Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Year End Review of 2011 (The Stevies!)

{Scene: exterior, night. A windswept, foul looking alley comes into view as the camera moves into focus on a equally disgusting large cardboard box, which shakes alarmingly. We hear the sound of footsteps and a figure (grubby and mis-shappen) falls untidily to the floor at our feet}

Oooh hello you lot, and welcome to the Ninth Annual Stevies Awards and I start (as usual) with a pathetic excuse for the condition you find these awards in tonight. I blame this whole austerity thing and no, we are not all in it together because - as you can see - these normally glitzy and dazzling awards (Ed: delusional, I always told you) have been reduced to Cardboard Alley, a place not known to tourism. Still, we have to soldier on innit, so in that spirit, let's get to the meat and veg...

This is my own, highly personal snapshot of the past year or so in the music scene we inhabit and bears no resemblence whatsoever to any actual awards ceremonies being (of course) all in my own tiny mind. Now while I might have a mind the size of a peanut, I compensate by having ears like an elephant and I put them to good use by listening to almost everything that is thrown at me so - as someone once said - you don't have to. As anyone will tell you having read my reviews though, it does seem that I like an awful lot of stuff. Looked at one way, that is true enough. The fact is that the level of quality with internet based music is improving all the time, even from some of the die-hard lo-fi merchants who swear if it isn't made with a comb and a piece of tissue paper it isn't valid. Bullshit. It's all valid, and that's part of the problem, I don't get to do a hatchet job that often because it just isn't necessary, a lot of that is done by self-policing musicians and - believe me - I never thought I'd write that particular word combination in my lifetime.

These awards then, highlight some of the very best music I have heard this year from requests taken through Soundclick (my home site) and latterly, through the RebelRiffs blog. I stress again, these are MY personal favourites, you will undoubtedly have your own. As always my criteria centres on the material itself and whether it manages to touch me in some way, to achieve that I am willing to sacrifice sound quality and/or capability because IMHO some of the best music around comes from technical constraints and the musicians willingness to climb over them to get the job done.

Regular readers will be aware that I have slowed down considerably the past year in the frequency of reviews and that is because of two factors: I have a life and I am probably suffering somewhat from review burnout. After all, I have been reviewing huge amounts of tracks month upon month and it is bound to have an effect, so I decided to slow it down somewhat. It doesn't stop the massive overload I am getting from blog requests though which - at this moment - has a six week waiting list and will undoubtedly get plowed under this coming year.

Words On The Web

Funnily enough, the emphasis has shifted around completely from a year ago. This time last year the bulk of the requests came from Soundclick but, as I mentioned at the time, the falloff in Soundclick's forums was and is dramatic - especially with the move to Facebook and other social networking sites. Last year I wrote 'Personally, I wouldn't do either Facebook, Twitter or even Myspace' and I've had to eat those weasel words ever since as Facebook had played a bigger and bigger part in both my musical life and as a reviewer although, thank God, very few FB'ers know what I do so don't hassle me to 'peep their shit' I am still very much a part of Mixposure and between that and Soundclick my storage needs are filled even if it''s sometimes more difficult to get attention on those sites than Facebook which does seem to offer a decent level of listeners. So as far as OMD's (Online Music Distributor) go, those two, ReverbNation, Bandcamp and Soundcloud all seem to offer a decent service for musicians like me and my reviewees so if you are intending to have a go, as it were, those are the places to check first. Building an audience is the name of the internet game because it sure as hell isn't about getting rich and famous - never has been and never will be. Almost all of the musicians who have won these awards, including the nine Artist Of The Year winners, have all struggled mighily against the odds, put in the time and commitment to get where they are and know only too well that this is not an easy route to fame and fortune. What it is though is an excellent tool for honing your musical skills and building that audience to a point where you KNOW you have people who actually want to hear your music..

and not a gold lame suit in sight...


2011's Movers and Shakers

Those artists who have made an impression on me one way or another during 2010 are listed in no particular order:

Road Apples - Those Among Us - 333maxwell - Jon Solo - Whitman Speck - Ludicrous - Azoora - Alchemystic - Cinnabar - Charlie A - Mike-K - Ralph Atkinson - Cam's Even Song - Avalanche - Thomas J Marchant - Pilesar - Rude Corps - Weylin's Slayer Orchestra - Gangbangsters - Farrell Jackson - See-I - Mathien - Diamond Lil - Heavy Glow - Wwolves - Howard Billington - Refrag - Rustik - Larry Ludwick - Pidgeman - Cameron Pierce - Gabriel Sabadi - Ratchet - Ofelia Dorme - Marc Blackwell - RHA

2011 Tracks Of The Year Overview

As I mentioned above I have actually slowed down reviews this year, going from 450+ in 2010 to 366 this year but that hasn't stopped the flood of requests I am currently drowning under (not to mention videos, albums, EP and whatall) In terms of tracks that made the elusive hard drive, the surprising thing is that 163 managed to stay there the whole year, and that's way above normal. I think the reason for this is simple, as good as the work being put out by Soundclick musicians continue to be, it faces very serious competition from elsewhere on the net. A lot of the personal standouts for me from this year, certainly in terms of professionalism, have come from blog requests and are musicians I never heard before - and long may that keep up eh?

Exceptional Tracks by the Month
* where (RR) appears, these are blog requests and probably not on Soundclick

Pam Schaffer - Henry (RR)
Rustik - Fade Away
Thomas J Marchant - High
Matthew Laming - The Never Forgotten
Jon Solo - Circles
Gangbangsters - I'm An Epidemic
Refrag - Several
Chris Cape - Major Tom (video)
Dave Meredith - Your Whispers
Charlie A - Before The 3AM Alarm
Cam's Even Song - Taken From The Indian Man
Moral Factor - Old Dirty White Shoes
Reflexion X - When World Comes To End
Ralph Atkinson - Yesterday's Blues
Deflatables - Superstar (RR)

Marc Blackwell - Bring Me Trouble CD (RR)
Cinnabar - Wishing Down The Drain
Those Among Us - Disco Ball EP
New Nobility - Galactic
Pilesar - Wife Stink
Whitman Speck - King Of The Sickos
Reflexion X - 6th Instinct (Feat Dave 909)
Ofelia Dorme - All Harm Ends Here LP (RR)
The New Royalty - Here I Go
The Unknown Artist - Save The Planet!
Farrell Jackson - Another Year 2010
Twizzie - Until I Break Feat Dreamcast
Eject Pilot Eject - Face To Face (RR)
Nigel Potter - Necromancer

Larry Ludwick - A Cloud Passes
Rustik - ...For The Better
Weylin's Slayer Orchestra - Endless Night
The New Royalty - When Poets Dream CD (RR)
Ralph Atkinson - Blue Valentine
Zone Music Inc - Willingly
Jon Solo - Once Upon a Time Ago
Red Wanting Blue - These Magnificent Miles CD (RR)
Thomas J Marchant - Honestly This Is Honesty
RHA - La Caduta di Alice CD (RR)
Smoke It 'n' Die - Off Bounds
Alderman - A Bright Day
Wendy H - Kid Doctor
US English - Used Future EP2 (RR)
XoC - 1786 in Canada feat Rappy McRapperson

Twiggy Frostbite - Written Within (RR)
Those Among Us - The Final Hour
Jon Solo - Elephant In The Room
National Snack - Hoodwinked (RR)
Thomas J Marchant - I Sold My Heart (To Goldman Sachs)
Rustik - Evil
Refrag - Nothing To See Here
PreOKL - Combak
Alchemystic - You Pay (Argle Remix)
Wwolves -For Victory CD (RR)
Farrell Jackson - Lucky Day
Love, But Louder - Nothing
The Usual Pleasures - Kevlar Hearts (RR)

Love, Susan - Alive (RR)
Bikini Black Special - Physioterrorists CD (RR)
Darius Lux - Time Is Now EP (RR)
Ralph Atkinson - Throw The TV Out Of The Window
Distant Autumn - Just The Same
Jon Solo - Drift Away
Emmett Grayson - That Rock Is Gonna Roll
Pidgeman - You Mean The World To Me
Hana Pirana - My Nerves Were Made For Grinding EP (RR)
DeepSeaGreen - Valsorda EP (RR)
Alchemystic - Tahtoo Parempaa (Argle Remix)
Hhymn - In The Depths CD (RR)
Rude Corps - UCallMeSir - Poisoned (Rude Corps Mix)
Gangbangsters - Get Retarded
Howard Billington - Mobile Circus

Those Among Us - One
Weylin's Slayer Orchestra - Endless Night
Fear 2 Stop - Blown
Jon Solo - Alice and Elmer
Cam's Even Song - First Sign Of Spring
Jane G33/picKOne - Right Track
Alchemystic - Here For You Ft Road Apples
Farrell Jackson - Put My Ashes In The F-Hole
Ludicrous - The Real World
Earth Prayer - Nine Days CD (RR)

Barricades Rise - All I Have Is Here LP (RR)
Wwolves - For Victory LP (RR)
Whitman Speck - Permanent Disguise
Weylin's Slayer Orchestra - Addiction
Ralph Atkinson - When Love Comes
Pidgeman - Intoxicated
Thomas J Marchant - It's Easy To Get Confused
Diamond Lil - Sex Injuries
Lauren Aquilina - Robots/Never Change (RR)
Rayon Vert - Life Under A Microscope
JCH (UK) - Price You Pay
Ludicrous - Dead Woman
Smoke It 'n' Die - Take Your Shot (Video)
Heavy Glow - Midnight Moan LP (RR)

Cameron Pierce - Atra Bilis
333maxwell - And Drift Away
The Violent Whispers - Heartbreak Loves Romance (RR)
Repeater - We Walk From Safety LP (RR)
Thomas J Marchant - Disappoint
Ludicrous - Everywhere
Mike-K - Kick It
Ratchet - Numb LP
Ralph Atkinson - Flashing 12 o'clock Ft Tim Lowe
Pilesar - Spider Bait
Farrell Jackson - Six String
Scheezy McGee - Cool
Cam's Even Song - Light Unapproachable
Thielus Grenon - The Underground

Mathien - The Night I Was An Alpha Male/You'll Never Learn (RR)
See-I - Homegrown (RR)
Weylin's Slayer Orchestra - No Tomorrow
Avalanche - The Golden Sun (2012)
Mike B Is for Byj - Look, Look, Look
333maxwell - I Found Your Music Box
Ralph Atkinson - Away On The Wind
Whitman Speck - Paranoid
Cam's Even Song - Heart Of Things
Ludicrous - Streets
Azoora ft graciellita - Apart EP

Whitman Speck - Butcher of Plainfield
Jon Solo - Kill Shot To The Heart
Weylin's Slayer Orchestra - Prelude To Annihilation
Satellite 3 - Ghost (Storie Remix Featuring Raven-K)(Short)
333maxwell - Where oh Where are You Tonight (the drinking song)
Thomas J Marchant - Don't Ask, Don't Get
Avalanche - From The Barrel Of A Gun
Mike Prather - Living On The Edge
Origamibiro - Quad Time Remixes EP (RR)
Jonski - Take Two EP (RR)
Chayse Maclair - I Thought This Was Supposed To Be Music
Pilesar - Ricochet
Gangbangsters - Killin It CD
Rude Corps - No Justice, No Peace
Road Apples - No Turning Back
Mesia - Mesia EP (RR)

Strange Talk - Climbing Walls (RR)
Thomas J Marchant - Lifeboat
333maxwell - Takin' The Trolley
Afrolicious - Dub For Mali EP (RR)
N Talekt - So Gone Feat Anna
Charlie A - The Prayer Feat Abiodun Koya
Jon Solo - Laughing At Me
Whitman Speck - Halloween (In The N13)
Dollar Bill and The Unmentionables - Alright
Billy Shake - Crashing Down CD (RR)
Pilesar - Melon Balls
Farrell Jackson - San Francisco Daze

Joe McGrady - Fading Autumn EP (RR)
Weylin's Slayer Orchestra - Love
Those Among Us - Sayonara Sally
Solosounds - We Were So Young
Down The Machine - Know Your Place (RR)
Thomas J Marchant - Blackout
Mike-K - Having Fun
Speedpig - Hog Roast In Hell EP (RR)
Ralph Atkinson - Down In The Dungeon
Charlie A - Running Free
Cinnabar - A small bit of Ilrod
Polar For The Masses - Silence CD (RR)
N Talekt - Don't Cry For Me
Scars By Fire - Junkies/Lost In My Ways

2011 Tracks Of The Year

Thomas J Marchant - Blackout/Disappoint/Don't Ask, Don't Get/High/Honestly, This Is Honesty/I Sold My Heart To Goldman Sachs/It's Easy To Get Confused/Lifeboat
Artist Of The Year 2007 Thomas J Marchant just keeps churning out his little aural wonders at a prodigious rate, as you can see by the record number of Must Have's he has notched up this year. While it would be undeniably fair to say that I have a massive inbuilt bias towards this refreshingly good songwriter, it's also fair to point out that this is one of Soundclick's most original artists and one not to be missed.

Ralph Atkinson - Away On The Wind/Blue Valentine/Down In The Dungeon/Flashing 12 o clock/Throw The TV Out The Window/When Love Comes/Yesterday's Blues
An absolutely brilliant year for Canada's Ralph Atkinson resulting in a string of Must Haves that are an excellent introduction to the range and breadth of this musicians scope. Blues, rock, jazz, you name it, Ralph has a tune in that style but when he hits the blues streak....brrrr... While he still struggles (like a great many Soundclick artists) with the limitations of 'home' recording, he gets around it deftly enough and delivers some very potent sonhgs into the bargain.

Weylin's Slayer Orchestra - Addiction/Endless Night/Love/No Survivors/No Tomorrow/Prelude To Annihilation
Looking at those titles you may be temped to consider Weylin's Slayer Orchestra to be a bit of a Gloomy Gus and in some respects you'd be right. It's a mistake I made when I first met this musician and one he has quietly, and persistently, demolished ever since. There is a dark side to the music, for sure, but there is also a nice edge of originality in all his tracks that make Weylin someone to savour.

Jon Solo - Alice and Elmer/Circles/Drift Away/Elephant In The Room/Kill Shot To The Heart/Laughing At Me/Once Upon A Time Ago/We Were So Young (Solosounds)
Another new(ish) name to these awards making a very substantial showing this is is a Soundclick musician who has been on there longer than me!! I know, amazing innit? So is Jon's work which IMHO is nothing short of masterly. Specialising in time and tested rock pop, Jon Solo is one of the finest songwriters in the genre I have ever met - anywhere. Kill Shot To The Heart ( a SC competition entry) is an unsung Bond theme song that cries out to be in the upcoming new film. That's how good it is.

Whitman Speck - Butcher Of Plainfield/Halloween In The N13/King Of The Sickos/Paranoid/Permanent Disguise
The self acclaimed King Of The Sickos (and believe me there is a lot of truth in that statement) continues to horrify and disgust the bulk of the population, or at least those who don't enjoy cutting edge rap music, coupled with some of the more horrific visual cues you are ever likely to hear. Whitman Speck is not for the unwary but he typifies what makes horrorcore so compelling.

333Maxwell and Cam's Even Song
Artist Of The Year 2009 and 2006 respectively both Max and Cam show no sign of running out of creative juices are ideas for the foreseeable future, 333maxwell in particular is a song machine and certainly gives Cam's own hit factory a run for the money. Again, I am very, very particular about AOTY awards and I think long and hard about who should win one, both of these excellent musicians have proved their right to the award, time and time again...

Farrell Jackson - Another Year 2010/Lucky Day/Put My Ashes In the F Hole/Six Strings
A straight forward rock musician of the old school, Farrell Jackson has, along with Mixposure stalwarts such as Gabriel Sabadi, Chris Moore, Rob Grant and God knows how many other collaborees, managed to keep the flame of true rock music alive this year with the abovementioned tracks but Farrell doesn't just stop at making great tracks like this, the guy has more bands than you can shake a stick at...

Bubbling Under
While those musicians mentioned above have serious levels of favourable criticism from me, it shouldn't detract from a slew of other musicians who have managed to keep me enormously entertained this past year, I feel it only fitting that they should get a least a mention here. So from the slick pop of Ludicrous, the ludicrous (but very effective) aural lunacy that is Pilesar, the stately, beautiful music that comes from Charlie A, the radical and pointed polemics that are the hallmarks of any Rude Corps track, and the groundbreaking hip hop of both Gangbangsters and Rustik. Finally, special mention to the consecutive EP's released this year by the incomparable Those Among Us who, IMHO are the band most likely to...

Artist Of The Year 2011

Getting to this award every year is never an easy task, and this year I can honestly say it has been harder than most. There are so many real contenders this year, it makes my heart glad to see that, despite the carnage of website forum activity, there are still places where good musicians can be both appreciated and - along the way - learn a trick or two. As always, if this award was based soley on musical ability then there would be a steady trek to previous winners but there is a hidden snag, it can only be won once by a musician. Therefore as much as previous winners such as 333maxwell, Thomas Marchant, Cam's Even Song et al (not to mention winners such as Maria Daines or Nad Sylvan) could easily win this award every year on musical ability, there is a lot more in the mix. It also comes down to the musicians view of the world in which we all live, how willing they are to get involved in building something as well as promoting their own work, and finally how the scene we inhabit views them.. I think, therefore, that the Artist Of The Year 2011 award is going to prove a very popular choice indeed, for it can go to no one but...

Ralph Atkinson

Never judge a book by its cover is a time honoured piece of wisdom and this applies to this musician. As unprepossessing and 'normal' as Ralph and his music may appear, his unerring musical aim never cease to amaze and delight me, and his many Soundclick fans into the bargain. If you have never heard any of his music, then shame on you... One of the most natural musicians around, and a gem for all that...


And that, as they say, is that for another year. I'd like to personally thank all the musicians, producers, rappers, directors and video makers who have trusted me with your musical/artistic babies this year, and I hope I gave them the time and judgement they deserved. Now, off you go and start working for that AOTY 2011 bauble....


Anonymous said...

Excellent post! I think you've encapsulated the mission of this blog and our challenge.

Dean Brantley Taylor said...

I always like reading the Stevies. Congrats to Ralph! And Steve, thanks for all you do for unsigned artists. Keep on.