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.
Bunion“The Beach Boys vs. J Dilla- Pet Sounds: In the Key of Dee”
When it first came out, Danger Mouse’s “Grey Album” was pretty innovative. I can’t deny that the idea of taking Jay-Z’s raps and mixing them over the Beatle’s “White Album” was pretty ingenious. But as The Wolf would say, “Let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet.” Let’s be frank: “The Grey Album” was a cute concept; not the earth-shattering work of art that it was portrayed as by music critics (“Entertainment Weekly” named it the album of the year and “Rolling Stone” proclaimed it “the ultimate remix album”). The “ultimate remix album”? Really?
In hindsight, the album consists primarily of Jay-Z’s raps while The Beatles play second fiddle. Often, you can’t even make-out what Beatle’s song is being used, and more commonly, the background music is a garbled distraction with bleeps and squeaks popping out of the speakers sporadically. When you get down to it, Danger Mouse’s mash-up creation didn’t take much talent at all (a lot of patience I suppose). My friend Tim always joked that he could do the same thing using his basic audio mixing program Acid, although his idea was to mix Jay-Z over Journey (he wanted to call it “Journ-Z”).
You can't deny the possibilities of "H-to the Iz-Open Arms".
Maybe “The Grey Album was the best remix album in the early days of the mash-up, but looking back, Danger Mouse’s opus sounds amateurish. Since then we’ve seen other DJs take DM’s concept into more interesting horizons. For example, this past year, Bullion released “The Beach Boys vs. J. Dilla”. Instead of just tossing some rapper vocals over remixed audio, British DJ/Producer Bullion has taken two of the best producers of the past 50 years (hip-hop producer J Dilla and the Beach Boy’s mastermind Brian Wilson) and intertwined their sounds in a way that is intricate and refreshing. I should point out now that this actually isn’t even a mash-up. Rather, Bullion took “Pet Sounds” and ran it through his interpretation of J Dilla’s sound; his legacy. It’s more of a re-imagining, answering the question that I’m sure no one has ever asked: “What would it sound like if J Dilla produced ‘Pet Sounds’?”
J Dilla, possibly the greatest hip-hop producer of all time, died back in 2006. Over the past two decades he was involved with albums for some of the biggest names in the rap community: Tribe Called Quest, Redman, De La Soul, Busta Rhymes, etc. Within Bullion’s tweaking of the Beach Boys you hear echos of J Dilla’s classic sound, although it’s impossible to fully capture what J. Dilla did within his production.
Speaking of production, The Beach Boy’s “Pet Sounds” is looked at as a benchmark in the field. This is due to Brian Wilson’s orchestration, complex arrangements, and his vast use of track-layering. It is impossible to overestimate the expansive influence this one album had on music as we know it. “Sergent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” would not exist, and if “Sgt Peppers” was never made…well…there may not be any Nickelback. Paul McCartney went so far as to call it “…the classic of the century”. Of course, he also said that he’s “…often played Pet Sounds and cried.” Then again, we always knew Paul was a little mary.
Bullion has taken these two classic sounds and created something that tastes refreshing. In recent years we’ve seen the re-emergence of a focus on vocal harmonies in bands like Fleet Foxes and Animal Collective, and on this album we are reminded that The Beach Boys were mastering this approach decades ago. While there is the classic B-Boys vocals, there are no rap vocals here. At times it feels like without a rapper spitting rhymes that the songs may be missing something, but then again, the lyrics would only hide the brilliance going on in the background.
Each track runs 2-3 minutes, and this is more than enough. Actually, the album seems to run a bit long. You can only listen to garbled Brian Wilson for so long. Of course, you can always just listen to the album in pieces, or even better, as background music. If you’re one of those headphone wearing folk who sit and dissect ever nuance of a song, you may be disappointed.
On the album, Bullion doesn’t rely solely on the two producers at hand. On “God Only Knows” he brings in audio of soul singing sisters, taken from some cover version of the tune, giving the track a GZA vibe.
At times interview audio of Brian Wilson emerge, talking about the spiritual power of music and on “Let’s Go Away for a While” he even pops in to make some producing requests. If you don’t smile when he calls for the drums, you simply have no soul.
No, I’m not going to name this the “greatest mix-tape ever” (that honor goes to the mix-tape I made in 9th grade entitled “Master Scab” featuring Dinosaur Jr AND Fugazi), but I do believe what Bunion has accomplished here is much more complex and intriguing than the pseudo classic “The Grey Album”.
The harmonizing voices on this song perfectly capture the heartbreak of the narrator. Despite being near his lover, he still feels miles apart. A few weeks ago I was playing this song in my classroom during journal time, and one of my students commented that it sounded like something from “Juno”. I agreed, although I don’t remember Moldy Peaches ever sounding this damn beautiful.
“Best God in Show”
Despite releasing a couple lackluster albums in the past few years, NOFX still have a gift for catching you off-guard. On the surface, “Best God in Show” is a happy-hippy jam, but when you get past the joyful ska riff and cheery organ, NOFX is once again questioning religion in a way that is both humorous and thought-provoking.
48. M. Ward
“Never Had Nobody Like You”
Once you get past the use of a double negative in the title, you will find M. Ward has written another hum-able gem that would fit perfectly alongside other classics on “Transfiguration of Vincent”. It’s just too bad he had to let Budweiser throw it into a comercial about guys hi-fiving…who okays these things and deems them as funny?
“DOA (Death to Auto-Tune)
Jay-Z is the godfather of the rap world. When the Hova says auto-tune is dead, you better take notice. Like a modern-day Biz Markie, Jay-Z howls “Na, na, na, na! Hey, hey, hey! Goodbye!” off-key throughout the song, along with the use of live instrumentation, ranging from a squealing saxophone to a sultry guitar line. While most of the rap world has become a caricature of their former selves, Jay-Z continues to sing his own song, even if it is out of tune.
46. Bon Iver
Wait just one second Jay-Z…like a musical zombie, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon breathed new life into the auto-tuner with this captivating new approach to the played-out device. Somehow the old timey lyrics of “I’m building a still” work perfectly through the 21st century lens, sounding like a robotic barbershop quartet. And somehow, Vernon is still able to convey the loneliness and solitude of being alone in the woods.
In a year where we got a glimpse of the stock market’s dirty under-belly and the corruption of American big business, it’s nice to see Slayer take a break from wreaking havoc on Christianity and focusing on the sick fucks who have preyed upon the middle class of this country for too long. There is something poetic about such an “evil” band taking on the true evil of this “land of deceit”.
44. Ty Segall
Ty Segall is often banging away at his guitar from start to finish, but on “Lovely One” he takes a break from his distortion pedal, starting off with a calming little guitar strum, eventually leading into the infectious chorus that would fit perfectly alongside The Animals and The Loving Spoonful on a classic oldies station.
43. Lightning Dust
This song seems pressing despite the lack of a real drum track. The pulsing undertone continues from start to finish while the piano and organ truly take shape as percussion instruments, driving the two-minute romp through its existential path. How can something sound aged and cutting edge at the same time?
42. Pissed Jeans
Historically, hardcore punk songs are about several defined topics: criticizing the government, criticizing the use of drugs/alcohol, or conveying how horrible it is to be a teenager. Pissed Jeans like to take a different stance. On past albums they’ve lamented the difficulties of being a stalker, the shame felt when cumming, and the perils of scrapbooking. On their 2009 release “King of Jeans” they even present the misery felt during the process of losing your hair:
I still can’t believe this is happening. I’m not fifty years old. I consider myself a young adult and want others to see me this way. If my looks deteriorate, it’ll wreak havoc on my self-esteem. Is that what I have to look forward to?
Although humorous (and hitting a little close to home for a bald fella like myself) the song also conveys the anguish and frustration that is associated with growing old and losing your youth, one hair at a time.
I know what you’re thinking: “How could he put this song so low on his list?!” Yes, I will admit that when I first heard this song during the spring, I played it endlessly. It’s catchy as hell and is even capable of getting a white boy like myself on his feet dancing (after a few beers mind you). Unfortunately, my love has turned to loathing due to the Cadillac ads played in heavy rotation during the commercial break of every football game. Despite this hatred, I still can’t deny what a great song it is, or was (don’t worry, Phoenix gets more cred on this list…)
40. The Love Language
You’ve heard this song before, but in actuality you haven’t. Weird? That is the power of The Love Language my friends. Quit trying to remember where you heard it and just sit back and enjoy the tune you’ve never heard before but swear you have.
“Something’s Squeezing My Skull”
When Morrissey expresses that he is “doing fine”, you know he’s lying. Despite being an older gentleman, he still seems to be dealing with his demons, some of which take pleasure in squeezing his skull. Drugs? The perils of relationships? Insanity? Who cares really. At least musically Morrissey sounds better than ever, with a Gang of Four, angular riff and the closing chant of “Don’t give me anymore!” that you just can’t get enough of.
38. The Thermals
“Now We Can See”
The fact that you are hooked on this song within 10 seconds says it all.
37. Sonic Youth
“Thunderclaps for Pyn”
When I lived in Omaha I liked to go to the Old Country Buffet on barbeque night. I’d skip over the salad bar, the fried foods section, and even noodle salad row in search of one thing: BBQ ribs. I’d fill my plate with ribs, and ribs only. When all that remained was a plate with meat-less bones I’d go back for seconds, engulfing a pig’s entire rib cage by the end of my visit. Sonic Youth’s “The Eternal” is much like a buffet line, featuring a wide range of Sonic sounds from over the years, ranging from the art noise of early days to the sparser atmospheres of recent albums. But, like a plate of short ribs, this past year I often found myself skipping over the other tunes in search of a nice earful of “Thunderclaps for Pyn”. Yummy!
36. Lightning Bolt
How do you make a Lightning Bolt song more chaotic? Add bongos. But there is so much more going on in this song; there is actually a chorus! YES FOLKS! A CHORUS! And if you listen close enough, it almost sounds like a 1960s surfer tune. I can see the beach blanket gogo dancers now…
“The Boys are Leaving Town”
Sure, this song has sentimental value for me, reminding me of my road trip this past summer where Paul and I listened to this at the beginning of our trip and later saw the band perform in Boise, Idaho. But this song made its way on this list for more reasons than the memories associated with it. Simply put, it kicks ass. Being the anti-thesis to Cheap Trick’s “Boys are Back in Town”, Japandroids have taken the classic teenage angst of leaving town and given it a jolt with rolling, jumpy drum fills and passionate, lo-fi vocals.
34. Andrew Bird
“Fitz and the Dizzyspells”
Every interview/review I read about Andrew Bird’s 2009 release “Noble Beast” focused heavily on the album’s use of whistling. This is for good reason. Every song on the album features whistling at some point, an aspect that becomes annoying pretty quickly. Only on “Fitz and Dizzyspells” does Andrew find a happy medium between his violin and pierced lips, creating a joyful romp that begs you to put a smile on your face.
33. Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Karen O singing about leather? I’m sold.
32. Animal Collective
In the past few years the tribal sounds of bands like MIA and El Guincho have become more and more popular. How soon we forget that Animal Collective brought this sound to the forefront years ago. On “Merriwether Post Pavillion” the boys finish the album off with “Brother Sport”, a tropical rumpus that works perfectly as a final track due to its celebratory tone. It also serves as a reminder that the Collective can still make you shake your ass off if they really want to.
31. Lou Barlow
“The One I Call”
I know, I know. I hate love songs too. And I’ll admit, Lou Barlow’s “One I Call” would probably work great on a John Cusack chick flick. But you can’t resist its earnest lyrics nor can you deny the comfort of the combination of Lou’s voice and his guitar. If I saw Lou on the street, I’d probably yell to him, “Great song Lou!” to which he’d glare at me in disgust (inside joke).
30. Blank Dogs
Guided By Voices meets The Cure circa 1980s? Oh, what a sweet combination, like peanut butter and jelly.
“Dear Coach’s Corner”
Propagandhi usually rage against racism, government, and of course the fact that “Meat is murder”. But never before have I heard them write about such unique subjects as they do on “Supporting Caste”. The best has to be “Dear Coach’s Corner”, a vial criticism of the Canadian hockey show “Coach’s Corner” (I guess with Bush out of office, their song material got cut in half). The ranting tune basically states an annoyance with announcers conveying their own agendas when in the end, it’s just a game. Shut the fuck up:
Dear Ron McLane, I wouldn’t bother with these questions
if I didn’t sense some spiritual connection.
We may not be the same, but it’s not like we’re from different planets.
We both love this game so much we can hardly fucking stand it.
There is something admirable in Propagandhi’s approach; no one is free from being criticized. Who wouldn’t like to hear a song ripping into Bill Walton, Bob Davie, or Joe Buck?
28. Jay Reatard
Everything in this song has its function. The “lade-da-da” that starts the song leads into a sweet little acoustic guitar lick, jumping straight into Jay’s yelling anthem, and finally kicking into the fist pumping chorus. And then, when you think you’ve figured it all out, the song finishes off with a killer closer that would put “Hey Jude” to shame. Jay Reatard is a master songwriter; it’s about time we all accept his God-liness.
27. Matt and Kim
“Good Ol’ Fashion Nightmare”
Matt and Kim songs are so simple. A plinking piano over a pounding drum beat and Matt’s nasally whine. Yet, with only these few elements they are able to write irresistable pop hits. While “Daylight” may be considered their breakout hit in 2009, “Good Ol Fashion Nightmare” is just as charming and replay-able.
“My Night With the Prostitute From Marseille”
When I heard Beirut was releasing a double CD (one disc of them performing with a mexican mariachi band and another of Zach Condon singing over electronic music), I expected the first CD to be the better of the two but was disappointed by his Mexican offering. Instead, I fell in love with the second disc of five dance songs, devoid of trumpets and accordians. While two of the songs are about hookers, “My Night With the Prostitute From Marseille” is the obvious stand-out of the album.