Thursday, December 27, 2012

Judging Olympia's CDs by their covers

Weekly Volcano art critic Alec Clayton reviews album cover art

GLASS ELEVATOR: Art critic Alec Clayton likes the art of "Universum Gloria" the best.

Picking up an album and examining the cover is the first step when shopping for, listening to or contemplating music. Sometimes gazing at the cover, studying the inside jackets and analyzing the art is half the fun.
Below, Weekly Volcano art critic Alec Clayton gives his impression of a handful of recently released Olympia-based album cover art.
Vanguard's Bangin' Jams Volume I: Mission to Rock is artistically risky because it's in black and white. The contrast between the delicacy of a field of flowers and the strength of the two knights in armor is interesting to say the least, but it doesn't do much for me aesthetically. As for telling the "book" by its cover, the only hint as to the kind of music is in the words "Bangin' Jams" and "Rock." I'm thinking heavy metal. By the way, isn't one of those photoshopped heads a little too big for the armor?
Like Vanguard, Erica Freas (of RVIVR) uses black and white imagery on an album cover with a hard-to-read title. Is the title Billy? I like that she combines the black and white with a border of colorful flowers. Unfortunately, the flower imagery on the back cover is overly sweet, and that's what I expect to hear in the songs. I like the photobooth strips on the front. Nicely done.
The Mosquito Hawk eponymous album cover is a little bit '60s psychedelic and a whole lot of art nouveau with some steampunk thrown in for good measure. The drawing is clear and sharp with nice contour lines and bright, soft colors. This cover makes me want to listen to the music.
Bison  Bison*, another eponymous album so far as I can tell from the cover, features a strong, in-your-face image of a double bison face on the cover. The drawing is excellent. The feel is dark, evil, powerful. I would expect heavy drums and throbbing bass, screaming guitars and maybe some brass backup. The back cover is even stronger than the front with an extreme close-up of the bison faces in white on a brownish-orange background.
At first glance I did not at all like the Electric Falcons cover with that strange photo of a dog with the furry, back-lit ears like electronic static in a Frankenstein laboratory. But the more I look at it the more I like it. It's a powerful image that speaks of frantic and screeching sounds. I suspect that the music, like the cover image, would be static-y and harsh and off-putting at first, but that if I listened to it enough I'd grow to like it, but probably never be able to understand the lyrics. I particularly like the subtle color differences between the fuchsia letters on the tile, which color repeats in the dog's ears.
Of the album covers reviewed, my favorite is Glass Elevator's Universum Gloria. It combines some of the best elements of Sgt. Pepper and Peter Max and post-pop surrealism with even a touch of Hello Kitty. I particularly like the bizarre orange eyeball on the front and the playfully gruesome skeleton heads on the back. It's playful and colorful front and back. It makes me think of Cat Stevens' soundtrack from Harold and Maude. Catch them Dec. 28 at Le Voyeur in downtown Olympia.

With Clayton's insightful impressions and these musicians often-hidden messages in their lyrics and artwork, it goes to show that music, like art, has a myriad of layers and complexity, and perhaps you can tell an album by it's cover.

*Bison Bison members are located in Portland, but the singer and guitar player, Grant Miller, spent significant time in Oly and played in the still-rocking Nudity.

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