My Type of Music: Gillian Welch, Jill Scott, Gomez, Thievery Corporation, Beyoncé
I’d like to welcome to The FontFeed any new readers coming in from Daring Fireball’s link to last week’s Figuring Out Numerals two-parter. One of the popular series here is My Type of Music, a monthly review of the artwork on recently released albums. Although I mainly look at the typefaces used on those covers, I occasionally comment on their design as well.
Just like last episode, I’d like to issue a word of caution. This month’s list ends with an artistic, non-exploitive photograph of an empowered, nude woman. If you are offended by this, be aware that somewhere out there a lovely little fairy dies. However I totally understand if you have a bit of a problem with the commercial, exploitive photograph of a submissive, semi-nude woman preceding it. It’s all about context, really.
The sparse, entirely typographic artwork for We Are the Champions, the fifth studio album for Jeff the Brotherhood (Jake and Jamin Orrall, who were previously in the indie rock band Be Your Own Pet) throws me back to my days at the art academy in the late eighties, early nineties. The coarsely-rasterised three-dimensional display type reminds me of poor decisions in the selection of Mecanorma dry-transfer sheets, while the warped Arial brings back memories of ill-conceived typographic distortions using Letraset’s Adobe Illustrator plug-in Envelopes. Ahhh, good times… : P
Pardon the lame pun and tired idiom, but it looks like a couple of album sleeve designers were on fire lately. Here’s a succession of three covers that are almost literally ablaze.
The first one is for Weird Al Yankovic’s Alpocalypse. His 13th studio album pokes fun at a plethora of current artists, including Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift and more. As befits his status of famous pop song parodist, he takes a jab at epic heavy metal album artwork, posing as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse riding over a burning cityscape set against a flaming sky. Holy Hollywood blockbuster, Batman! The over-the-top typography matches the artwork to a tee. The artist’s name is set in the glyphic typeface ITC Elan, bevelled of course. A gritty CinemaScope-like rendition of the elusive Rubens (see Macbeth for a more beefed-up interpretation) spells out the album title.
Whereas it is pretty obvious the previous album artwork is ironic, we don’t really know inhowfar LA-based glam-rock group Black Veil Brides take themselves seriously. The onstage appearance of the band is mainly inspired by Kiss as well as other 1980s glam metal acts. On the cover of Set the World On Fire, the sophomore album which marks their major label debut, it’s not the setting but the band themselves that are alight. Here the epic-ness is given typographic form by customising the obvious Trajan, merging its shapes then giving them a metallic look and depth. I don’t like the way the characters were altered and combined, and the special effects make them hard to read. Furthermore the album title, which looks like Baskerville, was horizontally stretched and had fake small caps applied. Typographic train wreck anyone?
More metal madness on the album cover of Khaos Legions, the latest album for Swedish melodic death metal band Arch Enemy; its first with new studio material since 2007’s Rise Of The Tyrant. The artwork seems influenced less by heavy metal clichés, but more by the visual style of sci-fi computer games set in dystopian futures. No Trajan this time, but that other serif titling face by Carol Twombly that was originally bundled with it – Charlemagne. The album title is obsessively scratched in the cover image.
And then, unexpectedly, we come across yet another metal cover that is something else entirely. Leveler, the fourth studio album for August Burns Red, the metal band from Pennsylvania, resolutely veers away from the conventions of the music genre. An insightful post on Blabbermouth.net reveals that, while August Burns Red has never succumbed to the artistic trends in metal album covers, Leveler represents an even larger departure than fans have seen on the band’s previous albums. The cover illustration created by artist Jordan Crane brings a striking comic book flair that the band wanted the artwork to encompass. Lead guitarist JB Brubaker explains:
What we were going for with the cover was an image of a house that had been destroyed by a natural disaster. The cover depicts a house that has been levelled by something like a hurricane. You can see the trees in the background are bent sideways from enduring strong winds. There are a bunch of chickens in the foreground who have come out of hiding to continue on with their daily activities. The chickens represent the calm after the storm. They represent life and the promise of a new day. The art has a real indie-rock vibe to it, which I like because while we’re obviously not an indie band, we’re not a typical metal band either.
Not only is the illustration style delightful, the colour scheme is warm and friendly. Band name and album title, thoughtfully set in a single type style, flush left in the upper left corner, are distinguishable by the use of two colours. All type is set in a compact extra bold sans: one of the 32 styles of the wood type-inspired H&FJ Knockout.
Matt Nathanson returns with Modern Love, his seventh album of soulful songs. The casual black-and-white picture of the Bay Area singer-songwriter, sitting in the back of his car with his guitar, was painted over with rough brush script lettering in white gouache. I like the relaxed, direct, and honest overall impression I get from this album cover.
For Fomo, the second solo album by the singer-songwriter from New Zealand Liam Finn, designer Anna Taylor collaborated with artist Sarah Larnach. The warm, shimmering water colour image, based on an Auckland cityscape, is completed with the album title in a skyline sans and a handwritten script for the artist’s name.
Visual artist Larnach may be most commonly associated with her friend and collaborator, Ladyhawke, buth there is a lot more to her as you can read in this interview on Sick Of The radio. Larnach’s beautiful water colours grace both the cover for Ladyhawke’s debut album – discussed here in one of the very early episodes of My Type of Music – and the enchanting video clip for the single My Delirium.
Another illustrated album cover, yet in an entirely different genre, can be seen on The Harrow & The Harvest, country-folk singer Gillian Welch’s first album of new material since her previous release eight years ago. H&FJ’s Requiem beautifully complements the clean, detailed, and above all gorgeous linework drawn by John Dyer Baizley. The style of the magical piece is somewhere between refined comic book art and Art Nouveau.
John Dyer Baizley is a painter and musician based in Savannah, Georgia. He is notable for his album cover and t-shirt art for bands including Kylesa, Pig Destroyer, Darkest Hour, Daughters, Skeletonwitch, Torche, Cursed, Black Tusk, Kvelertak, Vitamin X, Flight of the Conchords, The Red Chord and his own band, Baroness for which he is the singer and rhythm guitarist. He has also begun doing artwork for monthly guitar publication Guitar World.
Philadelphia native Jill Scott unabashedly goes disco on the cover for The Light of the Sun, her fourth studio album of soulful pop and R&B. British superstar type designer Rian Hughes re-imagined the multilinear display style used here with Dazzle, a design with lines of decreasing weight. The neon-like connected script looked very familiar, but I had trouble locating it. Harlow Solid, Neonstream, Raceway, and Permanent Waves were all close, but no cigar, until the incomparable Mark Simonson pointed out it is the early Letraset script Santa Fe.
The band name in simple three-dimensional white capitals similar to FF DIN Condensed, dropped in what looks like white paint. That’s all it takes to create a deceptively simple yet striking image for Whatever’s On Your Mind, the seventh studio album of a 15-year career spanning genres from rock to country to blues for English rockers Gomez.
Culture of Fear, the sixth studio album by Washington DC-based duo Thievery Corporation is less political than its predecessor, yet it still keeps a progressive stance and makes a statement. The album artwork is reduced to its bare essence – a surveillance camera symbolises the current state of paranoia and suspicion in modern society. The crystal clear imagery is matched by the basic shapes of the ubiquitous Helvetica, set flush left in the upper left corner. Though I would have preferred a contemporary representative of the “neutral” international style in typography, I can’t deny this design achieves a chilling level of perfection. Personally it also brings to mind THX 1138 and HAL 9000.
The album cover for This Loud Morning, an alternative rock extravaganza heavily influenced by the 1990’s grunge era by American Idol star David Cook, was designed by someone who only has a basic grasp of typography and composition. The artwork is so middle-of-the-road in its desperate efforts to be taken seriously by an alternative rock crowd that it becomes too painful to watch. On top of that the distressed sans caps / elegant script combo has become such a tired cliché it isn’t even funny anymore. It is the graphic design equivalent of commercial dance music alternating a wannabe badass rapper and a female vocalist singing vapid lyrics. I do however appreciate that the sans was custom distressed – at least there are no identical repeated characters. Bickham Script is not a very imaginative choice, but it still is a brilliant design by Richard Lipton.
Now this I like a lot! The covers for the full album Finally Famous – the debut from the Detroit rapper Big Sean featuring executive producers Kanye West and No I.D. – and its related singles have a unified graphic identity, like some übercool corporate style. The typography and composition is identical in all instances – the artist’s name in a tight and clean skyline sans, and the title and “Finally famous over everything” tagline set in Century Gothic. With a finely detailed heraldic emblem providing the finishing touch, the text is overlaid in pristine white on a full-bleed portrait of the rapper. The photographs are in full colour for the full album, and in black-and-white on a brightly coloured background for the singles. Equally boisterous and sophisticated, this suite of sleeves makes me smile from ear to ear.
When I first saw the artwork gracing Horses and High Heels, the latest solo album by English singer-songwriter Marianne Faithfull, featuring four original songs and Lou Reed as guest on two tracks, I was convinced the ghastly painting was intended to be ironic. Imagine how stunned I was to find out that, according to the hyperbole on his website, Jim Warren actually is a respected artist of international acclaim.
Jim Warren is one of the most successful & versatile artists in the world today.
From the wild & whimsical to the sweet & sensuous, for over 40 years Jim Warren has been painting his way into the hearts and minds of people the world over. Already considered a “living legend of the art world”, Jim continues to surprise and amaze.
Doing some more research I discovered that Jim Warren rose to fame in the music world with the artwork for Bob Seger’s 1980 album Against The Wind, which next to Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal also won the Grammy Award for Best Album Package. You know, the album sleeve featuring the horses with the anatomically incorrect eyes and poorly painted manes and tails.
Now, this is difficult for me to say, as I will most likely be exposed as a fraud who has no clue about art. Jim Warren creates some of the most incomprehensibly overrated commercial drivel I have ever laid my eyes upon. No, really, if this is serious and not some genius elaborate hoax that was sustained for 40 years, I don’t know what to say. Like we say over here, these paintings are not even worth hanging in a beauty salon. Well, to each his own, de gustibus et coloribus yadda yadda – I simply don’t buy it. Let the flaming begin.
Juxtaposing the two final album covers of this episode allows us to make a very interesting comparison. Both show a (half)-naked woman in a similar pose – arm(s) folded above the head and dreamily looking away over the camera. However the overall impression I get from the first photograph is quite opposite to the second one.
4, the aptly titled fourth studio album from Beyoncé has both dance-floor-ready jams and down-tempo tunes that are a bit tamer than those in the last album. All typography is set in a tasteful Bodoni, more precisely Bauer Bodoni.
I guess her wild hair and the fur half covering her naked torso and breasts are supposed to make the pop songstress look untamed, a primal force of nature. Yet somehow she comes across as submissive, her body objectified in an attempt to seduce the music-buying audience with barely concealed sex. I don’t interpret this image as a woman who uses her sexuality in an affirmative way to express herself, like for example Betty Davis did some 35 years ago. Sadly Beyoncé seems to merely conform to the sexist image of women which has been prevalent in commercial pop, R&B and rap for far too long.
Now compare this to the woman under an overpass in Portland, Oregon, who graces the album cover for Sound Kapital, an album influenced by Eastern European synthesizer sounds and noise pop from Handsome Furs, the music project of Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner and his wife Alexei Perry. Although this is a night shot with all type set in Morpeth, it is quite similar to the previous one, yet the underlying message couldn’t be more different.
Being completely naked, one could suppose the woman photographed by Scott Coffey to be more vulnerable. Quite the contrary is true. Without any defiance in her attitude, she comes across as strong and balanced with only the slightest hint of sexiness, completely at ease, in harmony with herself and her body that is sculpted by the sideways lighting. By revealing every intimate detail of her skin, she asserts herself and claims her rightful place in our awareness. In an interview with LPWTF? – Canadian record cover art, uncovered, Alexei Perry who art directed and produced all the packaging layouts for the album, explains her reasoning for choosing this cover image:
I love nakedness. I wish I could see everyone naked. Nudity is appealing to me for its obvious sexiness, but even more so for its rawness and honesty. It unnerves and excites me and makes me want to know more.
The interview and accompanying post goes much deeper, and I recommend you read it in full; it is very insightful. And on this lovely image I bid you all adieu for now, until the next post after I come back from TypeAmsterdam.
The FontFeed is a daily dispatch of recommended fonts, typography techniques, and inspirational examples of digital type at work in the real world. Eat up.
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