Sometimes knowing the background of an album helps to make sense of its cover art. Previously known as Lil' Boosie, rapper Boosie BadAzz (I guess he grew up and started blowing people’s minds) is a native of Baton Rouge who received support from the late Chad “Pimp C” Butler of Underground Kingz (UGK) fame. In My Feelings (Goin' Thru It), the first of two self-released albums, is a preview of the upcoming official album Out My Feelings (In My Past). The concept album deals with Boosie Badazz’s recent kidney cancer diagnosis and the subsequent removal surgery. This explains the gritty blueish X-ray photo where next to the spine a red spot almost seems to pulsate, feverishly hot and malignant. The calligraphic red blackletter font Ecstacy by Jesus Barrientos mixes gangsta rap’s predilection for blackletter tattoos with graffiti, one of the four elements of hip hop. The style is reminiscent of Niels Shoe Meulman’s trademark calligraffiti that merges the systematic rigidity of the Gothic letter forms with the loose spontaneity of letters painted with a thick, splattery brush.
Equally dark is the concept behind Infinite Summer, the second solo album for Michael Lovett a.k.a. NZCA Lines, the singer/multi-instrumentalist who melds crisp synth pop with R&B. Taking inspiration from sci-fi greats such as Arthur C Clarke, JG Ballard, and Philip K Dick, and from musical influences Daft Punk, Prince, and even prog-era Genesis, the album plays off the idea of “a far-future Earth, where the sun has expanded to the size of a red giant and our extinction is imminent. Half of the world is covered by a city that clings to the past and embraces its destruction, while the other half is trying to rebuild, create and make something new. Yet, it’s good on both sides because it’s warm everywhere and people just party most of the time.” The fully painted artwork by Christopher Balaskas pays tribute to all the crazy rock covers that sparked his imagination as a kid. Even though the sans serif Arquitecta has a definite Art Deco flavour, it nicely blends into the ’70s/’80s science fiction illustration.
Remove all physical attributes from graffiti, and you get light writing. This spectacular technique involving a light source, long-exposure photography, and hyper-controlled movement in space has produced breathtaking art – one of my absolute favourites is French master Julien Breton a.k.a. Kaalam. Light writing found its way in the artwork for the debut full-length release for New York City-based pop singer-songwriter Rachel Platten. The album title Wildfire is visually transposed to the fairylike photograph by flooding it with golden light. While the artist’s name is set in an unidentified Art Deco sans serif, something between Kabel®, Bernard Gothic and ITC Avant Garde® Gothic, Wildfire seems to be written with a sparkler. The letter forms are not very refined, but have a youthful and carefree quality that fits the photography.
Villagers is a solo project for Irish singer/songwriter Conor J. O’Brien, who specializes in atmospheric, indie folk/chamber pop. Recorded live in one day, Where Have You Been All My Life? revisits tracks from his previous three albums in new, stripped-down arrangements. The dreamy artwork is an illustration by Peter Strain, nicely complemented with the classic Monotype Baskerville™.
Peter Strain | “Having been a huge fan of Villagers, I really wanted to try to find some way to work with them. Luckily I managed to get hold of the email address for Conor’s managers. I fired them through some work samples, to see if they would be interested in collaborating, and thankfully they were. Conor asked me to create some art, saying he’d decide what it might be used for after he saw it. So originally I wasn’t approached to make an album as such, but it eventually ended up becoming the new album artwork.”
How did you come up with the image?
Peter Strain | “This album features a number of songs off of Conor’s previous album Darling Arithmetic that deal with issues and themes of homophobia. With that in mind I wanted to create an uplifting image that conveyed overcoming injustice/adversity. In the illustration the main figure has been pushed to the very edge, yet still finds a way to rise up.”
“Just like with almost all my work, I drew out individual sections, then scanned them into the computer to digitally colour them and arrange the composition. Conor was great: he gave me total creative freedom. When I showed him the artwork he had a couple of tweaks, but nothing major. Also, he told me the image inspired the album title which is pretty damn cool!”
Skunk Anansie, the London-based alternative quartet who injected black feminist rage into heavy metal, have enjoyed a renaissance since they reunited in 2009, eight years after their split at the dawn of the new millennium. Their sixth full-length release Anarchytecture boasts striking, angular artwork in bold colours by talented Italian collage artist No Curves. Creating artwork exclusively with adhesive tape, his unique, geometric style is characterised by the total absence of curves (his artist alias may have been a clue). The experimental letters custom-created for the album cover by No Curves would fit perfectly in our Extra Bold: Extreme Fontlist. Their unorthodox shapes prove that the (il)legibility of single, isolated characters has little impact on the readability of the letters in context. Even though the ‘N’, ‘A’ or ‘E’ may not be recognisable as standalone letters, they pose no real problem when reading the album title. The only potentially problematic character is the ‘K’ which may need prior knowledge of the band name to be deciphered unambiguously. I only wish he planned out the lettering a little better, because the spacing is quite bad, especially in the album title. See for example the huge gaps in the ‘CH’ and ‘CT’ pairs.
Creativity seldom expresses itself in only one single field, as attests the superb collage Dewey Saunders composed for Malibu, the second full-length release for California rapper/singer-songwriter and producer Anderson .Paak who broke through on Dr. Dre’s 2015 album Compton. Besides being a visual artist, Saunders – also known by his stage name Dewey Decibel (and formerly Emcee Unless) – is a rapper in his own right based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Dewey Saunders | “At the time of the Malibu project I had already been working with Anderson for over a year on Venice and various other projects. Basically Creative Director Cory Gomberg proposed a ‘Modern Aquatic Psychedelia’, combining imagery from the photo shoot with photographer Erik Ian with my vintage-looking collage style. We were aiming for a surrealist point of view with an ever-present ‘element of discovery’ within the details of the design. The influences were Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles), Deceptive Bends (10cc) and the works by design group Hipgnosis. Cory shared his initial vision and I basically ran with the idea. The concept ideation was definitely a group effort – Anderson had a lot of great input and Cory and I were able to create a parallel narrative that goes along with the music. There are objects that are specific references as well as textures and colors that are inspired directly from the sounds. We wanted to represent the overall feeling of this LP as a classic album with a long-lasting impact, so we strove to create packaging that was reminiscent of our favorite ’60s and ’70s record covers. There is a dream-like quality to the cover, where you are looking at the middle of a wild scenario, and at the same time it retains a quiet cool balancing the bizarre imagery. I like to call the style ‘magical realism’.”
What technique did you use?
Dewey Saunders | “It is a digital version of my cut paper collage method. Basically, the images are sourced from my collection of printed matter – elements from obscure books, vintage magazines and rare ephemera were all stitched together in Photoshop. The sand on the beach has a Technicolor kaleidoscope feel due to the way I scanned in old Kodachrome photos in super high resolution so you can see the printed dot pattern. Because the collage clips were sourced from older printing methods, the cover has a warm analog feel to it, keeping in theme with the timeless essence of the music. Cory designed the stencil typography for the cover, which I sort of embedded into the cover under layers of texture and digital dust.”
“This was an amazing project, and I feel we accomplished what we set out to do, which is great. The fact that it was a group effort made the end product much stronger. Because I had already designed three single covers for Malibu with Creative Direction by Cory the bar was set pretty high. As far as execution it’s definitely my best work to date. The LP will contain a poster which is my favorite design of the whole project. Gotta cop the 12"!”
Confessions of a Romance Novelist is the debut full-length release for The Anchoress, stage name of spooky Welsh musician/songwriter Catherine Anne Davies, who also records under the nom de plume Catherine A.D. While Trajan™ is a regular guest in my ScreenFont series, it is a little less common to find it on album covers. The setting is customised in an inventive way, with a capital ‘H’ nested into the ‘C’ and a fun ‘SS’ capital ligature. This is a surprisingly appropriate typographic treatment: the design of Trajan is based on the letter carvings on the triumphal column in Rome, Italy, that commemorates Roman emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian Wars. Nested capitals and capital ligatures were omnipresent in carved letters from that period. They also feature in Gerard Unger’s fascinating doctoral research on Romanesque type in 11th and 12th century Europe that led to the creation of the stellar Alverata. Yet nested capitals and capital ligatures are quite rare in digital serif faces. The best-known examples are Matthew Carter’s Mantinia and Zuzana Licko’s Mrs Eaves, but other designers have experimented with them as well, like for example Dino dos Santos with Capsa and Jules, Guille Vizzari with Esmeralda, or Patrick Griffin with Jupiter.
The Ghosts of Highway 20 by roots music icon Lucinda Williams was inspired by the highway that runs through Florida and Texas. The tastefully textured and layered cover art was art directed and designed by Andy West. It combines vintage black-and-white photography with ghost-like handwritten lyrics and what looks like genuine distressed typewriter type. As not everybody has access to an actual typewriter, the next best thing is intricately detailed FF Trixie® HD.
The references for the typography on Adrian Younge’s Something About April II go back a little less far in time. The obsession with late-’60s/early-’70s music of the composer, arranger, producer, and multi-instrumentalist is mirrored in vintage erotic imagery and the archetypical heavy italic weight with swashes of Bookman. While ITC Bookman® has quite a few swashes and ligatures, Mark Simonson’s Bookmania is the most faithful and exhaustive digitisation with countless variants among the more than 3,000 glyphs per font, almost ten times as many as the ITC version. What version was used on this cover remains a mystery though, because neither version has these exact glyph shapes. The combination of the photo of two nude women embracing and the typeface reminded me of my research into porno chic typography for my Creative Mornings MSP talk two years ago. Letters Tell Us More Than Words was part of a series on Sex and inspired me to create a Fontlist with recurring classic typefaces found on posters for erotic films from that era.
This album’s predecessor – 2011’s Something About April – features Kalligraphia, another swashy display script. While it didn’t make Sexy Types: The Classics, it is included in my Psychedelia Fontlist.
We conclude with what probably is the most outrageous album sleeve I have ever seen. There couldn’t be a more radical contrast between the soft-porn atmosphere of the previous cover and the graphic image of Love Over Will, the latest full-length release by Alex Smoke, the classically trained experimental techno producer from Glasgow. No soft swashes here, only the cold geometry of Century Gothic™. The title is a play on “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will”, the central tenet of Thelema, created by famed occultist and ceremonial magician Aleister Crowley. The central thread of the album is “a statement on the times we are living in, but with an optimism relating to ways forward that are possible”. On the R&S website Alex Smoke explains how the cover art came to be.
Alex Smoke | “Finlay MacKay is an old friend and a high-end photographer. I gave him the album, the title and some background and gave him free rein to come up with the image. The album title relates to Thelema, Crowley’s religion for the new age, and Fin’s artwork has clear links to magical thinking. The use of nudity also has something to say of our attitudes towards it. Why should nudity and sexuality be shameful, whilst someone being graphically murdered is considered ok? The artwork is a response to the album but also chimes perfectly with the age we live in.”
Smoke and MacKay’s visualisation of the mainstream’s hypocrisy regarding the depiction of sexuality and violence, and their view on the current state of the world sends chills down the spine. Quite literally – the black-and-white photograph shows a female/male composite being, sitting naked on a jagged rock on a harsh, cold beach. The being – it is difficult to employ any other word for it – is in an obvious state of excitement, grimacing and frantically gesturing. It pushes the concept of androgyny to the extreme. Thighs spread wide, it flaunts an erect male member, firmly held in hand, juxtaposed with a vulva. Six flailing, blurry arms are attached to its torso like a grotesque caricature of an Indian deity. Its restlessly moving head is multiplied, appearing three times as a woman and once as man. The look on its faces leaves you wondering if it is experiencing coital bliss or unbearable agony. This rendition of the psyche is an incredibly bold statement, an image that stays with you and invites you to reflect on the human condition.
Trademark attribution notice Kabel is a trademark of Monotype Imaging Inc. registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. Baskerville and Century Gothic are trademarks of The Monotype Corporation and may be registered in certain jurisdictions. Avant Garde and ITC Bookman are trademarks of Monotype ITC Inc. registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and which may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. Trixie is a trademark of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. FF is a trademark of Monotype GmbH registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and may be registered in certain other jurisdictions. Trajan is a trademark of Adobe Systems Incorporated which may be registered in certain jurisdictions. All other trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners.
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