Wednesday, October 6, 2010

St. Vincent - Actor

Annie Clark (St. Vincent) has to be one of the cutest, skinniest people ever. That’s why when I first saw the album cover for her second album Actor, I thought to myself, “I’m glad she used a cropped headshot or else I would think there was a hair between the plastic and the paper.” Bad joke? It’s the best I’ve got, especially since I really have nothing bad to say about this jacket.

If you’ve had a chance to listen to Actor, then you would probably be able to see a pretty clear correlation between the album’s experimental melodic implementation juxtaposed to a series of dark, gloomy lyrics. On the crust, her music appears light and fluffy, yet the inside gets gooier and thicker the deeper you fork.

On the surface, this cover may seem like it’s just another screen grab from your favorite horrible-seventies-satin-shirts-and-Technicolor-background website (you know there’s at least one out there). But when I look deeper into the photograph and begin to really examine it, I can’t help but feel a sense of despondence in her face. Maybe because she’s heartbroken? Maybe because she’s not in Williamsburg anymore? Maybe because she’s wearing that shirt? Okay, maybe I did have one thing bad to say.

Nevertheless, this hopelessness that is so blankly wiped across her high cheekbones and kinky-bobbed haircut presents itself as an awakening to the greater truth in life. Her face is looking toward the light that ever so slightly highlights her face. It’s either that or the shitty JPEG I’m looking at from the net. However, I’ll go with the former and say that, like the substance of the album itself, there are more layers than you think to this little onion of a photo.

Actor may present a pleasant girl from Oklahoma with a beautiful voice, high cheekbones and a kinky-bobbed haircut, but this is one has a very dark secret to keep.

photo courtesy of

Monday, May 10, 2010

Tegan And Sara - So Jealous

Tegan and Sara is a rare act that finds itself easily able to coast through a wide field of listeners. From angsty, Twilight-worshiping tweens to bitter 20-somethings who weep over every "Grey’s Anatomy" episode, and even to my best friends father, Tegan and Sara seem to have struck chord on a number of listener layers. I must admit that I am, in fact, an avid listener of the Canadian sisters, especially to their 2004 album So Jealous. That being said, don’t count on catching me wearing a "Twilight" shirt or watching "Grey’s Anatomy" any time soon.

Released on September 14, 2004, So Jealous tunes immediately made other tracks, unsurprisingly, so jealous with their cameos in the backgrounds of sappy love scenes (see: “I Know I Know I Know”) and bitter breakups (see: “Where Does the Good Go?”) on TV channels like ABC and the CW. As always, though, there’s a face to the music, and I’m assuming few were surprised when they saw the art for the LP on iTunes when Gilmore Girls was over.

The cover is presented in the same simplistic, arts-and-crafts sort of style as the music itself. Slated against a cheerless black background are a small cluster of floating hearts which, upon closer examination, almost appear to be cut straight out of red felt. Then, of course, there are the stark white, sans-serif album and artist titles in the top right corner, both ever-so-slightly offset from the image.

If you listen to Tegan and Sara regularly and are familiar with their work, then this album cover should be of no surprise and even, perhaps, sum up their musical front in a single, artistic image. Even the color combination — black, white and red — evokes the same feel that their music on So Jealous attempts — and, in many ways, succeeds — to present.

Some may view Tegan and Sara as another example of over-dramatic, whiny, indie Canadian pop music. I’d have to argue that they present an angle to the music industry that many try to achieve but can’t pull off. That is, the artsy-fartsy, lesbian, balls-kicking music for which they have paved the way. The cover art for So Jealous is a good representation of the duo and their band as a whole, not just of the album at hand.

Image source: Wikipedia

Thursday, April 8, 2010


American alternative rock group Sonic Youth released their sixth studio album, Goo, all the way back in the dinosaur days of June, 1990. Noted as one of their greatest and best-known works, Goo has all the makings of a musically and visually classic album.

In fact, I love this album cover so much that I have a poster of it in my room. Admittedly, I even noticed its main image
tattooed on the arm of “Ren,” the newest grungy, outspoken model on America’s Next Top Model. Although I was forced to watch it against my free will (go ahead and roll your eyes) I do have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

For a while I really liked that image of those two “cool kids” because, well, I just really liked it. But upon more intricate research I found a deeper meaning behind the illustration, and it has since brought a brand new depth to the cover.

Illustrated by
Raymond Pettibon, it depicts a photograph taken way back in 1966 of Maureen Hindley and David Smith, her husband at the time. They were both witnesses to a criminal trial involving Hindley’s sister Myra and Ian Brady. Both Hindley and Brady were later convicted as serial murders in what is now known as the “Moors Murders” in Greater Manchester, England, involving the brutal killings and sexual assault of five children in the area.

In a stark black and white print, the image is accompanied by the words: “I stole my sister’s boyfriend. It was all whirlwind, heat and flash. Within a week we killed my parents and hit the road.”

While the words don’t directly correlate with the image and its actual history, it still holds that same sentiment of lethal youth, rebellion and what frightening capabilities young, seemingly normal individuals can hold. Sonic Youth’s music connects with that anguish, from the haunting Karen Carpenter death track “Tunic (Song for Karen)” to the “too cool for school” songs “My Friend Goo” and “Kool Thing”.

The entire album delivers an evocative statement of societal rioting and addressing mainstream taboos — anorexia, murder and “real tattoos” just to name a few. With its grim background, it only adds more fascination to an already amazing jacket. Then again, Sonic Youth never fails to impress me.

image source: ""

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


The Shins are widely known for their eccentric indie-rock sound and have proved to be frontrunners in how we know post-90s alternative rock. Since their debut album Oh, Inverted World in 2001, this Portland, Oregon band has been a breath of fresh air to the music industry, both on our ears and our eyes.

The album on focus this week is their latest release, 2007’s Wincing the Night Away. The album has received many plays on my iTunes library, and for the better half of my high school senior year, annoyed the shit out everyone who called me with one of its tracks as my ring back tone (remember when those were cool?). I come back to the LP every now and then, and every time I do I find myself still decoding its album art.

The art follows a similar pattern to that of the band’s other works: abstract, adolescent shapes reserved for study hall doodling. A snapshot into some sort of alien world, the jacket to Wincing the Night Away is as fluid and dreamy as the album itself. The original medium appears to be sophisticated BIC pen on highly rare and delicate Mead Composition graph paper. But it’s that kind of honesty that invites the eye in closer, making it want to examine its imperfections (the strokes of the pen, the curvature of the lines).

The three embryonic globes, while anchored on the page, deliver a feeling of liquidity, stretching and breaking apart like soft bread in some distant universe. The shapes morph and twist while small tree-like growths extend outward. This attributes to the idea of these being odd planets in the stages of growth and development in some place very far away.

The album itself also holds to that same sentiment. “Australia” is a track devoted to everything but the country (or is it continent?) itself, rather an alternative state-of-mind. “Phantom Limb” and “Sea Legs” also twist and morph into unrecognizable ideas and foreign lyrics.

With all its perplexity, The Shins stick to their true aesthetic fashion by keeping it clean and simple. The lines are crisp and sharp, and the spaces are well defined. The band’s name and album title, which appear in the top left corner of the jacket, are perfectly placed in a slightly gestural, tightly-controlled type that flows down the page.

It’s a step away from the color-blocking, 2-dimensional work on Chutes Too Narrow and the simplistic approach on Oh, Inverted World, but this work ties in well. It will be exciting to see what the band comes up with next and how they will use art to add to the interpretation of their music.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Gracing us with sassy hook-lines and mismatched sound effects from the not-too-far-back-in-the-distant past is Santigold*: the “M.I.A. wannabe” to some, the “reallyreallygoodartistIcan’twaituntilmoremoremore” to others. Needless to say I’m with the latter, and as you might have guessed, it’s not just thanks to the music…

From the bite in her lyrics to her eccentric fashion choices, Santigold seems to be living in a world of carefree paper cutouts and D.I.Y. photo editing. At least that’s just what the cover of her self-titled LP Santogold (as spelled on MY iTunes at least) is telling me.

Designed by artist Isabelle Lumpkin, the album jacket takes on the personality of a demented four-year-old’s cut-and-paste project—in the best, indie way possible, of course. The horizontal reflection of the photo provides at least a slight grown up sense of depth with crude craftsmanship.

The photo is candid and almost unflattering, letting it’s muted blue hues contrast sharply against the piled gold spilling from Santigold’s mouth. Some may see it as an artistic approach to deeper political issue, or even just a play on words in the album title itself (santoGOLD).

But methinks it could be a little broader than that. It’s unlike an artist such as Santigold to create a message with such a narrow answer, eliminating all other possible forms of discussion. At first glance this album cover might look all over the place, just another “extremist” attempt to be all things wrong and ironic, but when you really examine the art itself (and other works of the artist) you begin to realize that there really is a method to the madness.

Tracks like “My Superman” and “Anne,” push the album into a dark, almost twisted place. On the other hand, “Say Aha” and Bud Light Lime tune “Creator” hold a lighter, more innocent feel. Both conflicting sentiments can be drawn from the art of Santogold.

Her posture in the photo is meek—almost to the point of satirical, and the typography in the title looks eerily childlike. Yet the dead look in her face is haunting, empty and ominous.

An interesting cover that will always catch my attention, I can’t help but feel a strong draw to it every time I see it. Its elements are simple and marginally archaic, but Santogold contains that one special element that makes album art so much more than what meets the eye.

*Disclaimer/side note/whatever you want to call it: I still don’t like spelling it like that, but if it’s the PC term that will keep ACRN out of a lawsuit then I’m happy to oblige.

image source:

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

My Bloody Valentine - Loveless

There are two kinds of people out there – those who love My Bloody Valentine and those who hate My Bloody Valentine. And no, I’m not talking about the gore-infested 3D motion picture, but instead of the very foundation of shoegaze rock as we know it today

After sitting as one of the headliners at last summer’s All Points West festival in Liberty State Park, they seem to be making a small comeback to the current music scene. Although many may not particularly like the kind of noise MBV puts off, the band’s 1991 release Loveless is hailed as being one of the greatest albums of all time.

The record’s cover is truly a testament to what the band is all about. The different hues of magenta and purple blend together like a smudge painting, vaguely creating the shape of a guitar neck and body. It’s almost like someone set the camera shutter WAY low and let Kevin Shields (guitar, vocals) himself strum away under the stage lights, leaving only the blurred trails documented.

And that same concept really parallels their music as well. The vocals are so buried by guitar loops and muffled drums that it’s almost impossible to make out what Shields is singing half the time. But that kind of openness to interpretation is what has made Loveless such a big source of inspiration to bands like Radiohead and Guided by Voices. Their consistent choice of low-fi, blurred images has made their own mark of inspiration as well.

I sense a bit of irony, too, when I look at the cover. The album is called “Loveless,” but its basic make up and overall tone seems to me anything but. Everything we’re told of love is blurry, confusing and blissful. When you think of that feeling and what it means, you think of pink and red and those sorts of hues. The juxtaposition of placing an album name like Loveless onto an image that, in the common sense, would seem to be a visual representation of what we know love as, is humorous and very interesting.

Even listening to the record, while there may be a sense of apathy and emptiness, you can’t help but feel a taste of utopia. Everything sounds so natural, free and, well, beautiful. Isn’t that what love is? Ongoing, blind ecstasy of unending limits, predictions or rules? Loveless puts all those rules into debate by just simply naming the album.

It’s just another layer My Bloody Valentine has placed under their spellbinding music. Like the cover itself, the album is soft, blended and smooth. This album is no naked baby under water or a nurse holding a syringe. It’s nothing more than a series of blurred lines, questions and speculations. And that’s when there really is no limit at all.

Friday, October 30, 2009

'KALA' - M.I.A.

Introducing M.I.A.’s second studio album Kala (2007) is a difficult task. Springing off her groundbreaking debut release Arular, M.I.A. took what we know as sound and rhythm and brought it up to another level.

The cover art for Kala is almost as groundbreaking. In an age of stream lines, Adobe CS4 applications and Cinematic Mac Desktops, it is eye-opening—not to mention refreshing—to see a graphic design such as this at its rawest.

From pixilated text to the x-rayed images, Kala looks more like a computer virus than an album cover. Lime green, blue and zebra-striped triangles line the background while repetitive images of M.I.A. herself punch forward.

The jacket, which was designed by M.I.A. personally, also contains graphic work by artists Cassette Playa (Carrie Mundane) and Steve Loveridge.

With tracks like radio smash “Paper Planes” and “Boyz,” it’s no wonder why M.I.A. would choose the low-res route for her album. The music is as raw and glitchy (yes, I made that word up) as the arrows and stripes running up the side.

The LP’s heavy political references also play a part on the cover’s appearance. The main portrait in the center has the words “Fight on! Fight on! Fight on!” repeated around the edge of the circle.

Although she has received some flack from industry folks for her creative decisions, M.I.A. holds strong to her grass-roots design aesthetics. It’s not a route many rising musicians would choose. She shows, through both her music and her art on Kala, that she’s not losing her identity any time soon, the same identity that got her there in the first place.