Ten Slept On Grammys Deep Cuts

February 07, 2013

For the past couple years, by cutting categories, throwing Deadmau5 onto a side stage and launching watch-along hashtags, the Grammys have tried to counteract the impression that their award's importance is diminishing. This year, they've acknowledged a number of widely beloved and popular artists like Frank Ocean, 2 Chainz and Miguel, who hopefully you know well. Their being honored gives us a reason to watch this Sunday night. Though many of the bigger categories will still be battled out by Mumford and Sons and their lookalikes, there will be some 80 trophies awarded this year, many to weirdos and pros we've never covered here. So we did a little digging. Here are ten of the little (and not so little) gems we'll be rooting for.

Miranda Lambert, Four The Record

Best Country Album

In high school I dated a country music fan, and Miranda Lambert's 2005 single "Me and Charlie Talking" was one of the first contemporary country songs the girl played that I openly liked. In the years since, my main, blond-haired, ’80s-baby country fixation has clearly been Taylor Swift, but I still check in with Lambert for every album. Like Swift, with each release, her profile seems to rise a little higher—Lambert already has a Grammy and has been named "Female Vocalist of the Year" at the Country Music Awards, by the Academy of Country Music and by the Country Music Association. But unlike Swift, Lambert has stayed true to her country bonafides, plainly evidenced by a pair of tracks on Four the Record whose titles reference midwestern/southern states. "Look at Miss Ohio" is a spirited cover of even-more-bonafide singer/songwriter Gillian Welch that, while it can't quite match the heartbreaking original, rings confident and true—the song of a woman who'll be happy to sing songs like these for the rest of her life. Album-closer "Oklahoma Sky" starts and ends very slow, and in its stillness, with Lambert's wheat-hued twang taking its time overtop, floats miles above the overproduced schmaltz of lesser efforts in the genre. —DUNCAN COOPER

Bruce Springsteen, "We Take Care of Our Own"

Best Rock Performance

Bruce Springsteen is not slept on. Neither was Herbie Hancock, who won Album of the Year in 2008. But while that was a nice nod in spirit, it was ridiculous in practice. Winning Album of the Year means that your album should both be tremendous but also that it should define the year in music. Herbie Hancock didn’t do that in 2008, and Bruce Springsteen didn’t do that in 2012. But, decades into his career, he hasn’t lost it, and “Song of the Year,” a songwriting award, is something he should not be overlooked for. Mumford and Sons, The Black Keys, Muse, meh. Jack White and Alabama Shakes are also nominated, but their work is not as tight and subtly provocative as Springsteen’s. “We Take Care of Our Own” is an agitator’s anthem, much like “Born in the USA.” That song was misconstrued as a blind tribute to American values, and this one may be as well. It’s not. Springsteen, is imploring us to take care of our own as much as he’s celebrating the fact that we do. That service is what rock songwriting does at its best. Not to mention he still knows his way around a riff.—MATTHEW SCHNIPPER

Tania León, "Inura" for Voices, Strings & Percussion

Best Contemporary Classical Composition

A few years back, Tania Léon wrote "Inura" for DanceBrazil, a New York-based company that has as its mission the merging of modern movement with Afro-Brazilian music and dance. Léon isn’t Brazilian, but since moving to New York from her native Cuba in the mid-’70s, she’s been confronting the Western conservatory tradition with the African diaspora sounds she listened to growing up. "Inura" is rife with celebratory-sounding rhythms, but bossa nova is probably the only historic musical style that listeners will be able to concretely identify, and while she says that the piece was inspired by the Brazilian animist religion Candomblé, you don’t have to know what that means to appreciate her breathtakingly spacious and subtly wilting arrangements for voice and strings. No need really to parse them in academic terms, either—they just go straight to the gut.—EMILIE FRIEDLANDER

Los Tucanes De Tijuana, 365 Días

Best Regional Mexican Music Album

Los Tucanes de Tijuana—a sharply-dressed sextet known for drug trade-romanticizing accordion polkas and mustaches—formed the year I was born. Since, according to the LA Times, they've sold 13 million albums, often simultaneously releasing one collection of radio-banned narcocorridos alongside another LP of radio-friendly ballads. In 2008, they outraged Tijuana's police chief by shouting out a cartel boss onstage. After, they were banned from playing in their namesake hometown and investigated by Mexico's secretary of public security for cartel connections. Frontman Mario Quintero told the New York Times, "We're with the cartel of the people," and moved to San Diego. The band now does a lot of touring in the western US. 365 Días is a clean album, with laments about soured love and a frenetic wordplay song called "Salió del Closet" (or "Coming Out of the Closet"), for which I sadly can't find the lyrics. Los Tucanes have been nominated for this category before but have never taken it home. They've got stiff competition in the flashy, 13-woman operation Mariachi Divas De Cindy Shea. —NAOMI ZEICHNER

M.I.A., "Bad Girls"

Best Short Form Music Video

M.I.A. is a mother. Her son, Ikhyd, was born in February of 2009. This means nothing in the context of the music she makes and the agro-political or sexual overtones she’s been criticized for, but something with regard to the video for last year’s “Bad Girls,” where she can be seen whizzing down a Moroccan street-racing strip and body-rolling a few feet from sedans turning donuts amidst a crowd. Was M.I.A. thinking of her son during the shooting of “Bad Girls”? We’d like to think so. Because M.I.A. is a mother whose son’s classmates will forever be jealous of the things his mom can be seen doing on the internet. —FELIPE DELERME

Steven Halpern, Deep Alpha: Brainwave Synchronization for Meditation and Healing

Best New Age Album

It’s hard not to love the really implausible, pseudoscientific explanations that musicians in the New Age community will give to explain why you’ll be doing your mind, body and spirit a favor by clicking some really outdated-looking PayPal link on their half-broken Angelfire website. Iasos has argued that sounds in the upper registers of the human auditory spectrum will fortify a person’s good mood, citing the anger and negativity of heavy metal as an example of what happens when you dip too far into bass tones; Steven Halpern, who hails from the same generation of Californian, ‘70s New Age forefathers, has been pioneering a “technology” called brainwave enchainment music, based by the idea that certain wave forms promote wellbeing and stress relief by literally altering the electrical activity in your brain. On Deep Alpha, he uses a Rhodes Mark 7 electric piano and bits of xylophone and saxophone to supposedly increase the presence of heart-rate-slowing alpha waves up there. Whether or not you buy his explanation, it just sounds really pretty. —EF

Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM

Best Historical Album

The sixth Grammy nomination for one-time winner Dust-to-Digital, arguably the best and easily the most forward-thinking historical reissue record label on earth, is the 100-track compilation and 100-page book Opika Pende, meaning "stand strong" or "resist" in Lingala. Collected and annotated by Jonathan Ward, who runs a fantastic and studious blog called Excavated Shellac, where he digitizes and shares from his collection of vernacular and folklore 78RPM records, Opika Pende focuses on never-before-reissued African music from the 1920s to ’60s. It's a staggering project to encapsulate a half-decade of music from the second most populous continent, which gives Opika Pende a built-in trick: load the long-lost songs in iTunes and click wherever you may, and you can be sure you've never heard this one before. —DC

Amadou & Mariam, Folila

Best World Music Album

Amadou and Mariam set out to release Folila as two records, each with the same songs: one to be recorded in New York, with "crossover" collaborators like Santigold and Theophilus London, and the other in Mali, with local musicians and instruments. They recorded both versions then went to France, home of seriously off-putting supporting vocalist Bertrand Cantat, the former Noir Desir frontman who was released from jail in 2007 after serving four years for beating his girlfriend to death. In Paris, they decided, more reasonably, to collage all the sessions into a single LP, which for all its toggling between places, recording sessions and quilted-in voices, feels surprisingly whole. It's best when the duo get loose and lead: Mariam clear and bright in front of a laughing female choir on "Cherie," or Amadou guiding a marching guitar groove. —NZ

Rihanna, Talk That Talk

Best Pop Vocal Album

I really can't say if Talk That Talk is technically a better album than fun.'s or Maroon 5's. It's probably for the best that they don't ask for my vote. I think I see an album as an "album cycle" more than just a collection of 12 songs—pop music in the internet age is so much about the narrative that underlies an album, and no one's story was more captivating than Rihanna's when she released Talk That Talk. At the time of its release, the album was her biggest statement so far in the post-Chris Brown era. Backed by her complicated personal life and her tendency to flick off the paparazzi, get tattoos and wear amazing clothes, she became a generational icon. The first single and video, "We Found Love," feels, only a year or so later, like the pop statement of 2011/2012, infused with a youthful romance and urgency that only Rihanna could give it. Does that make it the Best Pop Vocal Album, in the Grammy's eyes? I have no idea, but I'm sure I'll be playing Talk That Talk when I'm old and gray to remind me of what I was like when I was young, and that, to me, is the best thing you could ever say about a pop album. —ALEX FRANK


Producer of The Year, Non-Classical

Diplo, he of the signature peace-sign tourist pose, AK-47-toting manatee tat and Blackberry phone ad, has had a pretty solid run since his oft-forgotten 2004 debut album, Florida. His curation of the Mad Decent collective put him on a FADER cover in 2009, and last year alone he shot his producer profile into space with the bottle service-ready “Push And Shove” for No Doubt, Major Lazer’s “Get Free”—what might actually be the song of 2012—and of course “Climax,” the most interesting thing Usher has done since he became an adult. He also co-produced a song for Justin Beiber. Diplo is someone who a lot of people have long known to do interesting things if given the opportunity. It's great to see the Grammys acknowledge that fact as well. —FD

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Slept On
Ten Slept On Grammys Deep Cuts