This award, honoring the album that only exists because the band members loved it enough to make it, goes to:
State of the Artificial
Sometime around the end of 2001, Benjamin Hughes moved to Los Angeles, Aaron Miller and Dave Golitko started playing in Assassins, and MARVELKiND was pronounced dead. This was unfortunate for those of us faithful few who had been following them for some time. They had come a long way since their early recordings and had some really solid songs, and when they split, I figured that none of them would never see the light of day. Lo and behold, almost six years later, I get an email inviting me to a release show for the new MK record, and I was a little flabbergasted. After a few years of doing their own things, the band decided that the original project was now going to be the side project, with no real aspirations other than to play a show here or there and to make a record that would shore up the loose ends left when they split initially. It's an album that was made with no professional ambition whatsoever, and that's what makes it just so damned good. Each of the songs (some old, some new) are written, crafted, and recorded with the sole purpose of satisfying the band's creative desire, of scratching the itch the members had to play together, and of being music that could only be made by those particular four individuals.
Even after all these years, Ben still sings like he's the sort of guy who, at age 15, would regularly drink 18 cups of coffee and jump off the roof of his mom's house.* He's not always quite in tune, but he's improved from before: he realized that his singing is a lot better if he's either half-talking or screaming his head off. Their collective electronic fetish is still there, but it doesn't mask or dilute the fact that they're mainly just interested in playing hyperactive and occasionally angry rock songs. "Raperville" is an ode to their hometown that isn't especially forgiving, and "Unreasonable Demands" drives its point home hard. Most of the songs sound a little bit awkward at the beginning, but they find their way and end up surprising you with how good they are. "Billions" is the perfect cap on the album, a calm and inviting pop tune that, if it had been recorded in 1985, you wouldn't be surprised but you'd think it hadn't aged a day. There was an acoustic version recorded live at the Hideout that was released via the band's website years ago that I could never get into, but it cleaned up real nice in the studio.
State of the Artificial will probably never reach the hands of any record labels or critics, it will never get broad distribution, or anything like that. It's a heartfelt gift from the band to anyone who will give it the time to take a listen.
*I don't know that Ben ever did this, but it wouldn't surprise me. I'm just sayin'.