In our special WE LOVE CHRISTIAN MUSIC AWARDS editorial series, members of the NRT staff have a back-and-forth discussion about this year's nominees.
For Part 9 of our series, NRT's Mary Nikkel and Matt Durlin discuss the contenders for The Amp Award: Rock Album of the Year.
This category is my personal baby; every year it's the one I watch most anxiously. Every album on this list is one that I feel really passionate about, which makes it hard to think clearly about a winner. Part of what is cool this year is the range. We have veterans (RED, Spoken, Seventh Day Slumber), newcomers like As We Ascend and Ashes Remain in the middle. What are your initial thoughts about how the category is looking this year?
I agree. I am AMPed for the albums in this category; they are all in regular rotation on my playlist, so choosing the best is definitely a challenge. RED is a known entity and their latest did not disappoint, but I think Ashes Remain is going to give them a run for their money. With so many great choices, what do you look for in a rock album when considering it for an album of the year award?
Ashes Remain definitely has some pull since I feel like they kind of surprised a lot of rock listeners with their record Farewell to Midnight. For me, when I'm looking for rock album of the year, I'm looking something that both nails all the major elements that define the genre (solid guitars, meaty lyrics, intense vocals) as well as pushing the envelope into new territory. For me, the two that exemplified that this year were RED's Gone, which took the electronic rock fusion that's so huge right now to the next level, and As We Ascend's Farewell to Midnight, which used the dual vocalist format-- a very unique thing for our industry. Do you have a strong frontrunner pick for Rock Album of the Year personally?
I prefer rock albums that are more raw (not overproduced), and while I really like the way RED fuses electronics with rock, I think to some degree Gone is overproduced more than some of their previous releases. I also like when a rock band shows their vocal chops by laying down a sweet ballad, something that can get good mainstream play.
My two favorites in this category, given those requirements, are Spoken's IX and Ashes Remain with Let the Light In. I really like how both of those albums meet all of the criteria you mentioned (solid guitars, deep and meaty lyrics, and intense vocals) but they show how rock and roll is raw, and they can slow it down well too.
Totally an important point! Spoken had more ballads than usual on IX, and though I know that might have surprised some listeners, they pulled it off incredibly well; the sheer dynamic Matt Baird's vocals displayed were absolutely stellar. Ashes Remain also achieved that incredibly well, which paired well with the spiritual depth of their album. I feel like Spoken has the potential to win a decent percentage of the votes, though realistically RED has the biggest name. Do you have any input on who could top out or come second in popular voting?
I think RED will almost definitely win the popular vote, just by name recognition alone. They are so consistent with what they put out and have a very loyal fan base too. The second place in popular voting is a little trickier for me. I am guessing fans will vote for Seventh Day Slumber's Found, but I think Spoken or As We Ascend will come in close. Who do you think deserves to win the award?
To be honest, my personal vote is for As We Ascend. I think just the fact that their debut record was a contender with all these veterans is incredible, and like I said earlier, it just really pushed the boundaries of what rock is doing right now. The dual vocalist, dual guitarist setup is really unique, and it's creating a chemistry that I think could take the world by storm. What do you feel that this category and the nominations say about the current state of rock in general?
That's a tough question! I think that having As We Ascend earn a nomination among the veteran bands shows that there is staying power in the industry. I know rock and roll is a constantly-changing genre, and in particular how it is consumed and discovered is changing. So having a new band along with some old friends gives me hope for the genre.
I would completely, wholeheartedly affirm that. I would also add that one of the things this category continues to prove is that the future of rock and roll is independent. RED is the only real major label contender here, and they've strongly implied that they're considering going independent since Gone fulfilled their label contract. Rock and roll can thrive, but it's on smaller labels, independent models and through unique business approaches. And the fact that it has adapted to a shifting industry landscape (something other genres have been slow to do) gives me a lot of hope for the future.
Agreed on all that. RED just did a tour pretty much entirely in clubs and bars last year, which is in my opinion a great way to connect to the general market, and make real connections with fans. The future is bright indeed! I am looking forward to seeing what fellow rockers think as they vote in this category.
Which was your favorite rock release of the year? Vote for The Amp Award and 23 other categories now through Jan. 26, 2018, at weloveawards.com! Your votes determine the winners, and you can vote as often and as much as you want!
Assembled from the four corners of North America and many other corners in between, the NRTeam is comprised of staffers whose energy is equally dispersed towards loving music and writing about the music they love.
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