Grammys 2013: An early look at album of the year (Part 1)


Happy New Year! If you’re a Grammy voter, today marks the start of a brand new year. The Recording Academy’s annual industry gala the Grammy Awards recognizes albums and singles released through Sept. 30, meaning any remaining 2012 releases will have to wait all the way to 2014 to get their Grammy spotlight.

Yet Pop fans know what this means: Grammy season has officially begun. To celebrate (excited, aren’t you?), Pop & Hiss is offering an early look at those artists and releases likely to contend for a Grammy on Feb. 10.

First is a look at 10 albums sure to be heavily considered for album of the year. To be split into two parts, Part 1 in the series will run down five prime album of the year contenders.


Adele’s “21” won in 2012, and she competed largely against pop representatives, as efforts from Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and Rihanna were also nominated. Rounding out the field of contenders was rock act the Foo Fighters.

It was a major move toward the center after the orchestral indie rock of the Arcade Fire’s “The Suburbs” won the album of the year Grammy in 2011. While the Grammys of course lean mainstream in the major categories, don’t be surprised if at least one new face, as noted below, sneaks in this year.

What follows is a look at five potential album of the year contenders. Come back to Pop & Hiss a little later for a look at five more.

The Grammy nominations will be unveiled Dec. 5

Frank Ocean
The R&B-focused; contributor to local hip-hop rabble-rousers Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, Ocean released his major label debut, “Channel Orange,” in July. It has sold about 324,000 copies in the U.S.

Grammy potential
Recording Academy voters have tried in recent years to welcome in new artists who put a spin on old traditions, whether it be the turned-to-11 folk rock of Mumford & Sons or the slick, decade-hopping soulful pop of Bruno Mars. Ocean is harder to classifier than either of those Grammy-approved examples, but as much as “Channel Orange” traffics in modestly ambient, electronic-tinged arrangements, it welcomes to the landscape a young artist who emphasizes songwriting.

What’s more, Ocean has already worked with Kanye West, Beyonce and Justin Bieber, among others, giving him the mainstream stamp-of-approval voters love, and he raised his profile with appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and the MTV “Video Music Awards.”

Grammy deserving

One of the most anticipated debuts of the year, “Channel Orange” was also one of the most ambitious. Songs like the nearly 10-minute “Pyramids” are borderline psychedelic, while “Pink Matter” showcases the fragility in Ocena’s voice. Meanwhile, single “Bad Religion” uses little more than an organ and conversational singing to turn a tale of heartbreak into a nail-biter.

Bruce Springsteen
Seventeen albums into his career, one of America’s most famous rock ‘n’ roll troubadours unleashed one of his feistier albums in “Wrecking Ball,” which has sold 459,000 copies.

Grammy potential
When the Grammys in 2012 were in mourning the sudden loss of Whitney Houston, producers tapped Springsteen and the E Street Band to open the show with arena-rock healer “We Take Care of Our Own.” Springsteen and the Grammys have a standing date, even if the New Jersey favorite hasn’t won Grammys’ top album of the year prize. He has more than 15 Grammys, and if he doesn’t have a touring conflict in early February, expect to see him on the telecast.

Grammy deserving
“Wrecking Ball” was not one of Springsteen’s stronger albums, but it has received more positive reviews than not, largely because it tackled issues relating to our tough economic climate. Yet it rarely took a hard-lined stance and boasted rather clunky radio-friendly production. Sprinsgteen may have been singing about what he sees, but he was crafting an album that felt like a tour souvenir.

Fiona Apple
The passionately enigmatic pianist released her first album in seven years with the outrageously titled “The Idler Wheel is Wiser than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do.” The album has sold 177,000 copies.

Grammy potential
Apple won a female rock performance Grammy for her early single “Criminal,” which was a concession for losing best new artist to the more comfortable singer-songwriter stylings of Paula Cole. Apple, despite her limited recording output, has stayed on the radar of Recording Academy voters. Her 2005 album, “Extraordinary Machine,” even garnered a best pop vocal album nomination but lost to Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway.” The “Idler Wheel” has been a critical and moderately commercial success, but she may be a bit too much of oddball in the minds of Grammy listeners for the top nomination.

Grammy deserving
“The Idler Wheel” is a fascinating listen, albeit an exhausting one. She moved away from the orchestral flourishes of her early work, and the Apple here is claustrophobic and panicked, but this album is meticulously detailed. Those willing to go along with Apple’s emotional drama will find a rewarding work, one complete with stick-and-stones rhythms and lyrics that document a war with one’s own mind.


The Canadian rapper-singer released his second commercial full-length, “Take Care,” during the holidays last year. It has sold more than 1.9 million copies.

Grammy potential
Drake is hip-hop that you can — more often than not, at least — take home to meet the parents, and that should serve him well with Recording Academy voters. A former best new artist nominee (he lost to Esperanza Spalding), Drake is a rather safe bet for a number of nominations. He hasn’t won a Grammy, but he’s performed at the telecast and his debut, “Thank Me Later,” received a nod for rap album.

Grammy deserving
For “Take Care” Drake took a page out of Kanye West’s “808s & Heartbreak,” putting an emphasis on mood and existential analysis. There’s far more good than bad, especially when Drake shows off his more nervous side on tracks like “Doing It Wrong.”

Carrie Underwood
The country-pop star, only about five years removed from being named best new artist, remains one of this biggest names in country. Her “Blown Away” has sold sold more than 809,000 copies since its release this spring.

Grammy potential
See the best new artist mention above. Worth noting is that Underwood’s profile seems to be only on the rise, especially with her recent stunt of giving away a first kiss. With Taylor Swift’s 2012 album not eligible because of its release date, any Grammy conversation has to include Underwood, because she already has five Grammy Awards spread among her four-album career. Key for Underwood will be building momentum out of the Nov. 1 CMA Awards.

Grammy deserving
Pop & Hiss was mixed in its review, but critics leaned positive on “Blown Away.” The album is stronger up-top, especially the back-to-back punch of the title track and “Two Black Cadillacs,” which are tough and moody country rockers. Glossy production tosses some water on the rebel fire, and there’s a few too many lags in intensity throughout these 14 tracks.


Not happy with the forecasts above? Pop & Hiss isn’t done. A second installment will look at an additional five albums on our short list to be nominated for the top Grammy prize.

Also, stay tuned to the blog this week for more previews of those likely to be nominated for the 2013 Grammy Awards. Up next this week will be a run-down of the best new artist crop.


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