Phineas X Jones posted an article on Signal Vs Noise on his art work for a folk rocker CD cover, his first ever. Phineas goes through every steps of the realisation, from the main idea to the twicky bit of photoshop. It is quite interesting to see how the idea blossom and how internet drastically speeds up the process.
But the truth is : the result is disappointing (and I wont show it here). Too complicated and technical, too many different colors and items. We just dont see what the real point is.
Too many colors distract the listener
I’ve been listening to music for ever and I know I have a very special relationship with CD covers. What I have noticed : the cover I cherish the most (are obviously related to the CD I love but also) tends to be simple and not over designed. They usually start from a basic picture which either tells a story or is strong enough to somehow evoke some clear concept. And there usually is a unique color.
You can tell the influence of The Smiths here. Basically, all their covers follow this pattern. 20 years down the line I’m still fascinated by their unforgettable and powerful expression. They tell complex and often sad stories. They perfectly illustrate the glamorous melancholy of the band.
Funnily enough I have been working quite hard lately on the influences widget of our band Myspace profile, aggregating album covers rather than actual band names, and I have found some harmony in all this art work stacking up.
Just like Vladimir Nabokov (incidentally one of 37Signals main influence according to their manifesto) would give color to letters, I give music to colors : Sepia is Red House Painters. Dark green is The Queen is Dead. Flashy green is Life’s too good by Sugarcubes. Sea Blue is the Ride Nowhere Album, dark blue is The Blue Nile’s Hats, very dark blue is Portishead (Dummy). Yellow is Pale Fountains’s Pacific Street, pale yellow is David Sylvian’s Brilliant Trees, Orange is R.E.M’s Green. Red is Silent Poets (To Come…), dark purple is Mazzy Star (So Tonight that I might see), flashy red is My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless etc …
Infinite Torch Songs
Sometimes I just bump into a CD without really knowing what it’s all about and I just buy it because the cover tells a story. Or rather suggests many stories that I instantly fall in love with.
Maximilien Hecker’s Infinite Love Songs is probably one of my favorites ever. The painting is raw and realistic, yet full of poetry. The girl attitude is mysterious – we can’t really tell why she is lying like that. Is she unconscious ? dead ? desperate ? She looks like she is in abandon, yet this is very erotic as she looks both vulnerable and distant. There is no fancy color or pattern around : just plain white. To evoke the cotton snowy sound of this fragile music. I can exactly remember the day I saw this album in a CD shop in Zürich. I instantly took it and went feverishly straight to the cashier.
Listening to Hecker’s heartbreaking torch songs while manipulating and gazing at this cover is a soul stirring experience, that no MP3 nor iPod Touch in the world can reproduce.
One of the things I love in playing in a band, beyond writing songs, rehearsing them for the first time, blowing my head with raw electric energy, making concert, recording and mixing etc … is taking care of the visual assets. I just love it. I just love the idea of illustrating a social entity with vague artistic purpose, with a colorful, precise and expressive imagery, and print them on t-shirts or concert posters. To somehow perpetuate the great influence of The Smiths visuals on my musical imaginary.
I usually take my family’s pictures as a basis, well mostly the ones with my very expressive and mischevious son. I then extract the mere expression by making it black and white, quite often reframe the picture to give more impact and apply a crude and flashy color, unless the existing ones are powerful enough :
So my 2 cents whenever designing a pop music illustration : look for an expression, a movement, an attitude (and just a single one). Dont hide it behind tons of effects and technique that would dilute its strength ; just keep it raw and crude so that it remains real : it then has more impact and illustrates your music with more significance.