Judging albums by their cover

Ween: Shinola Volume 1

I loves me some Ween, I think they are an incredibly underrated ensemble who have unfortunately been labeled by the ‘novelty song curse’ with ‘Push The Little Daisies’. I love their try everything and see what sticks attitude to producing music, it quite often results in some amazing and unexpected turns in their songs. That being said, I can’t say I’m obsessive about them to the point that I want to listen to everything they have produced, so I should have listened to what my instincts told me upon first seeing the cover for Shinola.

The album is a compilation of B-sides and out-takes which probably should have stayed there. There is the occasional bright spot with tracks like the 70s-like-rocker ‘Gabrielle’ and I couldn’t help but be amused by a song with a title like ‘Big Fat Fuck’, but too much of the album coalesces into a repetitive dirge, it passes the point where playful experimentation just turns into annoying dribble.

I should have been warned by the cover. I have felt a sense of unease with Ween covers before, especially with the uncomfortable title vs imagery of ‘Chocolate & Cheese’, but to me, ‘Shinola’ is just about unbearable to look at. It’s not that the cover is poorly done, it’s just the combination of the sewage colour scheme and ‘head being eaten by maggots’ imagery that puts me off – it just looks like it has been dipped in a public toilet bowl.

So well done to Ween I guess for producing a cover, for me at least, that properly reflected the content.

Revenge of the Graduate Portfolio 1

Normal service resumes after my big move!

The first piece in my graduate portfolio and probably the best is this set of album, cassette and CD for Greg William’s album ‘Louder Than Words’. Not only was this the first album cover I designed, it was also my first professional, paid design job. The project was actually begun in the break between my third and fourth year. I had been a frequent attendee at Greg’s live gigs around town after catching him performing in the University bar one evening – at some of his midweek, late night gigs, sometimes I was the only attendee (I was a student, I could afford to be out to all hours in the middle of the week 🙂 I’d struck up a friendship with him and had previously used one of his songs for inspiration in a third year photography assignment. Greg wanted this album to have a ‘dramatic presence’ and figured that my enthusiasm for his music was a good enough reason as any to get me to do the design.

Among other firsts, this record was the first and only vinyl album I have actually ever designed, in fact it was probably one of the last vinyl albums to be produced locally. It was also designed completely ‘sans computer’, difficult to comprehend, I know, but no pixel touched this design – in fact it was designed sans typesetting or even letraset. This was my first experience in ‘pasting up’the artwork for print. Pasteboard, rubber cement, blue pencil, tracing paper overlay – I feel so old. I did have limited access to typesetting and computers at the time – I just wasn’t really that comfortable with either, especially on my first ‘professional job’.

I took my inspiration for the design from the title of the album ‘Louder Than Words’ – in that ‘actions speak louder than words’ as the saying goes. I used broad simple brush strokes in a Matisse inspired design, to outline an impression of Greg playing his ever present acoustic guitar. This was blown up on a photocopier so the image bled off the cover becoming even more abstract. All of the type including liner notes and lyrics were handwritten, and blown up as required on the photocopier again. I used a palette of straight cyan, yellow and black (overprinted with cyan) to emphasise the ‘bold action’ – also I was confident in the result I would get in printing these colours.

Greg and the record company were really pleased with the results – quite a few reviews for the album even mentioned the design – I was pleased than my first printed work came out as well as it did. Generally I got a good response from my lecturers at the time. Some of their comments were that they thought I could have been a bit looser and more free with my paint-stroke marks, and looking back, my handwritten type falls uneasily between being deliberately interesting an naive and just plain bad handwriting. It also doesn’t translate as well as it could have to the smaller CD format – the CD was a last minute inclusion and required extra text to be added to the cover which distracts a lot from it, it was a new medium and I was under the pump to get it out, I don’t think I even owned a CD at the time.

Out of all the pieces in my fourth year portfolio, this piece is probably the most successful, not just in the final outcome, but for the learning curve it took me on to produce it – from working with an actual client, to preparing final art, even negotiating a final fee. It’s had it’s share of accolades, appearing in the books ‘Design Downunder’ and ‘The World’s Best Music Design’. I even still trot it out on occasion when I’m specifically showing my portfolio to music clients, I’m still doing album cover work for Greg as well 🙂

Adelaide Art Directors Awards

Congratulations to all the design winners at the Adelaide Art Directors Advertising & Design Awards held on Monday night. It should probably be the Design & advertising awards, the quality of the design submissions definitely trumping those of the advertsing contingent. Big winners on the night were Matt Remphrey from Parallax, Black Squid, IKD and Detour. Martins even picked up a couple of nominations for Chris Cooper’s great work on the Paxton Wineries labels. A great night was had by all attended from the looks of the sad and sorry hungover faces that stumbled into work the next morning. A pdf of the award book can be downloaded here.