The Grammy rock categories are interesting, but the sub-genre race for Best Alternative Album will be where the real action happens. The two major frontrunners are David Bowie (“Blackstar”) and Radiohead (“A Moon Shaped Pool”). Bowie made his final LP knowing full well it would be his last. He passed away only three days after its release, bringing its beautiful poetry to life. “Blackstar” was universally praised and became a full-blown commercial hit. A nom here (and potential win) wouldn’t just be a de facto lifetime achievement award for Bowie, it would be recognition for one of the year’s best albums.
Radiohead, meanwhile, are three-time winners of this category. It’s been eight years since their last victory for “In Rainbows” (2008) and “Moon Shaped Pool” was exactly the critical winner and artistic reinvention they needed to build upon their legacy as one of this generation’s greatest acts. A nomination here is a sure thing. Going against Bowie for the trophy will likely make this one of the year’s most exciting races.
The only other previous category winner in this year’s race is Bon Iver. Their first album in five years, “22, A Million,” is an artistic left-turn from the lumberjack singer-songwriter stylings that made them an indie powerhouse. Even still, the reaction has been mostly positive, and the album’s late-in-the-year release keeps him fresh in voters’ minds and makes him a very safe bet for an Alternative Music Album nomination.
The last two years have seen a resurgence for female artists in this category with wins by St. Vincent (“St. Vincent,” 2014) and Alabama Shakes (“Sound and Color,” 2015). While the aforementioned male acts are more likely to win this year, there have been a slew of outstanding female contenders for this year’s list. Mitski (“Puberty 2”), Angel Olsen (“My Woman”), and Joanna Newsom (“Divers”) all released stellar albums this year. And M.I.A. says that her newest LP, “AIM,” will be her last. But my money is on Grimes‘s “Art Angels.” The Canadian singer/songwriter/producer is a true alternative artist, incorporating elements of pop, rock, electronic, and experimental music. Widespread critical acclaim and increasing momentum as a touring and recording artist makes Grimes primed to earn her first Grammy nomination this year.
Bowie, Grimes, and Radiohead are great examples of what this category represents: left-of-center, eclectic releases that aim to broaden the scope of more traditional genres. This year’s list of eligible albums also includes the best of electronic (Nicholas Jaar, James Blake), R&B (Blood Orange), pop (Christine and the Queens) and folk (Anohni) innovators.
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