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Best Album Covers of 2010

 

20. Klaxons

“Surfing the Void”

 

This cover is funny in a "Laser Cat" kind of way, but it is also fitting for Klaxon's spacey dance beats.

 

19. Morning Benders

“Big Echo”

 

 

This summer, I wrote of Morning Bender's "Big Echo" and said, "The cover to 'Big Echo' says it all: a swimmer stands knee-deep in the forefront wearing a full body swimsuit and a swim cap, staring out into the vast expanse before him where other swimmers are already enjoying the ocean’s swell. He seems tentative, yet intrigued, just like the Morning Bender’s sound on this album. Like the flowing of the tide, the music moves fluidly between several genres. As much as I enjoy The Morning Bender’s sandy beach love songs, I always find myself awaiting that next big wave to whisk me back away to the enchanting sea of sound and hope that it won’t return me to the shoreline."

 

18. Of Montreal

“False Priest”

 

This cover brings me back to high school when I'd pass the time in class drawing a strange collection of images on the inside cover of my various notebooks. But nothing I drew ever compared to the intricacies on Of Montreal's 2010 release. Every time I look at it I find something new. Keep looking, and you might just find Waldo.

 

17. Thieves Like Us

“Again and Again”

 

 

On first glance, this may not look like much more than a girl throwing cards into the air, but the longer you look, the more questions arise: What is the silver purse-like item in her hands? Why is she giving it an elbow drop? And why are there nude women on the cards? The arrangement of the text only adds to the mystery.

 

16. Sisters

“Ghost Fits”

 

 

This cover combines my three favorite things: castles, mountains, and needle-point.

15. Mimicking Birds

“S/T”

 

I'm not sure what's going on here, but I absolutely love this cover with its strange pods spawning a creature that is literally mimicking a bird.

 

14. Ben Frost

“By the Throat”

 

 

In terms of a cover matching an album title, I don’t think it gets much better than this. The cover for “For the Throat” also contains one of my favorite album photographs for the year with the combination of snowfall, plows, and a pack of wolves caught in the headlights. Jack London could have written a novel based solely off this cover…

 

13. Erykah Badu

“New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh”

It's common in the R&B community for the album cover to feature the artist's face, but leave it to Erykah Badu to take it another direction. Instead of going with a glamour shot, Eyrkah's 2nd album in the "New Amerykah" series features a drawing of a robotic-android-Erykah with a tree sprouting from her head, all within the confines of a mystical flowery world. Suck on that Rhianna.

12. How To Destroy Angels

“EP”

 

While Mark Weaver's artwork for the How To Destroy Angel's first release is pretty spectacular, it also sets the listener up for disappointment upon first listen to Trent Reznor's side-project (God I hope it's a side-project).

 

11. Destroyer

“Archer on the Beach”

 

Only Dan Bejar could make a water fountain look magical to the adult eye.

 

10. Kanye West

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”

 

 

While releasing five seperate album covers may seem a bit self-serving, Kanye uses the collection of images to add to the mythology of his "Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy": the lustful indulgence, the frailty of beauty, the faces of insanity, the perils of power, and the rebirth of legends.

9. Active Child

“Curtis Lane”

 

 

This year, many bands used old photographs as their cover (Vampire Weekend, Fang Island, Dum Dum Girls), but no photo caught my interest more than Active Childs "Curtis Lane". It captures the neighborhood found within the album's title and features two of the most creepiest child Halloween masks I've ever seen, which adds even more curiosity about the face that is hidden.

 

8. Black Tusk

“Taste the Sin”

 

 

Baroness guitarist John Dyer Baizley never gets a vacation. The artwork of Baizley continued to thrive in the metal world in 2010 with his latest masterpiece for the Black Tusk.

7.  Grinderman

“Grinderman 2”

A wild beast trapped by decadence - Nick Cave defined.

6. Sufjan Stevens

“Age of ADZ”

His darkest album to date, "Age of ADZ" let Sufjan go a different angle than his traditional Rockwell-ian covers. It also doesn't hurt when your album is based on the life of a famous artist (hence the apocalyptic artwork of Royal Robertson).

5. Strand of Oaks

“Pope Killdragon”

Since seeing this cover months ago I’ve had this simple black and tan image stuck in my head. There is something about it that is so alarming, so tribal, so ghostly, that I can’t seem to shake it (this obviously is a good thing).

4. Surfer Blood

“Astro Coast”

The most surprising aspect of this cover is not the shark mouth found within the checkerboard layout, rather what's going on in the other squares?

3. Method Man, Ghost Face, & Raekwon

“Wu Massacre”

Who wouldn't read this comic book?! Wu Tang is about to raise the motha fuckin' ruckus on the streets of Gotham!

2. Gorillaz

“Plastic Beach”

Gorillaz have always been as much about their artwork as they are about their music, and the cover to “Plastic Beach” continues this tradition, providing a visual cue for the world of the Plastic Beach discussed in the music.

1. Quest For Fire

“S/T”

I think I could stare at this cover for hours at a time; actually,  I have. This oil painting of what looks to be a melting, flower-based owl is truly a work of art. The epic, psych-jam-band mentality of Quest For Fire’s music only fuels the flames of exploration within this piece.  Skip the salvia, the mushrooms, and the LCD – just stare at this cover for an afternoon while listening to Quest For Fire; it will be the best trip you’ve ever had.

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Q-Tip “Kamaal the Abstract”

Q-Tip
“Kamaal the Abstract”
Battery Records
 

Rating: 6

Many rappers have tried to bring jazz into the hip-hop world, whether it be incorporating samples from classic jazz standards or actually using a full-piece band to back the rapper’s flow.   Rap at its core is vocal jazz, with ideas popping and pouring out of the MC’s mouth in hopes that their improv will have the same bite that a Charlie Parker solo did 70 years ago. Unfortunately, most of the rap community has abandoned the jazz building blocks once built by Gang Starr, DeLa Soul, and Tribe Called Quest.

On “Kamaal the Abstract”, Tribe frontman Q-Tip attempts to bring it all back to the smooth sound that has been trampled and forgotten in favor for the mundane Southern rap of monetary masturbation and sexual innuendo. (We get it Lil Wayne- you’re not actually talking about a lolli-pop).  Q-Tip’s jazz aim is in the right direction, considering his last outing “The Renaissance” was a mediocre attempt at reminding hip-hop that he was a production mastermind way before Kanye came along.

The highlight of the album is probably “Do You Dig U?”, a sleek, syrupy pool of organ runs over a tippy-tap drum kick that is reminiscent of The Roots. The mid-song flute splashes are the perfect touch, although you can’t help but wish for Erykah Badu to suddenly make a guest appearance.

The same chill vibe can be heard on “Feelin'”, a smooth jam that will have you slowly nodding your head like old school Tribe did back in ’91.  But a minute in, just when you’re ready to grab your Reebok Pumps to go shoot some hoops, a three minute organ solo kicks in that would even ground Dee Brown. The same problem arises on several songs on the album, with Q-Tip maybe trying a little too hard to stay honest to the whole “jazz” thing, relying predominantly on organ solos, which are never a good thing (just try listening to a Doors album from start to finish).

The style of jazz on the album is also suspect, less like the classic be-bop that Gang Starr sampled, and sounding more like something you’d hear on the Weather Channel.  Jazz shouldn’t sound so clean; it should be so gritty that you can almost smell the cheap cigarette smoke in the air.  Q-Tip’s brand of jazz only seems to be missing a little Kenny G to bring it all together, and that’s really a shame.  It sounds like Q-Tip surrounded himself with some great jazz musicians. On “Abstractisms” you can hear their immense talent at moments when the music is on that edge that makes jazz so unpredictable and raw. Too bad the recording quality is so clean that every improvisation sounds rehearsed.

Mid-album Q-Tip abandons the jazz tip altogether, attempting to sing, a skill that was never shown on any Tribe albums, and for good reason.  While his nasally rap vocals are unique and irresistable, his singing voice is what you’d imagine T-Pain sounding like without his trusty auto-tuner. 

Track #9 “Even if She is So” gives us hope that Q-Tip still has something to offer to the rap community.  It’s catchy, has a jazz vibe, yet stays grounded in hip-hop from start to finish. The production is classic Q-Tip, and if you strain your ears just hard enough, you might just hear the ghosts of Phife and Mohommed, completing the puzzle that would make it a classic Tribe ditty.

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