Album Covers of 2021: HEAVY. METAL. EDITION.

If I had to guess, I’d say more heavy metal albums are released than any other single genre. Of course, I’m lumping together Drone Metal, Grindcore, Sludge Metal, Stoner Metal, Black Metal, Industrial Black Metal, Space Metal, Melodic Metal, Thrash Metal, Symphonic Black Metal, Funk Metal, Rap Metal, and a bunch of other metals I can’t even think of right now. If you think I made any of those up, you definitely don’t metal. But now you can get a taste, without even listening to any metal.

That is because heavy metal album covers have their own world. Their own aesthetic. Their own complicated iconography. Get a taste of it here, starting with…

The Worst:

Some metal album covers look like a skilled 7th grader did them, or they’re just so corny you can’t believe an adult thought they were cool.

The Gnarliest:

This is the core of the heavy metal aesthetic. Body horror. Apocalypse. Apocalyptic body horror. Gates opening to hell. Horrific monsters. Dystopian future war. Things growing into or out of people’s faces.

The Best

These are the best conventional heavy metal album covers. They’re overdone and gnarly, but in a really cool, balanced way!

The Unconventional:

You wouldn’t even guess these were heavy metal albums. I laud these albums for taking the Heavy Metal Album Cover in a new direction.

this blog post is now over, thank you for reading.
as a reminder, it was called: Album Covers of 2021: HEAVY. METAL. EDITION.
it's categorized as: Album Covers, Reviews
link to it, please: Thursday, December 30th, 2021

The 10 WORST Album Covers of 2021

I stopped doing Twitter reviews of bad albums at some point earlier this year. Why? Because no matter how funny my reviews are: no one “likes” bad album covers. Thus, no one sees the reviews. So I’m sure I missed many bad album covers, because I only included ones I posted at the time. Also, there are dozens of bad Hip Hop Mix Tapes released every week and I generally don’t cover them because…I feel like it would veer into actually racist territory. There’s a notable exception on the list.

For instance there are a million of these:

That said, I am absolutely certain that my #1 worst album of the year is actually, objectively the worst album released this year. It would take a very bad album cover indeed to beat it for the rest of the decade, in my opinion. It is horrible. Props to Exclaim’s excellent list. They caught many I missed, and although we disagree on a few, I am happy to say we both agree on the #1 worst album of the year.

Not included are bad heavy metal covers because heavy metal covers are their own genre, and I’m giving them their own list.

#10: Willie Jones – Right Now

Right No.

#9: Sun Kil Moon – Welcome to Sparks, NV

There are a lot of album covers like this, a cruddy, poorly exposed photo with some lens flare that the artist themselves took. They clearly deluded themselves into thinking was more meaningful than it is. This is just a photo of the sun shining through treetops with lens flare that washes out all the contrast and saturation of the photo. If this was on Instagram you would just scroll right past it, perhaps with a snort. Then he just slapped some white text and a horizontal line on it. Good job, Mark. That really makes me want to listen to more of your depressed warbling.

#8 – BennY RevivaL – GLAAD GAME

Months later, and I still can’t decide how intentionally bad this album cover is. I am all for sex positive gender expression and weirdness, absolutely, but this is an assault on the senses that I can’t let slide. I feel like they promised too many friends a spot on their cover and had like fifteen minutes to put the collage together and run to Kinkos. All the photos mashed together without any kind of border or layout. The font mixing. The white-on-rainbow-in-a-narrow-strip. It all seems designed to harm the eyes. And it’s successful.

#7: Lil Wayne & Rich the Kid – Trust Fund Babies

This is what multi-millionaire entertainer Lil Wayne chose to front his collab mix tape with Rich the Kid. I get that he’s projecting low expectations but damn is it bad.

#6: DoisPes & bedhop – C A F E

If I were going to teach a typography and graphic design class, I could use this album cover as a thesis level study on what not to do. It’s like a parody of bad typography. See if you can identify all the horrifying choices they made.

#5: DJ Blackpower – blp2021: “for ur own good”

It burns.


I will admit that this recording and album cover no longer really exists on the internet, but it did on August 20th, 2021. However, Goth Money Records still exists and this definitely matches their album cover profile. Allow yourself to just slowly absorb all the elements in this album cover. It’s magnificent. I almost regret putting it in the “Worst Albums” list and not the “Best Albums” list.


#3: Margaret – Maggie Vision

There’s so much glow on Polish hip-hop artist Margaret’s album cover, it’s hard to find an element on it that’s not glowing. The logo is glowing. Maggie herself is glowing. The disco balls are glowing. The overlapping boxes haphazardly laid over each other are glowing. There are a few bonus glowing spheres in the background, just to make sure there’s enough glow.

I actually listened to this album, and it’s a relatively well-produced and enjoyable, if cookie-cutter, Polish pop album. I’m genuinely sad for her that she was saddled with this hack job of an album cover.

#2: Rigo – Pimpin On The Web

Every Friday of the year, there are at least five truly awful Hip Hop mixtape covers. I usually don’t bother to cover them, even though some are laughably bad. But still, I have some special hostility for casual misogyny and glorification of sex trafficking in 2021. The stereotypes here are so ugly, so lazy, so poorly executed, so lumpy and stupid, that I just had to highlight how bad this cover is. It’s sort of like a bad political comic, but even worse.

#1: Drake – Certified Lover Boy

You’ll notice I use the 80’s hip-hop terminology whack here to describe Drake and the fact that he thought this whole thing was a good idea. I use whack instead of some other word to say it sucks for a specific reason. Whack has the connotation in hip-hop terminology to mean not only is an artist is bad, but that they’re embarrassingly bad and they don’t even realize it. They think they’re really good, but their self delusion is part of what makes them and their art suck so badly. That’s why I use the term here liberally, and I’ve never used it more appropriately.

Drake’s incredible achievement of in-poor-taste peak whackness couldn’t have been done alone. Drake actually commissioned the “world famous official fine artist of pure whackness” Damien Hirst. Damien Hirst is the type of guy to:

So, it’s kind of a marriage of whackness made in heaven. I get what he’s going for here but this is multilevel whack on whack on whack. The implication here is that Drake’s “character” in this album, the titular “Certified Lover Boy” is so virile and prolific that he’s an equal opportunity simultaneous impregnator of women of all races and creeds that they can be reduced to an emoji to save time when representing them.

Can this possibly get worse? Yes. Let me provide some context:

Drake, notably, definitively lost 2018’s most insane rap battle when rapper Pusha T revealed that Drake:

A) Had appeared in “blacker-face” for a previous project he did… yes, this is a picture of young Drake:

B) Had a secret love child named Adonis who he was planning on announcing to the world with an Adidas shoe line and press tour.

Pusha T’s rap (which I very highly recommend listening to if you like brutality) basically tanked the Adidas deal (we guess the shoe line must have been called Adidon) and ended Drake’s high batting average of “winning” rap battles in the public eye definitively.

So, to some extent, this album cover can be read as him trying to rebrand himself as someone who’s proud of having fathered a bunch of secret love children. You see where I’m going with how truly whack this is?

this blog post is now over, thank you for reading.
as a reminder, it was called: The 10 WORST Album Covers of 2021
it's categorized as: Album Covers, Reviews
link to it, please: Wednesday, December 29th, 2021

Top 10 Album Covers of 2021 that look “Most Likely to Contain a Passage of Beguiling Flute™”

This album could have been the 2014 winner:

When I started looking through album covers late last year, there seemed to be an endless supply of Prog Rock and New Age looking album covers. I started joking with twitter user @ChristyW907 that an album cover could win an award for being “The Most Likely to Contain a Passage of Beguiling Flute™” and I picked a winner every week. Out of the whole year, there were some real standouts, that seemed truly likely to contain beguiling flute.

Elements that generally made an album seem likely were a fantastical landscape, preferably with multiple moons or planets in the background, dreamcatchers, or other wispy fantasy elements.

What is beguiling flute, specifically, you ask? It’s one of those things where when you hear it, you know. It’s a passage of flute that whimsically invites the listener to don a filmy skirt and peasant shirt and dance inexorably towards the unseen flautist.

A note: some of these albums I listened to and confirmed there was, in fact, a passage of beguiling flute, but most don’t really, and the ones that do are lost to time and memory. You’ll have to give every album a listen yourself to find out for sure.

10: Sungazer – Perihelion

An unconventional choice, chosen for looking like a New Agey Prog Rock “project” like The Alan Parson’s Project. There are no moons or planets per se, but I can definitely hear the flute.

#9: Strick – Strick Land

This album has the distinction of being the only album that is both likely to contain beguiling flute, and language that a parent would feel caution about exposing a small child to. While I can’t make out a lot of extra planets in the sky, we’ve got the flute-ception-like fantasy-landscape-within-a-fantasy-landscape, a waterfall, and some sexy beings trapped in crystals. All of these point to beguiling flute.

#8: The Sherlocks – World I Understand

It’s incredible how common a theme interlocking clocks are in prog rock albums. There were actually several that didn’t make the list but seemed even likelier to contain beguiling flute, but World I Understand makes it because I like the concept of their weird steampunk head-device.

#7: Kalidia – Lies’ Device

First of all let’s talk about the placement of the apostrophe in the album title, indicating that the titular “Device” actually belongs to lies themselves. Then we have over-adorned font curlicues in the band title, a symbolic wheel of lies, mysterious occult figures, eyes, and…some tentacles of lies? Either way, I am certain there is going to be beguiling flute inside.

#6: JPL – Sapiens chapitre 2 / 3 : Deus ex Machina

First of all we’ve got the off-brand “Yes”-look-alike logo of JPL. Next we’ve got what looks to be a planet and the planet’s own moon. We’ve got a generic spaceship coming in for a landing. We’ve got a lone figure contemplating the passage of time outside a glimmering city. We’ve got an extremely French multi-part title. All of this points to at least one passage of beguiling flute.

#5: Galaad – Paradis posthumes

Here we have a mandala of vague figures from various belief systems across the world, a hazy treatment, and a distressed fine-art frame. Add the not-quite-well-designed band’s typefaces, and you can be almost certain you’re in for some beguiling flute.

#4: DREAMCATCHER – Dystopia: Road to Utopia

The subtle psychedelic embossed rainbow dreamcatcher seems to almost ensure beguiling flute.

#3: Syrinx Call – Mirrorneuron

I cheated a little and bumped this album up probably further than the cover itself deserved when I found out that German recorder player Volker Kuinke is the main feature of Syrinx Call. Check out the incredible masthead of his website as he passionately recorders like some kind of recorder god:

#2: Emphasis: Spiral of Time

I decided that each moon or planet hanging peacefully in the sky adds to the likelihood of beguiling flute. I feel like the leader of Emphasis sat there next to the designer, asking for yet another moon, until finally he cried out in a Scottish accent, “There’s nae room for anymore moons!” Add a lonely figure. Pair that with the over-adorned “E” in the band’s name, and you’ve got some extreme likelihood.

#1: Joel Vandroogenbroeck – For View

An obvious slam dunk, since there is not only hippie imagery, but actual flute playing is depicted. This is the quintessential beguiling flute indicator. Is it a little on-the-nose? Absolutely. Still, however, the year’s winner of the award.

this blog post is now over, thank you for reading.
as a reminder, it was called: Top 10 Album Covers of 2021 that look “Most Likely to Contain a Passage of Beguiling Flute™”
it's categorized as: Album Covers, Reviews
link to it, please: Tuesday, December 28th, 2021

The Sweetest, Snobbiest Albums of 2021

In 2021: I moved from New York City to a cozy suburb of Chicago and experienced a cavalcade of isolation and personal disasters, so it’s unsurprising that my everyday musical tastes got very comfort-music-y and I embraced a lot of Dad-rock I had once rejected. Was The Arcade Fire’s album The Suburbs a little on-the-nose? Apparently not.

It’s odd, I didn’t deeply connect with the albums released in 2021.

I liked and was fascinated by several for sure, but most of what blew me away was not released in 2021, so I’m really focusing on what I personally listened to the most, with NO idea that these are THE BEST. I instead want to highlight some albums that got a little less attention this year that I thought were worth a listen.

With those provisos in place, here, in no particular order, are the sweetest, snobbiest albums of 2021:

Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg

How the hell do I sell people on this?! It’s a hard sell! It’s aimless (but good) guitar strumming over laconic talk-singing by a smartass white lady.

BUT! The guitar music is good and has its own propulsion, and provides counterpoint to Florence Shaw’s calm and knowing talk-singing.

AND! Let’s get this 100% clear: she is hilarious. Like constantly hilarious. She drops a never-ending bone-dry commentary on life filled with little acidic bon mots without a chorus in sight. On one level she’s just nattering on like someone’s cynical aunt:

Will there be a hairdryer in my state room or should I bring one?
What about shampoo?
Will we be able to have laundry done on the ship?
And what are the prices?
Are thеre some kind of revеrse platforms, shoes that make you go into the ground more?
Make you reach a lower level?
Would you choose a dentist with a messy back garden like that?
I don’t think so

BUT! as she natters on, you begin to see shape in her endless wit. A worldview. A place you want to live; the guitar jangles on. I love it. I aspire to be so cool. And no, I wouldn’t choose a dentist with a messy back garden.

Villagers – Fever Dreams

This was the indie symphonic prog record of my dreams. Just when Jim James stopped making great solo albums and went back to making mediocre My Morning Jacket albums, there’s Villagers to pick up the slack of making heartfelt, plainly spoken and richly ornamented pop music to keep life sweet.

I notably discovered this album by being fascinated by the excellent cover of a giant magical bear resting(/creeping) by the poolside, and knew I had to know what was in the box.

What’s in the box is a lovingly crafted indie rock friend.

Kissed Her Little Sister – sleeping giant

I have been following this dude since he blew me away with his first album, now available only on Bandcamp. He was mixing his weirdo falsetto with heavy distortion, some turntablism and electronic experimentation to match some of the best of Four Tet, They Might Be Giants, Blockhead, Dan Deacon or anyone who makes super interesting chopped-and-screwed-nerd music. A couple of the best examples of this early genius is the nutso beat box masterpiece “My Dreams are Television” or his bizarre mashup of actual Pink Floyd samples and Johnny Cash vibes in the twisted cover of “Cocaine“.

He’s too restless and uncompromising an artist to keep doing the same type of stuff, and his new album is an explosion of electronic music and hyper-pop-freak-folk. My favorite songs on his new album are the wordless ones like “way to go“, “morning never come“, and “hush“. He’s bringing much more electronic music innovation into the party like a Chris Clark or Jamie XX. His songs keep surprising you throughout their length. This album is restless, exciting, and worth some of your time.

Helado Negro – Far In

This is an album of such smooth and aching beauty. This is an album that can engulf me. Roberto Carlos Lange’s voice and delivery is in a class of its own, uniquely Latin, uniquely smooth, uniquely expressive. The final four song suite on the album is almost impossibly lovely and atmospheric. Roberto’s voice sounds like a woodwind instrument and they pair it with actual woodwinds, digital filigrees, and heavily processed drum sounds to great effect.

Mexican Institute of Sound – Distrito Federal

I bet the Mexican Institute of Sound loves the Latin Playboys’ song “Same Brown Earth” where a symphony of car horns is the primary instrument, judging by their song “El Antídoto“. They take that vibe and make a giant, electro-funky party out of it. There is not a bad track on here, and you could make a whole real party out of this while you make red pozole like me and my friend Chris did.

Mariah the Scientist – RY RY WORLD

Her voice is beautiful, and she sings about dark themes, which puts here in the same damn lane as SZA, Kehlani, and probably 20 other neo-soul-R&B ladies out there already killing it.

So what does Mariah the Scientist bring to the table that they don’t?

I’ve listened to her first album, 2019’s MASTER at least as many times as I’ve listened to SZA’s CTRL and I still can’t quite tell you. She has some kind of knowing way with her phrasing. She’s a sex magnet. What can I say?

I love her, I love her songwriting, I love her sexy, dry delivery, and I’m still not sure why I find her so extraordinary. RY RY WORLD is just not as strong as MASTER is, which I think is an unbelievably slept-on slug of pure dark Frank Ocean-inspired pleasure, but it is still damn good.

Matthew E. White – K Bay

Matthew E. White has a lot of influences. I could list all the “experimental but still truly rockin'” 60’s and 70’s bands or sly singer-songwriters he reminds me of (XTC, T. Rex, Frank Zappa, Randy Newman, Steely Dan, maybe even Billy Joel?), but I won’t because he manages to smash them all into a ball and add something uniquely his own, while keeping it smooth and listenable at all times with his silky baritone and good humor.

Faye Webster – I Know I’m Funny haha

Faye Webster is funny (haha). She’s funny, sly, sultry, and in her own quiet way, majestic. Majestic like Carole King in her elevation of everyday experience. This is probably not her best album, but it is still damn good. Everything about Faye Webster’s style is laid back: her vocal delivery, the chill steel guitar that winds its way around the background, the gently brushed drums. Her wit, however, is sharp, and she manages to uniquely pair wryness with real emotional sincerity.

this blog post is now over, thank you for reading.
as a reminder, it was called: The Sweetest, Snobbiest Albums of 2021
it's categorized as: Best Albums of the Year, Best of 2021
link to it, please: Sunday, December 5th, 2021

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