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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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Best Summer Albums of 2010 (20-11)

For me, music moves with the seasons. In the winter I tend to listen to more somber artists, the fall is the perfect time for folk and blues, while the spring is filled with the energetic life of punk and metal.  My favorite season of all though, musically, would have to be summer. There is just something fun about summer, something exciting.  Whether it be a cook-out, a trip to the beach, or a drive through the mountains, the time for high-spirits and goofy grins can be found in the summer time air.

As a result of both my love of summer music and the fact that I’m way behind on album reviews on some amazing offerings from 2010, I decided to create a list of the Top 20 Summer Albums of 2010. Don’t get confused; this isn’t the top 20 albums of the year thus far. You won’t find any Broken Social Scene, Liars, or Beach House despite their impressive output in 2010. For now, they will have to wait (more on them in December). This list is about albums that work perfectly as the back-drop to your summer excursions, to your daily commute, to your afternoon by the pool. Each album has that same positive energy or fiery attitude that will fill your summer days and nights with a fitting soundtrack.

20. Apples in Stereo
“Travelers in Space & Time”
[Yep Roc Records 2010]

I’m not sure I like the direction Robert Schneider is taking The Apples in Stereo.  They once were a gritty pop-punk group hailing from the Elephant Six Collective, but over the course of the past two albums the sound has drastically changed towards a crystal clear space odyssey.  Schneider’s obsession with the vocodor continues on “Travelers in Space & Time” and so doesn’t his fixation with space travel. Almost every song seems to discuss intergalactic travel.  Despite the slow demise of The Apples and Stereo, Schneider continues to write alluring pop tunes, blending the 70s and 80s into some type of futuristic dance hybrid.  Although this apple is bruised, it’s still dripping with a sweet sincerity that will keep the doctor away for at least the summer months.

I guess I’m not the only one who thought “Dream About the Future” sounded like something from “The Peanuts”:

19. Holy Fuck
“Latin”
[Young Turks]

As much as I adore the band name “Holy Fuck”, I have to admit that the moniker is more suited for a metal band. At no point while listening to Holy Fuck will you actually exclaim “Holy fuck!”  Instead, the band’s live-techno decoupage of melody and decisive drum tracks will fill you with a calming state of quietude. Somehow the funky vibe of their pulsing onslaught provides you with confidence, gives you cool, leaves you feeling like Vincent Vega, like nothing can stop you (unless of course you’re caught reading Modesty Blaise on the toilet).  Unlike other albums on this list, “Latin” isn’t meant for those summer days in the sun. Oh no. This album provides an atmosphere suited primarily for those primal nights out scavenging the sweltering streets and dirty nightclubs in search of that life, that energy, that fire that makes summer so electrifying.

This video for “Latin America” and its sunny swimming footage totally contradicts my belief this is an album for summer nights. So be it:

18. Kate Nash
“My Best Friend is You”
[Fiction]

This list may stray from most summer music countdowns. Instead of albums, the masses usually search out the summer-hit songs, which are invariably pop tunes.  If you are a person who scours the radio for the upbeat melodies of pop music but feel over-inundated by Lady GaGa and Justin Bieber, the British songstress Kate Nash may be just what you’re looking for.  While her songs are catchy and seem to be the cheerful tones of summer, Nash’s output on her 2010 album “My Best Friend is You” carries themes and storylines that require a little more maturity than “Poker Face” (we get it GaGa: poke her face, el oh el!). There is still summer fun present here with lyrics that say things like “barbeque is good” and “I love swimming”, but don’t be deceived. In “Mansion Song” the innocent chorus of “I don’t have to be your baby, I don’t have to be your baby, I don’t have to be your baby” is sang right alongside the rambling diatribe of “I can get fucked like the best of men; like the best of men, like the worst of pain, inflicted on another young girl again.” While the rest of America swoons over Bieber’s “Baby”, I’ll stick with Kate Nash’s caustic take on “baby”.

This video for “Do-Wah-Doo” is like “LOST” with bad teeth:

17. Vampire Weekend
“Contra”
[XL Recordings]

Personally, I will not be listening to “Contra” this summer. Not because it’s bad or doesn’t suit the spirit of summer – quite the contrary. My avoidance of Vampire Weekend in the coming months is a direct result of me listening to their 2010 release “Contra” non-stop for the entire month of February. Some would call it overkill; I would call it an addiction to joyous melodies.   I’m guessing you’ve also fallen into the same Vampire Weekend trap (if you are an avid reader, you would know that it was picked as a ‘Best New Album’ when it first came out), but if you haven’t had the fortune of listening to Vampire Weekend and their tender tropical songs about “drinking horchata” and getting  “away on a summer’s day”, then treat yourself to “Contra” (and a nice cool glass of horchata while you’re at it).

This video reminds me of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”. All that is missing is Abe Lincoln and, of course, the Wyld Stallions:

16. Hunx and his Punx
“Gay Singles”
[Matador]

Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you. The cover of Hunx and his Punx’s first album “Gay Singles” is simply a picture of a guy’s crotch, his junk only hidden by a pair of zebra print underwear.  In this case, you can judge an album by its cover. “Gay Singles” is a collection of songs released over the past couple years that all happen to be gay love songs. I know the heterosexual in me is supposed to hate this album.  No testosterone driven male should enjoy gay love songs, right?  Well, I can’t deny it any longer. It’s time I come out of the musical closet and admit that I LOVE gay love songs, specifically Hunx and his Punx (although the Lemonhead’s “Big Gay Heart” may be my all-time favorite homo-love song). Despite the fact that the lyrics and effeminate vocals would make any right-wing conservative cringe, the songs, at their core, are as honest, pure, and comforting as anything by the Shangri-Las in the 60s.  And just like the Shangri-Las, Hunx happens to also enjoy kissing guys. Get over your homophobia already and get on the dance floor.

You may recognize the song “Gimmie Gimmie Your Love” from Lenscrafter comercials. I’m guessing Lenscrafter doesn’t want their customers seeing this video, specifically the 1:45 mark where food gets involved:

15. Gorillaz
“Plastic Beach”
[Parlophone/Virgin Records]

The summer of 1995 was one of my most memorable for several reasons. For one, I started my first job as a lifeguard and worked alongside my brother who would be heading off to Iowa State in the fall. Like any other summer, music played a big part in our daily routine.  Two albums stick out most when I think back: Warren G’s “G Funk Era” and Blur’s “The Great Escape”.  I loved Blur’s grandiose approach to Brit-pop with songs about the simple, everyday life of a “Charmless Man” or relaxing days in a “Country House”.  Warren G, on the other hand, told harsh tales of the American streets through a sparse, evocative landscape of pounding basslines and the occasional pleas of Nate Dogg.  The Gorillaz “Plastic Island” is a combination of these two great albums of 95’ with Blur front-man Damon Albarn at the helm, providing his own unique nuances to the world of hip-hop with guest rappers ranging from Snoop Dogg to Mos Def. Although the album title may suggest another collection of upbeat summer jams, “Plastic Beach” is anything but cheery.  Albarn’s backing tracks always seem on the edge of breaking into a celebratory tone, yet the bounding bassline reassures that this is a gangsta rap album for a new century.  Snoop Dogg hasn’t sounded this fresh in years, and without Danger Mouse meddling with his genius, Albarn brilliantly captures the ill-omened world of the plastic beach.  With the BP oil spill I can’t think of a more fitting album for the gulf coast in 2010.

This summer’s “Regulate” is “Stylo”:

14.  Dum Dum Girls
“I Will Be”
[Sub-Pop]

There will always be room in the summer music mix for a cheery grrrl band with adorable vocals and lovable retro-jangle-pop tunes.  In the 80s it was The Go-Gos and The Bangles, while the 90s produced Veruca Salt and The Breeders.  It has been a while since we’ve heard it, but it looks like The Dum Dum Girls have brought this delightful music style back. It seems basic by nature: harmonizing, innocent vocals over bright guitars, and choppy, simple drumbeats. It’s so simple; you’d think it would have become stale after all these years. But on “I Will Be” the Dum Dum Girl’s reverb soaked collection of two-minute songs is somehow a refreshing blend that will dry up any hint of sadness within.

13.Futureheads
“The Chaos”
[Nul/Dovecote]

The Futureheads have been hyped for years now as the next Franz Ferdinand, but it never really panned out for them.  Really, it’s a shame.  “The Chaos” is my first venture into the band’s music, and if it’s any sign of what has come before, the hype was warranted.  This album is a fusion of Devo and Gang of Four, pointed riffs and memorable chants of “Stop the noise!” and “This is the life!”  While the album sounds like it could have been a lost vinyl from the early 80s, it also sparkles with freshness that echoes toward the future.  Maybe they missed the boat when it comes to breaking through the mainstream, but with the type of fight evidenced in “The Chaos”, the tides may turn back in their direction.

Because the game show motif just hasn’t been done enough in music videos, here’s “The Heartbeat Song”:

12. Tony Allen

“Secret Agent”
[Nonesuch/World Circuit]

Remember the scene in “Sideways” where Miles and Jack are driving along the California coast, heading towards wine country while upbeat jazz plays in the background?  Now imagine the same scene, except this time Miles and Jack are driving along the African coast, heading towards South Africa’s wine country (yes it exists!) while the same jazz stylings are playing with the addition of an African choir, a hint of 70s funk, and bubbling drums that seem to be on the verge of spilling over at any moment. This, in a nutshell, is Tony Allen, the 70-year-old drum legend who helped create the influential Afrobeat sound of the 1970s . While most artists lose their passion with age, Tony Allen continues to produce music filled with soul and vigor as shown on his 2010 release “Secret Agent”.

This video reminds me of an African “Soul Train”:

11. Delorean
“Subiza”
[True Panther]

“Subiza” is a multi-faceted summer album because it can serve all your needs.  Its house dance beats seem perfect for a night on the town, yet the airy harmonies and bright vocals lend themselves to a hot afternoon with friends. I’m guessing the Spanish band Delorean’s chameleon-like approach to dance music may have something to do with that.  While other artists like Ruby Suns and Yeasayer have abandoned the ambient natural harmonies that once defined them, Delorean has found a way to move the dance-beat forward without completely abandoning that sun-drenched environment.  The result is much like the planet Pandora in “Avatar”: it looks like a vivid, natural world filled with life, yet there are brief moments where you realize it’s all manufactured.  Which, when you think about it, isn’t such a bad thing.

Watch this video for “Stay Close” and tell me I’m not spot on:

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