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.

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