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...

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

Ensemble Pearl Ensemble Pearl Drag City (2013 February) Comprised of drone merchant Stephen O'Malley (Sunn O)))); psychedelic guitar wizard Michio Kurihara (Ghost/Boris); white-gloved drummer Atsuo, (also Boris); and William Herzog (Jesse Sykes And The Sweet Hereafter) on bass, Ensemble Pearl is comprised of some of the brightest gems the drone metal underground has had to offer over the last decade. Many of them have worked together already, so it is an electrifying thrill to have them all gathered on wax, in the same place at the same time. For this self-titled release, the ensemble's press release expresses influence from: "Cosmic heavy rock sounds in an area between Link Wray (one of the songs is titled ‘Wray'), Earth "Hex", and early Tangerine Dream. Inspired by 50s-70s rock and contemporary music productions." The Drag City website speaks of "amplified rock drops and ripples, auras radiate and fade away into cloudforms, through which lightning bolts." The discerning listener can tell, before even dropping the needle, that what you are about to experience will not likely kowtow to pop conventions like hooks, melodies, lyrics. Before even taking off, you know that you are in for a journey – probably a vision quest.

 

Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy What The Brothers Sang Drag City Can we appreciate older music, without it being retrostylized, sculpted and reconfigured for modern ears? Will Oldham, the right honorable Bonnie 'Prince' Billy, and Dawn McCarthy (of Faun Fables fame) seem to think so, dishing up thirteen slices of pure unadulterated Americana on What The Brothers Sang. In 2013, we are seeing an increasing trend of reissue labels, tribute bands, and artist-curated mixtapes (read Simon Reynold's Retromania for an exhaustively thorough look at the issue). It's just an exaggeration of what has always been going on in pop music: artists referencing bands referencing musicians. Any aspiring musicologist will follow the riverbed to the source of inspiration. The Everly Brothers themselves explored a similar theme, with their 1968 album Roots. On this most recent collaboration between BPB and Dawn McCarthy, the pair act as tour guides through The Everly's catalog, which in turn acts as a microcosm of American music of the '50s and '60s. The Everly Brothers themselves didn't write many of their hit singles, so Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and Dawn McCarthy end up paying tribute to Ron Eliot, Kris Kristofferson, Tony Romeo, and the duo of Boudleaux & Felice Bryan, who wrote many of The Everly Brother's first hit singles. They focus more on deep cuts than the obvious hits. There's no "Wake Up Little Susie", no "Bye Bye Love", no "All I Have To Do Is Dream"; some of these songs have only seen the light of day on ultra-rare completist boxsets. It seems like Oldham and McCarthy are enthusiasts and patrons of the Everly's art, and just want to spread the gospel.
Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy – "Milk Train" (The Everly Brothers Cover) The Everly Brothers – "Milk Train" (Original)

 

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."
 

SPECTRAL HYPNOSIS A recurring series, featuring mesmerizing songs for one to lose sense of time and space, mind and body. Hitting the electronic-psych-rock tip today with two bands often loved and supported by REDEFINE -- Oakland's Lumerians and Seattle's Midday Veil -- as well as a Drag City release from the somewhat controversial Father Yod & The Source Family.

 

Lumerians

Oakland's Lumerians have an upcoming release from Permanent Records in the USA and Hands In The Dark Records in Europe Transmissions From Telos: Vol.IV, out on July 5th. According to Lumerians, the EP is one of "lost orphan songs, hand-picked from [a] overwhelmingly vast improvisation archive. The first in a series of radiation burnt offerings."

 

Pre-Order From Hands In The Dark (Starting May 29).

 

MADNESS! A recurring series of audio WTFs and head-twitching, spine-tingling experimental or chaotic fun (k-k+st)icks.

Eric Copeland

Does it sound like Black Dice? It sure does. That's because it is Black Dice -- or, at least, it's a core member of Black Dice gone solo without sacrificing the madness. Eric Copeland's album single for Limbo, "Louie, Louie, Louie" is like a more restrained but just as chaotic and visually-evocative counterpart to any Black Dice Song, and the album cover alone speaks volumes about the tendecy of this music. It's a burst of pattern, certainly not lacking in energy and intricacy, but lacking a wee bit o' color (I'm still comparing it to Black Dice, though, not to Coldplay). Limbo comes out June 5th on Underwater Peoples. Tracklisting for Limbo below, where you can also stream the entirety of his previous album, Waco Taco Combo! LIMBO TRACKLISTING 1. Double Reverse Psychology 2. Louie, Louie, Louie 3. Muckaluk 4. Fiesta Muerta 5. Tarzan and the Dizzy Devils 6. Lemons