Great article that explores the recent fascination of bands using lo-fi, amateur analog photography for album covers. It starts with a discussion of Vampire Weekend‘s Contra but then touches on the other artists…
A lot of indie artists lately have felt something similar, it seems. Artists who sound about as different from each other as Vampire Weekend and the Dum Dum Girls have embraced the look and feel of old, amateur photography, often featuring images of childhood and family. Stuart McLamb of the Love Language found a great image of his mother– literally beaming in the unintended glare of a too-hot flash at night, and thought it the perfect album cover. Wolf Parade chose an image of a young Dante DeCaro and his two cousins to decorate the front of Expo 86, instead of some other evocation of the Vancouver World Expo they all attended. Crystal Castles moved from the very digital artwork for their first LP to a creepy snapshot they found on the internet that shows a young, goth-in-training girl walking away from a headstone. Fang Island decided to forever associate their first album of spazzy bro-punk with an adorable, faded-pink front-yard battle scene.
These are just recent examples. Over the past year, Wavves, Harlem, Dr. Dog, Toro Y Moi, Washed Out, Jaill, Woven Bones, and Active Child have each opted for shoebox-quality visuals as their sleeve decoration. Album art has long been a crucial multimedia component of popular music– often the first image we associate with the sounds, its representational role makes it inherently evocative, a symbol containing so much meaning. But it’s never looked quite like this until very recently. Neither a label-sanctioned thing– think Vaughan Oliver’s work for 4AD or Peter Saville’s for Factory– nor even rooted in a shared artistic movement, this trend has instead emerged in a strangely naturalistic fashion.
…Before discussing the trend against high quality, digital photography…
To put it bluntly, in 2010, we’re nostalgic for records because they’re objects. Objects that wear minor imperfections like biographical data or signs of authenticity. The same goes for photography– take the Fang Island cover photo, for instance. That thing that looks like an overlaid firework, next to the little girl’s head? That minor imperfection could have been Photoshopped out, but that misses the point of using the photo in the first place, right? Blemishes like that draw attention to what’s most important about that snapshot– about all pre-digital snapshots nowadays– the surface of the image. Leaving that small flaw on the photo– or hell, Photoshopping one in– signals that it’s an object subject to wear, not some infinitely copiable bit of data on a hard drive. Like the occasional pop and click of an LP, the hissiness of a basement 4-track recording, the wobbliness of an audiocassette, or those VHS tracking lines, distressed photos remind us that the objects we love have shelf lives, they duplicate poorly, and they age with us.
They also remind us of the ugliness possible with digital technology. In a recent column, New York Times tech culture columnist Virginia Heffernan lamented the “microrealist pointillist grotesque” aesthetic of HD and digital photography– a photographic revolution with the capacity of representing the human face and body with vicious clarity. For the average consumer, inexpensive, amateur level digital point-and-shoot cameras pitch megapixels in the same way that razor manufacturers pitch blades: the more you have, the better off you are. As in digital audio recording, the DIY revolution in digital photography of the past decade or so has valued sharpness, clarity, and infinite reproducibility over everything else.
Overall, a great read that was actually published over a week ago. You may start out interested in the album covers trend but I found the most interesting part of the article to be about Gorilla Vs. Bear’s use of Polaroids as well as the best-selling iPhone app Hipstamatic.
Filed under: music, photography | Tags: Battling the Beat, concerts, Elf Power, music, photography
Snug Harbor, Charlotte, NC
More photos can be found in my Concerts 2010 Flickr set
Here are a few of the gorgeous black and white shots taken on set. “Mad Men” has been on fire this season, right you guys?
From the ever-awesome The Big Caption, continuing on the Wes Anderson theme…
(h/t to Kenny)
A print ad for stock photo agency Spuk Pictures courtesy of The Daily What.
Filed under: Concert review | Tags: Bonnaroo, Bonnaroo 2010, music, photography
It’s taken me a few days, but I have finally recovered from this year’s Bonnaroo Arts & Music Festival. How about a wrap-up?
Thursday – Fanfarlo, Here We Go Magic, Local Natives, Neon Indian, Blitzen Trapper
Avent, Scotty Wotty and I drove through the night Wednesday and got to the Bonnaroo grounds at about 4:30am local time Thursday morning. By the way, taking the back way on 55 is recommended for anyone who goes, as the line had already started to form on the I24 on-ramp at that point and we waited in line much less than those that came that way (later, I overheard a random guy say something about driving 10 hours only to wait 11 more hours in line). After a bit of strategizing and engineer vs. non-engineer tent assembly arguments, we got our tent compound (pictured above, which was a million times better than last year) set up by 9am and got maybe an hour’s nap. We trucked it through the rest of the day, checking out Fanfarlo (really good), Here We Go Magic (good), Local Natives (super good) but I had to leave Blitzen Trapper early because I just needed some damn rest. Didn’t get to see The xx like I had planned, but I had seen them a few months before anyways.
Friday – Jay Electronica, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, She and Him, The National, Kings of Leon, Flaming Lips/Dark Side of the Moon, LCD Soundsystem
Friday was by far the busiest day for me. We checked out a lively Jay Electronica set at That Tent, hung out with the hipster hippies on the lawn at Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros at The Other Tent and then got a glimpse of Zooey Deschanel back at That Tent for She and Him. Then, we went back to the tent compound and I got super psyched/drunk for The National.
I love The National, but was a little wary of a late-afternoon outdoor set for them. I was pleasantly surprised when it seemed to work out really well for the band. Singer Matt Berninger was really pretty engaging and genial. He had some stage banter and even cracked some jokes (not the case the other 3 times I’ve seen them), he shared his bottle of wine with the crowd, and ventured into the crowd several times to mingle. For the last couple of songs, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips could be seen offstage checking out the set. Definitely one of my favorite sets of the weekend.
After that set, we went back to camp and kept drinking before Kings of Leon, which I only sort of remember (possibly due to going back after The National to continue drinking, possibly due to the moonshine some people passed us on the lawn). Of course, I was belting out every song that I knew and kind of annoyed our tent neighbors (some cool girls from Salt Lake City who hung out at our compound most of the weekend). After the set, I then lost my group and wandered over to The Flaming Lips, stepping in mud several times but somehow waking up with clean feet (probably stopped by the Centeroo fountain at some point). And by clean I think we all realize this means “relatively clean for Bonnaroo.” I somehow managed to pass out for the first half of the Flaming Lips set (original material) but woke up just as they were finishing up with “Do You Realize” and announcing that they were coming back for Dark Side of the Moon. Theirs is a very interesting, fuzzed-out psych rock take on the album, but I enjoyed the 30 minutes I saw before leaving to head over to LCD Soundsystem.
Miraculously, I was able to find Avent, Duncan, Barker, Will and Rob before the set, when the tent was weirdly a little empty. Eventually the tent filled up to capacity with a ton of people, most of whom had some sort of glowsticks or glowing material on their person. And the show was awesome. In fact, the show of the festival for me (I should add it was chemically enhanced). It was nonstop dancing for an hour and a half. However, the set seemed way too short. I feel like they could have played for at least another hour (though they did play their alloted 1.5 hours), but there were some technical difficulties with a drum machine and James Murphy probably got a little sick of getting hit with glow sticks. Still, a high energy set that was just ridiculously awesome. Afterwards we wandered over to the Lunar Stage and danced rave-style until about 5:30 and stayed up until past 6am that night. The fact that this happened is very funny if you know me. We got back to our camp, hung out while the sun came up and then i proceeded to get about 3 hours of sleep until my tent got unbearably hot (as it does every morning in Bonnaroo).
Saturday – USA/England, The Avett Brothers, Weezer, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z
Avent, Scotty Wotty and I found some shade and napped a few hours before the USA/England match, which was being shown on a big screen at the Lunar Stage (as most World Cup matches were while we were there). By the time of the match, a huge crowd showed up and watched the match in no shade and under the baking sun. Great 1-1 result, especially after going down so early. And to think what might have been if Altidore had finished his chance. Afterwards, we headed back to camp to rest up. We caught the end of the Avett Brothers set, stayed for a little of Weezer (singing along to The Blue Album and Pinkerton songs, obviously) before heading over to What Stage for Stevie Wonder. I only watched a bit of his set, and passed out for a good bit of it. What I did hear was cool, and I can at least say that I have seen the legend in concert. My one real regret was not sticking around for Jay-Z, just figuring I could hear it from my tent (which I could). However, I was so exhausted that I only heard a few songs before passing out, again from exhaustion.
Sunday – Aziz Ansari, Japandroids, Phoenix
Sunday morning was spent waiting in line starting at 9:30am to see Aziz Ansari’s 1:30pm comedy show, which was really really funny. The humor came from the same place as his last stand up special, and even had some updated jokes on his cousins Harris and Darwish, more food jokes and more R-Kelly stuff (“because he just keeps doing amazing things”). While we were waiting in line before the show, I caught some of Japandroids at the adjacent tent. After Aziz we went back to the tent compound to finish the rest of our beer and liquor before Phoenix. Also, we drunkenly broke down our camp. I only sorta remember Phoenix but I’m sure it was as good as the other times I have seen them. We left afterwards, forgoing Dave Matthews Band (sorry Scotty Wotty), driving through the night with the obligatory stop at a Steak and Shake somewhere on the way towards Atlanta. We finally got back to Charlotte around 5:30am and I slept a few hours before Scotty left for Raleigh.
Great great festival and great weekend, but I might be getting too old for this shit. Well, at least until I see what kind of lineup they announce next February…