Another year of our favorites in Top Album Cover Artwork, and once again, we interview musicians and artists on the often-underappreciated work that goes into creating a product that not only tickles your ears, but speaks to your eyes and hearts. Album artwork, though often...

Bumbershoot Festival signifies a lot of things for Seattle, but the main mark of Bumbershoot is that fall is upon us. The annual Labor Day arts festival in downtown Seattle traditionally comes with both good weather and the need for umbrellas, aka a bumbershoot. Bumbershoot’s place in music festivals across the nation includes one big distinction; it name isn’t merely the Bumbershoot Music Festival, but the Bumbershoot Music and Arts Festival. The addition of arts is noticeable, for as much music stretches across multiple stages in Seattle Center, there are just as many comedians, writing panels, art exhibits and impromptu busking performances on the festival grounds.

Gary Numan

Bumbershoot has always done a great job of getting some old school acts to show their face, and the crowd make-up is always funny because of it. Those watching Gary Numan were no different. Numan has been churning out music since the late '70s, but the majority of today's youngsters know him for the chart-topping hit "Cars" and its early, slightly rudimentary use of electronica in music. I am also one of those ignorant youngsters, aware of who Numan is and his contributions as one of the pioneers of electronica and gothic rock, but with really no idea what he truly sounded like outside of "Cars". To almost put Numan's performance in a nutshell, I'll direct you to the tweet I sent immediately into his set (ignore my typo please, and for my shameless Twitter plug, follow me here). As dusk set, the lights were blaring for Gary Numan, who even at the age of 55, contorted his body for dramatics at angles I haven't hit since I was four-years-old. Gary Numan was just heavy as shit, and it was awesome. Even "Cars", which he launched into about five songs in, was heavy as shit and all of it was unexpected for my ignorant ears. Gary Numan's performance was watching all the precursors for Trent Reznor laid out right in front of you, and almost seemed like a live-action History Channel viewing. Bumbershoot has always been the best about scheduling these kinds of acts, and it was the perfect way to end the first day of music.

In our 2012 Album Covers of the Year feature, we once again get our hands on everyone we can. Through interviews with designers, musicians, labels, and plenty of others, we take a close look at just how many hands are in the pot when it comes to the album artwork process. Inside this feature are 98 album covers spanning a wide array of sonic and visual styles, each selected for its own unique contribution to the world. They are not ranked; instead, they are broken down into sections based on conceptual underpinnings or artistic mediums, and then are displayed on spectrums. Get started by navigating into any of these six sections: Geometric & Pattern-Based Classically-Influenced Narrative & Symbolic Photography & Manipulations Painting & Illustration Collage, Sculpture & Mixed Media You can also see last year's at 2011 Year-End Respect For Album Cover Art
 

Well, it's now past the supposedly prophesized Mayan apocalypse, and of course no obvious signs of eschatological judgment have been wrought down upon us, which was much to be expected. There is something else we need to address though, before we can just write this shit off for good. If you were paying any attention to what those of the neo-spiritualist ilk were saying for the last decade or so, the conversation always involved a shift in consciousness rather than a rogue asteroid raining fiery death from above. Nobody said it'd be instantaneous.
 
Prophecies regarding a sudden massive shift in the perceptual limitations of our species always struck me as being beyond improbable. Whereas I'd be the first to admit that more of us these days are getting turned on to the higher cosmic functionalities of our brains, I'd also point out that it's probably little more than a numbers game. There are more people, period. I'd wager that for every turned on occult-dabbling tripster, there are two new closed-minded evangelical sex repression nutsos. Occultist super freaks just don't proselytize, and they probably blew their money on drugs and albums rather than bribing politicians, so there's that. Our society still revolves around boring after all and will for some time to come. What the fuck are you going to do? But it's not like all hope for a revolution is lost, the times -- they are a-changin', after all. Terence McKenna foretold a spike in novelty leading up to 2012, and it's not like novelty hasn't been spiking. The great singularity might have to wait, but technology has opened up consciousness to a new array of bizarre potentialities, the implications of which we can only barely conceive of at this point. At the heart of all shamanistic extra-dimensional informational summoning rituals lies the evolution of language from spoken word to projected internal telepathic metaphor, the language of our dreams. Meaningful scenarios projected from mind-to-mind, manifesting as direct experience. It's where we're headed with all these interconnected smart phones, tablets, and such. A picture is worth thousand words and now we can send each other videos instantaneously with our shiny new synthetic telepathy. Videogames continue to increase in complexity replicating alternate reality scenarios in our heads ad infinitum. Think of how rapidly our lives have changed in comparison to our parents' and even our grandparents' generations. Your everyday world can now be filled with an increasing array of deliciously magickal shenanigans. Marijuana has now been legalized in two states, one of which just so happens to be my home state for the last 11 years: Washington. This is the biggest victory in the war of consciousness I've seen in my lifetime, and something I never saw coming as a cynical 18-year-old stoner. What no one's saying about this matter is that one of the fundamental tenets of Western occultism involves a focused practice of weed-based sex magick, which is now totally legal. People are going to figure it out eventually. Combine that with a wide array of art-summoning gadgets, and you're well on your way to re-programming yourself into the next age psychic stratosphere. In the next fifty years or so I'm sure we'll debate whether or not 2012 was the beginning of a widespread shift toward a higher order of knowing. Again, these things take time. People have been fighting for pot and gay rights forever, and the defenses have finally started to crack. LSD in next. More importantly, the fact that we're finally starting to recognize the environmental nightmare brought forth by our materialistic insanity is more than a good omen. I know what's been shown to me. We've dug ourselves a hole that we can only fly out of through a psychedelic mindgasm portal. It's where we're headed. The environment's going to force our hand on this one. The UFOs aren't going to just stop lighting up the skies, the storms aren't going to stop hitting and then where the fuck are you going to turn? Sorcery, that's where.
Say what you will about 2012, but since consciousness is comprised of linguistic information, the idea of a coming apocalypse in itself propagated some rather delicious undercurrents of sound rippling through the Akashic record this year. I've never written more than a top five list in my life, but when I was thinking back on the insane amount of mind-bending albums that dropped in the last 12 months, I was kind of in shock. Most of this stuff's fairly obvious, at least in my world. Was it people like Terence McKenna and his mechanized Timewave Zero prophesies, inspiring people like Grant Morrison to write the great Invisibles hypersigil, that summoned this record deluge of psychoactive soundscapes into motion? I have no idea. Did the Mayans get in every band's head and subconsciously encourage them to bring their A game in 2012 as it might be their final chance? Whatever happened, it appears a software update embedded itself into our collective psyche and we went berzerk. An aspiring mystic could use any one of these mind-warping albums to put a hex on their internal mind tunnel and help elevate our collective superstructure heavenward. One might now use these recorded sound patterns in conjunction with the aforementioned pot based sex tantra quite legally in a hip music town like Seattle if one were so inclined. I've been told by the gods that it's a very "time safe activity". Reach for the stars true believers, or to quote Seattle's THEESatisfaction: "Let the musicians, be your physicians."
 

Aural Devastation is a regular column about heavy music. Here are some favorites from 2012, beginning with relatively structured songs and descending into the chaotic.   Baroness - "EULA" from Yellow & Green + ENTIRE RECORD STREAM As the last song on the Yellow Album, "EULA" had...

AURAL DEVASTATION Because sometimes all we need is our ear drums shattered by the weight of music, the force of distortion, and the insanity of noise.

Baroness

Savannah, Georgia is known for a lot of things - most of it related to its historic charm - but on the modern front, it is the city of metal in the United States. Amongst the bands being churned out of the city, arguably no one has made more of a critical impact than the quartet Baroness. On the band's latest, the immensely grand and bold double album Yellow & Green, Baroness find themselves becoming a prog-rock band with metal tendencies. As you follow their catalog, the progression makes sense, and a very insightful interview with NPR adds all the backstory required. This is one of the best albums of the year, and probably one of the more important metal albums to come out in a long time. Editor's Note: Amazing artwork, as always, from Baroness vocalist John Dyer Baizley. See HERE for our interview with him about his work with Gillian Welch on The Harrow & The Harvest, or click on the cover to see it in hi-res.

Theoretically, if beings existing outside of three-dimensional timespace looked down upon the lower dimensions they'd created, micro-entities such as humans might appear to them as little more than a blur -- misunderstood pulses of flickering electricity constantly cycling through ephemeral life-spans. But the "God being" would perceive the mountains, trees, and canyons as solidified objects existing in cyclical, slower parameters more familial to its natural timeless state. It would also conceive the long-term progression of these cosmic colossi in eons -- in speculative forms of consciousness we can't even begin to fathom. But we must try.

Listen to "The Corpse" - DOWNLOAD MP3


One of the best aspects of Musicfest NW is its intimate club settings. Whereas most music festivals are synonymous with enormous outdoor stages designed to fit tens of thousands of people, Portland sticks to its quirky Portland roots and packs seething masses of people into sweaty, energy-filled bars and venues. One major perk of this indoor setting is that the festival can book major metal shows without scaring off the locals and more timid music listeners. And with that said, that is where I found myself most of the time -- in the face of thrashing riffs and flowing locks of hair.

 

Red Fang

Portland's Red Fang had a big night at Musicfest NW. The band was opening up for eventual metal legends Baroness and had also just inked a deal through Relapse Records to bring out their drink-ariffic metal tunes to the masses. So, inside the cozy confines of Dante's, tall boys of PBR and Tecate in hand, the crowd was ready to let Red Fang fly. But Red Fang didn't so much as fly as they steamrolled. The Portland quartet plays an interesting type of metal, less confined by creative riffs and more in the constant search of the ultimate head-banging guitar line. Personally, I think they found it with their beer drinking anthem of "Prehistoric Dog" (seriously, just watch the music video), which closed out a set that was equal parts old stuff, equal parts new stuff, and a bit of the stuff in between.

This year's Bumbershoot may have been a bit smaller, rainier, and less musically-sophisticated than it usually is, but that doesn't mean there weren't some amazing performances. Here are some of the best from this year's lineup.

 

Baroness

While Mastodon may get all the grandiose hype for their concept albums about a plot that makes David Lynch's films look like a childrens' films, the real American metal torch is being silently carried by Baroness... or... less silently and more in a mind-blowing, aggressively gorgeous style. Blue Record received a ton of acclaim, which all justified. And Baroness, like all good metal bands, are able to take the intensity of the studio and ratchet it up on the live stage to absurd proportions. In a festival that tends to lack the noise, Baroness brought it -- and then some -- in a masterful, technical fury that is currently unmatched on the national stage.