*Originally written for Fonk Magazine, November 2019.
For years, music has been a big thing for me. It’s something I have always followed by keeping up to date with the latest releases as well as digging in the (proverbial and literal) crates and back catalogues of my favourite artists and genres. I find the history of music incredibly interesting and almost infinite.
My music taste has developed organically over time, often inspired by my environment and peers; as a teenager I was confined to very mainstream and radio-friendly music but after leaving home to study art and design as well as moving to Amsterdam: being surrounded by like-minded, yet diverse people I began to refine my listening choices.
Nowadays my music taste is an eclectic mix of lots of genres including electronic (house, techno, electro, dubstep etc.), hip-hop, punk, indie and alternative, experimental and even classical. I’m not afraid to try something new or listen to something a bit obscure.
As a graphic designer and music lover it’s hard for me to not be interested in record sleeves. I wrote in my first column for Fonk (October 2017) about the art and design of Factory Records, largely designed by Peter Saville for bands like Joy Division and New Order; many of which have gained iconic status for their artwork.
I think that my interest in graphic design as a teenager came from looking at album artwork and record sleeves and thinking to myself, “that’s cool, I want to do that”.
I wrote in May 2019 about my passion for record sleeves, specifically physical records I own myself but there are four records which I think are masterpieces both audibly and visually. This time, I want to share these four and why I think they are good and who is behind them; both the sound and the vision.
This is a minimal but strong image which does well to explain the anonymous protagonist of this album, rapper MF DOOM, who performs wearing this gladiator-style mask. It feels gritty, raw and uncut: very much like most of the songs on the album. The minimalism also doesn’t give much away style-wise so if someone were to listen to it for the first time they wouldn’t be expecting music filled with bold lyrics and cartoon show samples. The photograph of MF DOOM was taken by Eric Coleman and Jeff Jank in LA in 2003 and was part of a wider shoot where he also poses with his sampler/beat machine and tapes.
Genre: Hip-Hop/Jazz Rap/Underground Hip-Hop
Top song: Accordion
Much of this album was recorded in inner-city London by artist Mike Skinner (aka the lead member of The Streets) who tells the story of what it was like to live in London in the late 1990s/early 2000s through only a way he can: stories of getting drunk in pubs and causing trouble. The name itself is a nod to the pirate radio stations which existed in London at the time, often ran out of tower blocks. This photograph was taken by German photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg as part of her project called Towering Infernos where she explored London after dark in 1996.
Genre: UK Hip-Hop/UK Garage/2-Step
Top song: Weak Become Heroes
Also a minimal album which through the style of the artist’s logo, does give a lot away. You can tell by the obscure and almost unrecognisable letter A that this is going to be an experimental sounding album which it most definitely is: almost 75 minutes of high-paced IDM and ambient noise. The design of Aphex Twin logo is by Paul Nicholson who has said that every line, angle, circumference and diameter in the logo (and all other Aphex Twin branding) means something related to Aphex Twin’s music.
Genre: IDM/Ambient Techno/Electronica
Top song: We Are the Music Makers
This is a beautiful image, very much a piece of art. Created by an artist via an unconventional process. It was made whilst in the recording studio with the band, the artist being inspired by the music he heard as well as inspiring the band to play in response to it. The artwork was created by Stanley Donwood and it is apparently a photo of wax thrown at paper and acid bathed. Donwood, a university friend of Radiohead’s lead singer Thom Yorke, has also worked on other Radiohead albums including OK Computer (1997), Kid A (2000) and Hail to the Theif (2003).
Genre: Alternative Rock/Experimental Rock
Top song: Nude