I really enjoy this section of Cyclic Defrost but didn’t think it would be so hard coming up with a list of my own. I think album art is really important but I’ve never compiled a list of favourites. I’m ignorant about a lot of recorded music, and not nearly as geeky and encyclopaedic about obscure stuff as some of my elitist friends. My music taste is generally considered to be pretty uncool but I felt the only honest way to do this was to pick through stuff I actually own. I wish I could have done a whole feature on obscure black metal art, some of that stuff is insane! I found that the stuff which stood out didn’t have that much to do with the artwork itself being particularly innovative or fantastic, more so that it just resonated with me as some kind of visual representation of the yummy feelings I get from the music, which I guess is kind of the point.
I discovered this album thanks to the wonderful internet, when MP3s were becoming really huge. I couldn’t believe that I could get all this incredible new music (very slowly) on dial-up. I knew who Crispin Glover was but I didn’t know about this album, or his cut-and-paste books, or any of that stuff, so I ordered it off Amazon and it’s amazing! The album consists of a bunch of spoken readings from his books Rat Catching and Oak Mot, as well as some original songs, and a few amusing cover songs. It was produced by Barnes and Barnes, and Weird Al plays Accordion on it.
The cover has a photo of Glover in a dark suit. His face has been extended into a distorted mutated smudge. He stands behind an operating table brandishing a hammer in his right hand, with long red tendrils snaking from his left hand to a box containing a floating red question mark which I believe represents the big problem alluded to in the title.
Inside the booklet are reproductions from some of his books, and the back cover has a collaged photo and illustration puzzle detailing the 9 topics covered by the tracks on the album. The words and lyrics point towards the Big Problem The solution lay within the title: Let It Be. Crispin Hellion Glover wants to know what you think these nine things all have in common. I was so happy when he came out here recently performing the big slideshow and screening his films, it really was a bit of a geek moment for me as his films aren’t available commercially, he only ever tours them around personally, so I really didn’t think I’d ever see them.
Kaada – Music For Moviebikers
This album packaging is really nice. It comes in a fancy digipak that it is longer than it is wide. The cover image features a Black and White photograph of the gorgeous man John Erik Kaada in a black suit. He is not wearing a tie. He gently cradles a large bird, whether it’s a swan or a goose I don’t really know, but it’s big and white and very elegant. Projecting outwards from behind him and giving some impression of depth are a number of tiny little lights on the wall. It suits the album perfectly, which is a number of instrumental compositions by John Erik Kaada made in the manner of many of his film scores. You close your eyes and the songs tell these sweet little stories. Kaada’s music is delicate and lovely, multilayered and really effective at conveying emotion. The art for this is simple and striking, yet ultimately quite mysterious. On the back cover and the inside are red bloody fingerprint smudges, perhaps indicating something murderous has happened. The design was by this guy Martin Kvamme, who really is a clever duck. I’m really not much of a design geek, but I’ve loved pretty much everything I’ve seen of his, it’s oh so classy.
Liars – They Were Wrong so we Drowned
I haven’t heard much of their first or most recent albums, but I love this and Drum’s Not Dead quite a lot. The art is a reproduction of an ugly cross stitch pattern in a rough red sack fabric. As best as I can make out, the image depicts a large cross overlooking a massive eagle shooting lightning bolts into the ocean, a skull and crossbones with broomsticks, and a game of hangman. The title of the album is haphazardly stitched across the top in a bright green colour. I don’t really understand it all but I figure it all ties into the album’s concept of drowning and witch hunts and all that. Inside the booklet are a series of illustrations continuing along this theme, and I particularly like the one of a little girl floating in the river. On the back cover there is an image of the reverse of the cross stitch pattern,so showing all the loose threads and cottton. It looks so crappy and handmade, kind of like the craft equivalent of just scrawling the album title on with a marker. I haven’t seen anything else like it, and the album is as spooky and evil as this cover is.
Neutral Milk Hotel – In The Aeroplane Over The Sea
It struck me that this might seem like a bit of an obvious choice but I couldn’t think of anything that resonates so well with me. This album rules. It has the most simple songs, but is completely powerful and overwhelming as an album. I’m sure everybody has a copy, if you don’t go and get it! It’s perfect. Let it win you over. All of the art that comes with the album has this sort of European gypsy carnival sort of influence which is present in the music too, but the cover is just beautiful. It features a number of strange figures drifting about in the ocean, their boat wrecked. The figures raise their arms, presumably waving down the aeroplane referred to in the title. The main figure is wearing a fancy red gown covered in little gold stars, and she has this a giant head that looks like a drum skin or something. I really don’t know what it is and I’ve never bothered to research it. It’s just an awe inspiring image that is difficult to make sense of. In a way it is as impenetrable as the lyrics, and I like the mystery of it. The background is painted with little textured dots which is pretty neat too.
Skeleton Key – Fantastic Spikes Through Balloon
I think I first discovered Skeleton Key watching Rage one night in 1998 and Dave Grohl played an EPK/Short film from this album which consisted of raucous performance footage interspersed with a strange narrative featuring the band members playing these oddball characters that eventually end up on the same train in New York.
Their music is really weird – but fun – rock music via Tom Waits, with an awesome trash percussion thing going on. Percussionist Rick Lee just bashed on scrap metal and junk and triggered all sorts of noisy samples, and I thought it was ridiculously cool that they were doing all this stuff within the context of a pop/rock band. I could never get hold of this album – apparently it pretty much tanked on release – but I eventually found one in the 2nd hand section of Utopia one day, as well as Erik Sanko’s solo album Past Imperfect, Present Tense which is completely depressing, and one of my favourite albums that I own.
The cover art for this album is really unusual. It features a sausage balloon on the front, but the whole booklet has a grid of 9×9 holes punched right through it. ON the inside there are photos of the band, and gas tanks, and a strange puffer fish thing. You can see the CD through the holes on the front. I think it was nominated for a Grammy for best cover design or something similar.
Ween – The Mollusk
Ween are my favourite band in the whole world and every single one of their albums are works of genius but this one has the coolest album cover, closely followed by the babe with the Ween belt on the front of Chocolate And Cheese. Most of the songs on this album have a nautical underwater marine theme, and the album was recorded by the ocean side, so it makes sense that the cover art would continue that theme. The booklet is full of strange images of sea creatures hiding in shadows and the like, but the cover itself features a bizarre sculpture creature consisting of various parts of fish and crab claws and tentacles and things, presented like a floral display on this dark blue/green watery background. It’s difficult to tell if it’s a painting or a photograph, whether it’s real or fake. It’s just odd. I think the creature exists as a weird sort of mish-mash of things that are recognisable but slightly off. I did some research and it turns out this work was created by Storm Thorgeson who has done a whole bunch of unusual album covers, most notably Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon. Neat.
The Locust – Plague Soundscapes
The Locust are so great! They’re like a musical equivalent of a chainsaw to the face, but still really melodic and musical in a way. The crusty analog synths melt my brain and warm my soul. The art for this album features an illustrated city in ruins, likely the result of the zombie plague that appears to have infected its inhabitants. Zombies and Zombie football players are fleeing and vomiting in the streets. The sky is red like blood and, as if that wasn’t awful enough, a giant reptilian monster with a lipstick for a face is doing battle with a giant muscle bound blue spandex hero without a head. That’s a movie I’d like to see, and the music of The Locust is the perfect soundtrack to such a ridiculous scenario. I love everything about this band, but especially love the dumb grasshopper costumes and song titles like The Half-Eaten Sausage would like to see you in his office and Late for a double date with a pile of atoms in the water closet.
Kylie Minogue – Impossible Princess
I’m not really sure what I love about this. It could be the neon colours, the composition, the symmetry of the image. It’s probably Kylie’s little blue dress and her spiky hair. I’m not sure how they did the cool wall of coloured lights around her, it looks like a big plastic wall or something that was done in post, but I think it was done practically with a long exposure and rotating coloured gels around her. This is her best album by the way, a lot of mainstream pop singers put out albums with some great singers and mostly filler, but this is packed with cool songs that are all very different. I guess this was her experimental phase, I’d love to think this is Kylie really taking control of her career and driving it a bit, but I guess the reality of it is she was just working with the right people. The album is all over the place in a good way, some of it is poppy fluff and ballads, some of it is almost hardcore dance, but it’s pretty diverse stylistically. She went a bit rubbish after this and did that lame song with Robbie Williams, but I still think she’s heaps cool.
The Blood Brothers – March On Electric Children
I first got into the Blood Brothers when Burn Piano Island Burn came out. I was a bit of a sucker for bad nu-metal and I was listening to everything Ross Robinson was involved with, but this band just killed me. I immediately tracked down all of their old albums, and this one is my favourite. The cover is a blurry out-of-focus close up on the mouth and nose of what I gather is a woman’ face. It has video lines through it, which is consistent with many of the images within the chunky booklet, so it looks like they’ve been photographed from a television set. I can’t really pinpoint why I love this, I guess it just seems wrong for an album cover. I like that it’s not really clear what’s going on, it’s really vague, yet implies a sort of soft-focus sleazy sexuality which is really all through their lyrics. It’s cropped in such an extreme way that it obscures all other information and draws attention to this particular part of the image. But why? The vinyl version looks really cool too. It’s a real shame they broke up, but I think they were starting to run out of ideas, they’re formula was really specific. If only all hardcore was this fruity.
Nancy Vandal – Return Of The Zombie Skate Poets From Planet Sex
I have a real soft spot for Nancy Vandal. I first started listening to them in my early teens. They were essentially a punk rock band, but they remained consistently challenging, reinventing themselves with each new album and being much more interesting than the bands they were lumped with. When Crab Smasher first started in 2002 our first recordings were actually really bad, noisy electronic Nancy Vandal covers made with pitch shifted vocals, pirated loop software and Windows Sound Recorder. Even though we’ve never sounded anything like them, we’ve always tried to retain that half arsed not overly serious but always fun approach to our music making. All of their cover art is by band member Mike Foxall, whose work you’d be aware of if you were anywhere near a Frenzal Rhomb T-shirt in the 90s. This is their first EP and it’s not necessarily Foxall’s best work, but it’s still heaps awesome. It depicts a mean looking zombie skate poet from the Planet Sex. It’s wielding a massive chainsaw and that’s about as much as I have to go on. It ‘s a crudely drawn illustration and is totally punk as hell. I think more than anything else I’ve selected, you can really see the influence on my own work here.