Album Art Trend: The Work Of Stanley Donwood And Atoms For Peace

I’ve long been an admirer of the aesthetic of artist Stanley Donwood, the longtime visual collaborator of Radiohead, who’s created artwork for practically every Radiohead record. I think I first took notice around the time of Kid A and Amnesiac because the visual imprint of those two musically-tied records was so perfectly cohesive. I love poring over all the tiny details embedded in the liner notes booklets and inserts and it always seems to be the way I picture Radiohead’s albums and songs in my head.

Currently I’ve become enamored in the artwork Donwood has crafted for Thom Yorke’s solo project Atoms For Peace, the new band he’s made with Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronker, Flea and Mauro Refosco. The band’s new record, AMOK, is coming in late February and from what I’ve heard of it, it’s already one of the best records of the year. But originally, Atoms For Peace was put together in 2009 to tour in support Yorke’s first solo album 2006’s The Eraser and adapt songs constructed as beats and samples on a laptop into a living, breathing and danceable beast. That record was exceptional: intricately crafted and dark, but the glitched beats could feel sterile. Live, these songs were allowed to stretch and take on a newfound energy.

At the time The Eraser came out, I really loved the artwork. But now that Atoms For Peace is rolling out its new singles and album, that album cover becomes part of a larger collection of pieces all tied together by the same thematic look: A stark black and white color scheme and intricately rendered pop art-meets-woodcut-style illustrations that just pop right off the screen.

It’s clear that Donwood has extrapolated this style for not only AMOK, but the artwork for the two singles, “Default” and “Judge, Jury And Executioner” as well as the non-album track “What The Eyeballs Did.” On the Atoms For Peace website, you can see that these images are just part of a long, side-scrolling interactive panoramic Donwood has created.

The art for AMOK is above, but here’s all the others, so far:

“Default” single:

“Judge, Jury And Executioner” single:

“What The Eyeballs Did” single:

Now Donwood has even taken that theme a step further into something groundbreaking. Back in December, when Atoms For Peace originally announced its upcoming album release date, it came paired with an animated GIF of a sprawling drawing on a building, rendered in the same style as Donwood’s artwork. In a press release, Donwood described the image as a “scene of armageddon in modern Los Angeles.”

The scene was part of a collaboration between Donwood and the artist INSA, who painted several murals based on the artwork onto the walls of record label XL’s L.A. office building. The various murals were photographed and turned into an animated GIF for a project they’re calling “Hollywood Dooom”

Here’s Donwood’s lengthy explanation about the original art:

“Los Angeles is, of course, fucked. Everything is fucked, all of our cities, all of our towns, our villages, our farms, our entire way of living. and I don’t mean fucked in a good way, oh no; I mean it in a very, very bad way. Our energy rich and culturally complacent society has doomed everything, and really, we all know this. Or at least, we should do. We have run out of everything, pissed it up against the wall, blown it, spent it, wasted it. We’ve run out of money, of oil, of gasoline, of water, of food, of any resources, of energy, of everything. We are reduced to trying to blast pathetic amounts of gas from solid rock and we don’t care if we poison our water while we’re doing it.”

“The apocalypse is already here, and the saddest thing is that we’re trying to fool ourselves that it isn’t happening. Our politicians are fucking idiots, our heroes are fools, our industries are dying, our farmland is trashed and our culture resembles nothing more than a self-devouring joke. Our architecture is hideous and our art revels in empty platitudes. There is no future; we have evicted ourselves from our own cities, rendered our agriculture poisonous, criminalised the poor, aggrandized the rich, honoured the stupid and ridiculed the intelligent. I don’t pretend to stand outside this fucking mess. I’m just as guilty as anyone.”

Conceptually, GIFs have really exploded again in the last few years, as a continuous, looped image, not totally unlike a snippet of a sample, looped into a larger musical song, say one written by Atoms For Peace. I love how this stuff all fits together and in all makes a cool grouping of images that seem to now completely fit the mood of the band’s music. I could totally envision Thom Yorke and friends incorporating these visuals on stage in some way or another. I can’t wait to see how.

The Knife Unveils Its Uncompromising ‘Full Of Fire’ Video

The Knife's Shaking The Habitual is out now.
The Knife’s Shaking The Habitual is out now.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly seven years since The Knife’s last record, Silent Shout, but in the last few weeks the long-dormant Swedish electronic duo has shown some new signs of life. On April 9, The Knife is set to release a new album, Shaking The Habitual, a 98-minute-long double CD (and triple LP) that’s bound to make up for any lost time.

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Revisiting The Postal Service’s ‘Give Up’ Ten Years Later

Last Monday, I spent the day watching the presidential inauguration on TV, feeling wistful of my time in 2009, standing out in the cold in D.C. to watch President Obama get sworn in the first time around. It was such an once in a lifetime-type experience and one of my favorite memories of living in Washington. As the day went on, I wished I was there to be part of it again, and that this time meant the same as it did before. Four years later there was simply less of that magical feeling, like the enthusiasm had burned just a tad less bright. There was a less ecstatic hopeful tone and more of a tempered, pragmatic and strategic sense of “Let’s get to work!”

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Youth Lagoon: ‘Wondrous’ Bedroom Music

Youth Lagoon's 'Wondrous Bughouse' is out now. (Courtesy of the artist)
Youth Lagoon’s ‘Wondrous Bughouse’ is out now. (Courtesy of the artist)

It’s romantic to imagine a “bedroom musician” shyly strumming away on an old guitar after everyone else has gone to sleep. But these days, it’s perhaps more common that those sorts of personal artists are crafting gigantic, earbuds-filling sounds on computers, keyboard controllers, and electronic interfaces. Case in point: Boise, Idaho native Trevor Powers — a.k.a. Youth Lagoon, whose gorgeous first album The Year Of Hibernation captured that feeling of confinement and being alone even as the melodies sweep dramatically over you.

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Nightlands’ Intricate And Ruminative ‘Oak Island’

Nightlands' Oak Island is out now.
Nightlands’ Oak Island is out now.

From the very first lines, Nightlands coaxes you into his ruminative musical world: “I’d like to invite you / For just a little while, for just a little while / To a place I used to go, when I was only seventeen.”

The work of multi-instrumentalist — and bassist for Philly’s The War On Drugs — Dave Hartley, Nightlands crafts the kind of music that feels intimate and deeply personal, even as it sprawls into otherworldly realms. Hartley seems to write through a methodical process of assembling intricately textured instruments and stacking them to make gorgeous headphone music equally spacious and tactile.

Nightlands’ second album, Oak Island, mixes burbling electronics and layered keyboards with crisply raked guitar strums and dusty drum machine beats. It adds up to a distinct sound that sits comfortably between ambient folk, 1970’s AM radio, glittery synth pop, and a breezy, almost tropical feel. There are hints amidst the static of samba grooves, an occasional festive burst of horns, and some slack-stringed slide guitar that recalls both Hawaiian traditionals and the gauzy dream pop of Beach House.

And yet, despite the sonic experimentation and a near-mathematical approach, the songs on Oak Island reach for the heart. At the center is Hartley’s vocals, often cloaked in echoes or overdubbed harmonies that create gorgeous choruses of voices as he sings wistfully of love and dreams. The result is a lovely, soaring collection from a unique artist discovering his voice.

Wait, THAT’S The New Bowie Album Cover?

Today, on his 66th birthday, David Bowie announced he was set to release a new album, The Next Day — his 30th album and first in ten long years of radio silence — on March 12. Along with that announcement, Bowie dropped that album’s first single, “Where Are We Now?,” along with a self-referential and inward-looking video directed by Tony Oursler about aging and mortality.

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Eight Comics To Look Forward To In 2013

The last year in comics was an especially strong one thanks to many excellent long-running series wrapping up, and, in turn, many more being relaunched in the last few months by Marvel and DC. And don’t forget the huge year at Image with many stellar new creator-owned series. There was so much to like, and I still haven’t gotten to everything various writers have recommended in their best of 2012 lists.

So how do you follow that? Well, clearly by trying new stuff slated to debut this year. Here’s a few things — a lot of superhero books, admittedly — I’m looking forward to in the coming few months of 2013.

SUPERIOR SPIDER-MAN | Dan Slott, Ryan Stegman, Humberto Ramos, et al | (Marvel)

Dan Slott’s long gestating run on Amazing Spider-Man culminated with a new, more, um, villianous lead character in the exceptional and controversial final issue #700. It’s supposedly a darker and bolder new direction that was sure to rankle longtime fans. Let’s see (SPOILER ALERT!!): Peter Parker’s mind got switched Freaky Friday-style into Doctor Octopus’ dying withered body, and vice-versa. Then Doc Ock’s body died, and supposedly the real Peter Parker with it. Now Doc Ock has Peter’s young body and all his memories and no one knows what just went down. Got all that? While no one knows how long this current status quo will last, Slott has more than proven his love for and full understanding of Spidey and he’s more than earned trust that he has a big story to come. But if one thing is certain, he’s about to take us on another wild ride.


UNCANNY X-MEN / ALL-NEW X-MEN | Brian Michael Bendis, Chris Bachalo, Stuart Immomen | (Marvel)

As Brian Michael Bendis shifts from his giant eight-year run on the Avengers books to helm the X-Men franchise, we’re getting the writer splitting his big story between the already-launched All-New X-Men and a soon-to-be released Uncanny book. There’s been a shift in power dynamics in X-Men’s world: Cyclops is a sorta villain mutant freedom fighter running around with Magneto, new mutants are popping up all over the world, and the original Stan Lee\Jack Kirby-era teenage team (Marvel Girl, Cyclops, Beast, Iceman, Angel) has just been transported to the modern day, shocked at what they see. It’s a gutsy set up being given a lot of space to build, not to mention new territory for a decidedly reinvigorated Bendis. And thanks to artists Stuart immoman and Chris Bachalo, you know these two books are going to be gorgeously designed and full of vibrant energy.


THE GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY | Brian Michael Bendis, Steve McNiven | (Marvel)

Outside of Brian K. Vaughan’s stellar new series Saga, I don’t much care for sci if space opera mixing into my comics. And when it comes to space superheroes, I often tune out, as I did with the much-heralded run of cosmic Marvel books from writers Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning. (I should catch up on those someday.) But with a Guardians movie announced this summer to be on the horizon and Bendis and the hyper-realistic art McNiven taking on this new book, I have to say I’m intrigued enough to try it out. A creation of the 1970s cosmic era of Marvel, Guardians are focused around hero Star-Lord Peter Quill and his gang that includes Groot, a talking alien tree, and Rocket Racoon, a gruff gun-totting racoon. With Bendis’ equally relatable and funny characterization and his giant story scope, these oft-neglected characters may actually break through and find a bigger audience.


PHONOGRAM: THE IMMATERIAL GIRL | Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie | (Image)

I gobbled up the first two collected editions of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s Phonogram, and loved the series for its whip-smart humor, clean pop art-styled illustration and design and the deep cuts-heavy music references to Britpop and the U.K. music scene. Also the concept — music as magic — was inventive and weird and really fun. After the second series, Singles Club, there’s been a long hiatus, mainly due to financial reasons, but the story always felt like there was more to tell and somewhat unfinished business. Last year the duo surprised many by announcing a third installment, but that book kept getting pushed back for other projects. Here’s hoping this will finally see the light of day in 2013.


YOUNG AVENGERS | Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie | (Marvel)

Okay, so bad news: Phonogram has been pushed back and we may have to wait awhile for that book to surface. Good news: It is because the same creative team is taking on the Young Avengers as part of the whole Marvel Now initiative. Gillen had a well-liked run with Kid Loki in his Journey Into Mystery arc (I haven’t read it, but read it was good), and continues with that character here, along with various other next generation superheroes. This book looks to take on the excitement of being young, on the verge of adulthood and having crazy superpowers too. I’d say this might be the breakout hit of the year thanks to the writer and artist sure to bring their winning indie chemistry to a big time series.


SEX CRIMINALS | Matt Fraction, Chip Zdarsky | (Image)

Okay, so if you search the name of this book on the web, make you add some extra search terms at the end, since this is maybe one of the most un-Google-able comic titles since Girls (not the band, or the Lena Dunham TV show). Still, Matt Fraction’s Sex Criminals — his first new creator-owned book since Casanova — has a killer set up, that seems tailor-made for Fraction’s weirder ideas: It’s a sex comedy following two young lovers on a “lust-fueled crime spree with a twist — when they have sex, time itself seems to stop.” Sure to be full of filthy, sexy humor and layered plot lines, Fraction and Zdarsky’s book may be 2013’s breakout success from Image.


PRETTY DEADLY | Kelly Sue DeConnick, Emma Rios | (Image)

I haven’t read too much from Kelly Sue DeConnick, but she seems poised for a big year: Coming off a critical darling miniseries, Osborne, DeConnick relaunched Captain Marvel this summer, and just took over Avengers Assemble, which looks to be a good jumping-on, new-reader-friendly book for fans of The Avengers film. Now in 2013, DeConnick and her Captain Marvel and Osborn collaborator Emma Rios are getting in on the creator-owned boom over at Image with Pretty Deadly, a gritty spaghetti western featuring a female assassin lead character with a physical disfigurement. With so few westerns and even fewer good female antiheroes in comics, this series may be a nice change of pace for an up-and-coming writer worth keeping an eye on.


LAZARUS | Greg Rucka, Michael Lark | (Image)

Greg Rucka and Michael Lark first teamed up together with Ed Brubaker on DC’s acclaimed, Batman-adjacent police procedural Gotham Central, but the pair is reuniting with Lazarus, a series set in a post-apocalyptic dystopian future destroyed by economic strife. Centered around protagonist Endeavor Carlyle — a “genetically modified one-person security detail” — the sci fi-centric story seems to be inspired by the recent Occupy movements and the clashes between the one percent in government and corporations and the lower classes. With such a high concept ahead it’ll be interesting to see how Rucka and Lark — who are mostly known for their noir crime work — adapt to world-building and futurist character and technology design. Regardless, it’s a story that sounds like it could easily be adapted to television or film, and one I’d be eager to read on.