Oregon – Roots in The Sky

I don’t know much about Oregon. I know they’re a jazz group sometimes referred to as “new age”, a term I try to avoid and regret its connection to late-70’s jazz/world fusion. I recently picked up this specific record, but my record player isn’t with me so I’m unable to hear it. I’ve listened to a few of their songs elsewhere. They play a meditative, organic, calming brand of jazz/folk/world fusion that seems to have avoided the cliches that came later in the 80’s. I recommend them if you’re into John McLaughlin’s Shakti outfit, one of the other pioneers of “world” music.
As for the album cover, I think it has something a lot of contemporary covers are missing: Simplicity. A thin sans-serif font (that I really want to know the name of), a subtle background color and fitting artwork in the center. It doesn’t need anything else.

The painting was done by an artist named Hannah Kay, which I was surprised to find has a website. She was born in Tel-Aviv, Israel and moved to Europe to study art. Since then she’s shown in a wide selection of galleries since the early 70’s. Her paintings and drawings are surreal, organic, calm, sometimes almost abstract depictions of grass, roots, floating trees and reflections. I can’t think of any image better for an album called Roots in the Sky.


You can see a lot more of Hannah Kay’s artwork on here website.
And you can read more about Oregon on their website.

Kanye West – Graduation


According to several sources, the recently released cover for Kanye West’s forthcoming third album is a fake. I’m not surprised. It looked a bit too simple, especially compared to the previous two. Fortunately, I’m pretty sure they’re keeping Takashi Murakami on board for the finished version. The Kanye mascot looks nice in his style. I dig the shades.


Who is Takashi Murakami? He is a contemporary Japanese artist credited with creating the post-modern “Superflat” movement. Superflat work is known for it’s ironic use of popular Japanese imagery and its critiques on post-war Japan. Another well known artist within the genre is Yoshitomo Nara.


What’s funny about this pairing is that both Kanye and Murakami have connections with Louis Vuitton. Murakami has worked on products for the company, and Kanye gives shout outs to them in every song.

I often criticize Kanye for being a bit arrogant. But sometimes I feel like he has the right to be. What other mega-popular mainstream hip-hop artist is going to put the “Japanese Andy Warhol” on his album cover? Sampling and making a video with Daft Punk? Having Bonnie Prince Billy in a parody music video? I think it’s exciting for him to release a more innovative album on the same day as 50 Cent’s new CD Curtis. I’ll be waiting to see who comes out on top. My vote’s for the Louis Vuitton Don.

Check out the hilarious parody video on Kanye’s website.
Learn more about Murakami at his site.

Mingering Mike

Today I made a pilgrimage to the Hemphill Gallery in DC to see the work of Mingering Mike. I had heard about him through other blogs. I didn’t understand what it was all about until recently.

Mingering Mike is sort of like a proto-Madlib, or maybe MF Doom. When Mike was a teenager in the late 60’s he began imagining his own soul artists and record labels. He managed to make over 60 record sleeves by hand using paint, marker, pen and whatever else he could find. The cardboard sleeves included everything a real record would include, going as far as being covered in shrink wrap and having price tags. He also bothered to include cardboard records. Along with that he created a few crates worth of fake 45’s.


Two record collectors, Dori Hadar and Frank Beylotte, came across his collection of poorly drawn vinyl at a flea market in 2003. After that, Mingering Mike became an online celebrity. Eventually they found Mike and a book followed soon afterwards.

One thing about Mike that I didn’t realize was that he actually recorded music. The songs are made mostly of him and some friends singing, making noises with their mouths and tapping on furniture. The songs are the lowest of lo-fi. Supposedly some of the music will be released on CD soon. I’m not sure when.

I think that this work is a perfect demonstration of the magic that can be born from having entirely too much time on your hands. It’s possible for great things to happen under the influence of boredom.

You can learn more about Mr. Mingering Mike and the book by Dori Hadar here.
I plan on picking up the book soon…

The Budos Band – The Budos Band II


From looking at thumbnails, I figured this scorpion was illustrated. Unfortunately, it is a photo. A little disappointing, but it still works. I can envision being stranded in the Sahara, being stung by a scorpion and having the bands music racing through my mind while the hot sun beats down.

The Budos Band is an afro-funk group(ala Fela Kuti) out of Staten Island, New York. They’re similar to the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, but with a grungier, dirtier and more vintage sound and no vocals. Their style fits right alongside the rest of their label, Daptone Records, who is known for supporting music that sounds vintage but really isn’t. The same applies to their album artwork. Sharon Jones & The Daptones are the best example, I think. She’s somewhat of a figurehead on the label, but I’ll get to her later. She has a new album being released in October. (!!!)

I don’t know much about the designers and artists behind Daptone albums, but they are well done. Nice throwbacks to the 60’s and 70’s. Check out the cover to The Budos Band’s first album. I’ve been bad and have neglected to pick it up. Either way, the volcano shows exactly how eruptive Budos’ sound is.


If you want to know more about The Budos Band, check out their website. Look at their MySpace page for samples.
For more on Daptone Records, check out their website as well.

Bonus: A cool music video using their music and clips from the old Superman cartoon.

BTS Radio

I don’t typically use the word “ill” in my regular speech. But I’ve had the term “illness” floating in my head for the past few days. I think that term applies well to what’s going on over at BTS Radio. Something’s happening over there and I think their sickness requires attention immediately.

BTS Radio is a half-hour to an hour mix coming out of California State University each Tuesday night, run by Andrew Meza. Most of the recent mixes, done by Meza and guests, have featured music from established and also up-coming beat makers like Flying Lotus, J Dilla, Madlib, Jneiro Jarel and Samiyam. The selection of music ranges from soul, funk, jazz, electronica and (most often) hip-hop. A lot of the content is unreleased, coming straight off of the artists’ CD-Rs.

Not only is the music amazing, but the art direction is as well. While these are not real, printed album covers, they might as well be. The most recent mixes have each been accompanied by artwork done by LCP United, a collective of designers and illustrators “mainly based between Paris and Tokyo”. The artwork is well designed and fits perfectly with the music. They have obvious graffiti influence with scattered collages of tags, scribbles and characters. They also use a lot of great textures, colors and nice choices of font. They know what they’re doing.


I think the star of LCP might be Illord tha Ques. A great illustrator, he is responsible for a series of hip-hop portraits called “Finest Elements”. After seeing them on so many artists’ MySpace pages, I started to take notice. The likenesses match up well and he manages to capture the personality of each individual artist. I’m sure it has made him well known within that specific scene, especially with the help of MySpace. (It’s good for something!)

As for actual album packaging, LCP does that too. The latest, I believe, is their cover for the Japanese hip-hop group Gagle’s latest album on Jazzy Sport Records, 3Peat.

For more information and free mixes, check out BTS Radio’s page here.
For LCP United, you can check out their site here.

Madlib – Yesterday’s Universe

For my first post, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite music artists, favorite record labels and favorite designers. I thought it was appropriate.

This is the cover of Yesterday’s Universe released last Tuesday on Stones Throw Records. The album is a compilation of imaginary jazz musicians and groups that only exist in the mind of one of the more creative hip-hop producers, Otis Jackson Jr. (aka Madlib aka Quasimoto aka DJ Rels aka The Beat Konducta aka aka aka…). In an interview with RE:UP, Peanut Butter Wolf said this all started when Madlib said he wanted to make a jazz album. The two of them went shopping for keyboards and Madlib headed to his basement to produce an amazing electronic / jazz album, Angles Without Edges, under the name “Yesterday’s New Quintet” in 2001. Yesterday’s Universe is the next step for the project, in a way, being born out of a slew of separate YNQ projects and EPs. The difference between the two is that the imaginary quintet has broken up, forming new groups and their own distinctive styles.

What is really interesting about the album’s packaging are the separate album covers inside the insert. Each one represents one of the imaginary bands and their made-up albums. All of them could easily be pulled out and used on their own.

The packaging was created by a designer and illustrator who I’ve been very interested in as lately, Jeff Jank. He heads the art direction of Stones Throw Records and is responsible for their unique identity along with a lot of their album covers. Considering the number of Stones Throw albums I pick up, prepare to see more of him.

What impresses me in these covers is how separate they are, aesthetically. The personality of each group comes through just as much, maybe more, as they do in the music. He’s creating identities for artists that don’t exist. The covers have a vintage feel that would have some to believe they are long lost albums from the 70’s, found in someone’s dusty basement.

Also, check out the inspiration for the YU cover, Ornette Coleman’s Ornette!. Shamefully, I’m not sure who the designer was. Nor do I own this album. Something else to add onto my list…

If you want to preview the album and you have iTunes, click here.
For more info on Stones Throw, Jeff Jank, Madlib and YNQ, visit their home page.

Introduction

Hello and welcome to “The Cover Up”, a blog which I will be using to explore the artists, designers and photographers behind album packaging that interests me. I will try to write as much info as I can find. In a time when people don’t remember vinyl and are about to forget CDs, preferring soulless MP3 downloads without gratification of having a beautiful album insert to flip through, I feel that it is important to recognize the visual aspect of music.
Who am I? I’m an art student at Virginia Commonwealth University with a heavy interest in music. My art blog is here if you happen to be interested.
Enjoy!