WHO WORE IT WORST?: An Examination of Pitchfork's Choices for Best and Worst Album Covers of 2012

on Jan 31, 2013

We humans are nostalgic creatures, and as such we often find ourselves reminiscing about the past. This is especially true around the end of the year, which is why we all spend the entire month of December making lists of things that happened during the year -- when we are not buoying the economy by trading bobbles-of-questionable-value, that is.

If December is the month of making lists, then January is the month of making lists of those lists, and looks like we have about thirty more seconds left in January to get our word in. Our bad -- we lost our watch in the underground Mayan Apocalypse bunker we built for the holidays, and only realized it was time to come out last week.

Anywho, here at Dear Jerks our favorite list of lists is titled "Hey, We Disagree with These Lists." Tied at the top of that list for 2012 sit Pitchfork's dueling album covers lists; the Best and the Worst. You might think we'd be more in a huff about, oh, an actual music-ranking list maybe, but, really, these two, more than any others we also glanced at briefly, seem to go out of their way to flaunt their arbitrariness. So, now we are art critics, and we will gently poke at these two lists with a stick in a playful sort of way, not in a sort of provoking or mauling kind of way. Seriously guys, it's just for the funsies!

How many chainz are on this thing, anyways?
Kyle: OK, I'm going to start this one right off the top. The first entry in the Best list is Based on A T.R.U. Story by 2 Chainz, featuring a picture of...two chains. That's cool I guess, but I just don't get what the big deal is. So it's an aesthetically boring picture of a couple gold chains against a black background. Are we giving credit for cleverness? Cause this doesn't strike me as particularly clever either. What qualities warrant it's placement on a list of the best album covers? Ian, maybe you can help me out here?

Ian: I actually think the image of the 2 Chainz cover is perfectly fine: what else would you choose to represent the nominal reinvention of Tity Boi? I also really dig that the chains seem modest in size, at least by hip hop standards. Here's what yanks my goat (wait, did I blow that easy idiom?): isn't the point of putting two chains on the cover partly so that you then don't also need his name in the corner? It would be far more "iconic" to leave the two chains alone with the parental advisory label. To say this is one of the best covers of the year is to say: "Those two chains are quite nice, and I like it when things are obvious."

What is less obvious, to me, is why Battles' Dross Glop is on the Best list, while Bear in Heaven's I Love You, It's Cool is on the Worst list. Check it:

The cover of Dross Glop looks like a photograph of ambergris that has been produced by a rainbow instead of a whale. It's a neato picture, but, using the same logic that deems it cool, I don't understand why then Bear in Heaven's cover is...not cool. It is, essentially, simply a different interpretation of what it would look like if a rainbow barfed. This is one of those instances when even a sentence's worth of explanation would help, but alas, these two lists come free of frivolous defenses.

Kyle: I'm going to put on my visual artist hat for a second here and say that I do think Dross Glop is a good pick for the good list. It's very nicely done, where as the Bear in Heaven cover is of a much lower caliber. That being said, I don't think it deserves to be called out as especially bad. I also agree that it's placement on the list seems to suggest that the list makers were not too concerned with contradicting themselves.

Ian: We don't want to nitpick every choice, so let's move along to another confusing pair (more jokes like that ahead!). Death Grips' No Love Deep Web is on the Worst list, but The Money Store's cover is supposedly one of the best. The syllogism here fails: The Money Store is a great cover, so silly/juvenile sex-themed images make great covers, therefore No Love Deep Web should be a great cover, too. Let's be real: it takes cajones to write a dumb phrase on your weiner and take a sad picture of it, let alone slap it (yup) on a CD. 

Come to think of it, dude should have written "The Money Store" on his weiner instead. More symbolic that way. Reviewers would ask, "how are penises like mortgage lenders?

I mean, wouldn't you ask that, Kyle?

Kyle: Really, I think the interesting question is, “how are penises not like mortgage lenders?

Congrats by the way on using “weiner” twice in one paragraph. This is truly a proud day in our short history. Seriously though, dude should have written “The Money Store” on his weiner! Maybe that’s why it’s on the bad list instead of the good one? Like, it has a degree of difficulty worthy of the good list or whatever, but execution cost it valuable points? 

On a side note, if you are brave enough to google image search "No Love Deep Web," the internet is all over the 'replace the weiner with some other thing' meme. It's...only mildly amusing, so maybe just take my word for it. You're welcome.

Ian: I can't help but notice the similar cartoon-animation-on-laser-grid backgrounds of Laurel Halo's album on the Best list, and the Animal Collective album on the Worst list. I guess Animal Collective just picked the wrong subject matter for their cartoon image? If only the neo-hippies went with young women commiting graphic hari kari, which clearly has far more artistic merit than some gross lips.

One interesting detail about the Best list is that seven of the twenty covers are entirely, or close-to-entirely, done in black & white. Ital's Hive Mind is also essentially black & white, except the white is replaced by a kind of 'dirty sherbet' color.

Here's the deal: some of the covers on the Worst list are definitely awful (why is "this-is" hyphenated on the PiL cover??), and many on the Best list are definitely great (come see us in 2019, when The Seer wins Album Cover of the Decade honors).  That said, the Worst and Best lists, when taken together, inadvertently (unless the whole thing is a meta gag) indicate a lack of criteria beyond 'I like it.' This, in its way, aligns with the notion that the quality of art is subjective, which isn't a concept the site is particularly known for encouraging.

We, however, totally believe that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Except that the following album covers were the actual best album covers of 2012. For great reasons!  Reasons, however, that we are also not going to explain...

Kyle's Favorite Album Covers of 2012

Mogwai - Les Revenants EP
Liars - WIXIW
Wild Nothing - Nocturne

Ian's Favorite Album Covers of 2012

Mogwai - A Wrenched Virile Lore
Regents - Antietam After Party
Billy Talent - Dead Silence
Okay, I gotta break the silence for this one. It's amazing how so much craziness is going on, yet the first question that comes to mind is, "how is the light in the phone booth still working?"

Best Album Cover of 2012/Future Best Album Cover of the Decade

Swans - The Seer

A Mosh Pit Grows in Babytown Brooklyn: Obits at The Rock Shop, 1/18/13

on Jan 20, 2013

“Is this a real argument?” – Rick Froberg

I think I get it.” – Sohrab Habibion

Three songs in to their set on Friday night, Obits were as bemused as their audience. After a pair of churning openers, they began to pick up the pace. In the center of the Rock Shop’s modest showroom, amidst all the reservedly nodding heads, a young man, high on life (and possibly other things), began pogoing into people. Unsurprisingly, he was met with resistance, ultimately resulting in a verbal confrontation with a shoo-in for Mr. Autumn Man. Of all things, it was on this kerfuffle of manners that the night's energy pivoted. Someone in the back hollered advocations for the young man’s right to dance, at which point Froberg and Habibion said what everyone else was thinking.

Here are some other things that happened: two bras were flashed (one for a picture, one seemingly just for funsies) in a not-ironic-enough way, an empty beer cup was carelessly tossed to the lip of the stage (nearly grazing a few heads), there was a quickly aborted crowd-surfing attempt…and that was just two pals from Long Island. Not too shabby for a band featuring men well in to their forties, some of them card-carrying members of the Park Slope Food Co-op. Obits, of course, are not the typical gang of responsible, middle-aged fellas.

Listening to Drive Like Jehu’s eponymous first album back in 1991, you couldn’t be blamed for hearing the frantic tear of Rick Froberg’s voice flailing in the din of post-garage-punk spasms, and thinking to yourself, “there’s no way this guy is gonna last doing this for twenty more years.” Yet, here we are. There is a perceptible, gradual line of calming down from Drive Like Jehu through Hot Snakes, and now on to Obits – but it’s a very relative mellowing. It has taken Froberg those two decades to dial it down from 9 to, say, 7. At that rate, he’ll be releasing his jazz and/or acoustic album some time after we’re all long dead. Sure, Obits are probably more melodic and diverse than Hot Snakes or DLJ were, but saying as much is often code for losing steam (and the puns a name like “Obits” invites doesn’t make it easy to resist). In their case, it is more of a matter of slowing down just enough to try out new twists.

It is hard to exaggerate the staying power of Drive Like Jehu. Much like Doolittle and Spiderland, for two examples, it remains unshackled to its era. The same goes for their major-label follow-up, Yank Crime, but there’s something singular about their debut, which fulfilled and far-exceeded the promise of Froberg and DLJ-mate John Reis’ preceding incarnation, Pitchfork. If you have ever been in a rock band whose sound was described more than once as “unhinged,” or your guitar playing as “angular,” you probably owe Froberg & Co. a beer.

Their lyrics, too, deserve hearty accolades. For one, there's the priceless opening lines of “Caress,” where Froberg, after a searing rave-up, maniacally wails “Gracie, we’re making babies, yeah, we’re barefoot on the tiles!” That almost-too-vivid portrait is chased by gems such as “pleasure is your crime/junior is your punishment.” (One really has to hear them in context to fully appreciate their bite.) The acidic wit spray-painted across “Atom Jack,” “Good Luck in Jail,” et al, was an especially welcome counter-offer to the angst and melodrama churned up by that whole Grunge thing that was taking off at the time. Hammering out art-punk with integrity might not have put gold flakes in the schlager back in the day – there were times when the debut went out of print and copies could be found in used bins for around twenty bucks a pop – but, as Froberg asserted with the first song of the first album by his post-Jehu band, Hot Snakes, “If Credit’s What Matters I’ll Take Credit.” Obits also don’t lack for droll humor, though perhaps worldly adult matters like economics (i.e. 2011’s Moody, Standard and Poor) are targeted more than before.

Toward the end of their set, Habibion – whose own 90’s rock resume features the great Edsel -- checks the time. (Automatic) Midnight has passed, and it is now officially Froberg’s birthday. Cheers go up. Some in the crowd try to rouse a verse of “Happy Birthday,” though it doesn’t fully take, maybe because many in the room are out of breath. Defying presumption, in the wake of the first lone dancer’s persistence, the number of moshers has grown exponentially.

 A diminutive woman holding a full-ish beer moves up to pose for an instagram behind the action, and then slides sideways into the throng. A few seconds later, the contents of her plastic cup predictably take flight, splash-landing on the head of, poetically, that first dancer. A man wearing earplugs, who had been grinning end-to-end since he started to pogo, loses his glasses, and, hearteningly, a few other dudes quickly move in to surround him so he can safely grab them off the floor.

The energy level of any given rock gig typically, naturally, decreases at least somewhat with the performer’s exertion of energy as said show progresses. There are always exceptions, though; tonight, Obits are one of them. They feed on and reciprocate the vibe as one-by-one the audience shakes off the shackles of public behavioral expectations. When the last song is announced, the moshers respond accordingly in a last fit of controlled semi-violence. Habibion is psyched to keep up this human aurora borealis of Babytown, Brooklyn, and everyone is rewarded with an unplanned encore, taking all three further chances to cut loose. As they unsling their axes, Froberg notes not wanting to push it, but he might have been the only one in the room who felt that way.