Saturday, July 16, 2011

Album Cover Art: Kagrra, - Miyako

Kagrra,: Urei


Kagrra, (yeah, with the comma as part of the band name) was a J-rock band whose style deliberately blended classical Japanese traditions (both musical and sartorial) with rock. Sadly, they just disbanded a few months ago, but they were pretty decent for the ten years that they lasted. During that time they released nearly a dozen albums (depending on how you count), a slew of mini-albums, a raft of maxi-singles, a bunch of concert DVDs, and some stray singles.

In Japan, artists don't merely release one album or one single; there are commonly multiple versions: a regular version, a limited version, perhaps an 'A" version, and 'B' version. They've all got the same single, but each variation has a different second or third song, some may have a version with the vocals stripped out for karaoke, and the limited version will have a DVD with the promotional video of the song. And a diehard band fan will buy each version (and each purchase counts separately to determine the Oricon chart rating, which is how it evolved into such a racket).

Can you tell where I'm going with this? Each version also has a unique cover.

Kagrra, was unique in that the group had a long-term relationship with one artist, Fukaya Yuichiro, who created most (but not all) of their artwork. His style similarly merged classical Japanese themes with a modern feel to them. Check out more of his artwork for Kagrra, on his Facebook page. He would create a series of related pictures for the various incarnations of a release, often with a bit of subtle humor to them. Notice some of the paired images of the regular and limited covers in the Facebook examples (and he doesn't have all of his stuff here, so Google 'images' can find more for you).

The artwork above shows the expanded cover for the 2004 album, Miyako. The right side of the artwork was featured on the front of the CD, showing only the kanji and a bit of hair and sleeve, and the left wrapped around to the back cover. Pretty, ne?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Album Cover Art: Okkervil River - The Stage Names and The Stand Ins

Okkervil River: You Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man


Okkervil River: Calling and Not Calling My Ex


Okkervil River is an indie rock band mostly based out of Austin, Texas. The cover art for all six of their full-length releases and some of their EPs has been done by artist William Schaff. Many other bands use the same artists for all of the their album art (Steve Earle has featured Tony Fitzpatrick's artwork since 1995, and the Drive-By Truckers featuring Wes Freed's art since their 2001 opus Southern Rock Opera. What I particularly love about Schaff's artwork for Okkervil River's 2007 release The Stage Names and 2008 album The Stands Ins is that first, they were both done entirely in embroidery. Second, the album covers were designed to go together (to get a closer look, see Schaff's Flickr album art page). But fans didn't realize this when The Stage Names came out in 2007. We fans just thought is was another cool William Schaff abstract creation. The album itself is a loose concept album of the perils of being an entertainer, be it as a touring musician, a poet, or even a porn star. The Stage Names and The Stand Ins were recorded at the same time, and the music on The Stand Ins mostly doesn't fit The Stage Names theme. But how delighted were we fans when The Stand Ins was released a year later and we found out that the hand reaching out of the gerpy water
was actually that of a drunken skeleton-man, reaching out for help? Wonderful concept, and a very unique design.

Guest post by Rock Star Aimz of My Aimz is True

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Album Cover Art: Bee Gees - Odessa

Bee Gees: Suddenly


   On the heels of their massive number one UK hit "I've Gotta Get A Message To You", The Bee Gees were ready to make their big statement album. That statement was the 1969 album Odessa, two lps wrapped up in a red velvety flocked cover with gold lettering.
"I think Odessa was an attempt to do a rock opera," Barry Gibb told The Guardian's Alexis Petridis in 2009. "It sort of turned itself into a bit of a mish mash, but our intentions were honourable. I think we wanted to do something that could be put on stage. There was supposed to be a thematic thing going on," he added, "but it just kind of wandered off into the distance."
  While it was nice to own an album cover you could actually pet, the flock reportedly caused a major allergic reaction among some of the workers during production.
   The reissues all came out in boring old cardboard sleeves.

Album Cover Art: Ramones - Ramones

For their '76 debut, the Ramones were originally looking for an album cover that would be somewhat similar to Meet The Beatles!, but that didn't really pan out. Which proved to be a streak of luck really, as da brudders then decided to use a Roberta Bayley photograph which had already been published in Punk magazine. One look at it and you knew you were dealing with radically different stuff here. What you saw was what you got: Bayley had managed to epitomize the no-frills aesthetic of punk rock in just one shot. Four street kids from New York City - Johnny, Tommy, Joey and Dee Dee, from left to right - in stark black & white, standing in front of a dirty brick wall looking bored but confident in their trademark leathers, jeans, and sneakers. And boy, did they look cool... Anyone still wear that uniform on a regular basis? Thought so.

Album Cover Art: Grateful Dead - (Skull and Roses)

Grateful Dead: Playing in the Band


How often does the album cover art give an album its name? This one came out as simply Grateful Dead in 1971. But the band’s debut album from four years earlier was also called Grateful Dead. The title Live Dead was also already in use. So, over the years, this one has come to be known as Skull and Roses. I put that in parentheses above, because it is not the official title of the album. The skeleton was actually drawn for something else entirely, a 1913 edition of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, That illustration was by Edmund Joseph Sullivan. Alton Kelly and Stanley Mouse added the lettering and color, to create the image seen above. The skeleton with roses became a visual motif that was identified with the Grateful Dead for the next 25 years. Playing in the Band is the song I always hear in my head when I think of this album. The singer on this one was Bob Weir.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Album Cover Art: Joseph Arthur - Come to Where I'm From

Joseph Arthur: Chemical


When I first read about this week's topic, my mind went straight to musical artists who are also visual artists.  I'm a sucker for artists who create their own cover art.

Akron, Ohio's Joseph Arthur has been responsible for the artwork on several of his releases, but his first foray into cover art design was with his 2000 release Come to Where I'm From.  While the image itself doesn't really do much to present a theme for the record or add any meaning to any of the songs, it does do a nice job of establishing the tone of the album.  Arthur's artwork, like his songwriting and arrangements, can often be described as abstract.  Few things say abstract quite like a stylized human head with scarabs for eyes.

Musically, this album ranks as one of the most important of Arthur's career (although 2004's Our Shadows Will Remain will always be my favorite) due to the exposure he gained from its breakthrough track "In the Sun."  It's also interesting due to the fact that it was produced by the Americana Midas, T-Bone Burnett.  It's an odd collaboration that finds Burnett expanding his typical palate while also reigning in some of Arthur's more adventurous eccentricities.

Since many of you may already know "In the Sun," I'm going with another track from the record here.  For more of Arthur's artwork, check out his Museum of Modern Arthur.

Album Cover Art: Donald Fagen - The Nightfly

Donald Fagen: The Goodbye Look


This week’s theme is right up my alley: I’ve run a batch of articles on some of my favourite album cover art over at my joint. And for your benefit (or really mine, for I am crazy busy at the moment), here’s a recycled post from that series, which also features the cover in Geoviki’s post which precedes this one.

Released in 1982 and Donald Fagen’s first solo outing, The Nightfly album evoked the sounds and spirit of the 1950s and early ’60s, without sacrifice of Steely Dan’s jazz-tinged rock. The cover concept clearly seeks to communicate the content, and it is simply executed with Fagen as an old-school radio DJ burning the nightshift with the help of Chesterfield Kings and copious amounts of black coffee. He is the sardonic DJ Lester, still unfettered by playlists, on the independent Baton Rouge station WJAZ who speaks to us, through the RCA 77 DX mic, on the title track.

Look long enough at the cover and listen to the title track, and armed with clues you may begin constructing your own backstory. In front of him is a Sonny Rollins album, so we know DJ Lester specialises in jazz and, as the lyrics advise, communication. What else does he play when he is not condescending his listeners with cynical tales about the absence of love in his life (which explains his nightfly existence)? Surely some more jazz, Coltrane or Parker perhaps. I like to think he branches out into some R&B to lighten up the pre-dawn darkness of 4:10am.

There is a rich irony in the cover’s relationship to the music it seeks to illustrate. Where the graveyard shift DJ is spinning crackling vinyl platters and the lyrics recall the Cold War (just on New Frontier, there are references to The Reds and nuclear shelters, Dave Brubeck as the latest thing, the young Tuesday Weld), The Nightfly was one of the first albums to be recorded entirely digitally. Issued before we were dealt the cursed dominance of the compact disc, this is a quintessential CD album whose charms are not, unlike much other music, boosted by the warmth of vinyl.

The photo itself, by James Hamilton, was shot in Fagen’s New York apartment, in which the radio studio (presumably just the two walls we can see) was temporarily built. Fagen might have assumed the collective persona of the DJs he listened to when he was much younger, but he cannot be accused of method acting: the photo had to be reshot when an engineer in the recording studio pointed out that the microphone had been incorrectly positioned…

Monday, July 11, 2011

Album Cover Art: Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass – Whipped Cream and Other Delights

Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass: Whipped Cream

[purchase] – but if you can't find it at a yard sale, you're not trying.

You knew someone would have to post this one.

My family owned an actual stereo in 1965 with approximately seven LPs to play upon it. Like nearly all of America, we had this very popular album in our meager collection. I remember staring at the cover in fascination, trying to work out how they got all that whipped cream all over that lady (I found out later, it's shaving cream), and why they didn't manage to completely cover up her boob while they were at it…Okay, I was 9, and a girl, so that's almost as far as my imagination went. Any other thoughts I'll just keep to myself.

The title track was written by New Orleans musician/producer/writer Allen Toussaint. If you're old enough, you might remember it from The Dating Game, when the bachelorettes were introduced.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Independence => Album Cover Art: The Who - Tommy

The Who: I‘m Free


If you are familiar with the story of Tommy, bear with me for just a moment. Tommy is a rock opera, complete with recurring musical motifs and an overture and “underture”. The story tells of a boy who escapes from the horrors of his life by retreating into himself, giving up his hearing, sight, and power of speech. This leaves Tommy in an inner world with no visual component. Nevertheless, it fell to artist Mike McInnerney to create a visual representation of this for the album cover. Being 1969, the album was released on vinyl on two records, with an extensive booklet with lyrics and notes. So the album cover would have two fold outs, and the whole thing measured 36 inches wide by 12 inches high. McInnerney came through with the image you see above. The large alien shape represents both the otherness of Tommy’s world and the fact of his imprisonment. But the fist shows that Tommy will eventually break free and rejoin the world. I’m Free is the song that describes that breakthrough. It seemed to me to be the perfect choice as a transition from our Independence theme.