Here we are again. I’ve been writing this lists for so long that I can’t recall the first year I did it (2002?). At first it started as just being one album of the year, then it moved to 10 per year. It jumped to 20 once I moved my blogs over here to BDWPS.com, and of course last year it peaked at 40, the number I’m going with again this year. Although this may seem like a bit much, I can promise you that if it weren’t 40, I’d feel guilty for all the great albums that were left out. It’s a strange obsession, obviously, but I love music. If I can spread that love to others, it’s worth all the effort. And so it begins…
Julianna Barwick “The Magic Place”
Havok “Time is Up”
Paul Simon “So Beautiful Or So What”
Six Organs of Admittance “Asleep On the Floodplain”
If you’ve had trouble playing the audio to the first 30 tracks posted, hopefully they will be more accessible now that I’ve updated the format of my blogs. Yes, I’m an idiot and just realized you can post excerpts leading to a page that is devoted solely to the one blog entry. I think you’ll find some pretty amazing songs in my top 30, and my hope is that someone out there discovers a song that will have the same affect on them that they’ve had on me. Enjoy, and Happy Holidays! (Top 40 Albums coming next week…)
You are about to read through what I deem the top 60 tracks of 2011. Yes, 60. For some reason, lists need to fit within the confines of the top 100, top 50, top 40, Top 20, or Top 10. Any other number seems arbitrary. I had the same uncertainty with the number 60. When I first assembled my list it consisted of 87 songs. I had a decision to make: force 13 more songs onto the list and create another monolith like I did last year (it was a lot of work by the way), or attempt to whittle the list down to 50. I went with the latter, but when finished, I found I still had 67 songs. I struggled and struggled and eventually had it to the number we have now: 60. At this point, I couldn’t remove one more song. None of these songs could be tossed aside, each holding a special meaning, memory, or melody that helped me through another year.
I appreciate that all of the Trail of Dead covers are drawn by front man Conrad Keely, and he's obviously a great artist, but there comes a time where you need to pull your singer aside and be frank with him. Enough with the spaceships and air balloons, the machine guns and monocles, and the idea theft of video games (“Final Fantasy” and “Star Fox”). Put the pen down, and SING.
19. Eric Church
It’s nice to see that the kind folks in the country music community have welcomed the Una-Bomber into their world with open arms.
A glimpse of “National Geographic” in the year 3000.
17. William McDowell
Does anyone else see the irony in how William McDowell’s followers in the background resemble a zombie uprising?
16. William Shatner
“Seeking Major Tom”
As much as Captain Kirk tried to hide, Sulu just kept finding him.
15. Steven Tyler
“(It) Feels So Good”
Tyler opted for the Times New Penis font (of all the phallic-letters, N is the happiest to see Tyler’s mouth open).
14. Big Time Rush
We all know white guys can’t jump, but are we supposed to believe that the guy on the right is actually jumping?
Poor , sad Drake has to sit around alone with his golden goblet, his golden candle stick, and his golden owl (this cover would be an all-time favorite if instead of an owl, he was holding a golden turkey leg).
12. Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers
This cover is about as funny as Martin’s performance in “The Pink Panther”, or "Baby Mama", or "Bringing Down the House", or "Cheaper By the Dozen" or "Sgt. Bilko".... (Can someone remind me why is this man so beloved again? You can't give a guy a 30 year pass for "The Jerk".)
11. Maylee Todd
“Choose Your Own Adventure”
Remember that “Choose Your Own Adventure” book where you have the choice between going in a time traveling cave or wearing furry animal pants? Yeah, I always went with the time machine too.
10. John Lord Fonda
“Bang the Fire”
Should have worn sunscreen.
9. Kate Bush
“50 Words for Snow”
Snowballing a snowman - you see something new everyday.
8. Dream Theater
“A Dramatic Turn of Events”
This picture is SO fake. Everyone knows that the wind would totally blow his hat off.
7. Sebastian Bach
“Kicking & Screaming”
Sebastian Bach is still releasing albums while Kip Winger sits at home. There is no justice in this world.
6. Millie Vanillie
If you blur your eyes just enough, it looks like they both have udders.
Our generation's "American Gothic".
4. Steve Miller Band
“Let Your Hare Down”
There's no way that rabbit is going to be able to maneuver its way down that ladder #animalcruelty
When Joe wouldn’t commit to the shirtless cover, they came up with a genius back-up plan.
2. Lady Ga Ga
“Born this Way”
American Chopper totally missed the boat on their Lady GaGa bike. I would have gone with a meat-r-cycle.
1. Limp Bizkit
With “Gold Cobra”, Limp Bizkit tried going the Rick Perry route by making fun of themselves, but just like Perry, they still look like asses in the end.
I placed this cover at the bottom of my list because I’m not sure if it’s actually a great cover, or if I’m just in love with the idea of a battle between a giant tree (or ent) and a robot building pulled straight from the movie “Big” (“I don’t get it! I don’t get it!”). If only they had thought of this concept for the movie “Real Steel”; it may have actually be watchable.
19. Friendly Fires
Friendly Fire’s guitarist says of their 2011 release “Pala”: “Our goal is to make vibrant, wide screen songs, but they must retain spontaneity, have an energy and mysticism around them.” Add the fact that their music is often labeled “tropical disco” and you’ve got the perfect cover for “PALA.”
18. Autre Ne Veut
Um, so yeah…um, this is a picture of…well, um…you know. I questioned whether this was one of the best or worst covers. Is it pornographic or scientific? Is it alluring or disgusting? I came to the conclusion that a great cover should cause this type of uncertainty, stir up these questions, and add to your listening experience. When else would you be forced to try making a connection between stripped-down R&B and…well, something that rhymes with Mulva.
17. Iron & Wine
“Kiss Each Other Clean”
The good news: Iron and Wine’s cover for “Kiss Eachother Clean” is colorful, original, and refreshing. The bad news: the same can’t be said for the stale music on the album.
I’m a sucker for a cover that doubles as optical illusions (check my number one cover back in 2009), and the cover for Braids “Native Speaker” satisfies this need. What at first may seem like a blasé portrait of the view through a shower door will soon have your eyes crossing and seeing visions like you're tripping off the vapors from a Sudafed shower tablet.
15. Thee Oh Sees
So what do you think will make the monster more furious: when he realizes it's a toy phone or that it’s a rotary?
14. Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestra
“The Hills are Alive”
Flowers and mountains, and green growing pastures, Blue skies, and white clouds, and hairy goat faces, these are a few of my favorite things!
“Dress Like Your Idols”
Wearing your influences on your sleeve is so old hat. Wear them on your album cover! (I recognize seven of the nine album covers parodied here. Can someone help me and specify the albums in the top two squares of the right column? I feel like a hack for not knowing).
“The Harrow and the Harvest”
So you’re telling me that the guitarist from Baroness drew the cover for a country artist? BAD. ASS.
11. Young Galaxy
Can someone help this poor girl? Is her face glued to the floor? Are her feet excessively buoyant? Or is her bra stuffed with bricks?
“King of Limbs”
I’ll admit it – “King of Limbs” didn’t live up to expectations. It’s too short (37 minutes!), there’s none of the jaw-dropping songs we’re accustomed to, and simply put: it’s not “In Rainbows” (no one could have followed that album up; give them some slack!). Despite all its short-comings, the band still delivers with some truly haunting album artwork that is part graphiti over a photograph of trees and part demented rejects from Pac-Man (Blinky! Is that you!?)..
9. Jay-Z and Kanye West
“Watch the Throne”
If you’re going to have album called “Watch the Throne” you better bring the goods when it comes to packaging. Kanye and Jay-Z don’t disappoint with a Riccardo Tisci designed album cover that resembles a decadent engraving in gold. With its intricate embroidery and textured surface, it’s the coolest “golden” packaging since “The Legend of Zelda” (Zelda’s ‘bout to go HAM!).
8. Luke Temple
“Don’t Act Like You Don’t Care”
As a kid, if you ever imagined your drawings coming to life, this is what it might look like. I love the sheer chaos of the image coupled with the childish, messy style. This scribbly aproach gives the cover movement, and if you look at it long enough, the little fellow on the bike might just get away after all.
Taking advantage of primary colors, this cover shows that simple is sometimes better. Without the red lions, the blue cavern, or the yellow light of hope, this would be just another classical black and white drawing. Just think, with the help of Photobucket picture editor, YOU could make the top 20 list next year!
6. Bon Iver
I actually didn’t appreciate this cover when I first saw it. In fact, I found it to be a bit hack (a secluded cabin in the woods…WE GET IT JUSTIN!). Then I saw a short youtube clip showing the progress of making the cover and saw nuances I’d never noticed. Realizing this was in fact a multi-media, 3-dimensional masterpiece, I had to take all my pessimism and hide it in that pathetic little cabin in my soul.
The video clip that changed my tune:
5. Gang Gang Dance
So much depends upon a grasshopper, glazed with morning dew, atop a green plant.
4. J. Mascis
“Several Shades of Why”
Mark Spusta, the artist who made the fantastic cover for Dinosaur Jr’s “Farm” is back, and this time he takes cool to all new territories. Yes, it’s trippy and wild and all that “Farm” had with its attack of the trees imagery, but it’s also cute in a “Hello Kitty” kinda of way. Yet, it’s still somehow a deeply depressing image. It’s rare that a color pencil drawing can conjure up so many reactions. When is this guy going to get a movie deal? Enough with Pixar; I want to explore the strange world found in Spusta’s mind.
3. Erland and the Carnival
Every year my list inevitably contains a cover that features a photograph that is either retro or that captures the energy of the music. This cover accomplishes both with a girl appearing to float amidst a room filled with 70s nostalgia (is that a poster of “Columbo”?). The cover’s greatness is furthered when the background of the photograph is revealed: this is a picture taken of Janet Hodgson, a girl supposedly possessed by the devil back in the 70s, being thrown across the room by the evil spirit. Poltergeist has never looked this fun.
2. Cut Copy
In 2011 we saw the media try and convince us that a hurricane was going to hit New York (they also tried to get us to believe that Tracey Morgan hates gay people). As in most cases, only the crazies believed their fear mongering. Cut Copy’s “Zonscope” album cover presents an elegant view of what it may have been like if the news had been actually telling the truth. And how would New York respond? With a middle finger in the form of the Empire State Building.
Almost all of the albums featured on this list are created by outside artist. Whether it be a picture taken by a polish photographer, a color pencil drawing by an artist, or a slide stolen from a gynecologists office, most bands draw inspiration from others creations. Not Teebs though (actual name Mtendere Mandowa). This hip-hop producer creates both his art and music in unison, using one to inspire the other and vice versa. As a result, his beats are glazed in nature while his paintings of flowers are influenced by modern society. It’s one of the rare cases where you can actually judge an album by its cover.
Not since the birth of Christ himself has a miracle of this magnitude blessed the human race. Yes folks, that dream we’ve had since the first time our ears were graced with the sounds of “Plush” has finally come true: Scott Weiland has released a Christmas album. Oh, and it’s just as grand as we all hoped. No, this isn’t the swarthy, brooding drug-addled asshole we grew up both loving and hating at the same time; this is a gentleman’s Scott Weiland. Imagine if Bing Crosby opted to take heroin over beating his children – yes, you’ve just reached the pinnacle of Weiland’s croon-tacular Christmas spectacular. And the video for “Winter Wonderland” offers even more hopes and dreams for all of us “Mad Men” fans. Don’t be surprised if a smooth talking Scott Weiland makes an appearance next season, upstaging Don Draper with his pure sex appeal and respectful demeanor. Weiland is a man about town on a one horse sleigh (let’s just hope it’s not a “white horse”).
so much depends
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
by William Carlos William
I remember first seeing this poem in high school and judging it as the worst piece of poetry ever written. It had no rhythm, no rhyme, and from what my adolescent mind could gather, no meaning. It didn’t help that my inept high school teacher didn’t have the sense to guide us toward a basic level of comprehension and appreciation. I ran into the poem once again in college, and the professor didn’t lend much help with understanding the poem either. Instead, he mocked the class, as he often did, saying over and over again, “Don’t you get why so much depends upon the wheel barrow?” He never did tell us the severe importance of that damn barrow.
A few weeks ago, I found myself facing the ghastly poem for the third time while perusing a book of poetry. Upon seeing it, I stopped and revisited William Carlos Williams words just for the sheer joy of stirring up bad memories. But on this third reading of the imagist poem, something happened. In a flash of clarity, it all made sense. I understood why so much depended on that wheelbarrow (a device that has been used by mankind as far back as Ancient Greece) and I realized that so much of the poem’s meaning depends upon the little details nestled within each word and line. The shape of the poem, the word sounds, the fragments of images, the compound words broken apart, the contrast of the red and white colors, all captured in that brief instant after rainfall – this one poem, illuminating the beauty of the moment.
As my understanding of this masterpiece emerged, I wished I could go back and explain it to my high school English teacher who only taught it because it was in the textbook. I wanted to revisit that college professor and reverse roles for a change. I realized that there is nothing more rewarding than when you finally break through and find the beauty in something that can both be found complex and simple at the same time.
I had this same feeling of illumination while listening to St. Vincent’s “Strange Mercy.” In the past, I never had much interest for Anne Erin Clark’s music project. The bits and pieces I’d heard seemed to be the same old ho-hum, run-of-the-mill songstress affair we’ve heard before. I didn’t quite get why the album “Actor” was so critically acclaimed.
This past year my ill-will toward the band all changed when I first saw their performance at the This Concert Could Be Your Life show, a 10-year celebration of Michael Azerad’s indie rock bible Our Concert Could Be Your Life. St. Vincent chose to play Big Black’s “Kerosene” and the result was extraordinary. Clark stepped onto the stage and ripped through a searing, caustic rendition of the classic song, transforming before my eyes from another Juliana Hatfield into an indie rock goddess worthy of sitting on the throne next to Steve Albini. This one performance changed everything, or at least I thought.
I of course responded to the performance by purchasing the lauded album “Actor,” expecting to find that it had that same vicious assault hidden amidst the balladry. Nope. It was exactly as I remembered. It wasn’t the girl I saw on the stage; it just couldn’t be. So reserved, so tame, so restrained. Where had that fiery beast gone? I wondered: did Steve Albini need to work his producer magic in order to release the fury on the next album?
I purchased “Strange Mercy,” hoping in my heart of hearts that Steve Albini answered my prayers and produced it (looking back, I’m glad he didn’t). Again, I was at first unimpressed with the album. It seemed to be a jumbled mess of strange synths and guitar squalls that never meshed with the tormented lyrics of Clark. Much like that red wheelbarrow, I just didn’t get the hype, and I didn’t know how this could be the same band that performed “Kerosene” only months earlier.
Then, a few days later, like Dorothy walking from black and white into Oz, I had my moment of clarity. Incredible. Simply incredible. The keyboards weren’t the mess I’d first assessed them as, rather a funky, Stevie Wonder era burst of adrenaline, taking songs of loneliness, uncertainty, and despair and making that agony somehow sexy. The guitars were not simply random bleeps, rather perfectly placed accents on the vivid, haunting stories found in Clark’s lyrics. Oh, and to simply say that the lyrics are all doom and gloom would be foolish. Her narratives take strange twists that can be either ironic or funny (or both) all the while furthering a message that digs deep into your soul/mind/heart and makes you question everything.
“Surgeon,” a cry for help or simply a song about sex? Or both?!:
Many of the songs feature a lush orchestration that rubs up roughly against the piercing guitars and keyboards, yet this dichotomy of sound adds an eerie element, conjuring up the melodies of the innocent 1950s amidst the chaos of video game like synth riffs and barking guitars.
The video for “Cruel” is probably my favorite of 2011:
Now I have a new problem: I can’t quit listening to “Strange Mercy”. Nothing else I contains the same adventurous spirit, the same open-hearted candor, the same experience of discovery within each listen. It’s like trying to follow-up a reading of “The Red Wheelbarrow” with “Oh the Places You’ll Go.” And where does the name St. Vincent come from? Coincidentally, the medical center where poet Dylan Thomas died. She’s been quoted as calling it “the place where poetry comes to die.” If so, she’s creating Poetry Zombies as we speak, one thought provoking song at a time.