Every year, we interview a number of musicians and artists about the intimate details and philosophical underpinnings of their album cover artwork. It's an ever-massive undertaking, but we make sure to include every genre, from doom metal to disco, minimal electronic to mainstream pop, with the intention of highlighting the best visual art, regardless of why or who created it. You can see entries from previous years here, and browse 2013's entries by either scrolling down or selecting a category below. > Narrative & Mythological Album Covers > Photographic Album Covers > Illustrative Album Covers > Mixed Media & Collage-Based Album Covers
To pay proper homage to the musical grandness of 2013 and to usher in the new year 2014, we've once again decided to call upon our tastemaker friends to compile their favorite up-and-comers throughout the Pacific Northwest. Here, James Scheall, Cameron McCreery, and Katherine Humphreys of Seattle's stylish boutique shop and venue Cairo throw out their wide-ranging picks for Seattle bands to watch. Those who are interested in the Portland scene can also check out the list compiled by the innovative nightclub, Holocene, here.
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Cock & Swan __ soundcloud.com/cockandswan

Cock & Swan’s Ola Hungerford and Johnny Goss are a couple of weirdos making beautifully intricate, often kaleidoscopic pop music. Layers of analog synths and bass guitar provide a hazy, warped framework for Hungerford’s subtle, dreamy vocals to build on. Their 2013 LP, Secret Angles, sounds like something you’d find under a stack of scratched-up Boards of Canada and Broadcast CDs, in the best way. Trippy in the least annoying way possible. - CAMERON MCCREERY

Black Hat __ blackhat.bandcamp.com/album/covalence-ep

Nelson Bean's music as Black Hat exists somewhere in the strange, hazy middle-ground between dance music and noise. Harsh drums and lurching bass give way to droning synths and eerily beautiful melodies in a constant vortex of sound. There is a definite darkness to Black Hat’s music, but it’s more than just a gothy occult obsession; there is a very natural, very real darkness at work here, one that will draw you in and never let go. Hypnotic head nods 'til the end. - CAMERON MCCREERY

La Luz __ laluz.bandcamp.com

Melancholic oohs and ahhs drift sweetly from rain to the Puget Sound, sung by the harmonious spirits of La Luz, who are taking the foggy beaches and rainy side-streets of Seattle by storm. Not only can they hang ten with their epic surf rock shredder tracks, but they've somehow have perfected the balance of drifter sadness and hilarious campiness. Not to mention, they totally survived an insane car accident and have bounced back like it’s no one’s business. Pick up their cassette via Burger or their LP via Hardly Art. - KATHERINE HUMPHREYS
A lot of the problem with viewing the universe as being comprised of matter comes with the idea that it's devoid of conscious experience somehow. More and more, little by little, we're starting to wake up to the insane limitations of this philosophy. Renders people humorless if you ask me. Nothing adds up, which creates profound existential desperation resonating throughout the collective psi-grid of humanity. There is no explanation for why anything happens, so we instead focus on how things go down in obsessive detail. Not to knock this approach, as it creates order by combining with the mystical chaos of internal infinity. Too much mystic psychic sizzle and you'll get torn to shreds, but when you look at only shared perceptual experience, you're editing out the vast majority of reality. It's all dark matter through those eyes. Endless blacked out pages on a declassified UFO report. What I've found is that by shifting models of reality interpretation just slightly from conceiving the world as being made of matter to one comprised from conscious experience, coherent macro concepts of conjoined narratives learning lessons throughout cycles of shifting lifetimes starts to take shape (which I talk about all the time on Facebook; friend me). When you start looking at things through the neo-Occult lens regarding the meaning of our existence as participants in a small cog of a much larger 5th dimensional art creation device, things begin to click into place on an even deeper level. Try it; it's fun. What works about this model is the fact that art is getting more plentiful and expansive by the day. Whether or not that was the purpose, that's what's happening. The average person now spends their time lost in a greater collective imagination in a way that wasn't even possible a decade ago. We've entered the era of the information addict. We're turning ourselves increasingly inward and tying together disparate narratives without asking why we're so unconsciously compelled to veer in that direction. I'm more helplessly entrenched than anyone, spending my time existent in my own celestial enclave of sonic enchantment. Fact of the matter is, more people are taking psychedelic drugs at this point in history than ever before. The loosening of the pot laws is just going to ensure that trend continues to spike upward. Unsurprisingly, this has created a congruent upsurge in fantastically brain-altering tunage. I can't even begin to keep up with it all, and I'm an obsessive music weirdo. For all intents and purposes, there are an infinite number of great albums being made every single year, but I'd say Joe Sixpack isn't truly aware of that fact. I can't imagine any of the records on this list sold a ton, which is sort of the problem and why you need geeks like me. Next time you want to trip out on the weekend rather than getting blitzed drunk, go pick up any of thesem and they'll serve to lift you on high rather than binding you to the lower dimensions. Now, I almost apologize, because there really should be more trip-hop and electronic freak outs on here in general -- that's where drug music is heading and has been since I was a kid. But I've listened to a lot of the higher profile releases this year and most of it was decent, and little of it struck me as sufficiently psyche-warping. I've got to dig deeper next year. I will say that Seattle's Debacle Records consistently brings the strange vibes (Editor's Note: See the mixtape they made for us earlier this year) -- and as if intentionally living up to our newly minted west coast weed city status, more great psychedelic albums came out of Seattle this year than ever, so this list is also a bit heavy on that because no one else is really talking about it. You've been warned.
Das Fluff - Meditation And ViolenceMeditation and Violence, the new album by Das Fluff, explores subject matters both private, personal, and universal, head-on and without caveats or reservation. Timeless themes of isolation and loneliness are recast for the internet era, while the uncomfortable truth of social networking, and the distorted nature of friendship that come with it, are placed under the unforgiving glare of Dawn Lintern's unflinching lyrics and vocal delivery. Musically, Meditation and Violence is electropop with a grand and expansive feel that belies the stripped back, reduced elements that go to make it up. This is music that has been allowed to breathe and, because of that, it is all the more powerful. Das FluffDesperate to find the sound that best suited her intent, Lintern parted company with the keyboard playing producer from her debut album and, despite technophobia, dived into the world of digital audio software for herself. The resultant album is more direct and cohesive and gels perfectly, despite being diverse in its range and reference points. Recalling Suicide and even, occasionally, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the sound harnesses bi-polar collisions, track by track, as the music seeks to keep pace with the darkness of its messages.
Austra's two sold out shows in Berlin are expressive of the band's massive appeal in a city that thrives upon innovative music programming, anachronisms of the 1980s, and advocation for LGBT acceptance. Touring behind the sophomore album Olympia, an effort that features all of the aforementioned three, Katie Stelmanis and company delivered a set of darkly emotional synthpop that did not disappoint either night. Classically voice-trained as a child, with a partiality toward gloomy themes, Canadian Katie Stelmanis' laptop dabbling resulted in Austra's 2011 debut Feel It Break, which achieved remarkable success. Now on Olympia, Stelmanis has not only dropped the bleak moods of the first album, but discarded the backing tracks in favor of actual instrumentation rather than computer-driven guidance. In doing, so the band now displays a more human presence, as Stelmanis has relinquished more freedom to the rest of the band to apply musical coloration to her robust voice. October 28th, 2013 @ Heimathafen Neukölln in Berlin, Germany
Spectral Hypnosis is a recurring series, featuring mesmerizing songs for one to lose sense of time and space, mind and body. This time: favorite new electronic meanderings from Rival Consoles and Peter Broderick, the consistent and darkly charming universe of ERAAS, the POLIÇA / GAYNGS member side-project Marijuana Deathsquads, and more from Tati Ana and Applescal & Ryan Davis.
SEE ALSO: FULL POST + ALL SPECTRAL HYPNOSIS POSTS + ALL COLUMNS

Rival Consoles & Peter Broderick - "Soul"

Rival Consoles' synthy video game percolations meet with the expressive vocals of Portland's Peter Broderick on "Soul", a hypnotic adventure of a track. Taking the isolated vocal foundation from "Proposed Solution to the Mystery of the Soul" off Broderick's 2012 record, These Walls of Mine, this "remix" transforms the minimal, percussive ricochets of the original into its own busy, expressive undulations. Occupying a towering and dynamic sonic space, this track is one of my favorites of the year, and at once makes me want to hear more from Rival Consoles and Peter Broderick -- which is a rare feat for remix tracks, which often retain very little charm from their original inspirations. This track comes from the London producer's EP Odyssey, which you can stream below in its entirety. It is all good, and it's available now on Erased Tapes. Peter Broderick has also just reissued Float 2013, a lovely rework of his modern classical record from 2008, Float. Stream it here.
thisquietarmy Hex Mountains Denovali Records (2013)Hex Mountains is a black mass, that rends the veil of consensual reality, plunging the listener into a twilight afterlife of elder gods and ancient wisdom. It's good to have post-rock back. For years, it seemed that all the genre could produce was ham-fisted Mogwai knock-offs that lost the emotional subtlety and expansive listening habits of the original movement. Imitators with long names sucked the marrow right out of post-rock's bones until it was an embarrassment, a shell of its former self. People forgot how thrilling it could be to combine the crushing weight of metal with the sonic possibilities of electronic music, and the weird eeriness of drone. The Denovali Records release of two albums from Montreal drone alchemist Eric Quach, who has released over 50 albums under the name thisquietarmy, suggest that this is about to change, and that it is again okay to appreciate epic instrumental rock 'n roll; people are finding new and interesting things to do with the format. Hex Mountains suggests a new phase in Thisquietarmy's extensive catalog. After touring with heavyweights like Year Of No Light and Deafheaven, Eric Quach wanted to turn up the intensity. He shattered the traditional isolation of TQA's somnolent soundscapes, to enlist members of Alashan, Northumbria and Monarch. It's some of his most pummeling work to date.
Camp Counselors Huntress Lefse RecordsListening to the vocals on Huntress, the latest release from Kyle J Reigle (who also records as Cemeteries), is like listening to the white puffs of breath that escape blue lips in the depths of winter. It's a plaintive sound: one that knows it'll only hang on the air until the next icy gust of wind blows it away. And, in fact, most of Reigle's lyrics are gone before you can quite grasp what they're saying. Using wintry language to talk about Reigle's music is fitting, as he's a native of Buffalo, New York—no stranger to the occasional blizzard. That might be why it's tempting to draw comparisons between Camp Counselors and those others denizens of the north, Iceland's Sigur Ròs. Both artists imbue their compositions with spare, fuzzed out electronic storms of sound that evoke empty snow-filled fields under starless skies. But where some Sigur Ròs' tracks verge into the rock realm, Reigle's work never gets as hard-edged as his Icelandic brethrens'. In fact the guitars he used on Wilderness, his previous effort as Cemeteries, is absent here, which removes pretty much all rock leanings and leaves behind an all-electronic soundscape that grooves, but is never in danger of shattering any ice.
Natasha Kmeto Interview Photography by Patti Miller
Mystics throughout the ages have sought to express the relationship between birth, death, and time through all manner of ritual and philosophy. In Qabballah, we have the Supernal Mother Binah, who crystallizes Force into Form, thus making us subject to time and decay. In the ancient Greek religions, we have the story of Demeter, whose periodic descent into and return from Hades signifies the cycle of birth and death. And in astrological terms, we have the Saturn Return, which signifies the recurring point where the God of Time returns to the position he held on our chart when we were born. This last concept has worked its way into the modern Western lexicon to the point of cliché, but it serves the purpose of illustrating a point in our lives -- which happens around every 27 to 30 years -- when we are seemingly forced by some unseen hand into a state of brutal self-reflection. It is the mid-life crisis; the night journey; the start of C.G. Jung's path to individuation. Regardless of what we call it, this is an ordeal that most people are at least tangentially familiar with. Some event, possibly innocuous at first, becomes the source of friction that challenges us to engage our assumptions about who we are and what we are doing, so that we might make better use of our time on Earth. Now in her late 20s, Portland electronic musician Natasha Kmeto has felt the impact of her own Saturn Return and emerged from it all the better. Though not explicitly dedicated to the topic, her latest album, Crisis, is a highly personal record about love, loss, and longing that marks a maturation point in Kmeto's musical career. It has also lifted her from the status of popular local artist to internationally-renowned R&B singer and electronic music producer.
"It was my career that facilitated me traveling more and starting to experience different things in my mind, [so] that I kind of realized that the trajectory I was on was not the one that I wanted to be on. I kind of did a 180 and had to get really honest with myself and figure out what I wanted, because I wasn’t happy." - Natasha Kmeto
Devon Welsh isn't just looking for applause at the end of a Majical Cloudz song. He'll gladly accept it, nod his head a few times, and give the audience a hint of a smile, but for Welsh, the Majical Cloudz live set is about much more than that.Majical Cloudz "When you play a show, you want people to feel something," Welsh told Pitchfork's Jenn Pelly in a recent interview. "It's much better to communicate something than for people to just be like, 'Oh this is cool.'" As Welsh performs -- he's strictly the lead singer of the two-piece group that includes Matthew Otto on synth and sound mixing -- he slowly rotates his gaze throughout the crowd, moving at a snail's pace from left to right and then back again. You won't see him shutting his eyes or staring off into the distance, because his priority is ensuring that each word coming out of his mouth is fully digested by the crowd. He doesn't just casually look out into the crowd to gauge his audience, either. He stares into the eyes of every onlooker, and when his pupils fall on you, it feels like an intimate and intensely personal performance.
August 27th, 2013 @ The Echo in Los Angeles, CA
Dawn of Midi Dysnomia Thirsty Ear Recordings (2013) When the American trio Dawn of Midi released their accomplished 2010 debut album, First, the world had gained another practitioner of minimalist free jazz. Two years in the making, and at a reported cost of thirty thousand dollars, Dysnomia is the follow-up to that promising debut, and builds masterfully on First, delivering an exciting blend of acute syncopation and imaginative instrumental counterpoint.
The first track, "Io", opens with resonating bass which is joined by a building rhythm produced by what might be a piano. Muted and muffled, this part works simultaneously with and against the initial deep bass, which is then underscored by the stabbing rhythm of a rich bass drum. From then on this track and those that follow build into a sparse though satisfyingly complex interaction of the three elements that comprise the classic jazz trio. The interplay of drums, bass and piano that make up Dawn of Midi is clever throughout, but in a way that never allows clarity to be lost. Hypnotic, rotating and tightly controlled, a subtle evolution of sound is the watermark that runs through this album. "Io", "Sinope", "Atlas", "Nix", "Moon", "Ymir", "Ijiraq", "Algol", "Dysnomia": each track merges with the next to make an album that is one complete piece of music.
Ghost & Goblin SUPERHORRORCASTLELAND Self-Released
FADE IN: EXT. A RAINY URBAN ALLEY NIGHT Thunder crashes and illuminates the face of an anxious man who appears to be in his mid-20s. He's soaked from the relentless rain and seems to be looking for an address. Finding the right one, he bangs on the old wooden door. The door gives way and creaks open. He steps inside and it slams behind him, the sound of the storm replaced by the sound of rats scurrying. In the darkness he encounters (a monster? a ghost? a goblin?) that makes a terrifying growl. The sounds of the man scampering away indicate abject terror -- and a likely loss of continence. The man recovers himself and hears a pipe organ playing behind the door at the end of the hall. Investigating, he opens the door, the music grows louder and we find ourselves in... INT. MAD SCIENTIST LAB NIGHT
Seem like a strange way to start a music review? Well, it's a pretty strange way to start an album, but that didn't seem to bother Ghost & Goblin, the macabre-music-making, lo-fi loving, NYC-based team of Nicholas DiMichele and Spencer Synwolt. In fact, it's the perfect spooky entrée to an album filled with noises that go bump in the night -- like fuzzed-out angry electric guitars, bashing drums and synthesized beeps, bleats and buzzes of every stripe.