Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Year in Music: 2011 - Part IV

My end of year music recap took a week and a half off but now returns with the final four categories. This post tackles Best New Artist and Album of the Year.

New Artist

This was the easiest category for me for one simple reason: I wasn't really impressed with many new additions to the music scene this year. Only one really stood out for me, so they are the only nominee, and hence, the winner. I'm talking about Scars on 45. I already mentioned a bit about them in the Pop Duo/Group Performance post, and they'll make a couple more appearances yet in subsequent posts, so on to the next category...

Album of the Year

Stronger - Kelly Clarkson
The pop diva has always had great singles, but this is really this first time it's all come together on a full album, top to bottom, in my opinion. There's only one throwaway track here - the lyrically goofy "Einstein" - but the rest provide a variety of tempos, beats and melodies with great energy, and of course, other-worldly vocal performances. Clarkson finally lives up to her status as a pop/rock goddess. Standout tunes include, "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)"; "Dark Side"; "I Forgive You"; and "Breaking Your Own Heart."

The Truth Is... - Theory of a Deadman
TOAD has a track record of being able to craft strong melodies while still maintaining their rock cred. They continue that trend here, albeit a little light on the "rock" end of things. The first four tracks are easily the strongest, and at 16 songs total, there is a bit of filler here - even a lame, ill-advised attempt at a wedding song with "Better or Worse" - but still about nine very listenable songs.

Break the Spell - Daughtry
Another real solid album. Not quite the masterpiece their last effort was, but at least 8-10 songs that I could listen to repeatedly, and that's saying something these days.

Holding Onto Strings Better Left to Fray - Seether
See above description for the Deadman album, except the part about the first four tracks, and substitute a lame, ill-advised attempt at a country ditty with "Country Song" - inexplicably chosen as the lead single. But there are other rock gems here.

No One Listens to the Band Anymore - The Damnwells
In a perfect world, The Damnwells would be a staple on pop/rock radio. Instead, I find comfort in knowing that I'm one of the lucky few to have discovered them (thanks, Pandora). Alex Dezen is a great songwriter, and this effort showcases that talent. Some weaker tracks on the second half of the CD, but all in all, one of the best of the year.

Sky Full of Holes - Fountains of Wayne
This Loud Morning - David Cook
Wasting Light - Foo Fighters
The King is Dead - The Decemberists
The Return of Spring - Mike Garrigan

Jerammies 2011 - Album of the Year by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Year in Music: 2011 - Part III

...And we continue with Best Pop Solo Performance. One of the category changes the Grammy Awards imposed this year is eliminating the segregation of male and female pop stars. So, now the distinction is simply between duo/group and solo. Here are my picks for the best individual vocal performances of 2011:

Pop Solo Performance

Mr.Know It All - Kelly Clarkson
No doubts here. I don't know anyone on the music scene who can match KC vocally. She basically just needs to open her mouth, but in this case, she's just the perfect choice for this specific song. She effuses the right attitude, which brings what could have been a bland pop ripoff to another level. I actually didn't care for the tune upon first listen, but Kelly won me over.

Fuckin' Perfect - Pink
Another one of the best pure vocalists out there. Don't like all her songs, but can't argue with the pipes.

Aftermath - Adam Lambert
I absolutely detested Lambert while he was on American Idol. His debut album was no masterpiece, but thankfully, someone realized that screaming was not the equivalent of a strong vocal performance. He sounds a lot more natural on the recorded work, and allows his vocal prowess to stand on its own. "Aftermath" was my favorite track as soon as I sampled the album, though it was released as a single to little commercial fanfare.

Edge of Glory - Lady Gaga
I have admittedly been disappointed by the Born This Way album. I was hoping to like it, but it's just not my thing. "Glory" is not a fantastic pop song, but it does showcase the fact that the meat-adorned one is still underrated as a singer.

Lucky Now - Ryan Adams
This is an example of where less can be more. Adams' gravelly voice adds just the right texture to this standout track from his Ashes and Fire CD.

Hey Angel - Mike Garrigan
Still one of the most overlooked singer-songwriters of the last couple decades, Garrigan continues his mastery of pop/rock with this love ditty.

If You Ever Get Lonely - John Waite
I've seen the ex-Babys/ex-Bad English vocalist live three times in recent years, and he's a surprisingly good singer, which doesn't always seem obvious on his recorded work. This is the standout track from his most recent album.

Jerammies 2011 - Pop Solo Performance by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Year in Music: 2011 - Part II

Continuing my nominations for this year's "Jerammies" - time for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance. Again, going based on the assumption that this category is meant to pay homage to the best vocal performances. This was not as clear-cut of a choice for me to pick a winner, as there's only one person mentioned here who could be considered an out of this world singer. These selections were more about the nuances of the performances, the harmonies, and just creating the right vocal vibe for the particular song. The nominees are:

Pop Duo/Group Performance

Never Gonna Leave This Bed - Maroon 5
I'd say this was, overall, my favorite song of the year. Adam Levine and company put out a great album with Hands All Over, and simply know how to handle a pop song. Both the lead and backing vocals sound great, and flow well throughout the song, creating a bouncy little number that sticks in your head.

Werewolves - The Damnwells
The Damnwells, mainly a vehicle for singer-songwriter, Alex Dezen, have not enjoyed huge commercial success. They do have some great music out there, though. That's why they're tied for the most Jerammy nominations with 4. With whom are they tied? See below.

Give Me Something - Scars on 45
A new band out of the U.K. featuring dual lead vocals from Danny Bemrose and Aimee Driver. They also received nods in 4 categories here on my humble blog. Not having even released a full-length album yet, their two EP's from 2011 provided a nice glimpse into what will hopefully become a strong catalog of pop/rock songs. The version of their catchy first single, "Give Me Something" that I included below is actually a performance sponsored by local radio station 107.1 The Peak, and features a cool coda that blends into a riff on Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams."

Don't You Wanna Stay - Jason Aldean featuring Kelly Clarkson
Normally, Kelly would have won anything in this category. However, the fact that this is actually a song from country star, Jason Aldean's album kind of tempered my enthusiasm. Miss C certainly delivers with her trademark killer vocals, but Aldean kind of grates on me, leaving me to honor this one only with a mere nomination (and it IS an honor just to be nominated, right?). 

She Walks in So Many Ways - The Jayhawks
For the First Time - The Script 

Jerammies 2011 - Pop Duo/Group Performance by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Year in Music: 2011

It's that time of year again - when I have nothing better to do than to recap my taste in pop culture from the preceding 300-some-odd days. Last December, I simply listed my top 20 favorites songs of 2010, but in prior years, I had compiled my votes for the Grammy Awards. No, not the actual Grammy's...because they don't really ask my opinion on those. I went ahead and created the "Jerammies" - a cheesy take-off on the real awards, based on my own oddball musical preferences. I decided to revert back to that idea for 2011, but this time, I'm actually sharing my choices with you all (or tormenting you with them, depending on how you look at it). I've selected several of the more mainstream Grammy categories, and tried to remain true to the actual meaning behind the category names (which the actual Grammy voters never seem to do). This year's posts are replete with actual widgets from the Grooveshark site, which will allow you to listen to the songs I've foisted upon you. Wow, see how remarkably technologically inclined I've become?! In any case, in some instances, my selections this year seem to be uncharacteristically in line with the real nominations (I compiled my list before they were announced), but there are still several obscure gems that I feel should have gotten much more exposure. So, without any further babbling, here is the first category.

Rock Performance
The Grammy's condensed some categories this year, including eliminating the separation of solo and group rock performances. I have followed along with the changes here on my blog. Keep in mind, this category is supposed to highlight the best vocal performances in the rock genre. Again, the Grammy voters never seem to take this into consideration, instead just picking their favorite songs. In my mind, vocal performance is not only about who can belt out the loudest and longest, although that helps. It also encompasses matching the right type of voice with the right song, and other more subtle characteristics of the overall performance. That having been said, there is nothing SUBTLE about my pick for the winner in this category (highlighted in blue italics) - it was easily the most clear-cut decision I made in any of the categories. The nominees are:

Slave to the Grind - Halestorm
Lead singer, Lzzy Hale, is one of rock's best kept secrets. I don't know why Halestorm didn't make a bigger splash with their debut album, but this year's Reanimate - The Covers EP provided a few standout tracks to hold me over until their sophomore effort comes out. Chief among them: Heart's "All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You," Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," and this rip-your-face-off take on the amazing Skid Row screamer from 1991. Sebastian Bach was perhaps the greatest vocalist of the hair band era, and Lzzy Hale unbelievably almost matches him note for every throat-destroying note on this remake. And, if you check out any live clips on Youtube, you'll see this is no trick of studio engineering; she HITS the notes. Overall, the recording is not an improvement on the original, but the vocal performance deserves to be recognized for what it is: stunning.

The Fire - Rev Theory
The Ballad of Mona Lisa - Panic! at the Disco
Stand - Ed Kowalczyk (ex-lead singer, Live)
Walk - Foo Fighters
Lost in Paradise - Evanescence

Jerammies 2011 by Jeremy Sand on Grooveshark