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A Black and White Album a Day for February

An opus for the section, Phoebe gifts you one black and white album for every day of February to make it through the bleakest month.

By Phoebe Caine, Digital Arts Editor

Ranging from iconic to lesser-known, which can see you through the often dismal days of February, I’ve compiled an album for every day this month.

To make my life easier, and to match the wintry darkness that’s still around, I’ve chosen ones with cover art that’s black and white (I warn you now, a few are warm toned, but they still totally count).

Sift through these, find the right album for the day ahead, and go. Got it?

1. The Queen is Dead

- The Smiths (1986)

A band whose discography the majority of students will know better than their own timetables. This album picked up some renewed attention in September last year as its title became a reality. There really was no better time to update your already super alternative Hinge profile, right?

There’s a lot of great things to be said about ‘The Smiths’ but, other than his iconic voice, Morissey isn’t one of them. At least the issue of separating the art from the artist is a decent potential conversation to have with this playing out as the soundtrack. Jangly, depressing, poetic, and self-indulgent, you’re going to love their music (if you don’t already). This deluxe edition packs in some fan favourites and some sweet live recordings and demos to get you going.

2. Sound & Color

- Alabama Shakes (2015)

Sound & Colour is how elevator music should be. There’s no chance of anxiously fretting over the whereabouts of the mechanic if you were to be caught between floors with this playing from even the most tinny of speakers. Gorgeous guitar, tweaked to pulsate with the stunning and embodied howling cadences of Brittany Howard’s vocals, this album transforms white noise, fills negative spaces and triumphs as something captivating and raw.

Though drawing on the sonic senses of many artists preceding its release, this album comfortably sets itself down somewhere unique on the shelf. And once you’ve picked it up, dust will settle on this empty space, as you’ll never quite be able to put it down again.

3. Bookends

- Simon & Garfunkel (1968)

As if by fate, when I started collecting used CD’s this was one of the first I came across. It’s perfect to push into an old car stereo and drive without once needing to change tracks. Silly and sensible, moving and grounding. There is nothing so heartbreaking as a back to back play of quiet memories shored up against the walls of present noise, watching the views from the car window clunk by and be gone as soon as they go by.

Never, at the same time, does an album make a person want to do an odd happy-go-lucky delirium dance and also sadly slump down a wall. Never say never, though, Bookends is here for you to do this.

4. Ultraviolence

- Lana Del Ray (2014)

Decadence and devastation. Troubled and troubling, Ultraviolence meddles with you like strong drinks knocked back on nights warped by steely summer winds. Lana Del Rey’s lyricism lights up darkly saturated and emotional alleys, turning them into a boulevard standing alone in a broad American daylight.

The songs of the album carry the burden of being fully fuelled but intentionally disallowed to rev and ride into anything explosive. Yet, they’re just as (if not more) dangerous. As loaded vessels, they sink into themselves, buckling under the weight of their own struggles, and this is exactly what helps the album soar. The album acts as a dim searchlight for meaning, matter and hope in a ‘cruel world’.

5. Songs of Love and Hate

- Leonard Cohen (1971)

Listening to this album is to be cornered and arrested by your own hands. It is to sit alone at a table in the morning and miss your mouth with boiling coffee flavoured water, scalding and staining your chest (ouch! our hearts!). Or, if you have left a hairband or a raincoat or something necessary at someone’s house, and then the wind picks up and knots your hair into your face, or the rain beats on your bare arms and gives you the flu for the next week, or something generally just grim follows… you’ll still smile about it. That’s the tonic.

Often touted as his best work, it’s not hard to see why. Simple and stunning. Do I age about forty years listening to it? Yeah. And do I feel wiser? No. But I think/know that’s part of the whole deal. Life doesn’t stop being a messy polarity of loving and hating and growing and shrinking, it just gets wider. Enjoy!

6. Cigarettes After Sex

- Cigarettes After Sex (2017)

Downbeat and frankly dirty, Cigarettes After Sex gets the scene right through all these songs which call across to each other from apartment bedrooms. The lyrics are the glimmer of a match, striking between verses lined with adoring and abhorrence. The tongues of the flame lick up cliches and circle them in slowcore sway. Each track flicks the ashes of broken up connections and cooled erotic encounters onto the listener. If pleasure is pain, or vice versa, this album feels its way around in the darkness of this concept, and it does it achingly well.

A common point of contention? “They all sound the same!” But, if you love their stuff, it just means that when the well-known ‘Apocalypse’ ends, in a ‘Flash’ you’ll have the experience extended.

7. Goo

- Sonic Youth (1990)

What’s really interesting about Goo is that it is far from smooth or sticky. Its edges are sharp, and a little intimidating. The tracks create an agitated feedback friction between the riffing off and out of instruments and voices that sometimes seem to work totally independent of each other. Like urban buildings that stand alone and cause isolation, the sonic separation of the album constructs an apathetic experience that feels like biting on cold air or sitting on concrete.

Sonic Youth charge at ideas they can’t fulfil, they split up with and fall back into their patterns, each time with something missing that had been present before. Nightmarish, really. But a little, even if it was unintentional, genius.

8. The Fame Monster

- Lady Gaga (2009)

You now have no excuse to not get familiar with one of the best pure pop albums since the millennium. No, that is not an exaggeration. The album is a performance which elevates pop tropes to the status of being incredibly exciting arrangements, leading Gaga to have her artistry compared to the likes of Madonna.

This album extends the arms of popular music into the upper curves of the atmosphere. This album is theatre. This album fed on expectation and spat out what no critic in 2009 could have anticipated. It’s official: Lady Gaga is a legend, and you’re sorely missing out if you refuse to listen to anything that features/d in the charts.

9. XO

- Elliott Smith (1998)

Elliott Smith’s album XO managed to balance the beauty of moving on and the pain of being held back. Simultaneously, the musicians hands and voice trembled as they struggled to hold the paradox this balance brushes against: the pain of things always moving “on and on and on” (Waltz #2) and the beauty of staying in a stillness. The tracks play out like beads of rain pelting on and painting a screen, or as surface ripples on the water a stone has skimmed, or even as the sound a glass makes as it is pushed across a wooden bar top. Grey-blue passivity, as if always looking from somewhere removed, either follows the songs or is created by them. It is possible, of course, that it is both at once.

The tracks shake hands, exchanging at the same time a crumpled piece of paper with a discontented, but achingly truthful, note scrawled on it to pass “on and on and on”.

10. I Thought I Was An Alien

- Soko (2012)

Being clumsy, obsessive, loving, spiteful. To hurt, care, try, fail. It’s all universal. Soko’s album tenderly smudges the tears to the side of our cheeks, it cups our chin and interlocks its fingers with ours. It asks us to not flinch at the unavoidable dirt underneath its fingernails. The point is that it is not strange/alien to not understand or to feel you understand too much. Do you dig your nails and teeth in further or do you not dare to scratch the surface?

Lovely little guitar plucks, throat itches and drum strokes organically harmonise with deeper and darker tugs, tremors and pummels. This album steadies itself against as much as it trips over into the turbulence of growing up and knowing how and when to let go and to latch on. Truly an elegiac depiction of the faulted, but honest, landscapes of our lives.

11. The Velvet Underground

- The Velvet Underground (1969)

Unlike most of their output, this album serves as an upsetting and comforting lullaby. Quiet but affecting, every track sounds like how a good conversation between hungover friends feels. Melodies mingle in and run off the mind, and they seem to smooth out whatever emotional crackles you bring to your listening session.

These songs charm the listener, establishing a sense of closeness only comparable to a spring mist, and really do carry over the night’s deep blue hues into the morning. A personal favourite is ‘After Hours’, fully grown and childlike, it somehow never gets old.

12. Bloom

- Beach House (2012)

Before they released ‘Space Song’, Beach House were already making music which shrugged off any emotion that you could try to pin on it. This band makes music made of shooting stars. Whatever this album communicates, it’s hard to capture and say out loud. Delicately threading through memories with new aches and revelations, the nostalgia that tinges the album is itself singed by the difficulty of still feeling and living the past.

We walk home at dusk and stare out windows at dawn. We rub against strangers in crowded places and in our own beds. We widen our eyes at horror movies and at our favourite flavour ice cream. Beach House tap into the variety of human experience, and, when they sound out its beating heart, they manage not to crush it down into something less remarkable than it really is.

13. Slowdive

- Slowdive (2017)

This self-titled album simply washes over you. The tracks take flight up into the sky and then fly back down into the water, letting a maelstrom tingle and twist up around you. Glimmering under a fully beaming moon, the depths of this album take you in. But, you won’t be waterlogged.

Surprising jumps in pitch and rhythm allow the listener to catch their breath. We often find ourselves able to dance our feet on the seabed, stirring up sediment alongside sentiments offered up by the band. A beautiful return from Slowdive after 22 years.

14. Off The Bone

- The Cramps (1983)

Off The Bone flings open old Western swinging doors, treads down heavy heeled boots with a drunk confidence, cocks its head at an angle and takes a long drag on a Vogue. The rest is one outrageous exhale that takes Rocky Horror and a Tarantino film for a tango, if you look at it anachronistically.

This album is visceral: it makes you want to trawl an empty mall, using all your limbs in erotically and grotesquely, and then watch it all back on security cam footage while nursing a leg cramp (get it). Rough and glam, tight and moaning - this is fabulous filth.

15. Bleach

- Nirvana (1989)

The debut album from Nirvana is a gritty and murky series of raw punk/alt-rock. It’s not their best, but it still captivates with its nail biting and, honestly, sweaty sound. Anti-love, anti-authority and anti-production also (this album had $600 spent on it), there’s a truthfulness about it, a garage style honesty, that really makes Bleach worth something.

It dialled down the noise of punk without losing the point, the point being something obsessive and consuming, certainly scarring and definitely not cleansing.

16. All Things Must Pass

- George Harrison (1970)

Thank God the Beatles broke up, right? Harrison’s album ‘epic’ lounges out under the sun and lets its cheeks flush with a content glow, it also sits tentatively on a bench in a bristly autumn wind, and it also stares out a frost patterned window.

All things, like seasons, must pass. The songs each furl around each other in a happy frenzy. Celebratory of the processes of moving out and moving on, this album holds your hand whenever you choose to reach out. It lives on with us.

17. The Beatles

- The Beatles (1968)

There’s always so many things happening in a Beatles album, which means you just can’t get bored. Full of so many personalities, it practically stands upright like a crazed ensemble in front of you when you put it on to play. A tight wire is tied to each song, connecting them with that quintessential Beatles twang and drag, but each alone stands as something unexpected, audacious and somehow captivating. It makes songwriting seem fun, not an overhead of finding something perfect and even somewhat sensical.

The best thing is that, even where some tracks flop, none of it feels diluted or difficult: it’s just dudes and their instruments (and their obvious knack for getting the bizarre to still be a catch, cause why not).

18. Unknown Pleasures

- Joy Division (1979)

Something about this album evokes the feeling that you are missing the tube as it gushes past you, all air and lights, and you’re bending over out of breath, wind beaten out of you from sprinting, as it turns out, pointlessly.

The unique spirit of Unknown Pleasures transforms heart monitors into mountains. It keeps on climbing up the rough sides of its own themes and sounds, and in turn keeps our interest intently flickering.

19. Twin Fantasy

- Car Seat Headrest (2018)

‘I got so f***ing romantic, I apologise’. CSH just gets it right for all those years of our teenagedom where we expected too much of a situation, or of ourselves, and had to give into the melodramatic urge to fling our heads back onto the car seat headrest in self-loathing, pity or misery.

Twin Fantasy lets all our overreactions swell into an understanding hand on the shoulder. You were quite alright, but yeaaaah… a little paranoid and obsessive, kid. Intense lines are interspersed with laughter, a shared look in from a better place. It’s all so truthfully bittersweet, all so saddeningly real. If you don’t suddenly fall in love with it, listen again.

20. Mezzanine

- Massive Attack (1998)

Ah, our Bristolians. Mezzanine’s tracks are the mean shafts cast by headlamps glaring down on a high-speed road, lighting up your face pressed against the pull of air against the car’s gaping window frame. This is the kind of electronic, trip-hop music that grips your throat and entrances you, keeping you in a vacuum of your latest and gravest thoughts.

Though the abstract music of Cocteau Twins can appear to make no sense, the majority of it has proved to be an ethereal respite to the 21st century listener. Conversely, where Liz Fraser is the most coherent in her features on this album, the space she occupies is transformed into a biting and uneasy claustrophobia of unguarded outpours.

21. Rumours

- Fleetwood Mac (1977)

The tracks on Rumours clap and thunder together as they form one of the best selling albums of all time, a hugely successful foreground to a backdrop of devastating interpersonal failures. The disgust and exaltation felt in equal measure by the group’s members stretches itself out like an unbearable yet sumptuous summer day. It showcases a dizzying Californian sunlight evaporating disconcerting English showers.

Mystical, powerful, twisted and scorching; it engendered the floods of classic-rock albums that followed. Rumours is an unforgettable demonstration of masculine and feminine tensions in the decaying wreckage of a gold-gilded, coke-fuelled past that had to drop off into the deep end.

22. Tender Buttons

- Broadcast (2005)

Imagine the youthful satisfaction achieved from continually ripping off the velcro on you or your friend’s school shoes transferred into an adult medium. You’d likely get Tender Buttons.

Broadcast drag the record needle across their tracks, skittering and scootering about so frenziedly it feels like you just got your ankles hit. And it feels so good. In the album’s shaky realm, the tentative, sort of oddly off-beat, voice of Trish Keenan settles the listener on the sensation of biting down on their tongue and cheeks. Neat and chaotic simultaneously.

23. Horses

- Patti Smith (1975)

Smith swings her legs over to lock into the stirrups of the poetic and punk. There’s a distinct dissonance that punctuates her songs; there’s something uniquely chilly generated by their sliding and staccato dances. Like something wild hurtling through the night, Horses continues to excite, terrify and rearrange rock and roll.

Her albums and their lyrics are corporeal and spirited, delving into the relationships we maintain with our body and the ones surging around us. Yet, at the same time, her work is concerned with fragmenting the identity into little gems cast out over her musical plains.

24. Trouble Will Find Me

- The National (2013)

Even if you aren’t a dad, sitting at a lonely table in a dead-end bar, you can definitely still worsen your mood (by endorsing those feelings) with this album. Despite what a lot of critics say, for all their heavy lyrics, The National can be pretty approachable to listen to, as there isn’t much that’s complicated about their pieces. They’re all grey skies and cold hands, smoke with no visible fire, and above all coping with disappointing yourself. The tracks often build up and break down - a faithful mirror to how self-assurance and confidence can be.

On this album I recommend you start with ‘Pink Rabbits’ (and if you like this, you’d probably love ‘Carin at the Liquor Store’ from Sleep Well Beast).

25. 6 Feet Beneath the Moon

- King Krule (2013)

Distantly drooling and then suddenly scathing and spluttering. Archy Marshall’s voice is a cool fire that slowly consumes the thick instrumental haze with its nervous outbursts.

This album exists in an isolation, stuck between bedroom walls or hung up alone in the space under the watch of the barren rock in the sky. It sucks in on something airless and punches the wind out from us as we grip a telescope, holding the moon in our mind’s eye as deliberately as we do the problems we’re waiting to solve. 6 Feet Beneath The Moon crashes about with its volume turned down so as not to disturb the neighbours.

26. Love Deluxe

- Sade (1992)

Slick, smooth, seductive. Sade’s Love Deluxe is a lens fine tuned into the sensual and suppressed. We are sealed into this chamber that bounces around lavishness, lushness, dread and discontentedness. This album merges dub, R&B, jazz and soul into something which can scarcely contain its complex themes in its subdued sound.

Sade has collected up stories of desire and laid them out, bare and beautiful, in these compositions. They cast shadows behind and in front of each other, luxuriating in the darkness and despair congealing in their seams.

27. Spiderland

- Slint (1998)

Like a cold-caller at an empty house, a torch with a broken battery or a radio without a signal, Spiderland focuses on the sound of uselessness and unease. A lot of people come across this album at random, and it unsettles the ears and eyes with the sense that something terrible is going to happen.

The most terrible thing would be that this band disappeared in a manner reflective of how their dead-pan, off kilter, takes seem to sink under the lapping surface of a quarry pool. They did.

28. AM

- Arctic Monkeys (2013)

Strolling purposefully and aimlessly in the dark, unleashing disturbing dreams and speaking in coded openness in hot breaths close to the ear. AM catches its reflection in a shop window and trips over a loose pavestone. It bumps its head on the bedframe and cuts its lips on the rim of a whiskey glass. It bites you mid kiss to make you bleed. It feels like, after the heavier and clattering records the Monkeys put out prior, this one rolled off the tongue and stung the drums with an ease only enabled by a major and collective conscious shift.

Perhaps the new LA sunlight and strips crept up their spines and knocked with a smooth knuckled hand from inside their skulls, cracking open a glossy night.

There are many more notable B&W albums, but I hope this satisfies your needs.

Featured Image: Mike Von | Unsplash
All Album Images: Discogs

Will you be listening to one album a day?