Purity Ring: Shrines [July/2012] — Crafting images to complement the stirring mystical ecosystem of Megan James’ lyrics and voice and the heart-jacking, spine-jangling textures of Corin Roddick’s soundscapes can’t be easy. And Kristina Baumgartner admits to sketching out a lot of different ideas for the cover of Purity Ring's much anticipated full-length debut before she had the right one. But once it took shape, the rest of the Shrines packaging illustrations flowed from there.
Baumgartner didn’t have a lot of cash to spend on art supplies when she was creating the drawings, so she worked with what she had. “I drew everything with pencil crayons and wax pastels on large sheets of brown construction paper, which I cut into 12-inch squares.”
Improvisation seems to be one of Baumgartner’s habits; just this month she released her first zine, called House Plant, which she painted and self-produced. She describes it as “10 little paintings [like the one below] all done in ink that represent my home life this winter. I spent most of the season alone in this big apartment with my cat, and I got sucked into my own little world. The paintings are about that.” Baumgartner is selling House Plant in some Montreal shops and online (or you could pick one up at Purity Ring’s merch table on their North American tour in April and May 2013 — for which she also designed a new poster and tote bag).
LPWTF: I read about how the illustration with the coffin was entirely based on “Crawlersout.” Can you tell me about the specific lyrics or ideas that inspired the Shrines album cover image. Also, how did sheep originate as an appropriate symbol for the band and its music?
KB: For the Lofticries 7-inch [see below], I had cut out dozens of photographs to collage together for the cover. Corin really liked some of the sheep ones I had. I was interested in Catholic imagery at the time and so I came up with this image of a girl watching over her flock of sheep. To me, sheep represent a kind of innocence and purity and so I thought it was an appropriate symbol for the band.
When we were coming up with ideas the Shrines cover, I originally wanted it to be a photograph of a girl laying with her sheep in some kind of sacrificial setting. However, Megan and Corin really wanted me to draw the cover. So it’s essentially the same idea only simpler. The lungs overhead come from a line from “Fineshrine.”
[Get a little closer, let fold / Cut open my sternum, and pull / My little ribs around you / The lungs of me be crowns over you]
Why are hands and fire also good symbols to represent the songs on Shrines?
A lot is based off some of the meanings of Megan’s lyrics. And since she doesn’t reveal what they mean, neither will I.
Without going to deep into it, Megan often writes about people’s spirits and about some type of motherly figure looking out for her. The ghost hands and then the human hands that surround the girl under the coffin are meant to represent those two forces.
All of the images seem to be set in some sort of dreamscape or non-physical space, which I think gels nicely with the record’s lyrics and textures. Was this what you intended?
When I listen to Megan’s words, they all seem to be set in some non-physical space and I wanted the artwork to reflect that. The girl is a guardian of sheep and a dead loved one, and she lives in her own world.
Who is the girl?
No one specifically.
Where are the original illustrations now?
One illustration is framed in my living room, one I gave to Megan. The front and back cover are somewhere in the shed.
What do you like about these images?
It feels weird for me to say what I like about the images when I made them. The only thing I can think to say is that I like how homely they are. And by that I mean that I like that they look so handmade. You can see all the pencil marks and texture on the LP. You can’t tell after it was all printed, but I coloured in all the black background and it took hours and hours. It left smudges, because I used a black wax pencil — well, I really went through like six of them — but we didn’t edit them out. I like the mistakes.
All images by Kristina Baumgartner. Story by Eric Rumble. Buy Shrines from 4AD.
Hook & Eye: North St. EP [Feb/2013] — Sometimes, impulsiveness is the best medicine. Sometimes even for record covers.
My hyper-brilliant friend Marc Rimmer — whose work I profiled to get this blog off the ground almost two years ago, here — recently looped me in on the fabulously uncluttered guidance that led to his latest piece of kick-ass record packaging. Musician Jeff Macleod had enlisted Rimmer (an old buddy from the Calgary music scene) to design the cover art for his new band’s forthcoming EP.
Given that these two guys now live about 4,000 kms apart, this is how they settled on the image you see above, via text message:
Jeff: “I need an album cover. Got any sad, dark, lonely photos kickin’ around?”
Marc: “Not really, but here’s a photo I snapped at a farm on the weekend.” [At left, below.]
J: “Nice! It has the right mood, but needs something. Can you try superimposing a fire on it?”
M: “Sure, here you go.” [Middle.]
J: “Shit yeah! Well, while we’re on topic, if you make it an old Ford truck that’s on fire, I’ll give you free hand jobs and pizza for life.”
Rimmer wrapped up the image by adding some glow coming off the truck and onto the surrounding grass. The original photo was taken on Rimmer’s iPhone during a foggy farmland excursion to Huberdeau, Quebec (about an hour and a half northwest of Montreal), and he suggested it because of its “isolated, ominous, super-surreal” qualities. (The fire came from one of his old camping photos, and he fixed up and recoloured a stock photo of the truck.)
Macleod describes North St.’s songs as “lo-fi, moody, indie” — which sounds exactly as they should, considering they were recorded by another lo-fi, moody, indie Calgarian, Clinton St. John. (Those two played alongside the indomitable Matt Flegel in The Cape May a few years ago.) The EP will be self-released on Fir Trade Records in early 2013, and Hook & Eye will support it with some shows in Calgary and probably a small western Canadian tour in the spring.
Although the dosage of forethought that went into the cover art creation is perfect, I asked Macleod to elaborate a little on the choice, albeit not too seriously:
Why did a sad, dark and lonely image need to be on the cover of this record?
“It suits the mood of the music — especially ‘North St.’ and ‘Late Night Karate Practice’.”
Can you describe what you like about the cover image?
“I think it has a pretty starkness/somber beauty to it.”
What have you got against Ford trucks?
“Haha. Nothing. I was having sushi with a friend, and he saw an old one in his neighborhood earlier that day. It just popped into his head when we were deciding what to burn while texting with Marc.”
Can you tell me about the most enjoyable fire you were ever involved in building?
“My friends and I still have illegal fires down in a secret spot on the city reservoir all the time. We just bring wood, Roman candles and beer.”
How is your music similar to an abandoned patch of land?
“Hmmm… not sure. Maybe listen to ‘North St.' on our bandcamp. It’s an instrumental. Very minimalist.”
And for good measure, I asked Marc to send me a handful of other photos that he took on his road trip to rural Quebec. Enjoy:
All images by Marc Rimmer. Story by Eric Rumble. Hear and/or buy North St. from the Hook & Eye bandcamp page, or on vinyl from Fur Trade Recordings.
The Famines: The Complete Collected Singles, 2008 – 2011 [Nov/2011] — RAYMOND BIESINGER SAYS The Famines are collectors and archivists by nature. Biesinger — who writes, sings/wails and plays/thrashes guitar alongside Garrett Kruger’s flabbergasting drums — is the graphic architect of the five-year-old band’s no-frills, data-stratified aesthetic, not to mention a successful illustrator, designer and print media artist. So when he started working on cover art for this assemblage of 7-inch singles (many of them sold out), he began by simply rearranging the old record labels, cutting and pasting and mocking them up in search of a shape.
“When doing 7-inches in the past, when it came to coming up with concepts, we always wanted to make sure that the cover reflected the actual content of the A-side, instead of just being a generalist catch-all image of the band, or an attempt to depict the band conceptually even,” explains Biesinger. “With a big LP like that, it would seem funny to illustrate only the first song because there are a lot of songs, and eventually it just made sense to try to use both the front and back cover to try to show what these things were before they became the collected 7-inches.”
Biesinger had tried a few things out, and then landed on the winning formation when he was half-asleep or something. “It really reminds me of a revolver, with the chambers that bullets go in,” he says. “I think it’s a very strong shape. What is that, a hexagon? Once I mocked it up I thought it looked wonderful, but then there was a small problem: We didn’t have 14 songs, we had 11 songs.” [One of those jams, “P. L. C. A.,” was recorded for a compilation called Bloodstains Across Alberta, and there are two new bangers as well, “Hi Hi Hi” and “Faux Famous,” all of which Biesinger whipped up labels for.]
This table-of-contents utility, with most of the circles indicating A-sides and B-sides in chronological order, is just the sort of match that Biesinger loves to strike. “The contents are described perfectly by the cover and rear cover, so it’s completely informative, but it’s also aesthetically pleasing. I think that’s what [The Famines] like to do: to have purpose behind everything we do. And to me there’s complete purpose to what’s on that record cover.”
Perhaps there’s one marginal exception: the logos at the top right of the B-sides cover. Biesinger has made these little icons over the years to use in Famines merch and packaging, often as a layout device to “fill up space, finish off a thought.” He makes them with different levels of intent, sometimes “in a way that represents what we do, in other ways not at all. They’re just really convenient to have around. It’s funny, I would make posters sometimes and I would post them on gigposters.com and people would comment on what a shame the logos were.” Given that they depict things like can-can girls wearing balaclavas, Biesinger admits that “I think sometimes we fuck with people a little because there’s so much purpose in everything we do, and then you throw in something like that. What does that even mean?’ I try to avoid the subject because I don’t know.”
Here’s a hint at why Biesinger would rather deke: “When I see art that’s about nothing or art that people can’t back up, that people can’t say why it was made in an intelligent way that isn’t, like, crazy art-speak, I get angry. I really feel like there’s enough meaningless fluff, there’s enough amusing, funny things out there, that it’s our job to make stuff that actually has purpose and argument behind it.”
The resulting aesthetic is certainly purposeful, if not downright shrewd. “It’s getting harder and harder economically to be a band, and to tour,” he explains. “If you make everything in black-and-white, it’s gonna be a hell of a lot cheaper. It always blows my mind when venues have full colour posters, 11 x 17. When we started, that’d be 80 cents each — you do [B&W] and it’s 10 cents each. I would rather have that 70 cents in my gas tank than doing as much as one of these [posters] could for our show.”
Buoyed by practicality, The Famines became documentarians early on (both in terms of the subject matter they tore into and their promo materials), which gelled nicely with stark, codified B&W. “I think that now the aesthetic is just so established in my mind that sometimes it takes over and makes me make things that look Famines-ish, but which don’t necessarily have much of a subject behind them,” says Biesinger. “I’m less strict these days. If I think something’s fun, I’ll just do it, as long as it’s small. But I would never do that with a 7-inch cover or record cover just for fun. I think the world has enough of that, I don’t need to do it.”
The process of coming up with designs to represent the band’s charged, provocative songs found a natural groove early on as well. “I know all the themes, I know the songs intimately, I know everything that I thought about while making them, so the subject material I always know well,” says Biesinger. “In the months leading up to a record, I’ll usually roll through a lot of ideas, and then when I think I’ve found the right one, I’ll bounce it off of Garrett and he’ll tell me if it’s bullshit or not. He’s a really good editor, quite honestly.”
Biesinger also says The Famines mostly came to be because Kruger pushed him over the line between talking about jamming and actually making a racket. “I’m not gonna say he forced me to do it, but if it was not for his originally enthusiasm, I would not be in bands anymore.” Kruger’s old band, The Wolfnote, and Biesinger’s, The Vertical Struts, had broken up, and they kept running into each other at the Black Dog in Edmonton, and eventually it just happened. (Biesinger moved to Montreal in August 2010.) He says their personalities are very different, but that they’re “growing together, which is kinda cool. Garrett’s pulled me out of my shell so much since 2008, I owe him a lot.”
Whoever was most responsible for hatching The Famines, the band certainly seems to provide Biesinger with an essential creative outlet. And clearly — at least judging by his appreciation for small type — there’s a lot of ideas to share. “I’ve always been fascinated by context; I have a degree in history, and I want to know what is behind everything,” he explains. “The internet gives a lot of people an opportunity to get more information about things they don’t understand. So I think when I’m making physical things, I try and squeeze in as much context as possible, and that results in a lot of small type in a lot of places.”
He admits that the attraction is economical for sure, but seems a bit surprised. “I never even thought of in that way—that I have a thing for small type. I think I have a tolerance for it, and I tend to not think about people with bad eyesight, maybe. Which is very cruel.”
The Famines: Syllables [May/2010] — Biesinger recognizes the font treatment on this particular 7-inch as particularly cruel, but “pretty necessary for what it is.” He wrote the A-side song as a rough parallel of George Orwell’s famous essay, Politics and the English Language. “After trying to think of ways to express that visually, I just decided to put the full text of the essay on the 7-inch. So that required a lot of squeezing, and I went back into my distant memories of laying out newspapers for The Gateway, and brought out some pull quotes. You would probably need a magnifying glass to read it properly.” (Damn skippy: that thing’s more than 5,250 words!)
Why did Biesinger want to write a song about the essay? “Because the band has always been about having purpose in our songs. Every single one of them is an argument. Not, ‘Yeah, you guys sound angry!’ But everything is carefully measured. There’s evidence, there’s a strong question that is about something. Orwell’s essay is all about how vagueness is kind of an agent of tyranny, and how if someone speaks in concrete specifics and actual facts instead of trying to obfuscate things, they’re doing well, and how we need to take steps to become more concrete in how we express ourselves in our everyday lives. I think that’s incredibly important.”
Biesinger feels this concept is as resonant now as it was in 1946, when Orwell’s essay was published. “I think people are generally afraid of the consequences of having opinions about a lot of things. And perhaps even people who have formal arts training, because they know how to make things, but they don’t necessarily have that deep of a knowledge in other things. I think, if you go to art school, it’s very rare that you spend a lot of time reading about history or politics or economics or greater society. And so perhaps those people don’t feel comfortable going out on a limb and making statements about society that are very strong. Me, I’m just full of it.”
He cites modern music journalism as a great example of concept-dodging. “I don’t know who’s worse: the band or the interviewer,” says Biesinger, ripping on cliches like the obligatory live sound versus studio sound discussion, and the fact that you end up talking about “anything but the actual meaning behind the songs. I feel like lyrics should have greater scrutiny and singers should be asked about them far more often. But I think that makes a lot of singers uncomfortable to have to actually defend what they’re saying in some way. I feel like the biggest cop-out in the world is to say, ‘It’s up to everyone to interpret this in the way that they choose.’ To me that feels irresponsible.”
How to Book a Maybe Successful Tour for a Band That Hasn’t received Hype on Pitchfork, etc. [Dec/2010] — You might not expect it from an irreverent, eardrum-drubbing band hatched in Edmonton, but one of their most popular merch items is rooted in sharing a practical perspective. Biesinger says there was a time when the How to Book… pamphlet was outselling all The Famines’ 7-inches, albeit at $1 a pop. “I remember one Christmas, I thought we weren’t a band anymore, we’re just a pamphlet,” he laughs.
Quite the opposite, actually. The pamphlet came out of the band’s unique experience. “I’ve booked five cross-Canadian tours now,” explains Biesinger. “And I have no illusions about our band — we’re not the next thing, we’re not that great, we’re not the next next next thing either. We’re a low-buzz band. Everything we’ve built, we’ve built because of a lot of hard work and not because some magazines decided that people should see us. I think that puts us in a situation which is really different from a lot of touring bands.”
Biesinger wrote a first draft of what later became the pamphlet because a friend from a band based in Kingston, Ontario, called False Face — “a band that was kind of in the same place as us, but hadn’t toured much at all” — asked him for advice about how to do it. So during a long stretch in the tour van, Biesinger cranked out a long, meticulous and blatantly honest email. “It was basically explaining how we tour, how it would be applicable to them. And I sent it to him, he really liked it, and a couple of months later I was thinking about this email I’d saved that was full of good advice. I’d also ended up sending it to other bands that we’d played with that had the same questions.”
Eventually he decided to edit it properly, add a few sections and make it fit into a layout — “and that the type was appropriately small,” he jokes. When I bring up the writing style, Biesinger calls it “pessimistic optimism” and “really frank.” Take the first line, for example: Certain regions, like Western Canada, destroy friendships and eat new bands alive. “And it’s a fact — I’ve seen it,” says Biesinger. “It’s not booster-ish. It’s super honest. This is what you need to do if you want to make this happen, and good luck—it’s hard.”
You’ll notice that the maps Biesinger used to illustrate the pamphlet have arrows suggesting movement. His original plan, “to add to the kind of fatalism, was to have each of the maps be of a different failure in war,” but he “managed to fail at doing that, although there still some failures in there—the Tet Offensive and some others.” Biesinger says he’s kind of amazed at how many people from different parts of the country that play different kinds of music have been interested in it. “There’s a section at the end that I’m exceptionally happy with that’s all about the economics of being a C-level, D-level, E-level touring band these days, and how things have changed in the last 50 years.”
This is a subject area Biesinger knows intimately. One of his many fabulously nerdy design and illustration projects beyond The Famines has been an (ongoing) infographic that tracks the history of the Edmonton music scene back into to the 1950s. To produce that piece of work (26-feet and growing by the year), he spoke with a lot of musicians, and ultimately came to understand that there are “far far far fewer bands these days that are making a living wage touring than there used to be.” He also learned that for the larger, entertainment-hunting public, live music is no longer such an easy draw.
“There used to be regional acts that could perform, say, all over Alberta even, and play every night of the week, maybe doing moderately challenging Beatles-esque stuff, or Who-ish stuff. They could make a living doing that in the 60s. Then there’s a change in demographics, there’s more competition in terms of entertainment, the internet fragments people’s ideas of what they want to see. It makes it easy for you or me to be really excited about what’s going on in Japan now, but it’s really rare that someone uses the internet to look for new things locally. I think people who pay attention to the local scene are exceptional.”
(But I digress… or Biesinger did, I’m not sure who to blame. In any case, he says he’s “really excited about the pamphlet format these days.” He’s also made one from a talk that he does about the future of commercial art, called Doom.)
Oddly enough, in spite of Biesinger’s observations about the state of live music, The Famines have carved out a respectable following across the country. After two years of playing together they had put on 125 shows, and “that felt like a lot, so we decided to celebrate it,” says Biesinger. So, naturally, he created a big, silkscreened, B&W map that catalogued all of those shows.
He chose the odd map shape because “I was just in the mood for something incredibly geometric,” and he says it’s loosely based on the Canada’s 125th celebrations that went down in 1992. “I knew that for the regions we did not play in, we could de-emphasize them. So, sorry about everyone who lives in the Arctic, and everyone who lives near Lake Superior. I stripped Canada down to its absolute minimum, and kept what was needed to express the information.”
Drawing from a master list of all the Famines shows (Biesinger does the booking), the map lists every city, venue and date they played in chronological order. “I’m a trained historian, making records is what I do,” quips Biesinger. Originally he’d tried to include the names of all the bands they’d played with as well, “but that would have maybe quadrupled the amount of text, and any way I tried to lay that out it just didn’t look good.”
Cutting back is perhaps the most essential move in Biesinger’s repertoire — if not anyone’s. “We live in very fortunate place and a very fortunate time, when you and me can take advantage of incredibly cheap technology to do almost anything that we would want aesthetically, or in a publishing sense,” he says. “The options open to us are absolutely enormous, and I think in that setting, one of the most interesting things you can do is accept limitations and work within them, or impose limitations on yourself. So my goal for the last 10 years, aesthetically, has been all about trying to push as little as possible as far as possible. That’s why I’ve been in two-piece bands since 1999. That’s why I don’t use pedals when I play. The band is trying to make the most out of guitar, drums and singing. And in illustration, I’ve just started working with four colours, and to me that’s the frontier. But still, doing something in black and white and very simple is super exciting.”
The Famines: Free Love [July/2009] — So obviously Biesinger is pretty serious about what he makes. And to the fictional condom machine brands and ads he created (with help) for The Famines’ second 7-inch release, he says, “That’s about as funny as we get.”
He’s ain’t kidding, either. The Centipede, The Hook, and The Black Mamba seem as though they’d be particularly ill-fitting. I’d suspect The Freedom Tickler might offer an uncomfortably aggressive level of protection. Puss Shock would demand a pretty special lady. [Fun fact: the head was a made using a photo of Biesinger’s cat, Cleo.] Some of the labels are inside jokes, such as The Lobster Tail, courtesy of a friend of Kruger’s who claims his dick has a lobster tail on its end. (Nobody verified this, BTW.)
While the collection certainly draws on residual ideas from tour stops in small bar bathrooms over the years, there’s also a method to this particular madness. “The A-side is called ‘Free Love As A Sales Technique,’” explains Biesinger. “At the time, I was watching a little bit of Sex in the City with my wife, and I was noticing how it seemed like adultery was kind of becoming okay in culture. It was something that was kind of being given sanction by mass media — a legitimate thing that you could do and the world wasn’t going to end. I thought that was a very bad thing. So the track, I guess you could kind of look at it as: Sex sells, isn’t that kind of gross, and don’t we have better things to do?”
At one point Biesinger’s plan was to drive around Alberta and take photos of a bunch of condom vending machines as source material. “But then I realized, ‘Oh shit, this thing needs to be at the plant, like, next week.’ And also, how unsatifisying would that be to drive around Alberta and find out that these things are actually only in two different places or something? So I ended up going with the internet for the general ones, but I’d say about two thirds or these are completely invented. Garrett and the label and I just made a giant list of the most ridiculous condoms you could imagine, and then I took the ones that I could illustrate quickly and made them.”
The Famines: 14 July 2008 [April/2009] — At the time, a quick-and-dirty project was probably necessary after the elaborate Famines’ release that Biesinger had produced over the previous year or so. In early 2008, he’d opened up a book publishing house called the Belgravian Press. “I had a big Xerox machine, a book-binding machine, a stack cutter — I had everything you needed to make books,” he says. Having such toys had a curious effect: “There’s a saying that goes something like, ‘When you have a hammer, you think every problem is a nail.’ Well, when you have a book publishing house, you think every problem is a book.”
That summer — on July 15, precisely — The Famines had played their inaugural show, which kicked off their first Western Canadian tour and the release of their first recording, 2x7. Edmonton’s arts weekly, Vue, wanted to document a warm-up performance, so they’d arranged for Biesinger and Kruger to give their set a stomp-through on the day before, July 14. “It was the first time we’d played live — there were maybe three or four people there — and it was perhaps indicative of how Famines shows are,” recalls Biesinger. “It was crazy, we gave it our all. We were scheduled to play eight songs, but after the seventh, I broke the neck off my guitar. It was hilarious. It was the first time I’d done that. And we’re just playing for the arts weekly, in our studio, and there are six people there.”
The Vue crew produced some material from the recording, which Biesinger says “sounds really ragged, but there’s a spirit behind it that’s really nice.” The quality was too low to press an LP with it, but they wanted to do something, and settled on a cassette release. “We thought it was best not seen as a studio recording, it was better as a document of a time and place. So we established that, and then I thought, ‘Well, how do you make sure people understand that?’ I realized we’d probably need a lot of liner notes, because I wasn’t going to be satisfied with just a little J-card. So I starting thinking about how you could package it as a book.”
One of Biesinger’s priorities while producing books was to pay special attention to their size and shape. “Using Canada Post’s shipping standards, we intentionally made stuff that would be cheap to ship,” he says. A book stacked on top of a tape would mean hefty shipping fees, but they would fit through the mail slot if they were packaged side-by-side. So the next step was to figure out how many pages a book would need to be cassette-sized. The answer turned out to be 268.
“So then the problem became: How do you fill a book that small with information, and what the fuck do you include? And the answer is: everything,” explains Biesinger. “We wanted it not to be bullshit. We wanted it to be totally factual. We wanted to involve as many people as possible, and I got off on the idea of it being like a primary source. A future historian could look at this, and it isn’t about The Famines It’s about people in 2008 who were making music — where they came from, what resources they had, all kinds of details about them.”
The result is basically a meticulous record of The Famines getting off the ground. The front section details how the book was made and the context it was made in, including a chart about the band’s economics — “How much money we made and lost in the first year leading up to having our first show.” There are maps of the band’s jam space and the studio where the book was bound and created. Biesinger, Kruger and the Vue folks all filled out questionnaires that asked for all sorts of detail: height, weight, educational and employment history, marital status, gender, eye colour, net worth (“Which is hilarious”), hospital visits in the last 12 months, co-habitants, past residences, and so on. Each person was also asked to itemize the tools they used to produce the recording, to describe that day and what happened to them immediately afterwards.
“It’s a full account of July 14, 2008, for everyone who participated,” says Biesinger. When he explained it to everyone, he also insisted on honesty. “We wanted it to be true, we didn’t want any jokes. We wanted this to be as if you were reporting it to the police.” Indeed: Everyone also supplied their fingerprints. If there was something they didn’t feel comfortable discussing, Biesinger asked them to make up something plausible.
Apparently Kruger was preoccupied during production, and didn’t even see the finished product until it was printed. He was also the last to submit his questionairre, which Biesinger says was well worth the wait. “His information is awesome. His description of his morning before the recording, it’s like: I was riding on my exercise bike and I was listening to Ozzy Osborne’s Blizzard of Oz, and when Snowblind came on, I paused for a moment…”
Kruger’s level of honesty actually became a point of contention. “Garett’s parents were upset with him for being really specific about certain things, because we did a run of 300 and then another 50, and in the other 50 we removed some information about him.” Those 350 were “incredibly easy to sell” once Biesinger began putting the cassette on The Famines’ merch table. “There would be people who were at our show who just wandered in, and they’d be total weirdos, and I’d show it to them and they’d be like, ‘I don’t care who your band is, I want this.’ People were very enthused.”
This sort of reaction was hard-earned, considering the intense labour and incomprehensibly skinny profit margins. Kruger dubbed all of the tapes on their label’s dubbing machine, and the book was hand-cut, hand-scored and hand-glued. “Because we were on a tight deadline again, I had four assistants in the studio working full-time for a week making them,” says Biesinger. “It took a ridiculous amount of time. And they ended up costing us about $9 to make, and we sold them for $10, which is the dumbest thing in the world. But we ended up breaking even, or I think we lost $40 on it.”
As well as not losing too much money or too many marbles, Biesinger was surprised that the release charted pretty well on campus radio. “I’ve always been down on the recording, but other people found ways to really like the recording. So that makes me feel good.”
(Another digression, for the sake of cassette collectors: July 14 2008 is being repressed by Ottawa-based label Bruised Tongue, and will be released on October 17. Says Biesinger: “While we would’ve liked to have the book reprinted as well, it would’ve been impossible. So, the book is included as a download.”)
(Ok, just one more brief digression: Another problem that Biesinger tried to solve by making it a book was the implosion of a band from Vancouver called the Molestics. “Remember the swing craze in the late 90s and early 2000s? They were kind of dirty, absurdist, retarded swing. They did really well in Edmonton for a long time, and the lead singer, Mike Soret, a total drunk, he wrote his memoirs, and I published them. And I thought it was magnificent. I’m sure some people have read Gord Downie’s or David Bidini’s books, and I think that when you’re hearing about the Canadian music experience, you always hear the success stories. But the thing about the Molestics is that they were a self-described C-level band that did kind a well — they could sell 100 tickets anywhere in Canada on a good night, they toured Canada a lot, and the West Coast of the States. But then they failed horribly. And that’s how 99 per cent of my friends’ bands end, and so the story was really relatable. It’s about a musician who’s at a level above where I’ve been, but his experience I recognize, and it’s honest. The band fails, breaks up, he tries to kill himself — it’s all in the book. And I think that’s a story that hasn’t been told, and I think it’s important to tell.”) [The book is called Confessions of a Local Celebrity: A Tale of Rags to No Rags by Mike Soret.]
The Famines: 2x7 [July/2008] — Biesinger’s work compels because of his tremendous enthusiasm for gritty details, infographic-grade density and blunt, charming delivery. These talents, and nimble self-promotion, have taken him far. To reference just one solid example: when I interviewed him earlier this year, he gave me a copy of Spin magazine, in which his work regularly appears above Patton Oswalt’s back-page rant.
Given that his Famines work is even more deeply layered by the music it complements, there’s an enigmatic quality to the messages that emerge. As you’d expect from a self-proclaimed archivist, Biesinger’s also done a great job of assembling breadcrumbs that explore how that aesthetic has materialized. And as you’d expect from an astute businessman, he’s also released four editions (so far) of A Visual History of the Famines.
The 50-page book, which Biesinger admits “isn’t organized very chronologically,” collects Famines concert posters, design ideas and mock-ups of things that didn’t end up in production. The first edition contained posters from the first Famines show, some early art concepts, vinyl label mock-ups (with visual treats like Serge Gainsbourg’s name on what is now-obviously a Famines 7-inch) and a bunch of different variations on the 2x7 cover. Some of those early experiments also speak directly to the band’s dynamic, juxtaposing facial fragments of Hollywood bad ass Charles Bronson and Canadian broadcaster and humanitarian diplomat Stephen Lewis.
“Early on in The Famines, we decided we were never going to do band photographs because we do not like the idea of there being a connection between personal appearance or beauty and artistic validity,” explains Biesinger, “so we adopted surrogates.” Bronson represents a forceful and severe nature, and Lewis brings rationality and argument to the table. If you’ve read this far, you’ll know who’s supposed to be who.
It’s probably safe to assume that part of what keeps the band going is the tension between those two iconic opposites, and for Biesinger, the challenge that this tension provides. “Writing songs is hard,” he says. “My excuse to not write more songs is to make this stuff.”
All art by Raymond Biesinger. Story by Eric Rumble. Buy The Complete Collected Singles, 2008 – 2011 and other releases from The Famines’ bandcamp page and Mammoth Cave Recording, or buy other rad stuff created by Biesinger at his Etsy page.
ALSO: The Famines will be on tour in Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes from October 17 to 28, 2012. Biesinger is designing T-shirts — “A collection of our favourite things, all through the federalist lens,” as you can see below — that you may wanna snag from their merch table (it’ll be getting chilly by then).
Apollo Ghosts: Landmark (May/2012) — THERE ARE DENSE subtleties tucked into the name of this west coast band’s third full-length record. There’s a cryptic link to their first two LPs and some of their EPs, which are named for specific places — Mount Benson, Hastings Sunrise, Forgotten Triangle, Cedar Street. The reference in this case is to the building where most of the songs where written, also called Landmark. Apollo Ghosts’ songwriter, singer and guitarist Adrian Treacher describes it as a “no-nonsense brick shithouse” that managed to stay dry during Vancouver’s leaky condo crisis in the 80s and 90s.
Treacher also likes the tongue-and-cheekiness of the album title. “A landmark record sounds like a pretty bold or presumptuous or pretentious idea, but we made this ourselves for, like, five dollars.” More directly, the name taps into Treacher’s life trajectory. “I’m in my 30s now, and just getting to that point where people around me are getting married or having kids or breaking up or making big life decisions, and that definitely has a connection to the title and to the cover. People are coming in to make a nest or make a choice to stay somewhere permanently, whereas the last record was a lot more about childhood and looking back at younger years.”
While Treacher says that “about 90 per cent” of the record was written in Vancouver, the rest of it materialized on the other side of country, notably the cover image. Treacher had landed a writer-in-residence grant in Sackville, New Brunswick, in 2011, “so I got to basically go there and just hang out and write songs for the summer — it was awesome.” Not so awesomely, his band’s gear was stolen during Sappyfest (thievery aside, arguably the country’s most compelling homespun music festival), so he ended up staying at a local hosting house for a few days. It turned out to be a very special place, complete with a jam space and other transient musicians willing to share their equipment (the diabolically wonderful Chad VanGaalen among them).
“Almost anytime there’s a band coming into town, we always invite them in ‘cause we have a huge house, and I love hosting bands and cooking for them,” says Amanda Curti, the artist and Mount Allison University undergrad who lives in and looks after the place. A series of large, unconventional family portraits by Curti are spread around the walls (more on those later), and “weird cartoons drawn all over the walls” according to Treacher.
There are also a half-dozen collages hanging in the bathroom, all of them a few years old, also done by Curti. Mostly they depict ducks with smokestacks coming out of their heads and octopuses attached to garbage — “I was living in Windsor at the time,” says Curti,” so pollution and dirtiness had a major effect on everything I was doing.” They’re all untitled, made on discarded pine cabinets with images liberated from old Sally Anne books, and coated in dark lacquer. The oddball of the bunch — landscape orientated, with no polluted wildlife — became both the cover image and finishing touch on Landmark. In a pinch, evidently.
“Like most of our ideas, which truly spawn from being in the bathroom, I was just awestruck by this really cool collage that she had made,” says Treacher. “Sometimes it’s a small thing like a record cover that will be that last piece of the puzzle. You’re looking, you have a general sense of a batch of songs or a theme or a feeling or something, and then you walk into a bathroom and there’s the final piece. It just seemed instant. I looked up and I saw it, and I was like: there’s the album cover, right there, that’s how this record feels to me. After that it was really easy to finish the record.”
For Curti, creating those pieces was also cathartic, albeit tied to a different lever in her creative process. “They were just fun pieces that I did when I was bored, and I kept them,” says Curti. “If I feel stuck when I’m painting or printmaking, I usually go back to collage to get everything flowing again, because I can’t draw. I’m a horrible drawer. I don’t know how I’ve made it through art school being such a shitty drawer.”
Self-deprecation aside, Curti didn’t really pour any conceptual ideas into the piece when she made it, “but then once I looked at it I felt like it was kind of charged.” She recalls that the ships were British, and the floating monks and the crowd of people were from a Chinese history book (the mob was focussed on some sort of explosion before being cut out). Along with the floating monks, these ingredients resulted in a “weird religious political thing all smushed into one piece.”
The smush obviously appealed to Treacher, as did the conflicted mood. “I love the people’s backs at the forefront, the crowds of Asian immigrants,” says Treacher. “I like the very earthy colour tones, I like the wood texture. I also like the sea and ship imagery — I’ve written a lot about the ocean and homecoming. It just had this real Vancouver Island kind of vibe to it too, which is where I’m from. It just seemed perfect.”
The piece also fit well with the songs he’d written. “I think it’s the darkest cover we’ve had so far, and that connects well with the lyrics, which are also darker and spookier, and a bit more depressing.” (Asked about the darkness in his songwriting, Treacher says: “I don’t have much control over what comes out, it just kind of comes out and you look at it after and go, ‘Oh man, what was wrong with me during those last two years? Why did I write those songs? Why did they come out that way?’ I don’t know.”)
Instinct obviously had a big stake in the way Landmark's packaging art was chosen. Its other aesthetic lynchpins are tied to a couple of Apollo Ghosts' landmark bands. “Our band are big fans of Guided by Voices, and Amanda's piece had that sort of Bob Pollard collage vibe to it,” says Treacher. For the record's interior packaging art, they paid a more overt homage to another lean, mean American punk band that they love. “It might not sound like it when you hear our music, but live we're a lot more raunchy and brash, and we're really tight with the punk scene in Vancouver,” explains Treacher. “We wanted to acknowledge our punk rock roots, so we wanted an insert that was kind of like the photo collage from Double Nickels on the Dime by the Minutemen.”
Treacher enlisted his friend Melanie Coles, an Emily Carr undergrad, to produce the packaging layouts (she came up with the handwritten typeface) and the interior designs. “I have no aesthetic sense at all,” says Treacher, “so I trusted her to pick the best photos and arrange them in this kind of weird, punk rock Xeroxed way, and use a typewriter for the liner notes and stuff, and so that’s what she did.”
Oddly enough, this kind of collaborative commissioning process is maybe the only similarity that Landmark bears to the bright, fantastical imagery on Apollo Ghosts’ previous record, Mount Benson. “Benson was more of a commissioning,” says Treacher. “My friend Michelle Vulama is a painter, she paints rock, and the album was about the biggest rock that I know in my hometown, so that was an easy sell. I told her roughly the kind of scene that I wanted, and she provided us with the front and back cover. That was a bit more direct, whereas this one just kind of came to us.”
Salted Meat (2010) | oil and acrylic on board, 58” x 54”
If a reliance on impulse and an appreciation for murkiness are the threads that knit Landmark's words and pictures together, Treacher inadvertently found a near-perfect co-conspirator in Amanda Curti.
Curti mostly does painting (especially large-scale oil pieces), printmaking and animation. She’s certainly found a sweet niche back east: “Sackville kind of caters to musicians and artists. I have a studio that costs me $100 a month, which is amazing. I’ve lived in Windsor and London, Ontario, and you couldn’t even find a studio. Plus, I can use the printmaking studio at school because the teachers are very nice. And Struts is a great place that puts up a lot of student art.”
While this nourishing atmosphere has allowed Curti’s art practice to thrive, her creative roots are still prominently displayed (to bands coming through town, anyway) at her house in Sackville. “For a long time I was working on art about my family, because I’m Italian, and they’re crazy, and they were just the most interesting people around me,” explains Curti. “So I have a lot of family portraits.”
The smallest one is about 4 feet by 3 ½ feet and the largest 12 feet by 8 feet — a bathtub scene that Curti describes below, along with a couple of others: “I painted a picture of my Nona in a cantina with a bunch of salamis hanging from the ceiling around her and a big fur hat on. I have another one of my brother and my cousin scrubbing each other’s feet in a bathtub – which isn’t made from my head, I actually walked into the bathroom one night and they were having a competition to see whose feet they could get the cleanest, so I went and got my camera and took a picture of that and painted it. And I have two portraits that go together of my cousin Theo and her brother Xavier, and they’re screaming at each other — they were having a fight. So I took a picture and painted it. The two paintings face each other, and it just looks like they’re screaming back and forth.” (Unfortunately — or, fortunately, depending on your disposition — you’d have to visit Sackville to catch a glimpse of Curti’s family portraits.)
Untitled (2010) | mixed media on board, 36” x 54”
Curti generally works from her photographs, and her desire to crack the limitations of that method led her into some truly wacky territory during the last few years. “When I go to take pictures of people they always pose, even if they’re not trying to,” says Curti. “I wanted to get a true picture of someone’s face without them being able to pose, and the only two situations I could think of to capture this were either a sneeze or an orgasm, because with those two things, you can’t control what’s going on with your face. I thought I’d take the more challenging road and do the orgasm.”
Okay, so the wackiness (goofy pun intended) was essentially self-inflicted. Curti’s goal was to make large-scale portraits of people with raw facial expressions, in this case 5-foot-by-4-foot canvases of her subject’s faces, maybe with a couple of inches of shoulder. The tricky part would be coercing and convincing a bunch of friends and acquaintances to masturbate in close enough proximity so that Curti could capture their face at the money shot moment. (Actually, the trickiest part was adapting to what happened after everyone was dressed again.)
So that nothing is misconstrued, Curti should explain her process: “Most of them were taken in a bed. My bed. I would bring people back to my house and give them anything that they needed — because I facilitate the masturbation, right? So I would give them a computer if they needed porn or anything like that, and I supplied fresh towels, lubrication and vibrators. Most of the people I took pictures of, I knew, so I was alright with them doing that. And either I would stay in the room with them while they did it or lay next to them, or I’d stand outside the room, and when they were about to cum they’d call me. And I was like, ‘At least give me five seconds,’ so they’re like, ‘Okay,’ and then I’d hear them scream at me and I’d run into the bedroom and jump on top of them with my camera, taking pictures on rapid fire until they were finished cumming.”
Yes, sometimes there was a little awkwardness. But it also spawned great anecdotes like this one: “There was one person — he’s in a band, but I’m not gonna say names — and there were 13 people in the house, and he was like ‘I’m totally into it, but there’s too many people here.’ So I set up a tent in the backyard. I called it the masturbatorium. He went into the tent and I kinda walked around my backyard smoking a cigarette until I heard him go, ‘Curti, come here!” And then I crawled into the tent and straddled him and took my picture. And that’s how most of ‘em went — I’d just wait for them to call me and then I’d come in like a ninja and take their picture.”
Untitled (2006) | oil, acrylic, acetate and ink on board, 14” x 11”
As you might expect, things got complicated. Curti spent a couple of years before she came to Mount Allison sussing out candidates, and ended up with nine photographs of people to paint. Apparently the paintings didn’t get a good response when people began learning what the project was, and some dismissed it as shock art. To which Curti says: “There’s no nudity, I don’t put a title on them, and nobody would know who they actually are.”
Curti wasn’t really phased by this reaction, but she does say she’s had to take a step back from the project to reevaluate it. “I kinda went crazy ‘cause once people knew what I was doing, I was getting bombarded with people who wanted to get their pictures taken. In my studio I’ve turned all the paintings around so that people can’t see them when they look in the window.”
Likewise, the interactions with her portrait subjects become a bit of a handful. “That wall of awkwardness when you first meet a person, it goes right out the window when your first conversation is about this project,” says Curti. “Anything goes after that. It was like being best friends on high speed. You kind of just bypass all the bullshit and then all of a sudden they wanna tell you their deepest, darkest secrets. And then after I got the photos of some people, it was almost like I was dating them. I had this somewhat sexual relationship with them because I saw them at one of their most vulnerable moments. All of a sudden I’ve got like six, seven, eight people calling me and wanting to tell me all these things. I was like, ‘Holy fuck, I have seven girlfriends and five boyfriends, plus the person that I’ve actually been with for the last six years, and it’s fucking crazy and I need to relax for a minute. It was too much.”
More importantly, Curti began feeling like the work she was producing wasn’t quite right. “These paintings weren’t really translating the whole process of getting these photos, which was more interesting. You know, just going around telling people about this project, and then you mention masturbation and that you’re okay with it, and people are suddenly talking to you about the craziest shit you could possibly think of, because they feel comfortable. That idea was more interesting than the paintings.”
Augment (2010) | oil on canvas, 48” x 36”
Curti decided to experiment with creating a visual experience of an orgasm, or at least the fantasy reel that goes into one. “I went back to someone I’d done a painting of and took a video of her getting into her bed, and shots of her toes and her hands crinkling, and then it zooms into her mouth,” says Curti. She then collaborated with her subject to develop the rest of the piece’s content: “She told me what she sees and feels when she has an orgasm, and that’s what I tried to capture.” So Curti took the footage she had shot and rotoscoped it by hand, and then built the cerebral sequence with a peg board and animation paper, drawing and tracing over and over again to flesh out the fantasy.
Encouraged by her professors at Mount Allison, Curti has plans to evolve the unnamed masturbation project by collecting more camera footage and creating more animation. (She’s still looking for a good name, so fire away with suggestions.) In the nearer term, she’s working on another project that you can see if you happen to be making your way to Sappyfest this year (August 3rd to 5th, 2012). Hatched “just for fun because school is done for summer,” and in homage to one of her icons, Curti and two other local artists are putting together a tribute exhibit to commemorate their love of filmmaker John Waters.
The two other artists are Nick Wilson — a fellow Mount Allison student who works in sculpture — and Joe Chamandy — who does “amazing drawings” and is also plays in a band called Astral Gunk. They’ve agreed that they’re all going to create some sort of flamingos to put up, and they’re also each creating something else, which they’ve been keeping a secret from one another until Sappyfest, when the show will be up at Little Armadillo on Lorne St. in Sackville. Curti will admit that she’s doing “large-scale paintings of Divine and John Waters as religious figures,” but not much else.
Whatever Curti puts on those walls, bet on it being laced with strange, playful and unbridled impulses.
Untitled (2012) | silkscreen on paper, 9” x 28”
All paintings by Amanda Curti. LP inner sleeve by Melanie Coles. Story by Eric Rumble. Buy Landmark from the Apollo Ghosts bandcamp page.
PS: Sorry about the five-month gap between posts, folks. I landed a new full-time gig in January, and the adjustment period has been a bitch. Things are starting to even out now, and I’ll be producing three more record art pieces ASAP this summer:
1] A brief-ish history of The Famines' aesthetic, as crafted (and described) by the methodically enthralling Raymond Biesinger.
2] The scoop on Cadence Weapon’s Hope In Dirt City cover image, created by Jody Zinner.
3] Origin stories for some of the strange creatures that adorn Clinton St. John’s Storied Hearts and the Three Assimilations.
Grimes: Visions [Jan/2012] — CLAIRE BOUCHER SAYS she wanted the cover of her 3rd full-length Grimes recording to be “something very beautiful, and also very assaulting and violent, like the music.” She wanted the image to be zoomable — “like a Bosch painting” — and very movement-oriented. More than anything else, though, both the songs and their packaging had to be absolutely sincere.
Boucher can certainly be candid about what she was going for musically. “I wanted to make something that reads like a symphony,” she explains. “It arches — it begins in a sort of meek but inspired way, becomes very powerful, and then becomes very sad and lonely. I want people to enjoy themselves when they listen to it, but in the end feel very distant.”
And the drawing she made for the cover definitely mines one of her main creative veins: an affinity for Mesoamerican style. “When I went to Mexico, I was actually really inspired by a lot of Aztec art. I went to the museum of anthropology and Teotihuacan. It was all so horrifying and elaborate. More similar to my own art than a lot of stuff I’ve seen, even just structurally, because they use lots of little images of screaming faces and strange patterns to make big elaborate pieces.”
At the same time, Boucher says that “generally when I draw there is no concept, it’s just free form, I always improvise in whatever way feels best and that’s what I get.” Which sounds sort of like how she makes music too, having described a locked-in-her-bedroom recording process for Visions that involved tinkering and experimenting her way into the depths of sleep and natural-light depravation, self-isolating through the foggy and euphoric layers of her own songs.
Boucher says she usually draws during movie marathons, and that the Visions cover image was hatched with India ink, watercolour paper and “Ghost in the Shell II night, so I was thinking a lot about death and shit,” she says. “I do visual art in the same manner as music in that it’s intensive, but it’s not private at all. The album cover image took about 16 hours, I did it over two days. But it’s weird because I was sitting in my friend’s living room the whole time, so it was a much more social experience and there was a lot of feedback from my friends, and it was a bit different in that regard. At this point there is way less pressure for me to make visual art, so I only really do it out of love, whereas music has deadlines and pressures and stuff, so it’s not as free anymore. It used to be the opposite.”
This is probably why the prevailing influence on the Visions pieces is very personal — “my symbols,” Boucher calls them: the penetrating eyes (or lack thereof), the writhing textures, a weeping alien, the slanted hearts, flush roses and cushy bows, which apparently she’s been drawing since high school. “The eyeball was my first symbol and I use it in lots of ways all the time, but I also really like faces without eyes — which is why I’m attracted to skulls a lot. The alien head is my newest symbol. I have a tattoo of it now on my hand. It’s crying cuz, I dunno, I was sad at the time.”
Whatever mindset sparked the details, Boucher’s visuals are spiked with the same playful streak as her songwriting. The horizontal line of script atop Grimes on the cover says “I love” in Russian, and the two vertical lines are written in a conjured foreign tongue. “I’ve always been into fake writing on my art, particularly things that look kind of Japanese, because I love manga and anime poster art a lot,” she says.
Jasper Baydala, who helped Boucher produce the packaging layout, added a few more hints of mischief. The pink block on the right side is actually the word Grimes “jokingly” copied and pasted over and over and over again — “We both thought that it looked good so we left it,” explains Baydala. (He also alludes, also jokingly, to the roots of that particular idea, apparently inspired by sharing a living space with Arbutus Records’ honcho Sebastian Cowan: “I hear the word ‘Grimes’ hundreds of times per day.”)
Just as he did while producing the layouts for all of the Arbutus’ 2011 releases, Baydala hid a very small Ninja Turtle on the Visions packaging. And then there’s the giant pink alien head. Boucher had wanted to base her design on “another album cover that she liked, and we arranged the elements of her album cover to roughly match it.” For one of her departure points from aping this unnamed record (Baydala’s lips are sealed), Boucher suggested an alien head. A large-filter Google search quickly brought up the original alien head image, created by a then-anonymous artist, “who turned out to be a middle-aged man in Mississauga named Mark Khair, who makes alien heads in his spare time,” explains Baydala. “He was excited that we used it. It is a good alien head. I especially like that when we inflated it to put it on the back of the record, it became pixelated — that is the modern version of grain.”
Baydala says his favourite part of the Visions artwork is the fact that Khair’s alien head is so big on the back of the vinyl. “That is fantastic. It is hard to get away with something like that, and in the future Claire will not be able to get away with anything like that.” No matter how Boucher’s aesthetic ends up being affected by her popularity, Baydala puts her DIY sensibility nicely into context when he mentions the green bevelled lines he added to the packaging design. “I like the bevel because it is just like Photoshop. Maybe Grimes is distinctly Garageband.”
That said, Boucher’s Visions illustrations also show her visual art arsenal shifting to much the same trajectory as her music — embracing more risk, trusting her instincts, filling out the space of her canvases with idiosyncratic tangents. When she painted the piece that became the cover of 2009’s excellent Geidi Primes record, Boucher was just getting warmed up. “That was the first painting I ever really made, and one of my first ‘eyeball’ pieces, so it was sort of a revelatory experience,” she says. “Like, ‘Oh shit, art is way better if you use something besides a mechanical pencil!’ Plus, I realized that drawing on big paper is way more enjoyable and less tedious, and it looks better in real life.”
Even as her implements and materials evolve, thankfully it sounds like Boucher can’t help but maintain a mind-gripping art practice: “I remember not doing a lot of other important things in favour of doing that painting.”
Images by Claire Boucher. Story by Eric Rumble. Buy Visions from Arbutus Records.
IN LOVE AND life and (evidently) self-imposed free labour, there will always be the ones that got away. So in lieu of a half-assed year-end content rehash, here are 10 record covers that grabbed me by the eyeballs in 2011, but not with so much force that I just had to stalk their makers for the scoop on how, why, where, when, by whom and with-what-in-mind they were created.
Please don’t hesitate to send me potty-mouthed notes about any great Canadian cover art that I’ve overlooked, or simply to share why you think LPWTF is the cat’s pyjamas. I hope you enjoyed this year’s stories — keep your eyes peeled for a bigger, better, broader tales in 2012.
The Rural Alberta Advantage: Departing [Mar/2011] — Embedded in an uncertain journey, we lean into the blown-out-of-proportion void. Hopeful and harrowing, desolate and rich, light and dark. This is the most gorgeous place I don’t wanna be.
The Burning Hell: Flux Capacitor [May/2011] — Teasing out the motivations behind madness like this is the reason I started LPWTF. I can’t tell if Santa is being inhaled or hurled.
Dirty Beaches: Badlands [Mar/2011] — I did sneak in one very short e-mail exchange with Alex Zhang Hungtai about the cover of his eerie, smoldering, simple-yet-irresistibly stylish full-length record. But then it exploded, and he got preoccupied with the likes of GQ.
The image was captured in his friend Mike Lau’s basement in NYC, and intended to ape old-school mug shots with “something that was iconic and minimal, impressionist even.” Hungtai also says the ghostly atmosphere “plays into the blues mythologies Badlands was based on,” and that the image was essentially made the same way he made the music for the LP, by cramming compelling ideas together.
“I wanted people to have that cover burned into their minds when they saw it. Even though it does not have any titles or names on the cover, I wanted the image to be a standalone symbol that summarized the gist of the material: Spirits, possession, the devil, exorcism, exile, lingering ghosts from a lost time you can’t pinpoint.”
Hooded Fang: Tosta Mista [Jul/2011] — Imagine an every-luchadore-for-him-or-herself throwdown between these masked marauders. Now, imagine it as the main event at a Hooded Fang show. Has the band considered this? Could they, please? Would they need to concoct full costumes to match the masks, or have those already been made? How do you fit space for an amazing moustache onto the front of your luchadore mask? The questions and fantasies I could tap from this record might actually be impossible to exhaust.
Timber Timbre: Creep On Creepin’ On [Apr/2011] — An indelible film noir pilgrimage of a record cover, appropriately from the band I’d want playing dark folk fables around the campfire while I worked up the nerve to go see what the hell that building is.
Sandro Perri: Impossible Spaces [Oct/2011] — Between making sand angels or climbing those chocolate mountains, I’m not sure what I want to do more. Either way, I totally need to stop peeking through the grass and wander around in this cover art.
Feist: Metals [Oct/2011] — As if the scenery wasn’t lovely and enchanting enough, you can’t help but grin with tickled envy when you realize she’s secretly laid out on the giant F’s middle branch, soaking up that epic landscape. Better still, she dropped the first hint of all this with a paint-by-numbers gimmick. What happens if Leslie Feist lets too much awesome out of the bag too early in her career?
Evangelista: In Animal Tongue [Sep/2011] — Another enigmatic and beautiful otherworld on the cover of a Constellation Records release. Man, do I want a hit of whatever she’s smoking.
Bry Webb: Provider [Nov/2011] — Primordial, murky, deceptively simple, oozing with raw textures and curves, bloody with metallic fissures, and imbued with the twinned illusion of soft and hard. Just like Webb’s songs about gripping into manhood.
Six Heads: Carboard Oracle [Nov/2011] — A small run record of disarmingly weird songs with creepy silk-screening on recycled cardboard for cover art? If I were going to try and fuck an LP from 2011 (and I guess technically I could, if it were a 7”), I’d almost definitely go after this one, and I’d almost certainly PE.