Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Year End Review of 2009 (The Stevies!)

Well, look what just crawled in the door, a whole new year already...and you know what that means. So, I've got me monkey suit (Ed: Black tie and tails), my script all written out and I was just waiting for you lot to appear.

Hello and welcome to the Seventh Annual Stevies Awards, my own, highly personal look back at the year just past and a nod in the direction of the musicians and do-ers that make it all possible. These awards (non-existent btw, except in our own minds and lunchtimes) are my own choices of what impressed me last year and I have a highly developed sense of the sublime and the ridiculous in equal measure. Therefore some of my choices are likely to make you spontaneously combust and some you may heartily agree with, and I don't much care which. Like my reviews, I express my opinion and that is all, and I do it freely knowing that it is just that, one opinion among many. I try not to get hung up about this or that niggle, but whether the music moved me, or showed me something I didn't know. Tell you what though, 2009 has been a hell of a year for this reviewer - I've never had a busier year in all the time I've been reviewing. As you'll see a bit later, the quality and quantity of great material is wider and deeper than ever, and mainly because of one thing - the Rebelriffs blog. When I first started it in early 2006, I had no idea what I was kicking off into cyberspace and - as usual - was pretty much just writing for me and the musicians concerned.

In the last three years the blog has seriously taken off, so much so that December 2009's requests from it was half of Soundclick's entire output, and that's my main site for reviews! Moreover it's been ticking over nicely in terms of visitors and readers too. It's main function, however, has been to widen my reach and it's done that like gangbusters so let's have some....

Words On The Web

Putting on my musician hat a second (Audience: **** me, he's a musician??), I have discovered one essential fact about establishing yourself online. Spread yourself as wide as you can manage reasonably. I am personally active on several OMD's (Online Music Distributors); Soundclick, MP3 Unsigned, Mixposure, POP and POPSpace and those sites have been of benefit to me as a musician and as a pool of music for reviews. As a reviewer then, the Rebelriffs blog, opened me up to a whole new world of music from sites such as Myspazz, youboob (Ed: dude, you can't do that!), endless 'netlabels' and promotors and countless other smaller OMDs. It's brought me (and you I hope) some outstanding music OUTSIDE the usual 'music' sites I mentioned and that can never be a bad thing. Website forums can be pretty insular places sometimes, know what I mean?

So, Soundclick carries on apace, close on 4m members and definitely the big kid on the block numbers wise. Soundclick, in my considerably humble opinion, is good at what it does. It has spent a lot of time learning how best to manage a HUGE music community, and it's still THE only place around that places no limit on the amount of tracks you can upload without going VIP. Now while I urge people to go VIP anyway - at least if you are serious - I can understand if you have better uses for your money. On that score, Soundclick is untouchable and - for me anyway - still the centre of TRUE unsigned talent on the net.

The real surprise this year, for me anyway, has been Mixposure. See, that Mike-K. Say what you like about him, he's a shrewd cookie. When he moved his justly famed Saturday Night Rocks radio show to Mix Radio, I knew he had something - just took me a while to see what. From the initial thoughts from Dazed and a motley crew (you know who you are), the ashes of Mixposure were brought back to storming life. Broadcasting now every day of the week - see the site for details - Mix Radio is THE sound of unsigned music. Although it still has a top heavy guitarist/rock slant, the site is opening up new areas every time you look. For example, I listened to an hour of solid jazz (and I mean jazz) on New Year's Eve on the station...

MP3 Unsigned went through a change of management and are currently undergoing a new look. Where Soundclick is hip hop heavy and Mixposure is rock heavy, MP3 Unsigned seems to tread a delicate path between the two and seems to be undergoing a surge of new activity and the returning of some familiar faces (say hi, Mezzer, Slippy, clive et al). It also seems to have lost a lot of the clique-y feel that dogged it for a time there. All in all, things are coming along very nicely indeed. POP and POPSpace have not only been a good website for me (one for my own tracks, one for my more general activities) it's been an inspirational source of truly awesome music this year and the continued clamour for reviews from the blog has stopped me from doing all but grabbing the odd track or two to bring to your attention.

As I said before, these are my own personal opinions and I have no affiliation whatsoever with any of these sites other than my own activity on them. On music OMDs opinions are always going to differ but in the 'scene' (Ed: Godawful word) I inhabit, these are the main sites for most of the musicians I highlight in this review. Speaking of which...


2009's Movers and Shakers

Those artists who have made an impression on me one way or another are listed - and in no particular order.

333maxwell - Avalanche - Cam's Even Song - Cant Stop The Daggers - The Modems - Pilesar - Fortune - Thomas J Marchant/The Antennaheadz - Wreckless Music (Ejay) - Whitman Speck - Alex Highton - SimoneSongs - CharlieA - Mike-K - Pidgeman - David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble - Cameron Pierce - Wake Of Destruction - Larry Ludwick - The Dead Company - Ophelia Dorme - Cinnabar - Fear 2 Stop - Silvertrain - Stain(ed) Art - The Rascal Theorist - Frankfurt Dialog Company - The Deer Tracks - A Cry Of Hounds

2009 Tracks Of The Year Overview

As I mentioned before, 2009 was the busiest review year ever. I ended up listening and reviewing some 442 tracks over the last year, of which 13 were album and/or EP reviews, but just 167 managed to stick to my hard drive and that pretty much sums up my method for these awards; only Must Have's get the invite. Mind you 167 is up on 2008's paltry 119, and in common with past years, I have pared my own personal favourites through the year to end up with my Tracks Of The Year 2009.

Exceptional Tracks by the Month

Fear 2 Stop - Spirallin' Down
The Antennaheadz - The Head's in the Hands and its Late At Night
Mike-K - MAD!!
David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble - Sacred River
Cameron Pierce - The End of the Galaxy (If My Baby is Out There)
Cam's Even Song - Orion Station
CollabCity - Paw Paw Dog
Gangbangsters - In Decent Company
MD-1 Project - Sonic Sunday
Simonesongs - Synthetic Sugar
Confusion Said - What Lies Ahead

The Dead Company - Afternoon Show Ft Larry Ludwick
Frankfurt Dialog Company - One Day
Stain(ed) Art - For Your Own Safety (Rude Corps remix)
The Antennaheadz - Superhero
Largo - My Head 2
Bakers At Dawn - As Is CD
Fortune - When The Time Is Right
Essence - Big Bands Chicago Blues
Whitman Speck - Dead Or Alive
Cam's Even Song - Perfect Love
Minimack - My Heart Pours Out
Confusion Said - Move On
Avalanche - Will There Be A Tomorrow
Alchemystic - Destiny's Fire Feat JoeK

Fearless Vampire Killers - Fearless Vampire Killers
Pidgeman - Not Another Love Song
Fortune - Jamaica
The Deer Tracks - 127SexFrya
Mokee Dugway - Twelve (So long to city song)
Pilesar - Snort Thruster (Live)
Can't Stop The Daggers - Too Many Lights
333maxwell - Culture War
Sad Hill Cemetery - Whiskey and Sin (Road To Salinas)
The Forcefield Kids - No Signal
Kappa Danielson - Plastic Doll/That'll Be Alright...
Stealthspectre's Experimental Insanity - Haunted Realm of The Undead (Vox version)
Charlie A - Cracks In The Wall
Fear 2 Stop - Possibilities
Kristi Starr - Electric/Make God My Friend

Kashi Kollective - The Space Within CD
The Antennaheadz - Sunny Days With Things To Do
Jennifer Pearl - Even If
Ne:o - Illoj CD
333maxwell - Rush Limbaugh (an American folk song)
Tim Turner - Same Old Wrong (ft Jim-n-Lisa)
Pilesar - Ballad of the Possum Eatin' Monster
Waiting For Helen - Round and Round
Can't Stop The Daggers - Go Down Song
Ashkari - Crazy
Cameron Pierce - Hostage
Groyse Metsie - Hey
Gangbangsters - 6:17AM
Musicarian - Naey Din
Cinnibar - Visit With A Vision

Azoora - Second Coming EP
Donny Karson - Def Leppard (Astor004)
1st Dude - Bassid (Astor005)
Nad Sylvan - Long Way From Home
Fortune - Storyline
Wacky Southern Current - Ageless Calm in Times of War EP
Big Wheel - Fire (embyro)
Cam's Even Song - Strangers & Aliens
The Cherry Tree Parade - Perfectly Polyphonic
Pilesar - How Can I Stay Mad At You
333maxwell - Cancun
Larry Ludwick - Down This Road
Sunburn In Cyprus - Change
The Rascal Theorist - New Frequency
Avalanche - I Believe
Chrissy Coughlin - Artist Overview
Wreckless Music (Ejay) - Times In My Life
A Cry Of Hounds - Melody
Black Ice 9 - Duality

The Forcefield Kids - Home EP
Charlie A - Read The Rules
LadyBear - Crocuses
Larry Ludwick - Charon: A Crossing
Jon Solo - Elisabeth Shue
Minimack - Ain't Gotta (Mastered)
Avalanche - The Rules Keep Changing
Fortune - See I'm Not The Same
The Midas Touch - Motown Showdown
Mondays Not Home - Windows
Can't Stop The Daggers - Moving Target
The Dead Company - Afternoon Show (Brutal Mix)
Guanoman - The Lives and Loves of Rat Men
Silvertrain - How It Feels To Fall
333maxwell - Going Nuclear
Simonesongs - 3 Wishes
Edgar Pond - Senesence

Pidgeman - Crazy World
Ploy For Extinction - From Within EP
Minimack - 123
Whitman Speck - I Spit Hate
333maxwell - Big Band
Fortune - Influences
David Pendragon and World Tribe Ensemble - Irish Blessings
Mr Smith - Damn It Man ft LA Kid
- LMS - - Blind
Conory - I'm Still In Love (Directors Cut)
Ofelia Dorme - Sometimes Its Better To Wait EP

Charlie A - Sunny Blues
Avalanche - The Rest Of Me
Silvertrain - Lay Me Down w 333max
Barricades Rise - You and Your Adored LP
Wake Of Destruction - This Is A War
Whitman Speck - Jack The Rapper
Dance! Las Vegas - Heaven Lost An Angel
Pidgeman - On The Road
The Peach Tree - Magick
The Dead Company - Pop Star w Jon Partelow
Brave Empire - Be All You Can Be
Cinnabar - Morning Finds Its Way
Wreckless Music (Ejay) - Words Kill
Can't Stop The Daggers - January One
The Modems - This Is Why We Cry

Pidgeman - Misery Loves Company (Kiss The Abyss Remix)
Stain(ed) Art - No Mans Land (Rude Corps Remix)
Bright Midnight - For The Strange
Wake Of Destruction - Want Vs Need
333maxwell - December 31st 1989
Pilesar - Epididymitis
Fortune - Latin Thing
Thomas J Marchant - Unemployment
Crockmister - Ordinary Life
Farrell Jackson - Last Day
The Modems - Kiss Of Death
Alderman - Cuz I Like It Like Dat
The Rascal Theorist - The Electric Aftermath

Stain(ed) Art - Era: A Retrospective LP
333maxwell - Dream Girl
Wake Of Destruction - The Space Explorer
Silvertrain - I Thought I Knew You
Jackson Hart - Gypsy Princess
Avalanche - Trust The Quiet Voice
Platypus Egg - Big Bad Evil Serpent Man
Superbron - All The Rivers Flow Into The Sea
Ralph Atkinson - Building A Time Machine
Ricky - Queen Of Solitude
Celestine- Transparent
Thomas J Marchant - Sails
The Modems - The Devils Lodge

Thomas J Marchant - Beam Me Up or Put Me Down CD
333maxwell - Gitanos Expulsado in A Minor
Frequen-Cee - Bad Man Sin
Can't Stop The Daggers - One Or The Other
The Dead Company - The Pain Of Mr Who
(am) - Soundtrack CD
Pidgeman - Solitude
Cinnabar - Lost and Found II
The Modems - The Evidence
Michael Hughes - Elegy

Avalanche - Tell Us Where The Money Went
Mike-K - Moonlight Shuffle feat Mack Saunders
Alex Highton - The Woodditton Wives Club CD
333maxwell - Walking In The Rain
Silvertrain - A Chance To Die
Twisted Angel - On My Grind
DAZED - ROCKER - Dangerous
Ron Vogel - Just Know Now
Nigel Potter - Kill or Cure
Pilesar - Yellow Belly (live)
Michael Vincent Fusco - Artificial Intelligence
Just F.A.M. (Freshset) - Dreamer
Nuff X - Voices
Wake Of Destruction - List Of Demands

2009 Tracks Of The Year

Thomas J Marchant/The Antennaheadz - Superhero/Sunny Days With Things To Do/Unemployment/Sails/Beam Me Up or Put Me Down CD
With no less than seven Must Have's this year, my Artist Of The Year 2008 continues to improve and mature. As you can see, my own favourites are split between Antennaheadz tracks and under his own name. The standouts though have to be Superhero (Antennaheadz), a wonderfully wrought example of what makes this guy tick and - my own personal favourite right now - the awesome Sails. Thomas has turned into one of the best songwriters around right now, and although his sound tends to be lo-fi in many ways, the quality of the songs always but always wins through.

David Pendragon and Tribe World Ensemble - Sacred River/Irish Blessings
Australia's David Pendragon's has a busy year too, chucking tracks at me left right and centre. Many of them don't really relate to his musical side, more him as manager/fixer/sound engineer including Avalanche's new tracks. Still, he managed to slam in a couple of beautiful tracks with Tribe World Ensemble (an internet wonder in itself) showing just how good they are at evoking incredibly detailed aural visions. In particular, Sacred River, an 11 minute new age/ambient journey impressed me immensely. Now I don't do either new age or ambient that well, but the way this piece is structured and put together is just to die for. Irish Blessings shows that not only can they do the whole exotic bit, they can go for the heartstrings too. Best lyrics I've heard in a long time too. I defy you to keep a straight face while listening to this. May the road rise up to meet you...

Stain(ed) Art - For Your Own Safety (Rude Corps remix)/No Mans Land (Rude Corps Remix)/Era: A Retrospective LP
If you want a quick lesson on what made Stain(ed) Art such a welcome hip hop relief, take a listen to For Your Own Safety. This UK based rapper brought a very fresh new sound to a tired, blowsy genre and from 2005 to this year providing some classic lyrical lines as only he can deliver. Stain, unfortunately, decided to call it a day this year and Era: A Retrospective is his swansong. Brilliant swansong too, as it happens because it is a kind of Greatest Hits thing with track after track of lyrical wizardry. Got to wonder what he'll come up with next though...

Fortune - When The Time Is Right/Jamaica/Storyline/See I'm Not The Same/Latin Thing
Where past years have had alternative, electronica feels, this year is definitely a classic rock year. Boston's Fortune impressed me from the off with All Sold Out which I first reviewed in December 2008 and they have consolidated that impression immensely this year. They have gathered no less than six Must Have's over the year, some of it distinctly prog-rock flavoured and if they can win me over with that, they can do no wrong. A consummately professional band in every respect, so why are they not famous already?

Whitman Speck - Dead Or Alive/I Spit Hate/Jack The Rapper
Of all the hiphop sub genres the one that causes the most worry is the one that Whitman Speck inhabits; horror core. This is a very hard edged form of hip hop in both music style and lyrical content. One of the funniest moments I've had this year was reviewing this rapper's Dead or Alive (February) and -albeit with a sense of shame - laughing myself senseless at the very, very pointed lyrics. This is, after all, a song about necrophilia. What singles Whitman Speck out from the bloodstained mob is his musical style (sharp, pointed) and his lyrical flair. I know this definitely is not for everybody but by God it works for me.

The Modems - This Is Why We Cry/Kiss Of Death/The Devils Lodge/The Evidence
Definitely my Soundclick find of the year, The Modems came from nowhere and snatched up four Must have's in four tracks; all of them class songs and all of them as friendly as a week old puppy. Expect great things from this band in 2010.

Avalanche - Will There Be A Tomorrow/I Believe/The Rest Of Me/Trust The Quiet Voice/Tell Us Where The Money Went
The second classic rock band to score big this year, gathering as many Must Have's as Fortune; a band with which they have startling comparisons. Sure the music is stylistically different, as is the line up but both bands are upholding a grand rock tradition. Mike Foster continues to improve as a songwriter with Tell Us Where The Money Went becoming a Christmas hit in my household. The band are still at the beginning of releasing tracks they recorded over the summer (ha) of 2009, so I see no sign of this Avalanche coming to a halt anytime soon.

Pilesar - Snort Thruster (Live)/Ballad of the Possum Eatin' Monster/How Can I Stay Mad At You/Epididymitis/Yellow Belly (live)
Ever since he first appeared in 2004, Pilesar has been part of this particular yearly review, if not to highlight his very idiosyncratic music, then appearing in my Tracks of the Year. The simple fact is that I prize originality, ingenuity and style more than anything, and Pilesar has enough of each to really carve out his own niche - as he has done online to great advantage. Definitely one of the most bizarre musicians I have ever met, but also one of the most talented in so many ways. Do catch some of his live videos to really get a flavour of what makes Pilesar so different.

Wake Of Destruction - This Is A War/Want Vs Need/The Space Explorer/List Of Demands
Another artist who came from nowhere this year is Wake Of Destruction who first got a review from me in July with Run From Me. Since then this electropop singer/songwriter/musician/producer has scored four Must Have's all of which appear here. If anyone has had a good year this year it has to be The Modems and this guy. A very assured, confident singer indeed.

Can't Stop The Daggers - Too Many Lights/Go Down Song/Moving Target/January One/One Or The Other
Even though we are still waiting for the long promised debut album from these Arizona based musicians, they still managed to notch up six Must Haves this year, all with rough, right-off-the-board mixes of tracks from that album. In these five songs, they show all the quality and excellence of songwriting that first brought them to my attention. Always a contender in my books, Can't Stop The Daggers have plenty of chops left in them.

333maxwell - Culture Wars/Rush Limbaugh (an American folk song)/Cancun/Going Nuclear/Big Band/December 31st 1989/Dream Girl/Gitanos Expulsado in A Minor/Walking In The Rain
Although my own musical experience is in rock, I have a marked preference for jazz. REAL jazz that is. It was 333maxwell's sure touch with that tricky genre that first caught my ear but since then I've come to realise just how talented this musician really is. Scoring a huge NINE Must Have's, Chas Holman (aka 333maxwell) has had a boom year. His count should be 10 must haves too, because he also appears in the next Track Of The Year.

Charlie A - Sunny Blues with 333maxwell
Another artist having a good year (I have three of his tracks on my hard drive) London's Charlie Armour has branched away considerably from his usual film:soundtrack beat and is at his most effective in this collaboration with the man of the hour.

Kappa Danielson - Plastic Doll/That'll Be Alright AND Kristi Starr - Electric/Make God My Friend
A personal favourite of mine this year have been these twins. I've lost count of the amount of times I have been back to their You Tube sites (they don't seem to be on any music sites) but the lure doesn't seem to be wearing off. Kristi Starr, in particular, shows a determined, cogent songwriter who - with just a guitar and voice - can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. Sis Kappa Danielson is no slouch in that department either. Simple, to the point and blindingly effective.

Tim Turner - Same Old Wrong (ft Jim-n-Lisa)
It's been a long, long while since we heard anything from Artist of The Year 2004, Jim-n-Lisa so I was over the moon when I got this collaboration with another of my faves: guitarist Tim Turner. Here is a track that gives the lie to unsigned music not being professional enough. Class musicians, class performance and class production all the way.

Nad Sylvan - Long Way From Home
Although busy these days with Unifaun (the prog-rock band he shares with Bonamici) Artist Of The Year 2003, Nad Sylvan, came back onto Soundclick this year with this track. A song written about the passing of his mother this year, this song reduces me to tears every time I hear it. It also shows just how frighteningly good Nad Sylvan is...

The Dead Company - Pop Star w Jon Partelow/The Pain Of Mr Who/Afternoon Show w Larry Ludwick
Thought I was kidding when I said some thing may make you spontaneously combust, didn't you? Well, I'll tell you true, if anyone can do that, this band can. I have been a long, long time fan of this highly invidualistic outfit and this year saw some TDC specials; Pop Star with Can't Stop The Daggers frontman Jon Partelow is particularly effective as a rant against the current prevailing musical trends. Afternoon Show proved that Larry Ludwick can indeed emote poetically and is a fine addition to the crew. Lastly, a remix of the original TDC lineup came with The Pain Of Mr Who, an old favourite from back in the day. Not for everyone I'll grant you that but their blend of music and poetry is something a bit special.

The Rascal Theorist - New Frequency/The Electric Aftermath
Muse Machine seems to have become a hive of individual talents and one making a big splash right now is The Rascal Theorist. This Chicago based musician/songwriter knows exactly how to structure a great song, then have enough musical savvy to put it all to great use. I think Mixposure and Mix radio are picking up New Frequency as their theme tune and I have to say I agree with that heartily. Having said that, The Electric Aftermath takes some beating too - a lovely slice of R&B in the time honoured fashion. Expect big things from this quarter.

Wreckless Music (Ejay) - Times In My Life/Words Kill
My intake of hiphop continues to grow thanks to some extremely good Soundclick artists; Minimack, -LMS-, Whitman Speck and many others managed to keep my interest. Wreckless Music (Ejay) managed to do more than that. With Times Of My Life EJAY gave me exactly what I needed, just when I needed it. A really deep, emotional track, Times Of My Life shows that Wreckless Music keeps growing in confidence. Back that up with a great message track like Words Kill, and this is the hip hop I know and love. Wonderful tracks and great storytelling.

Alex Highton - The Woodditton Wives Club CD
A very personal choice now because this artist came to me through the blog and I am, as you know, a sucker for a great song and the 13 tracks that make up The Woodditton Wives Club are exactly that. ALL of them. Moreover, Alex's folksy observations are little lessons on class songwriting and accompaniment. For my money THIS is how Paul McCartney should be sounding instead of that old tat he keeps putting about. Although this is technically an acoustic album you wouldn't really mind that much because the depth of the experience would leave you breathless. Surely he can't keep it up, track after track... He can, he does and brilliantly too. My own favourite find of the year.

Artist Of The Year 2009

As a small reminder, past winners of this award are Nad Sylvan (AOTY 2003), Jim-n-Lisa (AOTY 2004), Maria Daines and Paul Killington (AOTY 2005), Cam's Even Song (AOTY 2006), Omnisine (AOTY 2007) and Thomas J Marchant (AOTY 2008). Not easy footsteps to follow in, as many people have found out over the years because there are an infinite number of reasons for choosing the winner of this award; musically, socially, spiritually and wha'EVAH.... Over the years though, I've found that the main ingredient of this is that well worn word 'consistency'. It isn't enough in my books to knock me on my ass once, you have to do it repeatedly and with a mind-numbing regularity so that I finally get it. All past AOTY impressed me on many levels, not the least of it being the musical side and the same is true of this years winner. The Artist Of The Year 2009 is...


The guy had NINE Must Haves!! No one has done that before, and certainly not in a row... It doesn't all revolve around the music though (which is sublime) but also with attitude and as Soundclick regulars know only too well, Chas Holman (aka 333maxwell) is a consummate do-er. Many posts are enlivened and informed by his presence, this is a man who lives and breathes music and it shows. Where it shows most dramatically, however, is in his music which is, as far as I am concerned pretty much state of the art right now. Like all good musicians, 333maxwell refuses to get into a niche and stay there, he sprawls out over every genre known to man, and a few only listenable to by our canine friends. His songwriting, his performance and style have gradually won me over more and more but this year proved that - beyond doubt - 333maxwell has had the best year ever - and long may he reign. (Ed: Until the end of the year, Holman and don't forget it)


So, there we have another year down. As you have seen it's been a wonderful year for great unsigned music and I'd like to thank each and every one of the musicians, singers and producers who let me loose on their babies this year. So, a bit disappointed your name isn't up here in lights? You have a year to impress me (Ed: Oi, that's a bit Simon Cowell isn't it?), so better get started.

Finally, and on a more serious note, I'd like to dedicate this review to a pillar of the Soundclick community who sadly passed away this year. Sharma Kay will live on in our minds and our hearts, may she rest with the angels.

Thank you for reading this, I know it's longer than normal but hey, it's once a year....

1 comment:

Jim Easton said...

Steve, just wanted to say thank you very much for referencing (without doing so) the JiminyJazzHour in your reviews-!! Jim Easton

"For example, I listened to an hour of solid jazz (and I mean jazz) on New Year's Eve on the station..."