I think we can all agree that 2016 was not a great year. From terrorist attacks to deaths of beloved celebrities to the tumultuous presidential election, it’s easy to compile a list of 2016’s lowlights. What has been lost in this sea of let-downs and despair is the amount of great music that was released this past year. Once again, I’ve compiled a list of some incredible albums that hail from a wide range of genres. Give the final 20 a read through and a listen. I’m sure you’ll find something you also enjoy, and maybe you’ll discover something that strayed beyond your listening peripheral in 2016.
Sooo, it looks like I forgot to post the latest BDWPS Podcast to WordPress…my bad! It’s been a rough week for all of us.
With the results of the 2016 presidential election in, this BDWPS Podcast turns into a therapy session for listeners with new tracks from Adam Torres, Bon Iver, Conor Oberst, Preoccupations, Ausmuteants, Hamilton Leithauser, Mick Jenkins, and LVL UP. We also take a look at the Elliot Smith bio-doc “Heaven Adores You” and revisit Bob Dylan’s “Bringing It All Back Home.”
Let’s face it – Bill Hicks was a genius. Taking a cue from the all-time great George Carlin, Hicks infused his rebellious comedy routine with a heavy dose of philosophy. His views on society, government, religion, and drugs are still thought-provoking and profound 20-years later. Recently while watching his 1992 special Relentless I had a moment of confusion. While talking about the music industry’s penchant for performing fellatio on the Devil, Hick’s quipped, “Let me tell you something right now, you can print this in stone and don’t you ever forget it: any performer who ever sells a product on television is for now and all eternity removed from the artistic world.”
And then there were 20. For those that have followed BDWPS.com all year (all two of you), you may see some entries on albums that look very familiar. Instead of trying to re-invent the wheel, I decided to save myself time by simply copy and pasting my thoughts on the album from months past. I hope this isn’t disappointing, but I am only one man and this hobby of mine can be a lot of work. Whatever way I can cut corners I will.
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…)
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.