My Type of Music: Nelly, Kings Of Leon, TV On The Radio, B.B. King,

It’s time for another look at recent album covers. These are all records released in the second half of September.

With its dream-like tableau the cover for Who Killed Amanda Palmer, the debut album for the Dresdan Dolls singer Amanda Palmer reeks of surrealism. I think Freud would have had a field day analysing this one. Regarding the type, listen very carefully, I shall say zis only once: Futura Condensed is not a typeface. Not.

To say the cover for Joan Osborne’s previous album didn’t really float my boat is a slight understatement. But Little Wild One is a step back in the right direction, despite the presence of cover-wide Trajan for the artist’s name. There is a lot happening in that image, with weird colouring, bizarre light flares and a sumptuous Polaroid-style frame. The script is Nick Cooke’s gorgeous brush script Gizmo, a choice option for emulating Far-Eastern cursive calligraphy.

The Way I See It by R&B singer Raphael Saadiq beautifully mimics the ground-breaking album covers for Blue Note Records in the ’50s and ’60s (as you can see in the fantastic gallery Frederik Berlaen sent me). It all looks looks perfect – the black-and-white photograph printed on a flat colour with the type reversed in white – except that the extended Helvetica is an anachronism. Neue Helvetica 33 Thin Extended was only introduced in 1983 as part of the reworked family which saw heights and widths harmonized throughout the complete series. Already by the ’70s Blue Note had moved on to a quite different style of album cover design, so by the time the type was available the look of the covers was quite different. To match this design Trade Gothic Extended should have been used. Basic Commercial or Venus would also be a possibility were it not that I don’t recall the latter being used on Blue Note album covers.

On Brass Knuckles – his long-delayed fifth album – Nelly is almost literally and figuratively caught with his pants down. The strict geometric square lettering is BD Billding by BuroDestruct (thanks, Sander), which is reminiscent of Hounslow. It looks great, it’s just a shame about the derivative cover image.

It looks like the seventies are back with their hyper-realistic airbrushed album covers. At least the four examples below may hint at the emergence of a trend.

Only the modern car model betrays that Nights Out by British electronic artist Metronomy is a recent album. The spaced out Gill Sans capitals suit the style of the cover illustration and propel the album cover about 30 years back in time.

The cover for Exit 13, the last album on LL Cool J’s contract with Def Jam, appropriates the signature style of surrealist album covers in the 70s and 80s. I guess somebody thought that a giant microphone smashing into the highway was a striking image. One that doesn’t make sense. The highway sign is a typographic mishmash – the artist’s name in Univers Ultra Condensed, the album title… MS Trebuchet?, and only the bottom line in the correct typeface: Interstate Condensed.

Me And Armini by Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini tricks our senses and plays with our perception. The cover in trompe l’œil is a photograph of the singer attached on a piece of paper with the album title in typewriter text, but both the picture and the picture of the picture are in fact illustrations. If you happen to need a typewriter font – the best just got better with the baffling FF Trixie HD.

For me Ladyhawke, the self-titled debut album for the New Zealander artist Pip Brown has the nicest one of the four album covers. Although the illustration still is very realistic, the colouring and the unfinished quality make it the most interesting and beautiful one. The hand drawn sans caps complement the design perfectly.

Feed The Animals by Girl Talk has a peculiar image on its cover. The burning letters conjure up disturbing images of the Ku-Klux-Klan in action. It’s a shame the designer chickened out and didn’t add the album title to the design. What a cop-out. :/

I’m not sure if the mistake in the cover painting for The Hawk Is Howling by Scottish post rockers Mogwai is intentional, but as far as I know this is not a hawk but a bald eagle. Or am I completely missing the point? Apparently – not being an American – I didn’t realize the bald eagle represented the United States of America, and the album title refers to “war hawks”, the name given to warmongers or people otherwise given to advocating war. This mixed metaphor is a subtle dig at the belligerent nature of the current American foreign policy (thank you Eric Hague for explaining this). The very narrow sans is Alternate Gothic No.1.

Only By The Night by Kings Of Leon has a great looking cover. Mirroring the image and overprinting the copies in black and red on a plain white background make it look like a Rorschach inkblot test. The fun part is that this time there really is an image to be discovered in the symmetrical pattern. The understated centred type in Überform, a tech looking monospaced sans by Bionic Systems (thanks, Marre), is the perfect complement, and the underscores and single guillemets provide the finishing touch.

Hey, another Rorschach-like album cover design for Lunglight by The Shaky Hands. It’s as if there’s been something in the air lately. This cover looks a lot more sinister than the previous one by the way. As it’s completely painted and lettered by hand there’s no type to point out.

I can’t help but be reminded of Tibor Kalman’s fantastic vernacular inspired designs when I see Dear Science by TV On The Radio. The mismatched plastic letters with an upside down “N” and distorted “E” make this image strongly resemble a design he did for Restaurant Floret in Manhattan (I couldn’t find the image on the internet). Here as well you’d think the type was set by a highly motivated amateur with limited skills. The slightly awkward script is probably a free- or shareware font but nonetheless it works.

More awkwardness on Motion To Rejoin by indie rock outfit Brightblack Morning Light. Again an amateurish-looking script with excessively loopy bits, which I wouldn’t have minded seeing replaced by Soda Script. Although at first sight the image is pedestrian it starts to reveal half-hidden details which make it more interesting. Check for example the German military aircraft wing markings in the feathers.

Heavenly Bender by Sam Champion has a colourful hand drawn album cover. The amateurish mix of collage and felt pen colouring lends it a certain charm. In fact I think the slightly leftfield concept of rendering by hand Verdana, one of the penultimate computer fonts, is quite endearing. It makes it look a bit like those vintage sans faces for use in very small sizes, like Doric, Sans No. 1, Spartan Classified, or Geometric 212.

Another very colourful cover can be found on Now Or Heaven by The Broken West. The design looks a bit like a poor man’s version of Radiohead’s In Rainbows. Thanks to the much more pronounced colours it’s nice eye candy, but the execution is a less strong. Whereas In Rainbows uses a non-descript grotesque, the band name on Now Or Heaven is set in Braggadocio, the lesser known cousin of Futura Black. And the album title is the regular Futura.

The cover image for the self-titled debut full-length album for British trio Friendly Fires is a very nice metaphor. “Friendly fire” is a rather cynical euphemism for “weapons fire, such as artillery or aerial bombardment, from one’s own forces; – used mostly when troops do damage or cause casualties among their own forces”. The image is surprisingly delicate in its brutality, as the bullet crashing the mirror symbolises hurting oneself. Equally delicate are the Art Deco-flavoured light sans caps of Neutraface.

The album cover for One Kind Favor by B.B. King may look very mainstream, yet it is a classy composition that suits the blues legend. The rich greys and deep shadows lend the photograph a beautiful intensity, and the text tastefully set in Agency caps is nicely integrated in the image.

Yuck! Slime & Reason by British rapper Roots Manuva has a gross cover image. Nevertheless I can see the humour in the weirdness. Plus it fits the atmosphere the artist conjures up in his music.

Once in a while you come across an image that manages to perfectly depict a concept, or in this case interpret an album title. I don’t really know why, but somewhere in the back of my head I feel that the photograph on House With No Home by folk band Horse Feathers is just… right. No need for type or any other additional element. Beautiful and captivating.

This is a tricky one. Is using a paper collage for T.I.’s new album called Paper Trail too obvious a solution? The album cover indeed is self-referential, but at what point does it cross the line and become too much so? I think this design stays on the right side of the divide. It is beautifully executed, with lots of attention to detail without being too slick. The little intentional “mistakes” in the interpretation of the portrait and the rich texture give the artwork an extra dimension, and even the fairly pedestrian typography in Basic Commercial can’t detract from the fact that this one’s a winner. Good job.

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9 Comments:

  1. kings of leon also released an alternate version of the above cover, for the uk release. you can find it here.

    it’s not near as good, though

    Posted by dusty on Nov. 13, 2008
  2. ok, “The understated centred type in a tech looking monospaced sans at the top is the perfect complement”….. but which type is??? somebody knows?

    je talking about the kings of leon cover!

    Posted by martin on Nov. 14, 2008
  3. Re: “The Hawk is Howling,” in the states, we sometime refer to warmongers or people otherwise given to advocating war as “war hawks.” The bald eagle is, of course, our national bird. Mixed metaphors, to be sure, but maybe even that is a subtle dig at us.

    Posted by Eric Hague on Nov. 14, 2008
  4. Yes, of course! Didn’t see that one coming. Quite clevah… :)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Nov. 14, 2008
  5. The font used for the Kings Of Leon cover is Überform, by Bionic Systems.

    Posted by Marre on Nov. 15, 2008
  6. Odd, I was just reading about the Tibor Kalman piece he did at the greasy spoon-esq diner, turned inexpensive french restaurant in ’86. Two quotes by him in the essay really stood out to me:

    In response to coming up with his signage that took 2 months – “If we weren’t trained designers, it would have taken less time”.

    And, “The difference between something really wonderful and really horrible is very close”.

    Posted by Erik on Nov. 17, 2008
  7. I was very much inspired by Tibor Kalman, maybe even more by what I read about him than by what I saw about his work.

    Posted by Yves Peters on Nov. 17, 2008
  8. The Nelly font is BD Billding by BuroDestruct.

    Posted by Sander on Nov. 17, 2008
  9. All right, this is great! We’ll nail them all in the end. Good one; Sander, I know of BuroDestruct but not enough of their fonts it seems. ;)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Nov. 18, 2008

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