This month’s pick of beautiful, unusual and intriguing album art includes a glassine box set for Tom the Lion, typographic experiments with concrete and treacle, and an ominous looking picture disc for rap duo JJ Doom.
Ghost Maps – The Ocean From the River
First up, though, is David Smith and Oran Day at Atelier David Smith’s recent work for Dublin band Ghost Maps’ album, The Ocean From the River.
The artwork is inspired by geographic and cartographic references in the band’s name and album title, says Day. Discs are labelled north and south, and the inner sleeve features a ‘ghostly’ image partially revealed by a die cut outer sleeve finished in a spot UV varnish.
“Cartographic motifs have featured in a number of iconic LP sleeve designs – Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures and Brian Eno’s Ambient 1-4 series being just two examples,” he says.
“Part of the challenge for us as designers was to ensure that this familiar (at times hackneyed) graphic language did not undermine or overpower the character of the music on the record, while endeavouring to produce an original and distinctive design,” adds Day. “The dense, layered cartographic elements are contrasted with confident use of ‘white space’ and restrained typography,” he says.
Label: Casino Gravity
WoWos – WoWos
Dublin studio Conor & David’s work for WoWos, an Irish/Danish pop group formed by musician Sean Carpios is also inspired by the name of the self-titled album.
“The name WoWos comes from the sound of Sean singing,” says Conor & David co-founder David Wall. “From the opening of the first track, Milton (a tribute to Milton Glaser), the voice is used as an instrument, with words seldom used throughout. The shape of a mouth singing ‘wo’ makes up the illustration on the cover, with references to constellations and star systems extending to the layout of the vinyl labels,” he explains.
The reverse features a short text by Robert Stillman on the formlessness of music, and type has been distorted to provide a visual illustration of Stillman’s ideas.
Popular Mechanics – Anti-Glacial
Popular Mechanics is a rock band based in Saint Louis, Missouri. The artwork for their album Anti-Glacial was designed by local design studio Husbandmen, made up of Karolis Kosas, Frances Foster and James Walker.
The artwork includes a portrait painted by band member Andrew Brandmeyer, which Husbandmen partially concealed with a die cut outer sleeve. The album was produced in a limited edition run of just 100, and costs had to be kept to a minimum. “The triangular windows allow for the artwork to be seen, but avoids hight printing costs,” explains Walker.
Lettering on the outer sleeve is manipulated to fit around these triangles, creating an established grid and providing a fluid contrast to the angular shapes. It’s also designed to reference the album’s title, “showing strong mountain peaks with liquid lettering,” adds Walker.
Colours used on the vinyl itself are a mix of leftover pigments from other records, and vary from disc to disc: some are brightly coloured, some clear, and some a mix of honey and green.
“With small bands and small runs of vinyl, you have to find creative outlets in interesting areas, be it through alternative production methods or utilising what is offered to your benefit,” explains Walker, who spent nine hours screen printing the covers while band members took turns hand cutting the triangles.
“There’s a strong sense of ownership when your hands help produce the product you’ve worked so hard to record. When you send artwork off to a printer and it returns complete, that ownership can be easily lost,” he adds.
JJ Doom – Bookhead
JJ Doom is a collaboration between rapper Doom and producer/rapper Jneiro Jarel. Bookhead EP is a limited edition picture disc containing tracks and remixes from the duo’s debut album, Key to the Kuffs.
The artwork was designed by graffiti artist Steve Powers, aka ESPO, and Dave Thomas, who recently produced some excellent artwork for Mogwai’s album Rave Tapes.
Powers designed the JJ Doom logo while travelling on the subway, and it’s since been used on a range of merchandise including rings, skateboards and a mask worn by Doom.
“The 12″ EP allowed us to make use of the photos we had of the latest version of the DOOM mask that he’d most recently been wearing,” explains Thomas. “Having the 12″ size of the picture disc to play with pretty much allowed us to use the mask as actual size… its such a detailed/striking image visually, we wanted to leave it free of text, it didnt really need too much more to make the most of the picture disc format,” he explains.
The reverse features illustrations by ESPO, which tie in with artwork on JJ Doom CDs and cassettes, and an alphabet based on Powers’ hand rendered type. “To make sure the text for the album as a whole matched i went through the scans and was able to grab pretty much all the characters for a workable alphabet and could create a bespoke ESPO font that we could use across the design,” says Thomas.
A download coupon that comes with the vinyl features a photograph of a USB stick in a bag with some tiny crystals, which Thomas says is how Doom first submitted the audio for the album to his record label. “It sort of gives you narrative for the journey of the music from delivery to the label to the full release,” he says.
Label: Lex Records
Broken Bells – After the Disco
The artwork for Broken Bells’ new album After the Disco was created by Atlanta-based artist Jacob Escobedo, an illustrator and head of design at Cartoon Network and Adult Swim’s creative group.
Escobedo also designed the artwork for the duo’s first album and recent single, Leave it Alone, which both feature the same woman.
Escobedo’s artwork for the band was inspired by Austrian artist Egon Schiele’s female nude paintings, and the cover of Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi novel Stranger in a Strange land, which features an image of a woman in a one-piece.
This retro sci-fi imagery is echod in a short film promoting the album, which was shot in the Mojave Desert where Star Trek was filmed. The film was screened at a launch party in Brooklyn alongside artwork and photography by Escobedo and a Broken Bells jukebox (above) – see more photos and an animated video for the album’s title track on Broken Bells’ website and Tumblr page.
Bozu – Never Odd or Even
Inspired by the palindrome title of this EP from Bozu, design studio Intercity used laser cut concrete to create an image based on a stone-carved Sator Square.
“We really wanted to create a physical object for this project so put our bespoke typography though a series of material processes, including both laser-cutting and concrete-casing,” says the studio.
Intercity also designed a series of concrete casts, some of which were smashed, and photographed them for an accompanying booklet. The finished image is of a laser cut steel plate, with typography formed of black treacle.
Label: Concrete Plastic
Tom the Lion – Sleep
In 2011, Tom the Lion released his first EP, The Adventures of Tom the Lion. The vinyl edition was housed in a limited edition mock leather slip case, and the CD in a beautifully crafted wooden box, both produced by Daniel Mason at Something Else.
Mason has collaborated with the artist again for his album, Sleep – this time travelling to Istanbul to source glassine paper, before setting up a Heidelberg press to print it.
The new artwork features the same Tom the Lion illustration designed by Konstantinos Gargalestos for the artist’s inaugural record, and the vinyl edition comes with two white discs, a 10” gloss photo fo the artist, 12 loose leaf lyric sheets printed on bible paper and two CDs also covered in glassine paper. It’s a delicate package and has been beautifully produced by Mason.
James Scroggs at House of Opportunity Records, says the album reflects “waking up in the night next to your partner and feeling disorientated and distant from them – and once awake, the emotional journey till dawn.”
“Tom and I always said the mood of that song and the sonic palette it establishes has a sense of ushering the listener into inky blue/green waters,” he adds. “This informed the video treatment telling the story of that moment suspended within a watery context and his exit from there. The imagery and layered packaging carries that through – something delicate which reveals more as you unwrap its constituent elements,” he adds.
Label: House of Opportunity/DECCA