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2023 YEAR IN REVIEW: Our 25 Favorite Album Covers of the Year (and our 10 Worst)


Our Favorite Album Art From 2023 If you've been following us for a while, you know we love the whole experience of listening to music. We love researching new music. We love going to record stores and BUYING our music to support the artists who produce it. We love to write about why certain albums turn our collective cranks. We also love how album art can set the tone for the music inside the cover, and in some cases, lure you in to what's inside. When you stream music, this last part of the communion process is missing. Which is why, each and every year, we highlight our 25 favorite (and 10 least favorite) album covers of the year.

25 KENDRA MORRIS I Am What I'm Waiting For

This cover captures the artist perfectly. There's a distinct 1960s Nancy Sinatra vibe here and Kendra pays homage to that classic era throughout her new album, I Am What I'm Waiting For. Is there any doubt based on this visual that Kendra is worth waiting for? I don't think so. One thing that's a constant when you're waiting for someone is the regular time check. Sometimes a watch, sometimes a clock, sometimes a phone. When she does finally arrive, in full body clock suit for maximum impact, the message is crystal clear. Whatever time it was before, it's Kendra time now. In the photo, it looks like she's hiding behind the clock, but rest assured she's inside of it, proven by the photos in the booklet which feature her wearing it all over town. It's an appealing visual, centered to focus your eyes and gorgeously offset by an attractive aquamarine, yellow, and orange color palette. Add in the retro touch with song titles listed on the front cover and you've got yourself a vintage-styled concept executed with discretion and panache. Not an easy task. Extra credit given for a real snazzy album package, overall. Somebody thought enough of this record to give it the full treatment and they were right. It deserved it.


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24 LARRY JUNE AND THE ALCHEMIST The Great Escape

The cover for "upscale rapper" Larry June's latest exudes a sophistication that dovetails perfectly with his music, in this case a collaboration with legendary producer, the Alchemist, himself born and raised in Beverly Hills. So these guys know how to class up the joint. They hooked up with DJ favorite Mr. Krum for this cover design and he delivered a pristinely detailed cover image that's part Neiman-Marcus catalog, part high-stakes action movie poster (jewel thieves, I'm betting). I prefer the latter, in this case, as it requires some imagination not just a big wad of cash. If you have an appreciation for finer things in life you'll immediately notice the Patek Philippe Aquanaut Chronograph Model 5968A-001 stainless steel watch with sweet orange rubber watch band dominating the frame. It'll set you back a cool 160K if you're interested. I must say, I can't take my eyes off of it. I guess what this cover, along with the album title, is telling us is that this is high-end shit for the taking. But if you're gonna take it, be sure to get some soft goatskin driving gloves, a fast boat, and be ready to high-tail it out of the San Francisco Bay on a moment's notice. This game isn't for the meek. ______________________



23 HIGH BRIAN Five, Six, Seven

I like a cover that takes a while to unpack. Everywhere you look on this album by Austrian psych-rockers, High Brian, there's something unusual to reconcile. First, the elephant in the room: the implication, in circular yellow hype sticker no less, that this version is an updated take on an existing record but "Now with Bongos on every track!" The truth is that there is no previous version and there are no bongos added at all, let alone on every track. I appreciate the sense of humor, but I gotta admit, I like the bongo idea. Oh well. After that, in every corner, in every quadrant, strange visuals lurk on land, in sea, and in air. As High Brian himself, I presume, rolls a lucky seven using a single die (suspicious eyebrow), the rest of his surrounding world seems similarly up to no good. But, as we all know, when weird shit is afoot, there's no better medium for it than fabulous, grainy black and white. It really cranks up the mystery. ______________________



22 SHAME

Food for Worms

We totally love the work of Canadian artist Marcel Dzama and this Shame cover is no exception. He works in several styles, some more minimal and subtly demented (see Beck's Guero cover), but some of it more colorful and eerily provocative; a fine-line difference to be sure. One strain of his work incorporates creepy imps in polka-dotted body suits like this one, often seen frollicking in or near water. I'd love to talk to his therapist to find out the meaning or origin of his artistic obsessions. Why polka dots, Marcel? I've got to know. He's also known for adding large moons with a human faces to his paintings, which only adds to the weird vibe of his work. Here, he substitutes a crescent moon in order to fit in the band's name, but you get the idea. This image bothers me a little bit, I must admit, and it's not only because I would look absolutely terrible in a blue, polka-dotted body suit. That's a big part of it, though. ______________________



21 ZACH BRYAN Zach Bryan

The American badass, for better or more likely, worse. I wasn't in love with this album, but you have to appreciate the cover which seems closer to the heart of country music than the typical air-brushed 10-gallon hat, Wranglers, and cowboy boots persona. Instead, a buzz cut, a sunburn, and a lung dart. Can a pick-up truck be far out of frame? Somebody's gonna hurt someone before the night is through, that's for sure. Stereotypes exhausted, taken for what it is, this is surprisingly effective in telling us much of what we need to know about the the artist. No nonsense, real, unchanged by fame. You get the sense he doesn't fuck around, and he doesn't. From a design standpoint, that message comes across very clearly. I love the prevailing darkness dominating this cover with Zach Bryan's name floating overhead in the night sky with the same contour of the man's skull barely in frame lower right. With a talented barber, you could etch it right into his buzz cut. ______________________



20 CAROLINE POLACHEK Desire, I Want to Turn Into You

This has the look of an action movie still. Without knowing the context, the imagination races to fill in the story. If I ran a creative writing seminar, I'd pass out this cover and tell each member of the class to write me a story that leads up to this moment. The image tracks with the daring approach of Caroline Polachek music. She's not afraid to try anything and this cover expresses that same sense of adventure and fearlessness. So what do you think is happening? ______________________



19 INITIATE Cerebral Circus

Although this cover does have the look and feel of a YA novel, that doesn't mean that capturing the innocent dreams of youth is ever a bad thing. And this manages to convey a dream in progress in beautiful living color. ______________________



18 FATOUMATA DIAWARA London Ko

The ability to convey the essence of a person with a single photo is a creative gift that we take for granted in this age of everyone having thousands of moments captured on a single telephone. Moments like this can get captured by amateurs, but usually by accident. But this one is no accident. This is meant to show the complete majesty of one of Africa's greatest musicians. The rich colors throughout mirror her music and worldview, eternally vibrant and alive. Her power pose oozes confidence, her expression calm dominance, her hair spectacular spectacularness defined. Whatever music she makes, you'll want to hear it after seeing this cover. And in case you needed even more, that Gibson SG propped up by her side is ready to go at a moment's notice. ______________________



17 SPEKTRAL QUARTET Behind the Wallpaper

“The piece tells the tale of someone undergoing a mysterious transformation and ultimately

finding a home in another world, superimposed on our own but invisible to the uninitiated."

-Alex Temple


I do like this title, here caught in mid-fade-out. It conveys a sense of being there and not being there at the same time. In this case, it refers to Spektral Quartet composer Alex Temple's gender transition, but it could also apply to any number of profound personal realizations. Have you ever felt this way? As it turns out, the cover artist, Cat Graffam, is also trans, so the authenticity of the image is at least partially derived from the identification and understanding of the impetus for the music being created. In an interview with the artist, she mentions the cover was partially inspired by the influential cover art of Burial's revered album Untrue (2007) and from there the intent of the piece really falls further into place. Which is why I really love the reliance on purple to tell this story. Purple traditionally aligns with feelings of mystery, wisdom, or spirituality, but it also has a place in royalty, church rituals, and most notably, at Paisley Park Studios in Chanhassen, Minnesota. Here, it's the aggressive background, threatening to absorb eveything present little by little. The person, in either a hoodie or a pickled priestly vestment, is already dissolving into the background. It symbolizes that moment when something you've long been no longer exists, in this case for the better, but it doesn't always happen that way. ______________________



16 FENNE LILY Big Picture

What the artist intends with their music and what you get out of it often do not align. That's why many artists choose not to tell you at all. The same goes for visual artists. Why prescribe a specific interpretation or reaction when you can get a full spectrum of yet unknown reactions in return? The artist here, the amazing Thomas Doyle, likely operates the same way. For me, the image depicts the insularity of a world that is crashing down around you. This is how big that moment feels and it doesn't matter what's causing it. Could be a family situation, a relationship, or anything else for that matter. At least for a while, it seems like everything is closing in on you. Depicting this feeling in a snowless globe environment really brings home the loneliness and hopelessness that comes with it. This isn't exactly what Bristol musician Fenne Lily intended, of course, but that isn't the point. Take from it what you will. The white space surrounding the globe only deepens the isolation. You're on your own kid, you always have been. The contrast between the visual with the album's title is duly noted, but no matter how much you try seeing the so-called "Big Picture," you have to break out of your own geodesic dome first. ______________________



15 SARAH MARY CHADWICK Messages to God

Australian musician Sarah Mary Chadwick normally does her own album art and we're better off for it. If you look into her past catalog of demented drawings you'll immediately realize that this one is by far one of her tamest creations to date. She's done some seriously damaged stuff in the past and we love all of it. This drawing has a little Picasso-esque disregard for the conventional, defying proportion, logic, and personal space in the process. It does look like a fun party, though. ______________________



14 MISHA PANFILOV SEPTET Gala!

Misha Panfilov, the Robert Pollard of Estonia, has been busy cranking out lots of cool music this year. He also seems like one of those musicians who understands the value a great album cover can offer to a piece of music. This particular piece was done by fellow Estonian, artist Toomas Kuusing, whose portfolio, or what I can see of it, is full of amazing work. Do a Google search. Definitely worth your time. This cover is one to dwell on, and no, not because there are boobies all over the place. I simply like how there are different textures as you move bottom to top or vice versa. The detailed grass, the cleanly drawn cows which are a bit more cartoonish than the women riding them, the diagonal lines adding shading to the women and how they contrast with the horizontal lines adding clouds to the sky. Very intricate line work like this is not easy to pull off and it all contributes to an appealing overall composition that is much more complex than it lets on. ______________________



13 AVENGE SEVENFOLD Life is But a Dream

The best part of this cover is that the drawing looks like a rough sketch for a much more defined image to come later. It comes off like a demo instead of the final product. But as some musicians have found, sometimes the magic is in the demos, not in the fully produced and fussed-over "completed" version. It was a brilliant decision to consider this finished as is. The reaper looks more menacing, the scythe more brutal, the skulls more crude, and the ground more hell-scapish in this version. It's like the artist was an eye witness to the scene and quickly sketched what he saw so he wouldn't lose the image forever. Paired with the sing-songy title, it's even more impactful.


Note: this album comes with several cover variants, including a tame Walmart "exclusive" that drains all the menace for their discerning, overly-sensitive clientele. (Why this unholy alliance in the first place? I wonder.) If even remotely interest, hold out for the real cover. Don't fear the reaper. ______________________



12 WATER DAMAGE 2 Songs

It's just a purple canvas with different color vertical stripes painted on it. I know. That's the description. I'll let a real art critic provide further analysis. I can't explain it other than saying that my eyes are drawn to it for some reason. Music is hard to describe (trust me) and so is art, but that doesn't make it any less captivating. Are you one of those people who stands in front of a painting at a modern art museum and says, "My kid could paint that!" Don't do that anymore. It's annoying.

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11 HARM'S WAY Common Suffering

We get tons of albums, particularly heavy metal albums, that like to consider what hell might look like. One unspeakable torture chamber after the next, burning flesh, bubbling lava, rats nibbling at scrotums, the whole bit. But somehow this cover is just as unsettling, if not more. People desperately trying to hold on, presumably with designs on heaven or its equivalent, only to be shaken loose like dirt from a weed by a perceived "higher power," with the unfortunate free falling to their deserved destination. It's an unnerving image, especially if you're a believer in such bullshit. Side note: Is it a coincidence that the image resembles a mushroom cloud? I mean, the name of the band is Harm's Way and the album's title, Common Suffering, seems foreboding. Maybe Curtis Mayfield was right when he sang, "If there's a hell below, we're all going to go." So hold on all you want, eventually your arms are gonna get tired and you're gonna get what you deserve in the end. It's too late now.

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10 MARIA WILMAN Dark Horse

Mrs. Incredible, I presume? Perhaps a couple decades later? This photo of Maria Wilman adds a simple superhero/bankrobber mask and turns a mild-mannered photo shoot into something promising adventure and mystery. Perhaps she was inspired by Michael Stipe's blue mask treatment on their Around the Sun tour back in 2005 or perhaps she's hiding some superpower from all of us. This cover reminds me of a print I purchased years ago, currently hanging in my living room (see below). It's like the same girl has fully grown up and graced us with an excellent new record. Add in the title in red in order to break the black & white continuum and we have a simple yet captivating image. Why wouldn't you want to find out what this mystery woman sounds like?

Emily Winfield Martin's "Masked Evaline"

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09 RAT COLUMNS Babydoll

Flowers are beautiful, but they're mostly a daytime thing. Who knew how stunning they can be at night with butterflies flitting about unbothered and unnoticed? This cover creates a hidden world all its own with the simplest natural elements. Sometimes the most beautiful things happen when you're sleeping. ______________________



08 TOBOR EXPERIMENT Available Forms

We love a cover that perfectly conveys the kind of music you can expect inside. After one look at this cover, you shouldn't be surprised to hear this album by Italian sound artist Giorgio Sancristoforo (why can't I have a name like that?) is full of computer-generated sound experiments that easily could've been recorded in the 1960s or 1970s when synthesizer prototypes were just being developed and tinkered with. The cover finds you in just such a sound lab with presumably a test listener (the obligatory gorgeous blonde) checking out the latest developments. I do love a sci-fi/futuristic cover, but I've rarely found one this immediately eye-catching. I partially credit the prominent use of my favorite color, orange, here, but what really sold me are the fabulous headphones. I have got to find a pair of these next-gen cans! I'd kill to see the specs. ______________________



07 BARONESS Stone

Every Baroness album cover automatically makes my year-end Best Album Covers list. It's that easy. How do they do it? It doesn't hurt to have an amazing and accomplished artist on staff like John Dyer Baizley, who conveniently happens to be the band's lead singer and rhythm guitarist. He's created some truly awe-inspiring artwork over the last 16 years or so ushering the band through several color-themed albums (Red, Blue, Yellow & Green, Purple, Gold & Grey). Well, this year saw their first album not named after a color on the spectrum, titled Stone. The corresponding cover doesn't disappoint. All of Baizley's paintings are a feast for the eyes, the perfect visual to stare at as the band rips your face off with their music. ______________________



06 KELELA Raven

As if Kelela needed to be more visually intriguing, here she is featured in a hauntingly beautiful cover design that finds all the oil-spill texture and effortless fluidity the color black offers all in one place. It's an indelible image, her face appearing like an underwater, undercover aquatic spy. Few things are as dark and mysterious (and scary) as a body of water at night and Kelela's emergence here is just as unnerving as the sudden arrival of the titular raven on your windowsill. Designed by London-based artist Hendrik Schneider, a guy whose other work is typical overly-artsy fashionista bullshit. But this time he hit the bullseye. ______________________



05 DAWN RICHARD The Architect

Dawn Richard, never at a loss for an attention grabbing visual, has consistently delivered more iconic album covers in her career than just about any other black woman since Grace Jones dominated the 1980s. She's a Dawn of all Trades, too, doing everything from writing the music to designing its packaging. That trend continues with The Architect, her new EP. What makes this image memorable? Well, a 16-inch neck doesn't hurt. Sure, some artistic license is taken, but anything is fair game in album cover design. Your imagination is the only thing holding you back. Here, we see her mechanical mind in cross section, able to build her own world inside of her creative mind, which is always at work. Not sure what the functionality is of the nose bracket, but maybe its to hang a flag pole or something.

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04 B. COOL-AID Leather Blvd

If I didn't know these two women, I'd want to know them. I am intrigued by their story, their relationship, and last but not least, their matching bellbottoms, that are absolutely spectacular. Known as B. Cool-Aid here, but better known artistically as producer Ahwlee and singer Pink Siifu, this collaborative project tells the story of a hip district (known as Leather Blvd) where all the action is, this adequately explains the album cover to me. Two women watching the world go by, they themselves contributing to the prevailing vibe. The cover owes its clear inspiration to those classic 60's Blue Note covers that often used brick walls, tinted photographs, and ample "empty" space to convey a distinct sense of urbane cool. No additional information needed. This picture tells a story, don't it?

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03

TYLER, THE CREATOR

Call Me If You Get Lost: The Estate Sale


Call Me If You Get Lost was originally released in 2021 with a cover that was nothing specially, really. But Tyler felt he left some great songs off the record, so he re-released it in 2023 as Call Me If You Get Lost: The Estate Sale, with several of those omitted tracks included. Amazingly, I like pretty much all of them more than those included on the oiginal album. So the project was worthwhile for the music alone, but add in this amazing "Estate Sale" cover and it gets even better. The creation of phenomenal Washington DC-based painter, Gregory Ferrand, I want one of his amazingly realistic paintings on any wall of my house ASAP, yesterday if possible. We know Tyler as a wildly unpredictable and constantly evolving artist and this cover complements his creative restlessness, always ready to cut ties with his past and move on to the next best thing.


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02 LOST GIRLS Selvutsletter

Experimental rock bands like Lost Girls, a collaboration between Norwegian sound artists Jenny Hval and Håvard Volden, tend to extend their sonic artfulness to the corresponding visual side of the creative equation as well, generating a disproportionate amount of brilliant album covers in the process. The cover of their latest record, Selvutsletter ("self destruct"), appears as if it could be a still from a visualizer mid-morph. It's the work of Swiss artist Jérome Curchod and while I'm not sure how he accomplished such a shape-shifting visual, I suspect it's a combination of photography and computer-aided manipulation. Technical understanding be damned, I have found myself staring at it regularly, entranced by its colorful mixture, each section bleeding into the other like spilled ink on a cocktail napkin, somehow retaining a conceptual interconnectivity in the process. Absolutely stunning. ______________________



01 JAN VAN ANGELOPOULOS & FOTIS SIOTAS Folks Nowadays

This Athens (Greece, not Georgia) duo set out to create "contemporary folklore" on their new album, Folks Nowadays, with all songs informed by their rich Grecian culture yet somehow feeling current as well. Fact: I wouldn't be listening to the album right now if not for the cover. Such is the power of well conceived album art. For this distinctive cover they tapped into the amazing portfolio of fellow countrywoman Christina Calbari, an artist with whom I am now semi-obsessed. Just poking around her website, a clear obsession with pig tails is evident and so is a tendency to obscure the faces of her characters. Here, we get both in what I can only call a "Grecian Standoff," with both girls going for the most obvious fighting tactic simultaneously. Combined with a muted color tone throughout, the result is a perfect complement for the sounds contained herein. You don't get to #1 on this list if your album cover alone isn't responsible for a significant chunk of your album sales. Mission accomplished.





And Now....Our Ten Least Favorite Album Covers of 2023

We could find the usual selection of goofy covers by "artists" you've never heard of and it would be pretty funny I bet, but this year we're mostly reserving our least favorite covers list for artists who failed--in our opinion--to deliver album art that is truly distinctive and complementaty to their art. In other words, they either took the easy way out or lost the plot entirely. We call bullshit on these covers below.



10

THE DARE

The Sex EP

WTF? Here's the cover for the debut EP from the Dare, a 27-year-old ex-NYC substitute teacher. It features underage girls in sexual poses. Yes, we're still doing shit like this and yes, the internet is outraged. Stupid fucking music with a stupid fucking cover.


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09

BOYGENIUS

The Record

Around here, even remotely referencing the cover shoot of Pearl Jam's Ten is subject to our highest penalty...the Worst Album Covers of the Year list.


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08

ICE SPICE

Like..?

I suppose someone is going to tell me this is empowerment or a woman seizing control of her agency or blah blah blah, but to me this reeks of desperation.


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07

PACHYMAN

Switched-On

My little hoodrat friend, Pachyman, is sure looking sexy perched on the hood of his champagne '87 Honda Civic here, complete with "You gettin' this?" open shirt and seductive face caress. Can a case of Pachyman Fever, more likely Pachyman Gonorrhea, be close behind?


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06

PARDONER

Peace Loving People

How does something like this happen? Nothing says "hot young rock band" like a bad band photo shot inexplicably in front of a Ferris wheel. That alone qualifies it for this list. Add in some superimposed "theater faces" over the photo and things get even more ridiculous. Who made these decisions? If that wasn't bad enough, take the all-time worst fonts and reverse shade the band name and album title, only compounding an already horrid design. This cover offends me on just about every level because almost any other approach could've worked better. The designer of this cover should be executed. And don't expect a pardon from the Pickled Priest either. The damage has been done.


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05

GRIAN CHATTEN

Chaos for the Fly

How many times must a man go topless on an album cover before it's forever banned? The odor, my friend, is blowin' in the wind. The list of bands and solo artists who have tried and failed to make this idea work are semi-notable. From Orleans and Pablo Cruise to Prince and Edgar Winter, it's never translated to a good look. This shot of Grian Chatten, full pits on display, makes no sense in relation to the album content or title. And what are those white streaks? Odor chemtrails? If you're not selling deodorant, put those pits away Grian.


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04

THE ROLLING STONES

Hackney Diamonds

We just added our assessment of the new Stones album cover to our previous post ranking their studio albums worst to best. As a courtesy we reprint our commentary below: as you can probably guess, it ain't pretty.


One last chance to get it right. One final chance to go out with a classic album cover. One last chance to reassert the band as the creative force you once were. In the end, a major missed opportunity from an album art standpoint, especially painful considering the album was pretty fucking good. No, this isn't really their worst album cover, Blue & Lonesome is of course, but this is one of their most disappointing. Unlike Blue & Lonesome, this wasn't a dashed-off covers record. THIS was your swan song (well, who really knows, I wouldn't discount another record ten years from now, when Mick is 90 and Keith is still mysteriously functioning) and that's why it hurts to see some lame computer-generated BS graphic like this representing the band's last stand. A heart-shaped diamond getting stabbed by a knife? Tattoo you, maybe, but this won't tattoo me. Why didn't they ask graphic designers worldwide to submit ideas? Who wouldn't want a crack at this project? Yet, this shitty, cheap-looking attempt is what was settled upon. If a rank amateur like me can point out that the shards coming off the stabbed diamond (and why exactly?) are way, way too big, then they're too big. Totally unrealistic. We're stabbing a diamond (again, why?) not breaking a kitchen window. Fuck this, they should've put Charlie on the cover and called it a day. Now that would've closed out their esteemed career with a bigger bang. No satisfaction here, people. Stick your tongue out for real this time and say blah.


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03

CHERRY GLAZERR

I Don't Want You Anymore

Has Cherry Glazerr been thumbing through their parent's Scorpions records? If not, here's a message to the band: the "broken glass over the vagina ploy" has been done before and in far more tasteless fashion (see our article on Scorp album covers, particularly Virgin Killer, for more details). So this isn't even remotely interesting or shocking anymore. And your message is what? The font is borderline illegible and amateurish, calling into question not only your design aesthetic, but also your musical decision-making. The bad band name is only salt in an already gaping wound.


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02

EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL

Fuse

The ultimate in laziness, this is. Four-letter title superimposed over four-letter band name abbreviation. Put on pink background and head home. Did a fourth grade computer club from the mid-80s design this on a Commodore 64? Only then would it be acceptable. In 2023, there's no excuse for something this underwhelming, especially when it's been 24-years since your last album.


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01

LANA DEL REY

Did you know that there's a tunnel under Ocean Blvd

The most underwhelming album cover in the Lana Del Rey discography no longer belongs to the photo of her entering her car outside of Target on the cover of Ultraviolence. That title now belongs to this version of Ocean Blvd, a cheap, unremarkable, and washed-out photo that seems bored with itself before the music even begins. The fact it was the primary version out of seven or eight alternate variations, a couple of which were explicit (boob/boobs), only exacerbates the problem. Her passive indifference is a marketing ploy and I don't appreciate the blase fleecing of her fan base, of which I am a member. And you didn't need the word "that" in the title either. It's superfluous.



Still deciding....


??

FEVER RAY

Radical Romantics

The first face you see in the morning. The last face you see at night. With that, we end our year-end album cover spectacle.


Cheers,


The Priest

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