Ascention (POP) - Mike-K - Crockmister (MP3 Unsigned) - David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble (POP) - Cameron Pierce - Refrag - The Sugar Dames - Charlie A - Amadeo (MS) - Frankfurt Dialog Company - Road Apples - Oji / Ascension Team (MS) - Kiria (MS) - Minimack - Laroche - Sound Radius - Slippy-T (MP3U)

A very heartening thing about this list that there are LOADS of new names in there, even when veterans such as Refrag, Crockmister, Slippy T and others show that there is life in them too.

2008 Tracks Of The Year Overview

This year I reviewed just over 400 tracks and listened to hundreds more in some form or other. What counts though is what sticks to my hard drive and this year only 119 made the cut, considerably down on last year btw. Not all of these 119 could make it into this section because I weed it down further by adding all these tracks to a constantly running playlist that is - gradually over the year - weeded out until only a certain number are left, these then become Tracks Of The Year. Like last year, a lot of musicians got considerably more than one Must Have but however many there are, they can only have on TOTY, even though I might mention others. Top of that list is, as usual Cam's Even Song - winner of Artist Of The Year 2006 - (with 8!) but I am enormously biased and I recognise it. He is followed closely by Azoora (7), The Antennaheadz (6), Can't Stop The Daggers and MD1-Project (5 each), so its pretty clear already who has had a good year. Anyway, as usual, here is a breakdown of what I kept each month.

Exceptional Tracks by the Month

Unifaun - Birth Of A Biggie
60 Hertz - VTEI
Rob Preston (aka Pink Bomb) - What About Us
Corey Drumz - To Let You Know
Cam's Even Song - It's Just Like That
Dan E Peck - Beachin MP3U
Can't Stop The Daggers - High
Stella Polaris Project - Private Road
Steve Altonian - Tell Me Why
Carol Douglas - Too Numb Too Cry (with Nigel Potter)

Stella Polaris Project - Dragonfly
Side Seat Driver - People
Confusion Said - Find Another Way
Cam's Even Song - Words You Said
Wired Ascention - Dark
Mike-K - Why Am I So Blue Ft Jim Miller and Christopher Martin Hansen
Slippy-T - Bleak
Can't Stop The Daggers - Changing My Mind (Azoora Remix)
M J K - Movin On
dcallen - The Main Intermezzo

Azoora - Restless
Tedd-Z - Senseless Logic
Crockmister - Just My Morning
David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble - Lay Down Your Guns
Cameron Pierce - Cognitive Vacuum
Can't Stop The Daggers - Go Driving Fast
Alchemystic - Dark Omen

Largo - Heal In Time
Can't Stop The Daggers - Faking It Well
Onager - Dagonet (A Radiant Mourning)
Stephen Bellm - Raga Primavera
Refrag - Cant Opener/Deligion
The Antennaheadz - I Never Found A Reason Until Today
Svenni Bjorgvins - Into The Wind
The Sugar Dames - Enough For You

Charlie A - Epique
MD-1 Project - Altered States
Largo - My Head
Azoora - Revelations EP

Wreckless Music (Ejay) - So Focused (Stand Up)
Steve Altonian - New York City Cowboy
MD-1 Project - Latinotekk
Iannai - Scattered Peices
Amadeo - Artist Overview
Crockmister - A Long Dry Season (Video)
The Antennaheadz - The Boy Who Took The World

Cam's Even Song - We're The People
Eric Oberg - Prosperous Dude
MD-1 Project - World Eclipse
Dawn Sinclair - Golden Years
Pilesar - Beef On Fire
Cameron Pierce - Young Lost and Lovely

Azoora - She's Coming Dubmix
Frankfurt Dialog Company - Do or Die (A summer song)
333maxwell - Carousel
The Antennaheadz - Dead Horse
Azoora - Temptress Ft Peter Garland
MD-1 Project - I fcuked Aphex Twin
Crockmister - Refugee
Cam's Even Song - A Touching Place
Steve Altonian - Holdin' On
Road Apples - Beautiful Creation
Can't Stop The Daggers - No More Looking For Escapes
Daysahead - You Move Me
We Are All Dying - The Reason

Oji / Ascension Team - Collective Conscious Project CD
Cam's Even Song - Seeing Darkness
Whitman Speck - Suburban Hell
Pilesar - Sorry (with Big Ship)
333maxwell - Post War Dreaming
Fluidity - Possession and Exorcism
Groyse Metsie - Mein Shtetala
The Antennaheadz - Game Of Love
The Realest - Drowning Beat
SilentWave Ent - I Rap

MD-1 Project - Giugno 2008
Cam's Even Song - Mythology
Wreckless Music (Ejay) - Old Times
David Orrick - Acrobat - radio edit
Dan E Peck - Peace Pipe
The Antennaheadz - Everyone is Weird
Kiria - Radio
Largo - This Morning
Minimack - $Dro and Drank$
The SolitaireOne - Memories Of Yesterday

Kay'Vion - Artist Overview
The Antennaheadz - A Modern Secret
333maxwell - After Hours
David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble - Downloading Life
Dan E Peck - The Demize
Michael Hughes - Cold Rain Water
Musicarian - Get Your Soul Reborn

Black Ice 9 - Hall of the Serpent Lord
National Snack - Apply Machine EP
Can't Stop The Daggers - Changing My Mind
The Antennaheadz - Ill
Azoora - The Big Bang EP
Mike-K - Midnight (Electric Version)
Charlie A - Hopefull
Pilesar - Gator Wrasslin' - All Sold Out
Laroche - Winter Warmth

Phew! So, out of all those tracks you may be surprised to note that only 15 separate artists made it into the final Tracks Of The Year list. These are tracks I consider to be absolutely outstanding either technically or musically (and there can be several frome ach artist as you will see) or both and appear in no particular order.

2008 Tracks Of The Year

Steve Altonian - New York City Cowboy and Tell Me Why
I'm a sucker for a good song, regardless of the genre its couched in and Steve Altonian's songs are well special, especially if you like classy country music. New York City Cowboy has stayed on my playlist all year as has Tell Me Why because I reviewed both in the first quarter of 2008. A very talented songwriter and musician.

Cam's Even Song - It's Just Like That/We're The People/A Touching Place/Seeing Darkness/Mythology
2006's Artist of the year Cam's Even Song just keep rolling out the hits in an endless blizzard and this year has seen some truly extraordinary examples of this Canadian musicians talent. You would think that someone so prolific would drop the occasional clanger but not this guy. Out of the EIGHT must haves this musician got, I still couldn't sort out any less than five that I would say are amongst his best work.

Can't Stop The Daggers - High/Changing My Mind (Azoora Remix)/Go Driving Fast/Changing My Mind
Absolutely no question in my mind that one of the major finds this year is Can't Stop The Daggers, a five piece American band that has delivered some outstanding tracks this year; most of which are featured above. They have also given me a lot of demos this year, none of which made it into this list because - well, it would be too silly wouldn't it?. I loved both versions of Changing My Mind and Go Driving Fast almost more than anything else I have heard this year. Beautifullly constructed songs performed by musicians who know exactly what they want.

Azoora - Restless/Revelations EP/She's Coming Dubmix/Temptress Ft Peter Garland/The Big Bang EP
Azoora, by a country mile, ruled everything this year and yes I am a little biased. Firstly they are just jaw droppingly good musicians, killer songwriters and outstanding arrangers, all of which makes all of their FREE 23 seconds EPs THE must have for this - or any other - year. I have been around a long time, and I have heard almost everything the net has to offer and nothing comes close to this band in any form. These guys should/will be huge someday and these early releases will become a cornerstone for what Indie musicians can do. If you doubt me, listen to She's Coming Dubmix which has hardly been off my playlist since I first heard it. Grab them while you may.

Tedd-Z - Senseless Logic (MP3U)
Its always nice when someone I have known for a long time blindsides me, and this year Tedd-Z did it to me with this absolutely rock solid chunk of electronica. I think it's mix of D&B and dub/dancehall is a major factor in its appeal but so also is Tedd-Z quite massive step forward in production techniques. If you are looking for something for your next dance party, this will go down a storm.

Crockmister - Just My Morning and A Long Dry Season (Video) (MP3U)
Wouldn't feel like the end of the year unless there are a couple of Crockmister tracks nestled on my hard drive, and this year is no different. Crockmister has been a fixture in these reviews ever since I started them and a listen to either of these tracks will show you why. He is a wonderfully rounded vocalist, whose song writing style I find second to none - as professional as it gets. Take a quick listen to Just My Morning and it will become obvious. The reason I include a video here is also evident if you see it... One guy, one guitar and an incredible peice of kit :)

Refrag - Cant Opener/Deligion
Back in the day on Soundclick (2003-4) Refrag was a much loved and respected character on the forums and musically one of the most adventurous I have ever heard. Refrag has no rules when it comes to making music (see, my kind of guy), mixing and matching whatever seems to fit AND doing it flawlessly. It was great to hear something new from this artist after such a long break.

Charlie A - Epique
As you all know I am not taken with soundtrack musicians but amongst them there are some very worthwhile artists, notably Sound Radius and Charlie A. Charlie come up with this track in May and I've played it to death ever since then. The main reason is because it features a vocal and a great sound structure as well as Charlie's usual instrumental talent.

MD-1 Project - World Eclipse/I fcuked Aphex Twin
Its a given that the enfant terrible of MP3 Unsigned (and other points to Pluto) would feature strongly this year but even I was surprised to find that he had FIVE of his hard edged 'freakbeat' tracks nesting on my playlist. These are my favourite two tracks of his this year. Believe me, you have to hear this to see just why this musician is so different to your normal electronica.

Whitman Speck - Suburban Hell
Surprisingly enough, hip hop done extremely well with me this year and that monthly list above is sprinkled with some of the best hiphop tracks I have heard this year. This one is extra special. I have only heard one Whitman Speck track but this is just so good, I couldn't stop playing it.

Pilesar - Sorry (with Big Ship)
Pilesar managed to land at least three tracks on my hard drive this year but Sorry just hits every single one of my 'oh my god, harder, faster' buttons. Part of that is the usual Pilesar sound weirdery but I have to admit that this collaboration between one of my favourite musicians from a few years back is right up my street - as lo-fi as it is.

333maxwell - Post War Dreaming/After Hours
Jazz is a very misunderstood genre, and often a very slighted one. Over the years I have heard some excellent jazz out of Soundclick but this musician shows just how tame (and new-age-y) a lot of it is. Admittedly his brilliant reproduction of 1940's jazz bands on Post War Dreaming swept me away but special mention to for After Hours; both examples of classic jazz that would appeal right across genres.

The Antennaheadz - The Boy Who Took The World /Everyone is Weird/ A Modern Secret/Ill
We've already had the enfant terrible of MP3 Unsigned, so let me introduce you to the Soundclick equivalent, Thomas J (aka The Antennaheadz). His Chameleon Dish Archive EP 'Let Them Down Gently' is another free release that shows just how good (and original) indie music can be. Three of its tracks are featured above.

David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble - Downloading Life/Lay Down Your Guns (POPspace)
I've known of this Australian artist for a couple of years but this multi-continent collaboration is awesome even before it starts making music. Featuring 25 musicians from Europe, the USA, Canada, the UK, India, Singapore and elsewhere, these two tracks show just how possible a major project like this is nowadays. Downloading Life, in particular is a splendid track.

Dan E Peck - The Demize (MP3U)
Last but not least is a guitarist who has blown my ears off several times this year, a fluid, dynamic player who gives new meaning to the words 'guitar instrumental' To my mind, if you are going to make music of this type and your name isn't Clapton, Beck or Page, don't expect too many listeners. Unless, that is, you can manage to sound like all three. Dan does this with consummate style.

2008 Artist Of The Year

Now for the big one. For the greater part of the year this award (unlike last year) has been a fairly easy call; only three artists have consistently rung every one of the bells necessary for this kind of status. Right from the start Azoora and Can't Stop The Daggers were the obvious choices for me. Azoora because of their incredibly professional approach and flawless song writing and arranging skills and the standout two EPs they released this year through the 23seconds netlabel. The same pretty much can be said for Can't Stop The Daggers who could well be the US version of Azoora, so closely do these two bands follow each other - except not musically of course. Can't Stop The Daggers have also released some significant tracks this year but I have a feeling that they are only just getting started. Both bands also embody what I consider are the very best of ideals for Indie musicians and that is a sure fire way to gain an AOTY slot.

However, another act came from left field and started mopping up the competition for this particular award very early on and has kept that momentum going all year. As I've explained before to get an AOTY award, the music is but a part of the criteria I apply to choose the winner. Allied to that is the musicians willingness to bend and shape themselves to fit in with the scene, nay to be a substantial part of it. Finally, it comes down to attitude as well as aptitude and attitude is what really decided my choice this year.

My Artist Of The Year 2008 is...

Thomas J/The Antennaheadz

Hey!! You may be shouting, he is just a lo-fi, johnny-come-lately warbler isn't he? Well, no he isn't although that may well be the impression you would get lately. Matter of fact, part of my reason for choosing Thomas is BECAUSE of his latest tracks; wonderful songs full of humour and warmth and an incredible retro feel. A larger part is because of his long time commitment both to his own music and to Soundclick forum life. By commitment, let me give you an example. I first met Thomas in 2003 in his Station For Imitation guise and I think I probably give him more shit than he ever gave me. He took that critical abuse right on the chin and went on his own, highly distinctive, way. He was always determined to do it his own way and now I - and several hundred others I suppose - see only too well why he was so obsessed. On a more personal note, this is one of those years when I feel that the award has been justly deserved in so many ways.


OK, now lets all get to the champagne!!

I'd like to thank everyone who has trusted me with their babies this year, it's a task I do take extremely seriously - even if it sometimes doesn't seem so. There are sooooo many different artists I get through in a year it is impossible that everyone would get onto this particular review but hey, maybe this year will be your lucky one? You can but try...

Thank you all, and I hope you had as good a time in 2008 as I did.


Johan said...

I am really impressed by your work! Respect!

Johan Lundin

Anonymous said...

Never realised you did so many reviews, thought it was just at POP. Very interesting read I shall be checking out some of the artists mentioned here and definitely your AOTY.