Frank Zappa – Weasels Ripped My Flesh

A few years ago I had my first taste of Zappa’s music after borrowing Weasels Ripped My Flesh from a dorm friend. The album is a collection of songs by Zappa’s Mothers of Invention band, released after they separated. Most of the songs are loose, bizarre compositions inspired by avant-garde jazz.

The album’s cover managed to cause a controversy with Zappa’s label (at the time, Warner Brothers. According to what I read here, Warner thought it wasn’t up to their standards, the printer was offended by it and his assistant refused to touch the painting.

Zappa paid $250 to an illustrator/designer named Neon Park to to the painting. He had asked for an image inspired by the cover of a men’s magazine, shown below. For some reason the German version of the album has completely different artwork showing a metallic baby in a mousetrap, unapproved by Zappa.

Neon Park also work on covers for a few other bands, most notably a group called Little Feet. There is a book of his work, including all of his album covers, published by Last Gasp.

Update: Kanye West – Graduation

Oh, wow. I made a post about the “fake” cover for Kanye’s new album a while ago. As a commenter on Nah Right put it: “That covers on some wierdo status…” I think that best describes it. I reiterate from my last post, what other mega-popular mainstream hip-hop artist is going to feature Takashi Murakami on their album cover? No one. This is weird, and I love it. I applaud this kind of craziness reaching into the mainstream on what will probably be one of the best selling albums of the year. Forget Curtis. Hopefully the album’s this quirky.


Blue Note Records – Reid Miles

Last week I came across a book a book filled with Blue Note album covers. A gem published by Chronicle Books in 2002. It is cover-to-cover artwork with a small amount of text. The book is a great retrospective of the design work that went into one of jazz’s most respected record labels. Blue Note released (and still does) work from some of jazz’s greatest artists including Thelonius Monk, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Horace Silver and a long list of brilliant musicians. The two men responsible for visually representing these giants were Francis Wolff and Reid Miles.

I’ll keep Francis Wolff for the next post. Up until 1967, Reid Miles was responsible for a good percentage of Blue Note album covers. He’s well-known for his bold shapes and colors, structured compositions and sometimes experimental use manipulation of typography. Some of his designs managed to overpower Wolff’s photography, limiting it to only a thumbnail. Also interesting are the album covers he designed and hired Andy Warhol to do illustrations for, before he became the Warhol.

Coincidentally, Miles was also a photographer. He managed to have his photographs featured on several albums. In comparison to Wolff’s photos, Miles’ were more abstract, making use of blurry, fast moving subjects.

Miles was also recognized for his work at Esquire Magazine and “more agencies and magazines than he could remember”. In 1971 he became a full-time photographer and continued to work until his death in 1993.

Chronicle Book’s “Blue Note: Album Cover Art – The Ultimate Collection” can be found here.

Prefuse 73 – Preparations

I don’t really have much to say about this. Just that I am very excited about this album and the artwork is excellent. I’ve been a Prefuse 73 fan for a long time and all of his releases have been winners. Announced just yesterday, this one is a double album (!!!) coming out on Warp Records in October. I thought Scott was done with his Prefuse act, but apparently not! He better make it good, especially with Warp-newcomer Flying Lotus‘ debut waiting around the corner. Exciting! I’ll be writing more about it and the rest of his albums again when Halloween rolls around…
Here is Prefuse 73’s website.

Fela Kuti – Monkey Banana

The other day I picked up a used copy of Fela Kuti’s Monkey Banana / Excuse O. Fela was a musician and composer from Nigeria partly responsible for creating “afrobeat”, a style of music combining jazz, funk, highlife and traditional African music. After living in the US and being influenced by Black Panthers Fela became an activist within his own country, opposing its government and police. Many of his popul songs were protests the sometimes lead to riots at his performances. Today he influences a many artists including his son Femi Kuti, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, The Budos Band, Nomo, Wale Oyejide and more who wish to carry on the tradition.

Monkey Banana’s cover is what pushed me to choose it over his popular Zombie album. It reminds me of the crazy psychedelic Funkadelic sleeves, but obviously with more African influence. The credits fail to mention who the artist was, but I figured it was interesting enough to post.

I guess this is the closest he has to a website.

Update: After looking around I found the artist. His name is Ghariokqu Lemi, an illustrator and designer from Nigeria. He is responsible for a lot of Fela’s album covers. He has a MySpace page featuring tons of album covers he’s done for Fela and others, including Antibalas’ Talkatif! Nice!

Common – Finding Forever

I was being hard on Common. My initial impressions of his new album weren’t great. His lyrics don’t seem as strong. Kanye’s production isn’t hitting me like his work on Be. I’m not in love with the cover art. I had also been reading a lot of negative reviews and opinions which may have swayed my own. I still don’t think this lives up to his previous. I feel that neither of those live up to Like Water For Chocolate. But after watching some Lil’ Wayne and 50 Cent videos, I’m realizing that anything Common puts out is more meaningful and important than the grill-wearing, gang-banging thug themes that typically get the spotlight with mainstream audiences. Common is a Soulquarian and Native Tongue, after all. LWFC is still my favorite. But overall Finding Forever is still a satisfying, good album.

Anyway, this blog is supposed to be about album artwork, primarily. I’ll stop ranting about Common’s music. Like I said, I’m not loving the album’s cover. It is much more futuristic than I expected, with clean vectors flying all directions, bits of splattered ink, an okay photo and some odd form engulfing his head. The font used for the title and track-list bothers me as well. But after listening to the album, the cover fits with the theme. I still think Be and LWFC top this. But it’s decent. The photography comes thanks to Nabil Elderkin who I will save for later as I think his work on the up-coming Talib Kweli album is great.

The artist behind the cover is Nigel Evan Davis (aka Electric Heat). At only 24, he has a long, impressive client list ranging from Converse to Coca-Cola to Sandisk to Pitchfork Media (nice) to Upper Playground (very nice). He has plenty of collaged compositions making use of photographer, type, illustration and shiny things. I found out that he also did the artwork for Goepele’s album, Change it All, which caught my eye more than once on the walls of Tower Records (RIP).

You can find Nigel Evan Davis’ portoflio here.
And again, Common is here.

Common – Be

I picked up Common’s new album Finding Forever yesterday. I want to say how I feel about that album. But first I’ll talk about Be, his previous release. This album was Common’s “comeback” for a lot of people. Fans thought Electric Circus was a joke with Erykah Badu as the mastermind. But really, when you look at the relationship between The Soulquarians and their true influences, it had a ton of chemistry and is as close to a Soulquarian album as I think we’ll get. Either way, Be was the return to form of Common that old fans were waiting for. To me it was a beautiful, simple and honest album. Common sounded completely natural over Kanye’s instrumentals. It was a soulful release that I think, in some ways, harkens back to the spirit that artists like Donny Hathaway and Curtis Mayfield had in the 70’s. In other words, it was one of my favorite albums of 2006. And I’ll continue my point in tomorrow’s post…

Besides the great music, the packaging had an impact on me as well. I think that the cover may be the best in Common’s catalog, close to Like Water for Chocolate. The photo of his face almost looks like an illustration, slightly out of focus. It’s simple, graphic and to the point. This was Common Sense. He was “himself” again. He was happy to be “back”. It worked very well.

The shot was taken by Cass Bird, a photographer born in California and currently living in New York represented by the MS Logan Agency. According to her bio she has been featured regularly in Black Book, Big Magazine, Paper, The New Yorker, Fader and New York Times Magazine. She has also had her work exhibited as far as Italy. A large portion of her work seems to be well-done fashion photography. I especially like her black & white work. She also has a series of Polaroids on her personal site that I’m enjoying. As far as music goes, I see John Legend and Weezer in her portfolio as well.

You can see Cass Bird’s work on her site and her agency’s site.
Common Sense is here.