With the Grammys airing tonight at 8pmET on CBS, there has been much buzz regarding this award show’s highest honor…Album of the Year. These past few years have been difficult in determining a winner, and this year surely does not disappoint. All 5 albums, without a doubt, deserve the nomination. Each artist simply outdid the competition in their respective genres. Unfortunately only one can come out of the battered battlefield victorious. When looking at these albums one must think… Why are all of the album covers darkly drenched in black and white??? (With the except of Taylor Swift of course). These qualities further the complexities and tone that each musician effectively, and remarkably, established in their projects. With that being said, we must agree that each album is amazing in its own right without my, or anyone else’s, rating. Here goes my personal ranking of each 2016 Album of the Year nominee.
1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
What more can I say about this album? This man? In a world where the hip hop mainstream is as commercialized as it’s ever been and ever sounded, Kendrick produces a complex work fusing almost every facet of black art forms. I’ve never heard anything like it. It’s definitely too soon to say but, i’ve often gotten the vibe of a Sgt Pepper’s or The Dark Side of the Moon. Meaning I feel like somewhere down the road To Pimp A Butterfly will be one of those stand-out albums that has changed the course of music making as we know it. So it’s really no surprise that this work is the most critically acclaimed album of the five. It would be less of a travesty if Album of the Year doesn’t rightfully go to this socially conscious uplifting album but, there is this one exception that just might get in that way of that…
2. Sound and Color – Alabama Shakes
I smell an upset. But this should be nothing short of the usual. For the last couple of years, albums centered around the indie and/or rock genre have upsetted pop favorites (i.e. Arcade Fire and Beck). One might also argue that these upsets were given to the better produced album. Sound and Color was mixed/produced beautifully. A great use of the left and right channels, great recording of the instruments (especially on drums), and vocal effects differentiate this album in its sound approach from, not only its nominees, but anyone else for that matter. Their experimentation with genres and melody/sound techniques, also propelled Sound and Color to greatness. They’ve clearly evolved from their southern rock/blues debut album Boys and Girls. Like many legends before them, their progression just might be apparent in every project they put out in the future(similar to Kendrick Lamar). So an upset just might creep its way into the Grammys tonight, as I believe Alabama Shakes will walk away with Album of the Year.
3. Traveller – Chris Stapleton
Now, this album surprised me the most. When I first saw the list of nominations, I’ve never heard of Traveller nor Chris Stapleton. And I must admit, I’m not too familiar with country music. And then I reached the end of the album… One word that Traveller left me with was impressive. Having already written country hits for big names in the industry, his songwriting ability is clearly superior, as shown in Whiskey and You and Daddy Doesn’t Pray Anymore. Lines such as “…And pretend i’m a shelter, for heartaches that don’t have a home” and “I drink cause i’m lonesome and i’m lonesome cause I drink” gave me goosebumps. His voice is incredible. His riffs like the “warm” in Tennessee Whiskey and his southern growls in many songs left me in awe… and maybe a lil jealous. The end-song Sometimes I Cry for instance was vocally astonishing in its bluesy form. Stapleton channeled his inner Chris Cornell (in his Billie Jean cover), ironically both songs cliffhangers the hell out of the audience. Although Traveller doesn’t stand out from traditional roots like most of the other albums nominated, its southern influence feeds the soul, like most blues/southern rock/country songs do. Not bad for a first album. And I just might delve more into the world of country music now. Thank you Chris. Thank you.
4. 1989 – Taylor Swift
Go ahead and add “Favorite to win Album of the Year” to Taylor Swift’s list of W’s since 1989’s debut. Along with the cultural phenomenon brought forth by this album, many have labeled this project as the perfect pop album. Her full transitioning to a pop icon was a risky move considering how successful she was as a country-pop artist, but it seems to work fairly well in her favor. The reduction of instruments, synth-pop leading melodies, and more multi-tracking vocals led to a strongly put-together album. Songs like Welcome to New York and Blank Space epitomize the album, while other songs like Shake It Off and Out of the Woods bring great variety to the overall project. These, among other points, are reasons why this album definitely exceeded my expectations, even though some other songs were weak compared to the rest. But more on this later, on another blog post.
5. Beauty Behind the Madness – The Weeknd
To place Beauty Behind the Madness at the bottom of any list, feels borderline blasphemous, but I had to. It was so hard making this choice considering how good this album is. Since I first heard his music, I’ve always admired that hip hop inspired, r&b, dark aura that is the Weeknd. Songs on this album like Real Life and Shameless channel that mixture of promiscuity and drug-addictive themes with a dark twist. Although the usual Weeknd was present, a new character showed face in Beauty Behind the Madness… The pop Weeknd. Songs like Can’t Feel My Face and Earned It propelled him to a worldwide success, and did so without cursing, promiscuous & druggy themes, depression etc.. Although i’m a huuuuge fan of those two songs, other songs with pop appeal like In the Night and Acquainted don’t leave the same impression. They sound very predictable and, dare I say, too pop-y. Some of these songs bring down the albums zeal, as well as my expectations for a stand-out solid album from top to bottom. Nevertheless, Beauty Behind the Madness was very enjoyable and I expect the Weeknd to drop something even more captivating in his next project.
Congrats to all the nominees !