CptHampton's Music Reviews

  • Modern Country is beyond bland, and in recent years, you can barely distinguish it from Pop. Classic 50's and 60's Country is the way to go.

  • @Oscillator There are still artists making the classic style of country out there. Unfortunately you just have to look farther than what they decide to play on the radio.

  • PART 4 – RAP

    In a way, rap is music in its rawest and simplest form. You have a beat, and you have lyrics. Those are the only two things that matter. The spotlight shines directly on the performer and the message they want to convey to the listening audience. That being said, the message isn't always that substantial. Many of the more popular rap songs seem to serve mainly as braggadocious remarks on the rapper's success and fame. Not only that, but with the modern trend toward beat-fetishism, the lyrics don't even really matter that much as long as the beat “hits hard.”

    That being said, a song or album in a rap category has a lot to prove to win a Grammy Award. The relatively new genre only joined the “mainstream” categories in 1989, and the the genre as an art form has evolved in an exponential way since the early days when DJ Jazzy Jeff and Will Smith won their award for “Parents Just Don't Understand.” Now, rap music needs to have a clear and poignant message in the lyrics that is propped up by, but not obscured by, an amazing backing track. With extremely small recognition outside genre-specific awards, rap seems to have to go the extra mile to be seen as “worthy” by the old guard of music among the Recording Academy.

    Best Rap Song

    • All The Way Up (Fat Joe & Remy Ma) – This song definitely qualifies as a self-congratulatory anthem of success. Gold chains, big houses, and brands are ubiquitous in these lyrics that describe how it feels to be on top. That's great for Fat Joe, but I don't think I can consider this a work of lyrical genius.

    • Famous (Kanye West) – This song at least has the self-awareness to try to subvert the shouts of success in other rap songs. Kanye has no problems recognizing how successful he's been, but he uses that success as a lens to realize how people might tend to use him for that success in an attempt to claim their own 15 minutes of fame.

    • Hotline Bling (Drake) – Drake comes across as a pretty depressing guy in most of his songs. This song is no different, as the Degrassi wunderkind laments a broken relationship with someone he has gradually lost touch with.

    • No Problem (Chance The Rapper) – Chance, a nominee for the year's Best New Artist, uses this song to criticize record labels for trying to stifle his artistry and change him into something more marketable. The best verse actually might be from contributing artist 2 Chainz, which opens by pointing out the silly caricatures that can often emerge when executives try to waywardly guide an artist's creative vision onto a different course.

    • Ultralight Beam (Kanye West) – This is probably the most truly poetic out the nominees in this category. Kanye uses the significance of a guiding beam of light common in Christian theology as the key theme. The light can reveal and lead, but it can also expose and disorient.

    My favorite: Ultralight Beam
    My pick: Ultralight Beam

    Best Rap Performance

    • No Problem (Chance The Rapper feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz) – With the lyrical content behind this song already discussed, it shouldn't go without mention that you can feel the conviction behind the words in these performers. The frustration and anger is real and manages to come across as justified rather than petty.

    • Panda (Desiigner) – Is it enough for me to say I just really don't like this song? It seems like it's here just because it was popular last year. I can't understand half of what he's saying and the song is littered with honestly really strange noises shouted and screeched in the background. Please don't win.

    • Pop Style (Drake feat. The Throne (Jay-Z & Kanye West)) – I'd like to say this is a nice break from Drake's more dreary, sung R&B-style tracks about bad relationships and unrequited love, but this really isn't much of an improvement. The rap comes across as sleepy and slow, with not enough lyrical density to feel like Drake (or even the featured artists) are really giving anything close to their all.

    • All The Way Up (Fat Joe & Remy Ma feat. French Montana & Infrared) – As far as bragging raps go, Fat Joe at least really sounds pleased with himself. It's almost as if he's using the performance to vent any frustration he's had in past for not reaching the success he felt he deserved, and this song acts as a moment of catharsis from the top of the mountain.

    • THat Part (ScHoolboy Q feat. Kanye West) – Unlike “Pop Style,” this song feels like it has a firm grasp on how to present down-tempo rap. There are actual dynamics in the performance from ScHoolboy Q, but it does feel like this particular style is a bit outside of Kanye's strength. The emphasis he puts on the end of lines borders on squeaky and unsettling rather than impactful.

    My favorite: THat Part
    My pick: No Problem

    Best Rap/Sung Performance

    • Freedom (Beyoncé feat. Kendrick Lamar) – You can just feel the power in this song from both of these amazing performers. The Queen and Kendrick are both artists that might be considered untouchable, and every line in this song hits exactly the right emotion and energy. Listen to this song. Now. Use the free trial on Tidal just for this one song if you have to.

    • Hotline Bling (Drake) – Like “Pop Style,” this is ultimately Drake doing what Drake does best with overall depressing energy punctuated by moments of sheer pain. It is slightly more dynamic than some of his other performances, but ultimately the performance doesn't manage to convincingly sell the content of the song itself.

    • Broccoli (D.R.A.M. feat. Lil Yachty) – There's a weird dissonance in this song I'm not sure I can fully wrap my head around. The backing track is bouncy and light, and D.R.A.M.'s parts of the song match it really well in a way that reminds me a bit of Biz Markie's “Just A Friend.” But Lil Yachty's sections are in stark contrast: he sounds half-asleep, a little sad, or both.

    • Ultralight Beam (Kanye West feat. Chance The Rapper, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin & The-Dream) – The gospel-inspired lyrics are matched completely by the performance from all parties in this song. The entirety of it shows these artists as if they're experiencing a true revelation, and the amazing sung parts by The-Dream and Kelly Price make you feel like you're part of the congregation witnessing the best sermon of your life.

    • Famous (Kanye West feat. Rihanna) – I think Rihanna manages to outshine Kanye on this one. Her voice encapsulates the personification of fame in the hooks with the necessary balance of gratitude and a hint of desire to know what it's like to be back on the other side. Kanye definitely isn't bad on this track, as he carries through his signature style that he perfected way back on MBDTF, but Rihanna is definitely what got this song the nomination here.

    My favorite: Freedom
    My pick: Freedom

    Best Rap Album

    • Coloring Book (Chance The Rapper) – This album is steeped in gospel blues through and through. Chance manages throughout to take thoughtful, provoking lyrics that would give Kendrick Lamar a run for his money and set them against a backdrop of finding a hope in a time where it sometimes seems like there might not much left to hope for. It seems like the track “No Problem” wouldn't fit in here as it breaks with the general spiritual theme of rest of the album, but the message of transcending above the expectations of others actually fits really well and gives the album an added dimension to ponder.

    • And The Anonymous Nobody (De La Soul) – This group has been pushing the boundaries of what can be done in the genre for close to 30 years now. Other than a mixtape in 2009, they've all but disappeared from the hip-hop scene until this release. Unfortunately it seems like the hiatus might not have been time well-spent. The album is absolutely a shining example of old-school rap, but it seems like the group has eschewed trends that have come and gone since their inception to just stick with what they know. The album has a continuous motif of struggle and frustration, but in listening to it in the grand scheme of the genre, one gets the feeling that the group's trials and tribulations can be chalked up to their unwillingness to evolve in a corner of music that has long since left them behind.

    • Major Key (DJ Khaled) – More than the other nominees in this category, Major Key feels a bit too much like an attempt by DJ Khaled to cater to hip-hop radio listeners rather than deliver much real substance. Over the 14 tracks on this album, I count 35 features; no song has Khaled on his own. He holds his own in some of these songs, like “I Got the Keys,” but then isn't even present on “Nas Album Done” aside from a role as a hype-man in the background. Some songs (“Pick Those Hoes Apart,” “Work It”) seem like they're just there to pander to the lowest common denominator as desperate hail mary plays for hits just in case his album actually isn't as good as he hopes it is.

    • Views (Drake) – I've already mentioned how Drake is often typecast as the soft, introspective, friend-zoned member of the rap community. This album seems to play into that full force rather than try to break away from it. What results is generally more of the same Drake that we've already heard over the past few years. The album is overall pretty dull, not helped by the fact that it's really long. There are small moments of enjoyable music, but it's buried under so many layers of self-introspection, which comes off as drab and mundane rather than profound, that it's difficult to get excited about looking out for them.

    • Blank Face LP (ScHoolboy Q) – This album feels a little bit bipolar, but that actually works more to its benefit than to its detriment. Q's style might best be described as hardcore rap, but that doesn't stop some of the tracks from having a dream-like, down-tempo trap beat. He doesn't shy away from coming off as self-indulgent, but does so in a way that somehow feels genuine and aware of not straying too far in that direction. His flow is all over the place, yet also finely honed as if every oddity was meticulously planned out rather than improvised. This particular brand of rap might not have broad appeal, but in his own little corner of the genre ScHoolboy Q produces an album that demands to be listened to.

    • The Life Of Pablo (Kanye West) – The Life Of Pablo and Coloring Book are both similar in that they fuse modern hip-hop with classic gospel roots. But while Chance's entry has a fairly clear and coherent message, Pablo seems to just be a deep dive into the wildly unfocused mind of Kanye. That sounds like a criticism, but it's actually what makes this album great. There are feelings of uncertainty mixed in with an unshakable sense of self-worth, and a pervasive humor undercut with moments of introspective sobriety. The result is an unshakable, rambling energy that carries the listener through the album. This record doesn't feel like Kanye is trying to make any great leaps forward to re-invent himself and transform the genre like some of his previous work; instead it seems like a manic artist at the top of his finally trying to find comfort with the place he has been given in history.

    My favorite: Blank Face LP
    My pick: The Life Of Pablo

  • PART 5 – R&B

    Unfortunately, time has caught up with me and there's no way I'll be able to finish all of these posts before the actual awards happen. I've listened to all of the nominees and I'm making this post as a placeholder and to mark my favorites and picks to win. I will come back and give full reviews like the other categories soon, I promise!

    Best R&B Song

    • Come And See Me (PARTYNEXTDOOR)

    • Exchange (Bryson Tiller)

    • Kiss It Better (Rihanna)

    • Lake By The Ocean (Maxwell)

    • Luv (Tory Lanez)

    My favorite: Exchange
    My pick: Lake By The Ocean

    Best R&B Performance

    • Turnin' Me Up (BJ The Chicago Kid)

    • Permission (Ro James)

    • I Do (Musiq Soulchild)

    • Needed Me (Rihanna)

    • Cranes In The Sky (Solange)

    My favorite: Cranes In The Sky
    My pick: Needed Me

    Best R&B Album

    • In My Mind (BJ The Chicago Kid)

    • Lalah Hathaway Live! (Lalah Hathaway)

    • Velvet Portraits (Terrace Martin)

    • Healing Season (Mint Condition)

    • Smoove Jones (Mýa)

    My favorite: In My Mind
    My pick: Velvet Portraits

    Best Urban Contemporary Album

    • Lemonade (Beyoncé)

    • Ology (Galant)

    • We Are King (KING)

    • Malibu (Anderson .Paak)

    • Anti (Rihanna)

    My favorite: Ology
    My pick: Lemonade

  • PART 6 – ROCK

    Unfortunately, time has caught up with me and there's no way I'll be able to finish all of these posts before the actual awards happen. I've listened to all of the nominees and I'm making this post as a placeholder and to mark my favorites and picks to win. I will come back and give full reviews like the other categories soon, I promise!

    Best Rock Song

    • Blackstar (David Bowie)

    • Burn The Witch (Radiohead)

    • Hardwired (Metallica)

    • Heathens (Twenty One Pilots)

    • My Name Is Human (Highly Suspect)

    My favorite: Burn The Witch
    My pick: Blackstar

    Best Rock Performance

    • Joe (Live From Austin City Limits) (Alabama Shakes)

    • Don't Hurt Yourself (Beyoncé feat. Jack White)

    • Blackstar (David Bowie)

    • The Sound Of Silence (Live On Conan) (Disturbed)

    • Heathens (Twenty One Pilots)

    My favorite: Don't Hurt Yourself
    My pick: Blackstar

    Best Alternative Music Album

    • 22, A Million (Bon Iver)

    • Blackstar (David Bowie)

    • The Hope Six Demolition Project (PJ Harvey)

    • Post Pop Depression (Iggy Pop)

    • A Moon Shaped Pool (Radiohead)

    My favorite: 22, A Million
    My pick: Blackstar

    Best Rock Album

    • California (Blink-182)

    • Tell Me I'm Pretty (Cage The Elephant)

    • Magma (Gojira)

    • Death Of A Bachelor (Panic! At The Disco)

    • Weezer (Weezer)

    My favorite: California
    My pick: Tell Me I'm Pretty

  • PART 7 – POP

    Unfortunately, time has caught up with me and there's no way I'll be able to finish all of these posts before the actual awards happen. I've listened to all of the nominees and I'm making this post as a placeholder and to mark my favorites and picks to win. I will come back and give full reviews like the other categories soon, I promise!

    Best Pop Solo Performance

    • Hello (Adele)

    • Hold Up (Beyoncé)

    • Love Yourself (Justin Bieber)

    • Piece By Piece (Idol Version) (Kelly Clarkson)

    • Dangerous Woman (Ariana Grande)

    My favorite: Piece By Piece
    My pick: Hello

    Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

    • Closer (The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey)

    • 7 Years (Lukas Graham)

    • Work (Rihanna feat. Drake)

    • Cheap Thrills (Sia feat. Sean Paul)

    • Stressed Out (Twenty One Pilots)

    My favorite: Closer
    My pick: Closer

    Best Pop Vocal Album

    • 25 (Adele)

    • Purpose (Justin Bieber)

    • Dangerous Woman (Ariana Grande)

    • Confident (Demi Lovato)

    • This Is Acting (Sia)

    My favorite: 25
    My pick: 25


    Unfortunately, time has caught up with me and there's no way I'll be able to finish all of these posts before the actual awards happen. I've listened to all of the nominees and I'm making this post as a placeholder and to mark my favorites and picks to win. I will come back and give full reviews like the other categories soon, I promise!

    Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical

    • Are You Serious (Andrew Bird)

    • Blackstar (David Bowie)

    • Dig In Deep (Bonnie Raitt)

    • Hit N Run Phase Two (Prince)

    • Undercurrent (Sarah Jarosz)

    My favorite: Undercurrent
    My pick: Are You Serious

    Producer of the Year, Non-Classical

    • Benny Blanco

    • Greg Kurstin

    • Max Martin

    • Nineteen85

    • Ricky Reed

    My favorite: Benny Blanco
    My pick: Max Martin


    This is what it really all comes down to. 84 categories, but the vast majority of the focus leading up to and following the Grammys is always these 4 “General” categories. These are the 4 that Grammy-focused artists really strive for, and they almost make the other 80 feel like consolation prizes for a good effort. If you read or hear a news story about the awards show the day after the Grammys, it will probably be about who came away as winners in these major categories.

    There are a few housekeeping things before we take the dive into the nominees. First, “Best New Artist” is a pretty silly title for a category. None of these artists are new, nor are any of the nominees in this category ever truly new. This award is focused on artists who had their first breakout success this year, which in itself is vague and open to a lot of interpretation when it comes to the nomination process. Second, “Record of the Year” is a bit more inclusive than the “Performance” categories in specific genres. Not only does this award honor the artists performing on the song, but also every level of production that went into it.

    Best New Artist

    • Kelsea Ballerini – This pop-country artist reminds me a little of a cross between Carrie Underwood and early Taylor Swift. She can provide an energy and level of vocal control and clarity that's a small step below the chops of Underwood, but also brings to the table an ear for singer-songwriter country hooks and lyrics. Her song “Peter Pan” is what really catapulted her to widespread fame, and it's definitely a better song than the awful song about the same subject this year by Ruth B.

    • The Chainsmokers – These guys started as what seemed like a one-hit wonder a few years ago with the bizzare single “Selfie.” However, they proved this year that they have a lot more to provide to music than mindless, unpalatable dance hits. Their strength follows the modern trend of introspective, chill electronic music with powerful vocal hooks. If you remove the awful “drop” in “Don't Let Me Down,” I actually enjoy every song they've put out this past year.

    • Chance The Rapper – Chance has been steadily gaining an underground following for the past few years, but this was undoubtedly the year he was thrust into the limelight. Not only did he release his amazing and soulful rap album Coloring Book, he also co-wrote what many rap fans believe to be the best album of the year, The Life of Pablo. His style is such that he makes his influences transparent (Kanye West, Common, and Lupe Fiasco might be the easiest to pick out), but he manages to mold it into something that is solely his.

    • Maren Morris – Morris this year came to prominence with her album Hero, which shows off her ability to mix country and soul and wrap it in a pop-friendly package. She occasionally has a grit and rawness in her voice that can be likened to Elle King, but her songwriting and production style are such that they challenge radio stations not to play her songs.

    • Anderson .Paak – I've been following Anderson .Paak since he produced the album All You Can Do by Watsky back in 2014. He then followed that production up by featuring as a rapper on numerous tracks on Dr. Dre's Compton. Since then, he has proved that he can deftly apply his ear for production into his own songwriting. His music feels open, mellow, and well-paced, which serve him well for songs that demand focus on the thematically dense lyrics. If you need a quick primer on Anderson .Paak, listen to my favorite track of his, “The Season / Carry Me” from 2015.

    My favorite: Anderson .Paak
    My pick: The Chainsmokers

    Song of the Year

    • Formation (Beyoncé) – This song is very much on the pulse of modern-day social politics, serving as an firm embrace of blackness in a nation and world where racial tension is on everyone's mind. Beyoncé takes full ownership of African-American stereotypes, showing that differences in culture are special and unique rather than aspects that need to be hidden or polished away. My favorite line is simultaneously humorous and biting, taking her man to Red Lobster for a treat, or perhaps a ride on her chopper instead. She shows she can own up to cultural norms that might be used to mock or ridicule, and makes it clear that the same culture used as a punchline is also one that can find overwhelming success despite the artificial obstacles.

    • Hello (Adele) – This is Adele back in fighting form after the hiatus coming off the success of her previous album. It tells a story from the perspective of someone reaching out to one of her past relationships, possibly in an effort to rekindle it and possibly in an effort to just gain some closure with her own demons High Fidelity style. The seemingly futile attempt at reconciliation comes across as being directed inward, as if she's been reflecting on her past and full of regret and how her choices have affected her personally.

    • I Took A Pill In Ibiza (Mike Posner) – Most of you probably know this song from the remix that played on the radio at the height of the single, but the original is actually a slow acoustic guitar ballad (don't bother looking it up, the remix is better). Posner, an artist that was essentially a flash-in-the-pan success nearly a decade ago, uses this song to contemplate if an artist has anything to look forward to once they pass their 15 minutes of fame. The lines dig deep to the core and actually manage to make you feel sorry for someone that you otherwise wouldn't have a shred of sympathy for.

    • Love Yourself (Justin Bieber) – A song that is very clearly co-written by Ed Sheeran, Bieber simultaneously shows a caring and a bitter side here. The double-meaning is most apparent in the title hook: listen to the song once with the phrase “Love Yourself” as a urge to find happiness for yourself before seeking to get it from a relationship, then again with the word “love” as if it's a SFW placeholder for an expletive synonym. The contrast is stark on both listens, and the only thing that changes is audience perspective.

    • 7 Years (Lukas Graham) – This is not a well-written song. Its best line is the first one, and it's all downhill from there. What could have been a good exploration into feelings of inadequacy and the pressures of striving for greatness instead turns into a list of humble-brags that only give off the illusion of depth.

    My favorite: I Took A Pill In Ibiza
    My pick: Hello

    Record of the Year

    • Hello (Adele) – Adele is Adele. No one else can be Adele, which is why Adele is so good at being Adele. The vocals are soulful, dynamic and gutting. I will say this was the first Adele song where I really noticed her accent. I first heard this song on the radio and started in the middle of the chorus. I thought the words were “Hollow from the outside,” which I thought was kind of cool imagery but didn't think it made much sense. The song booms where it needs to, backs off where it needs to, and the background vocals are absolutely on point.

    • Formation (Beyoncé) – There are some songs where Beyoncé shows off her amazing vocal range and character. There are other songs where she puts that talent aside to just be plain fierce. This falls into the latter category. There's a palpable mix of anger and cockiness both in her vocal and the beat that fits the song perfectly.

    • 7 Years (Lukas Graham) – You're already starting off with a poorly-written song as a base. Add in the lead singer's squeaky, shrill tenor and a pop-rock track that sounds like it belongs 15 years in the past and I'm baffled how this made it into any category. The music box playing the theme at the beginning is a fairly nice touch, at least.

    • Work (Rihanna feat. Drake) – It's a bit odd that of all the Rihanna songs, this is the one to get a performance nomination. The instrumental loop is a slick work of production by Boi-1da, but Rihanna's lyrics are infamously impossible to interpret without looking at the words as she goes. Maybe that's somehow the point, but it doesn't come across very well. Drake is undoubtedly at his best when collaborating with Rihanna, and there's definitely that same track chemistry here. Still, I can't quite tell what I'm supposed to extract from this song.

    • Stressed Out (Twenty One Pilots) – This song could act as an anthem for millenials. A desire to go back in time not only to be a kid again, but to avoid being an adult in 2016 was the theme of a lot of music this past year, and this track was pretty much leading the charge. The warmth and easy pace give you a desire for the song's description of security, but the track succeeds in keeping itself just barely too complex and deep to let you actually achieve it. Admittedly though, many listeners are probably confused by the seemingly bizarre references to the “Blurryface” character and the pitched-down vocals at the end.

    My favorite: Stressed Out
    My pick: Hello

    Album of the Year

    • 25 (Adele) – First of all, this album has one hell of a credits list in terms of producers: past Producer of the Year winners Paul Epworth, Max Martin, and Danger Mouse as well as past nominees in that category Greg Kurstin, Ariel Rechtshaid, The Smeezingtons and Ryan Tedder. It also helps that Adele took home 6 awards in her last Grammy outing in 2012. Speaking of that huge win for her, it's impossible to look at this album without comparing it to 21. It's very similar in sound, but shifts in overall theme to more retrospective and wistful. It's not as good as 21 was, but that doesn't mean it's not amazing.

    • Lemonade (Beyoncé) – This album is just so many things at the same time. It presents an emotional roller coaster that spans genres and has Beyoncé absolutely killing it on every track. I don't care what kind of music you like or don't like, there has to be at least one track on this album you would give a thumbs up to.

    • Purpose (Justin Bieber) – If all pop artists can make this kind of transition and shift in focus, the radio might actually become a reliable source for quality music. I'm not saying this album is the height of pop or anything, but just compare any song on this album to any song on his other albums. Bieber takes some big risky swings here, and while there are a few strikes and not many deep balls, he's pretty consistently hitting doubles to left-center and batting in some runs.

    • Views (Drake) – If you take Drake out of the “rap” categories and are allowed to hear this album in the wider context of music, it holds up a little better. The introspective R&B vibe feels more at home among some of the nominees in this category (Purpose especially) and the rapping sections of these songs aren't what pulls in a mainstream audience anyway. Still, couldn't this album just be a few songs shorter? No re-contextualization can change the fact that this entire album is a chore to get through with its tiresome, limited emotional range.

    • A Sailor's Guide To Earth (Sturgill Simpson) – Similar to Views, this album has enough fringe influences that it reviews better in a genre-less category rather than being tossed in the “country” pile. I've already said I love this album. I wish it would win, and the fact that Beck won against Beyoncé in 2015 gives me a sliver of hope. But this Beyoncé album is better, plus there's the small matter of a new Adele album to contend with. You'll always be special to me, at least, Sturgill.

    My favorite: A Sailor's Guide To Earth
    My pick: Lemonade


    The biggest night in music has come and gone, so it's time to give some final thoughts on the event that essentially gave me the inspiration to start this blog. I'll start with some thoughts on the actual winners that came away on top, and end with how my picks and favorites lined up with the results.

    For the 4 general categories, pretty much everybody knew that it would be a battle between Adele and Beyoncé. I hedged my bets between the two of them (I do legitimately think Lemonade was more deserving than 25, but admittedly that could just be my absolute love of 21 tainting my opinion of Adele's new album). Adele swept the big 3, and Chance The Rapper took Best New Artist in a surprise to me over the undeniably more popular Chainsmokers.

    When it came to categories in the rock genre, I had a pretty good feeling the late David Bowie would sweep them all. I don't think those nominees were necessarily the best in their categories, but they were still very good and the outpouring of love after Bowie's death locked them in as safe picks.

    I guess I underestimated how much people still like Drake, despite how often he's picked on by many hip-hop and R&B fans. Best Rap Song is a pill I can almost swallow, even though I think the songwriting is tame compared to the rest of the genre which is defined by lyrical dexterity. For performance, however, I can't wrap my head around how he beat Beyoncé/Kendrick, Kanye/Chance, AND Kanye/Rihanna.

    I am unbelievably glad Sturgill Simpson won for Best Country Album, albeit pretty surprised. He has been pretty outspoken about his distaste for modern country music and didn't receive a single nomination at the 2016 CMAs (two facts which might be strongly linked), so I didn't think members of the Academy voting in the country categories would give him a fair shake.

    I'm a little ashamed I missed the mark on both “Production” categories I followed, since that's the area of music I'm most interested in. I guess I should have carried over my “Bowie wins everything this year” mentality for album engineering, and I shouldn't have underestimated how much an Adele album can carry a producer. Mainly I'm surprised that Max Martin, a man who has now produced 20 number one hits, still only has a single Producer of the Year Grammy to show for his two decades of churning out hit songs.

    Now let's see how well I was able to pick out who would win, as well as how my personal favorites performed at the awards cermony:

    • My picks to win: 15/33 (45%) Considering completely random picks would approach 20%, I'm fairly happy with this result, although there are a few more winners I should have seen coming.

    • My favorites that won: 6/33 (18%) I predicted 6 of my favorites to be winners, although only 2 of those actually won and there were 4 that I was pleasantly surprised with.

    • Best category: Rock 4/4 (100%) I said it before, Bowie was a safe pick this year

    • Worst category: Production 0/2 (0%) ...oops.

    So thanks for sticking with me through this crazy experiment to start a music review blog! Now that it's over I can begin doing actual, full reviews of albums one at a time rather than five (or fifteen) short ones at a time. Look forward to the first one this Friday! (Assuming I can actually stick to my regular schedule, that is...)

    If you're reading this message right now, I am still working on the mini-reviews for some of the different categories I had to skip in order to get all my picks in before the Grammys aired. I'll get them up as soon as I can, but if you're still reading this in March you might want to send help (in the form of some focus and self-discipline).

  • REVIEW – EDEN – i think you think too much of me

    EDEN - ityttmom
    (Released August 19, 2016)

    EDEN, formerly known as The Eden Project, is the performing alias of Irish producer and singer-songwriter Jonathon Ng. Under the title of The Eden Project, Ng focused primarily on the production of EDM tracks, specifically dubstep and electro-house, but gradually began to show his talents for lyricism and arrangement and made more use of his amazing voice. With the name change in 2015, EDEN pulled the focus away from dance-oriented tracks into the realm of indie pop-rock, while still retaining the liberal use of electronic sound design. His music incorporated more organic instrumentation layered over ambient soundscapes reminiscent of a band like M83, and he forced much more of the listener's concentration on his lyrics and vocal arrangements.

    i think you think too much of me is the second EP released by EDEN, the first being 2015's End Credits EP. Ng makes it clear from the first instant of this project that he's moving even further from his strictly electronic roots, starting off the opening track “sex” with a thumping drum beat (from an actual, irl drum kit) and huge sustained piano chords. It's pure indie pop that would find itself in good company with the likes of Bastille or Walk The Moon.

    That first track just lies on one end of the wide spectrum this album provides, however. The other end of the spectrum comes immediately after with the track “drugs.” In stark contrast to the opener, this song is brooding and chaotic with heavy electronic synths. Somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, or maybe on a different spectrum entirely, lies the second half of side A, “and” and “rock + roll.” “and” is almost more experimental and sparsely produced, while “rock + roll” shows some heavy influences from classic rock and R&B.

    Side B is a bit of an oddity, as it contains three remastered versions of songs Ng penned as The Eden Project. These versions are better than their original releases, with rising star Gnash even filling in on the previously instrumental-only second verse of “Fumes,” but they seem a bit tacked-on in an attempt to extend the album's run time. Since End Credits EP featured nothing but original songs (7 in total), it's a bit of a disappointment that we only get 4 originals from EDEN this time around.

    Where this EP really shines is in its lyrics. All of the songs, even the 3 on side B, are incredibly focused on that aspect, which Ng must now realize is one of his greatest strengths as an artist. The songs are all lyrically-dense and brutally honest. You could pull pretty much any single line out of any one of these tracks and see its depth, even out of context (and it gets even deeper when you add the context back in). “sex” and “XO” are similar in that they're almost anti-love songs. In both, EDEN presents himself as the member of a relationship who isn't really putting in the effort to keep it strong, and the two songs almost offer a different perspective about how that starting point may evolve. “rock + roll” and “Circles” are my favorite offerings lyrically, as they dive deep on introspection about how to navigate life and live up to expectations.

    The production is immaculate on every track, although Ng seems to enjoy adding distortion to his voice in sections where he's shouting. This can get a little heavy-handed to the point where you can't tell what he's singing, which is a shame since those parts are often the most emotionally intense. And even though each track sounds fantastic, there's little to no thematic glue holding them together. Other than the sequential titles, side A may as well be a collection of singles much like side B. This is especially disappointing because End Credits EP was incredibly well constructed as a whole, with excellent transitions between tracks and recurring lyrical and instrumental themes.

    If you've never listened to any post-EDM, “indie electronic” music, then EDEN is definitely a fantastic starting point. The two EPs he's put out under this project name are absolutely at the top of their class. Even if ityttmom doesn't quite live up to it's predecessor (which is available for free download, so there's really no excuse), it's laudable in that it shows EDEN stepping even further away from the comfort zone of EDM and demonstrates to a listener better than ever who he truly is as an artist.

    Favorite tracks: rock + roll, Circles, drugs
    Least favorite: none

    Score: 4/5 stars - Excellent

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