In contrast to modern patterns in music consumption comes our annual Album Covers of the Year feature, where, instead of forgetting album artwork even exists, we hyperextend ourselves to assert that it is an artform that is vitally connected to the spirit of the music. This feature, which is divided at times into thematic elements and at times into artistic medium, incorporates interviews with not only musicians, but also artists involved throughout the artistic process. We pride this list in being diverse and multi-faceted, as well as philosophically exploratory.
See all of our entries from previous years or get started by choosing a category below. Happy travels through the artistic universe we've crafted for you.
With wide-reaching arms and hungry ears, each of our writers has compiled his or her top albums of the year, for you to peruse our eclectic, atypical, and only occasionally overlapping tastes. You'd be well-served to check out every single record here.
2010 didn't offer up much to rejoice over, what with earthquakes, oil spills and other such tragedies dominating headlines and generally fucking over the world. Yet in the wake of those disasters the good Lord did deem it fit to bestow one blessing upon his faithful (or at least the record collecting nerds among them): the return of Swans.
After a decade of understated twee folk, ascetically bland and nostalgic psyche rock, the general rise of "indie" rock to Grammy status and the dubstep um... dubstep, the aughts reanimated a band that absolutely never ever fucks around. That said, My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky was a slightly disappointing, if handsome, first effort for the new version of the band; it favored tightly structured songs with reserved running times over the timeless drones of past albums. This won them a legion of new fans and cemented their elder statesmen of rad music status but left a lot of long-time fans like myself with a sense of, "Cool that they're back, but meh!"
As a staff, we all have our own unique musical tastes. Sometimes those tastes overlap stylistically and sometimes they veer off into strange directions galore. Below are our top album lists of 2012, separated by writer and summed up with genre tags.
Vivian Hua - dance, electronic, indie, funk, metal
Judy Nelson - dance, electronic, indie, pop, psychedelic, soul
Ryan Pangilinan - pop, soul, pop-punk, punk
Peter Woodburn - electronic, hardcore, metal, instrumental
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 an interesting job, as it...
It has been a decade since Godspeed You! Black Emperor released Yanqui U.X.O., and since then the musical landscape has changed quite a bit. As a new generation of music lovers have grown up with the concept that music is free, and the people making it are entertainers in a vaudeville-like act, bands have been forced to find new and interesting ways to release physical albums that will make fans want to buy them
In this day and age where all news makes it to Twitter whether or not it is even news, it is tough to actually pull a surprise on anyone. The internet makes it near impossible -- yet that is exactly what GY!BE did with their latest release Allelujah! Don't Bend! Ascend!. The band reformed from hiatus in 2010 and then two years later, they silently released the new album at a concert in Boston. Everyone was taken by surprise and no one was the wiser.
What some of us might call the Pacific Northwest's best music festival -- and maybe the next and more relaxed SXSW -- is Musicfest NW, a multi-day spread across Portland's best venues. Featuring diverse and exceptional booking, we've split our coverage this year between indie staples, unconventional dance acts, and heavy riffers. Over the course of four days, we gush about everyone from Hot Snakes to The Helio Sequence, Mean Jeans to Omar Souleyman, John Maus to Pure Bathing Culture... and many more, including Swans, Beirut, and Chelsea Wolfe, to name a few.
TEXT BY VIVIAN HUA & ERIK BURG; PHOTOGRAPHY BY LYMAY IWASAKI & NATHAN WATTERS
SEE FULL FESTIVAL RECAP & PHOTO GALLERY
When Red Fang’s beardy, Pabst-swilling selves took the stage at Roseland Theater, the crowd thundered with a hand-clapping, foot-stomping welcome as driving as the band’s opening notes. In a bill consisting of them, Hungry Ghost, and Hot Snakes, Red Fang were easily the crowd favorites of the night. They built off of the unintentionally playful sonics of Hungry Ghost by one-upping similar rhythms and stylistic shifts into much gnarlier and more interesting territory. With every seemingly mediocre or white bread songwriting move came the crust of a more delicious lick; their beastly instrumental slaughtering led to their carving out juicy hunks of musical turkey, next to what had previously been cold and bland deli meat. Red Fang have gained an extensive following locally and beyond in recent years, and the ease with which they toe the line between accessibility and unpredictable manipulation is one main reason. Even those who can’t stand their brand of rock can appreciate that they do what they do with a high caliber of professionalism and an impressive display of confidence. - VIVIAN HUA
SEE ALSO: CHARITABLE MUSICIANS: RED FANG BENEFIT PORTLAND ARTS EDUCATION (W/ INTERVIEW)
MusicfestNW does one of the better jobs in the festival circuit of scheduling the heavy bands. Reason being that MusicfestNW, unlike most festivals, doesn’t take place in one central location. Rather, it is scattered amongst the various venues throughout Portland, Oregon. And although normally walls might seem like a constricting measure in life, the walls of the venue provide a safe haven for the volume to hit extreme levels, the vocals to shriek instead of harmonize, the double bass to reach red-lining beats per minute and the guitar distortion to be devastatingly heavy. Aural Devastation is a recurring column about heavy music.
Seeing Swans is an emotional experience and a tough one to make it through, at that. Charging off the brilliance of Michael Gira and company's epic new release, The Seer, Portland was laid to waste by the heaviness that is Gira’s project. Gira is well-known throughout the live circuit for his intensity, and although he is no longer as confrontational as he was in the early days, his intensity on stage translates immediately and effortlessly to Swans live show. It is a slog that is based on repetitive, almost locomotive-like mashes of noise and distortion. Over it all, Gira can be seen yelling at his band, demanding more energy and channeling some sort of weird musical rage. With every heavy stomp and grimace, one felt Gira’s pain as if it were one's own. There were a few souls in the Hawthorne Theatre without earplugs. They must have ignored the decibel warning on the front door. Not a smart idea.
The Seer is a 2-CD record that saw an August 28th release. It is the result of the band's getting back together in 2010, after a 14-year hiatus.
What some of us might call the Pacific Northwest's best music festival -- and maybe the next and more relaxed SXSW -- is Musicfest NW, a multi-day spread across Portland's best venues. Featuring diverse and exceptional booking, this year's picks have been written by three writers, each with unique tastes, to do the festival justice.
Wednesday, 11:00pm @ Roseland Theatre
Relatively newly reformed band Hot Snakes saddened the post-hardcore world (and beyond) when they exited the scene after the release of their last record, Audit In Progress. Catch them while you can. - VIVIAN HUA
Thursday, 11:00pm @ Berbati's
Canadian electronic duo Purity Ring released a fantastic debut album called "Shrines" on 4AD this summer. Though full of mystical electronic layers, the duo's music has a very fresh and pristine sound apt for their band name. Megan James' tender voice sparkles among a bright and absorbing waterfall of percussive sounds and beats. - KARLA HERNANDEZ
Friday, 6:30pm @ Holocene
This panel will explore how dance and movement intersect with modern music videos. Select music videos will be screened, followed by an open community dialogue with associated dancers, directors, and musicians. Topics covered may include differences in dance styles among different musical genres, trends of modern dance in contemporary music video, and spontaneity versus choreography in the creative process. A related brochure, featuring Q&A with directors and musicians, will be distributed with further information about the participants and videos screened.
SEE ALSO: MOTION & MOVEMENT IN MUSIC VIDEOS EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT
Friday, 11:30pm @ Doug Fir
Black Mountain are one of the best psych-rock bands out there because no matter how far out the songs get into space, the band always keeps your feet grounded onto Earth. - PETER WOODBURN
Saturday, 12:00am @ Dour Fir Lounge
The lesser of Spencer Krug’s numerous projects, Moonface have quietly put out three impressive albums over the course of the past few years. It’s less Wolf Parade and more Sunset Rubdown, if you’re familiar with Krug’s other work, but it also brandishes its own dark, loud mystique. This year’s With Siinai: Heartbreaking Bravery showcases the groups imaginative and unique song writing skills, a heavy and heady album that deserves praise. With all the rotating, busy pieces in the band it’s worth catching Moonface when you can, as they might not ever come around again. - ERIK BURG
Just wanted to share this weirdo crazy-person-on-a-psych-couch video from the ever-so-strange New York band, Extra Life. In the words of John Gillanders who recently wrote up one of their shows in Seattle, "Extra Life are one of those bands that kind of cram as much shit as humanly possible into...