John’s Picks: Judging By The Cover

Normally, we like to share music that we love here – old favorites, or our current heavy rotations.  As an artist, musician and designer, I decided I wanted to share something different today.

I love album art and album design.  For the past 7+ years, I’ve been designing covers for my own music, as well as dozens of friends’ releases.  I also have a bad habit that I must admit to: I buy countless CDs based almost exclusively on the cover art.

For those reasons, I’d like to share some of my favorite album covers and let you judge for yourself.

Pyramid by The Alan Parsons Project was more or less the inspiration for this post.  I ran into the album on the front page of Murfie one day, and it instantly caught my eye.  I’ve never actually heard the album, but that design is undoubtedly ahead of its time.  Pyramid came out in 1978, and you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that the art and cover design is by Hipgnosis.  Sound familiar?  Hipgnosis was a London-based design group that made the iconic art for albums like The Dark Side of the Moon (actually, they did almost all of Pink Floyd‘s art) and Led Zeppelin‘s Houses of the Holy.

112059-largeIf I could just post a gallery of Leif Podhajsky’s work, I would.  In fact, he is something of a design genius, and you should definitely check out his site.  Leif has done the art for tons of modern bands, but most people will recognize his work for Lykke Li (see Wounded Rhymes) and Tame Impala.  I’ve chosen to share Lonerism by Tame Impala as an example of the most subdued his work gets.  Leif often focuses on a balance between intense arrays of color and a counter intuitive desaturation of those same colors.    A lot of his work also features angular mirroring of nature (see The North Borders by Bonobo or another Tame Impala release, Innerspeaker).

39184-largeI couldn’t possibly make this post without mentioning the work of Mati Klarwein.  Though his paintings are largely associated with the psychedelic work of the 60s and 70s, Mati’s style was largely developed before the psychedelic era came to prominence.  In that way, like the folks in Hipgnosis, Mati was ahead of his time.  Luckily for him, progressive artists like Santana, Miles Davis and Brian Eno latched onto his work.  With albums like Live-Evil and Bitches Brew by Miles Davis and Abraxas by Santana, Mati’s iconic paintings became the image of a movement.  If you’re interested in more of Mati Klarwein’s work, there was recently released an amazing new book featuring his art called Mati & The Music: 52 Record Covers 1955-2005.

306990-largeAs an honorable mention, I’d like to bring up the recently-released Jay-Z album Magna Carta… Holy Grail.  I hadn’t heard of the album’s photographer Ari Marcopoulos until I got my hands on an incoming copy of the album here at Murfie.  The packaging for that album is hefty to say the least.  Ari Marcopoulos worked in collaboration with Jay-Z and creative director Willo to put together what they consider an album with an art book.  The packaging includes two thick booklets full of Marcopoulos’ photos, and in an interesting touch, all of the text is “censored” with scratch-off black lines.  To my knowledge, this is the only album Ari Marcopoulos has been a part of, and what a way to kick things off!  For those interested, the cover photo is of the sculpture Alpheus and Arethusa by Battista di Dominico Lorenzi (ca. 1527/28-1594) in the New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Pat’s Picks

You will probably recognize the brass introduction to Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. This piece was originally composed for Solo Piano in 1874 and brilliantly arranged for Symphony Orchestra by Maurice Ravel in 1922. Full of imagery, Pictures at an Exhibition was inspired by 10 paintings by the artist Viktor Hartmann. Each painting is represented by a movement and there is a Promenade that36077-large comes back with variations.

Le Sacre du Printemps or The Rite of Spring just celebrated the 100th anniversary of its premiere on May 29th, 2013. Heard now as a one of the most influential pieces in recent western music, it initially caused an infamous riot at its first performance because of its avant-garde sound. Igor Stravinsky composed The Rite of Spring in two parts, the first, “The Adoration of the Earth”, and the second, “The Sacrifice”. If any piece of classical music could also be categorized as Metal, it would be this one.

36225-largeThese six movements of Glassworks take the us on an auditory journey like nothing we have experienced before. We start in the familiar realm of the solo piano and travel through a whirlwind of synthesizers, wind instruments, and strings. After experiencing many different colors and shapes, the journey ends in the same place that it started, leaving us unharmed and with a new perception of the sounds around us. Philip Glass released Glassworks in 1982 with the walkman in mind. Composed in a very repetitive style, this recording is all about getting lost in the tones of the instruments and the interaction between them.
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Speaking of musical journeys…this is one of the best albums to get absolutely lost in. Bitches Brew (Disc 1, Disc 2) is full of both musical and studio innovations that are mimicked even today.

Find more:
Classical albums on MurfieJazz albums on Murfie
MussorgskyStravinskyPhilip GlassMiles Davis