My Type of Music: Manic Street Preachers, Soundgarden, Tricky, Lil’ Wayne, Kings Of Leon
My oh my, I don’t know what happened, but this instalment of My Type of Music is quite late. Let’s dive in straight away and check what the music industry has cooked up for us that was released in October. And for the people who may have been surprised/shocked by my confession on Twitter that listening to Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger gave me a massive ***cough***bøner***cough*** – my taste in music is very varied. Actually, all over the place is more like it. But it sure as hell helps writing these babies.
The first album cover is a quite peculiar one. It is for Frankie Rose and the Outs, the self-titled debut album for the band of Frankie Rose, who previously was in several up-and-coming indie rock outfits, such as Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, and Crystal Stilts. A vintage looking engraving of an exotic plant is overlaid on a bright yellow square with white border, which has a grid of geometric figures knocked out of it. It could almost pass for an unusual ad for FontShop. The type is DIN 1451 Engschrift, improved and expanded by Albert-Jan Pool as FF DIN Condensed.
A half naked, young Tim Roth shoots his self-portrait* with a Polaroid camera on the cover of Postcards From a Young Man, the Dave Eringa-produced 10th studio album with a poppier sound by Welsh rock band Manic Street Preachers. In an interview with NME Radio’s Chris Blumer, singer James Dean Bradfield explained he was such a big fan of the Hollywood actor that he almost went into acting.
I’ve never met him, but he was kind of my hero when I was 15 and I wanted to be an actor [after seeing him onscreen].
Bassist Nicky Wire also argued that the band’s 10th studio album is quite nostalgic and Roth’s appearance on the cover tied in with their youth.
The fact he’s got a huge Polaroid camera is what gets me because I’m a huge Polaroid fan. The album is quite nostalgic and touchstones of our youth are kind of burnt into our memories and reflected in this album. I’d be really flattered if I was him because he looks amazing on the cover.
(*) Yeah, I know, technically he doesn’t, but that’s what the picture is meant to represent. Stop fussing and go along with it, you big baby.
The Big Deep, the Mike Birnbaum and Chris Bittner produced album by Long Island-based rock band The Sleeping has an oddly humoristic sleeve. The bizarre collection of items in the suitcase are like a skewed interpretation of a 1950s perfect traveller’s kit. Reinforcing the vintage atmosphere is the use of ITC Berkeley Old Style for the band name, and an as-of-yet unidentified squarish slab serif for the album title.
Another peculiar album cover is the one for A Swedish Love Story by Canadian composer, violinist, keyboardist, and vocalist Owen Pallett. It looks like a page from an art catalogue, with all images treated as blue and yellow duotones. I am having some trouble identifying the geometric sans, which seems to have a rather narrow “w”, and a strictly rectangular comma.
Iconic British art director and graphic designer Peter Saville designed the bold geometric cover art for History of Modern, the first album in 14 years for the Liverpool, England, electronic duo Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. The design relates to the previous album covers that Saville collaborated on with the band – all of OMD’s singles sleeves from Electricity to Never Turn Away, including all of the album sleeves in between those singles: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (1980), Organisation (1980), Architecture & Morality (1981), Dazzle Ships (1983), and Junk Culture (1984). Those designs can be found on Sleeves designed by Peter Saville, a fantastic resource listing all of them in chronological order.
Saville is known for his love for classic typefaces, and his choice of Futura on this sleeve is no exception. I was also struck by the stark geometric monogram for OMD, a clever and beautiful design.
On the cover for Forget, the debut solo album for Brooklyn-based George Lewis Jr. a.k.a. Twin Shadow, a sepia transparent portrait of the artist is overlaid on a monochrome image of sunlight playing on water. It nicely reflects – pun intended – the warm, dreamy 80s pop music on the record. The artist’s name set in a delicate italicised Bodoni provides the finishing touch.
I once remarked in a three year old instalment of My Type of Music (then still on Unzipped) that Travis is one of the few bands that successfully adopted a kind of graphic identity for their album covers – images with subdued, earthy colours which have the band members quite small, almost lost in the scenery. Their “corporate typography” prescribed flush left all caps typography in ITC Avant Garde Gothic with the odd Alternate.
For Wreckorder, Fran Healy‘s debut solo album on which Paul McCartney and Neko Case appear as guest performers, the Travis frontman purposely shies away from this recognisable visual signature. Unfortunately the close-up portrait with spaced out all caps Interstate looks bland and unengaging in comparison.
The very simple approach to The Game of Monogamy, the debut solo album for Tim Kasher, the lead singer of Cursive and The Good Life, pays off. The flat baby blue background contrasts very well with the lone pine green Monopoly house – a witty pun on the album title. Hand rendering the formal copperplate script shifts the atmosphere from high brow to low brow, connecting the overall image to the world of crafts. The curly bit between the two lines of text instantly made me think of the late, great Frank Heine‘s Dalliance, a surprisingly versatile ornamental display face with fantorgasmatic flourishes.
Just as simple is the artwork for Doo-Wops and Hooligans, an innovative mix of tribal beats, reggae, and club-worthy jams that show Hawaiian-born producer Bruno Mars’ range as a songwriter. The slightly surreal drawing depicts a tiny silhouette walking on the winding exhaust trail of a rocket disappearing in the distance, as if it were a road. In concordance with the illustration style and texture the artist’s name is set in pulp-style casual caps, with an unassuming line of all lowercase Helvetica underneath.
Wolves seem to be popular on album sleeves lately. After Grinderman’s superb photograph for their second album discussed last month, Telephantasm, the latest greatest-hits collection for Seattle band Soundgarden features a lupine presence as well. While this cover lacks the visceral, palpable danger of Grinderman’s, the weird colour scheme of the collage background makes up for it in pure alienation.
The typography of the band name harkens back to the cover of Badmotorfinger, arguably one of their best albums, a “tumultous, pummelling titan equal parts Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, with a psychedelic metal tinge”. The compact sans with a very high waist looks like a cross between Impact and Compacta, skilfully stretched vertically by shifting select node points. A similar design that I have always liked very much is the classic Aurora, also favoured by music design icon Reid Miles. I honestly think it would have looked better in this cover – check the sample I made. Its bullet-shaped capital “A” and Art Deco capital “N” provide a much better alternative for the diagonals that have a tendency to disturb those very tall shapes. Hans Reichel, designer of the insanely successful FF Dax, once did a more rounded and open interpretation of this style of skyline sans faces with FF Schmalhans. Disappointingly the album title is set in the tired Futura.
As I Call You Down – the debut release for Fistful of Mercy, the supergroup including Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur, and George Harrison‘s son, Dhani Harrison – has a very stylish album cover. The three musicians in the grainy black-and-white photograph were cleverly made to interact with big Gotham Thin letters.
Uh oh, I think there must have been a misunderstanding regarding the artwork for Easy Wonderful, Guster’s latest release which builds around its trademark sound with melodious guitars, sweeping vocal harmonies, and hook-filled songs. Instead of properly executing the design, they photographed the rough proposal done with markers, and printed that on the cover. Or was it purposely intended to look this amateurish and crappy? I mean, I definitely like hand crafted designs, but this? Yikes…
It’s business as usual on Bullets in the Gun, veteran country star Toby Keith’s album filled with everything from breakup ballads to twangy outlaw tales: cowboy hats, guns, a skull, a playing card, and Wild West-style wood type. The image looks way too slick though, way too commercial (in the negative sense), with an “airbrushed” portrait of the singer. And what’s that in the smooth blue gradient background? Fireworks? What a way to maintain one’s street credibility.
The typeface is John Downer‘s Ironmonger, a faceted slab serif with a three-dimensional variant. This design has absolutely no curves, and is inspired by lettering painted on masonry walls and fascia signs of warehouses and factories in older American cities. It’s interesting to see that the hairline shadow is the kind I recommend not to use in my Festive Engraved Type tutorial.
Bubblegum, Clinic’s sixth album is inventive and dreamy, shifting in sounds using strings, harpsichords, and dulcimers to combine its psychedelic lullabies with folk rock. The beautiful artwork gracing its cover is a sixties-inspired collage channelling vintage jazz record sleeves. Paper-cut letters are nicely integrated in the colourful cubist composition. Like Craig Eliason – designer of the remarkable Ambicase typeface – remarks in the comments below, this collage brings to mind not only Matisse and Picasso, but maybe even more American painter Stuart Davis.
More hand crafted letters, here with dimensional effect, on Tiger Suit, a contemporary, upbeat album combining country-tinged blues with bits of folk-rock and dance textures by Scottish singer-songwriter KT Tunstall. The cover as a whole is not very successful: the different elements don’t gel. Their size and position look quite random, and the garish hand-lettered artist name is very poor.
Given the tripped out, psychedelic avant garde hiphop he makes, you can’t hold it against Tricky that he seems obsessed with smoking “recreational herbal cigarettes” on his album sleeves. Much like on Blowback, the highly acclaimed musician and producer is literally clouded in smoke on the cover image for Mixed Race, his genre-crossing album mixing reggae, rap, jazz and rock. I find the typography on the new album less good. Blowback was simple yet inventive, with a great interplay between white and grey Basic Commercial capitals and the flipped “BACK”. On the new cover the serif face looks like a hacked “borrowed” commercial face with some node points shifted and removed, and I have no real interest in trying to find out what the sans underneath is.
I get the whole “threatening crowd” angle, but the cover painting for For We Are Many, the metal band All That Remains’ new studio album produced by Adam Dutkiewicz, doesn’t really do it for me. The band name most probably is a customised version of Friz Quadrata which was used at the bottom.
This is really fun. On the cover image for To Dreamers by Kelley Stoltz, the San Francisco-based singer-songwriter writes the album title with light. As the photograph is both long exposure and multi exposure, three ghost images of Stoltz can be seen behind the letters. This creates a wonderful dream-like atmosphere, an apt visualisation of the album title. The geometric slab serif used for the artist’s name is Rockwell…
… and the tile pattern on the floor lets me dovetail nicely into the gorgeous album sleeve for Foreign Landscapes, the follow-up to the German artist Hauschka‘s 2008 album Ferndorf recorded with San Francisco’s Magik*Magik Orchestra. The artwork was created by Italian illustrator, engraver and painter Iker Spozio, who primarily works for the music business. All his work is handmade using traditional techniques and without computer. The gallery on his website holds a treasure of wonderful posters, record art, and other miscellaneous projects.
The choice of type is perfect. The architectural shapes in the painting are nicely echoed in the geometric constructed display face Bifur. This typeface was originally designed by Adolphe Mouron Cassandre in 1929 as a single font, and also as a two-part, two-colour font. The P22/IHOF digitisation adds a lower case while keeping the upper case and all original characters true to the original design. This allows for multi-coloured typesetting, thanks to the various components of the letters being in separate fonts.
On the cover for The Grand Theatre, Vol. 1, the first volume of songs that were originally planned as part of a double album from Old 97′s, we find the band led by Rhett Miller in an opulent Art Deco theatre. While the type in itself looks good, it is not that well integrated in the image. The band logo set in Boston Truckstyle is quite nice and well positioned. However the arc described by the album title clashes a bit with the architecture of the underlying architecture, and I am not so enthusiastic about the fake small caps applied to Clarendon. Plus I would have left the initial “T” small to achieve a more balanced setting. The line at the very bottom does a good job at attracting the attention to the band on stage.
Now this is what I call a thundering silence. The vastness and emptiness of the moonscape against the pitch black sky on Recitation, a “brutally romantic record” (dixit NME) for the Japanese hardcore rock quintet Envy, make for an impressive visual. Having the type really small, centred, all lowercase serif with one word above the horizon and one below, makes it even more powerful, as the void around it irrevocably sucks your attention to that central area. Sometimes whispering is the loudest form of communication. The distressed serif face is not unlike Slab American, or Old Style American.
I really like the collage on It’s What I’m Thinking, Part One: Photographing Snowflakes, the first of a planned trilogy of albums by Damon Gough a.k.a. Badly Drawn Boy. And although I don’t really agree with the choice of Helvetica I have to admit the type is particularly well set. The black artist name and white album title interlock in a most interesting way, with the positive/negative motif reprised in the subtitle underneath.
Longtime Orb visuals designer Simon Ghahary has created the artwork for Metallic Spheres, the album on which Pink Floyd‘s David Gilmour joins electronic duo The Orb. The organic/mechanic shiny white shape continues and expands on The Orb’s spatial art style. Eurostile is a bit too obvious a choice for the type.
TV/EP, a collection of television theme song covers by Florida ska punk band Less Than Jake sports a fitting illustration on its sleeve. In this spoof on the Looney Tunes opening titles the bouncy sans caps are somewhat akin to Alphabet Soup Tilt. See also Kobalt, Fumo Dropshadow, and MVB Grenadine for that wobbly effect.
The album cover for Post Electric Blues, a lively and loud album with a blend of blaring guitar rock and less flamboyant folk tunes by Scottish rock band Idlewild reminds me of some grunge/alternate rock album sleeves of the mid-nineties. The colours on this one are mesmerising, from the orange, pink, lilac and everything in between of the photograph to the subtle shifts in hue of the compact sans typography.
I found two cover designs for Belle and Sebastian Write About Love, an album featuring their trademark down-tempo ballads and jangly guitar rock, which marks the return of Glaswegian indie pop band Belle & Sebastian after a four-year hiatus. Both dreamy 60s tinged images interpret the album title in a different way. The top girl holds a ballpoint pen in her hand, staring out the window. The typeface used is the Light weight of Cooper. In the bottom cover the girl writes on the wall with chalk.
Contrary to the Guster disaster the hand crafted artwork for Swanlights, an album which sees Antony and the Johnsons infuse atmospheric intonations, innovation, and heartfelt emotion into their experimental music, looks gorgeous. Straddling both poetry and cruelty, this eerie collage is sure to make most viewers uncomfortable. The naive, almost childish hand lettering fits the artwork to a tee.
The Southern sounds, spacey themes, and smooth rhymes of I Am Not a Human Being marks the return from incarceration by rapper Lil’ Wayne. He has some fun with ITC Avant Garde Gothic Alternates, yet does something unsanitary with the “Y”. Interestingly the album title below is not another weight of Avant Garde, but DIN 30640 Neuzeit Grotesk. As it is almost identical but not quite, I’d either stick to the same type family, or pick something a little more different.
The title of The Age of Adz, an album of experimental electro-orchestral folk pop songs by Detroit-born indie rocker Sufjan Stevens, is a shout-out to Royal Robertson. This schizophrenic 20th century American artist (1930–1997) depicted aliens, monsters, and scenes from the Last Judgement. Stevens featured one of Robertson’s drawing on the cover, and incorporated more drawings in the album artwork. The typeface is very similar in style to Macbeth. Maybe it’s one of the pre-digital clones, or a version with alternates that didn’t make it to this digitisation. A sans display face in the same vein is Photo-Lettering‘s Fiorello Condensed.
There’s something about simple News Gothic/Trade Gothic/Alternate Gothic on reissues of classic albums that works so well. See for example the album cover for The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964, the ninth volume from Bob Dylan‘s Bootleg Series containing the 47 songs recorded between 1962 and 1964. I am not very happy with the way Bob Dylan’s name was handled, and the composition with regards to the position on the photograph could have been better, but those greyish blue capitals and white numbers are mighty pretty.
It’s back to the seventies on the self-titled debut full-length album released by Brendan Angelides as Eskmo. The album sleeve looks a bit like one of those dreamy hyper-realistic airbrush paintings. I really like the watery, smudged colours, and the rays of light inundating the image. Barely visible, the album title/artist’s name is set in Eduardo Manso‘s squarish sans serif Geogrotesque, knocked out of the image.
Somewhat unrelated, musically speaking Eskmo’s damaged electronica is the revelation of this month for me personally. Ninja Tune is one hell of a label, and right now I am practically living with Ninja Tune XX, their superb 20th anniversary compilations.
The artwork for The Union, a duet album of original songs by the two talented singer-songwriters and accomplished pianists Elton John and Leon Russell, almost looks like an antique oil painting. Elton John’s attire is strangely inconspicuous. The condensed type at the top is one of the 27 weights and widths of Bureau Grot, David Berlow‘s homage to the quintessential English nineteenth-century grotesque.
Looks like the old geezers sure like them period faces. After Richard Thompson two months ago, now it’s Rod Stewart‘s turn to adopt Parisian. It is featured on the cover for Fly Me to the Moon: The Great American Songbook, Vol. 5, the fifth collection continuing his series of versions of classic pop standards. Whereas Richard Thompson somehow managed to make the Art Deco face work, here it’s merely a standard solution for a sub-standard album. And boy does he look like a wax mannequin in this photograph. I am fairly confident the handwriting truly is handwritten.
The question, of course, is whether the cover for The Incredible Machine by country music duo Sugarland, an album influenced by the “steampunk movement” in science fiction, is a typographic illustration or illustrative typography. In synch with the album concept, the letters of the band name are made up of engravings of assorted machinery. The Victorian decorative type underneath perfectly fits the time period. Mike Freiman of the Typophile Type Identification Board identified it as George Williams’ free font Monopol, which according to Nick Curtis is similar to Elandkay, from the 1884 Cleveland Type Foundry catalogue. Tamas Ferencz added that it can also be found in the QBF filmtype catalogue as Noland.
I fear I may tick off a good friend of mine with my next remark, but I am not one to lie or embellish. I have as little interest in the album sleeve for Sale el Sol, the Spanish-language album which sees international pop star Shakira return to her roots, as I have in her music. All type set in the seminal FF Justlefthand. With drop shadow added. I preferred Shakira when she still adorned her album covers with artefacts that seemed to come straight out of a porn movie for aliens.
Released two years after the international breakthrough hit Only by the Night, Come Around Sundown continues Kings of Leon‘s journey into the upper echelon of mainstream pop/rock, with super-sized choruses and guitar heroics thrown in for good measure. Sometimes it suffices that an album cover does exactly what it says on the tin, hence the sun setting behind a couple of idyllic palm trees. Art Nouveau capitals with a hairline shadow enhance the vintage feel implied by the monochrome grainy image quality. The border around the photograph brings the whole design home.
An identical modus operandi – a literal visualisation of the album title, an identical colour scheme – warm yellow-orange-red-brown, yet an entirely different image: the contrast couldn’t be more extreme. From summer holiday to fiery disaster, the image of a blazing house used for The Fire, the first album with new guitarist Zach Roach by hard rock quintet Senses Fail, is just what the doctor ordered. This sleeve even takes it one step further – the worn edges and the tears give the photograph a smouldering quality, as if it was barely rescued from the flames. The album title is set in a compact sans, probably Alternate Gothic No. 1, the formal script really is too small to identify (plus two letters is not much), and the bloated distressed sans caps fit perfectly.
Somebody needs to have his booty booted for the farce that is the album cover for Living Proof, the latest solo album by blues guitarist Buddy Guy, featuring Carlos Santana and B.B. King as guests. Only after seeing the “750 ml” in the bottom left corner did I realise this is supposed to mimic the label on a bottle of whiskey or something similar. Well, I suggest the person responsible for this first learns to actually look at, and thoroughly analyse a sufficient amount of reference material before trying something like this. It is not really convincing.
Furthermore adding strokes to type turns the perfectly drawn characters of Caslon and ITC Edwardian Script into bloated atrocities. The minuscule script at the top is also ITC Edwardian Script; the type at the bottom a simple Bodoni.
Actually, I think now is as good a time as any to prove that I don’t just talk the talk, but also can walk the walk. To promote the release of Troubleman‘s first album we decided to deliver the promo copies with beer bottles sporting a fake label custom designed by yours truly. Our own record label is called Beer Club – rehearsing is an excuse to drink beer with buddies, and the first rule of Beer Club is: you do not talk about Beer Club. The second rule of Beer Club is: you do not talk about Beer Club! I decided to spoof the label of a well known brand – can someone tell me which one?
I chose Barry Deck‘s Truth for the Beer Club logo, cutting away bits and pieces to make it reference a certain cult film. Adding a hairline shadow brought the design back to the realm of beer and breweries. The rest of the design was set with some more Truth, one of my favourite space-saving sans serifs Solex, and Peter Bruhn‘s lovely Mayo, whose many icons provided me with a wealth of material to work with. I hope this design demonstrates that if you research your source material well, break it down into its core elements, and most of all understand how it works and what exactly makes it click, one can design a convincing and instantly recognisable parody using entirely unrelated typography and iconography.
Olympia began as a Roxy Music reunion album but turned into Bryan Ferry‘s first album of new material in eight years. Yet the cover for the album nicely reconnects with the heydays of the British art rock group. A sophisticated, luscious model lies on a pristine white silk sheet, gazing into the viewer’s eyes. I can’t help but find this kind of 70s soft core a little cheesy, but considering the constant regurgitation of fashions and styles it aged surprisingly well. All caps Gill Sans adds a smidgen of Englishness to the image.
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