This month’s roundup of the salubrious, the cheeky, and the embodied includes Nep Sidhu’s Afrofuturist calligraphy, Shawn Reed’s starry-eyed psych nouveau, Filippo Fiumani’s tales-in-tats, and Nicki Minaj’s custom Air Jordan 6s.
Honorable mentions: Choi Joonyong for the themed packaging of Music Made With Balloon And/Or Needle (Balloon & Needle). Shinji Oto and Ooido Shoujou’s beguiling Gamel designs (Thrill Jockey). Ryo Kuramoto’s vellum J-card prints for Flat Fix’s Unkempt House (Not Not Fun). Paul McDevitt, Cornelius Quabeck and Ulrich Schmidt-Novak for Holly Herndon’s lavish Body Sound package (Infinite Grayscale). Sasha Tessio’s Randy California tribute sleeve for DJ Harvey’s Wildest Dreams album (Smalltown Supersound).
Shabazz Palaces - Lese Majesty
ARTIST: NEP SIDHU
Nep Sidhu’s work captures a single modality of thought, experience, and collectivity discernible in the relationships between language, society, and fashion. In pieces like Myth Lines and the Confirmation series, private associations and emotional significations are contained within the geometric patterns of the arabesque. His Paradise Sportif apparel range and Black Constellation clothing designs invest sportswear and street fashion with pan-African mysticism and Cosmic Myth equations. Here, the use of Kufic script links the work to the ancient Arabic tradition of khatt, a form of calligraphy, in which writing is historically linked to the contemplation of the Sacred. Sinuous, logographic forms stretch and gather into cursive blades, tendrils, and curlicues. A pair of asymmetrical red marks create a feeling of movement and dissolution. By representing the syncopated accents of rhythm in a fractured diaeresis, Sidhu reminds us that the Sacred architecture of language has a corporeal dimension.
Nicki Minaj - Anaconda
ARTIST: ERSKINE ISAAC
[Young Money Entertainment]
Prominent, thrusting glutes recall the biological preoccupations of Miami Bass. A sports bra, thong, and pair of custom Air Jordan 6s bear witness to Barthes: “Woman is desexualized at the very moment when she is stripped naked.” A sterile, lifeless background removes the subject, aggressively coiled into an aerobic crouch, from any context besides her own image. Her toned physique and gymnastic state of undress symbolize obsession, ambition, discipline, and the athletic desire for self-annihilation. The look over the shoulder establishes a lopsided dialogue between audience and image in which the icon always triumphs. Those who admire the view flirt with chauvinism and false consciousness in the names of desire and empowerment. Those who bemoan the triumph of hype over substance, or the commodification of sexuality, are forced to assume the roles of puritanical hypocrites unable or unwilling to locate their asses with both hands.
Sleep - The Clarity
ARTIST: PETRIKA JANSSEN
[Adult Swim Singles Club]
Petrika Janssen’s artwork for The Clarity opens a window to the psychotropic dead-end of a drugged mind turned inward upon itself. A flight of stairs, ascending toward a caliginous portal, symbolizes the means of access to a higher consciousness. Fixed at the vanishing point of perspective projection, this endless cascade of gateways dramatizes both the recursive abyss of introspection and the ecstatic potential of feedback and repetition. Gradations of shadow, saturated in the radioactive orange of sunset, create a twilight atmosphere of unreality. Some ghost-regent, androgynous in exotic regalia, hovers indefinitely before a final moment of judgment, charging this lucid image with a brooding sense of menace. By contrasting an ongoing instance of self-reflection with this unyielding avatar, Janssen invokes the unworldly lyricism and portentous riffage of doom-rock stereotype. Strong outlines and clear, simple forms, organized into rhythmic layers of color, shape, and depth, betray the artist’s background as a designer for the Cartoon Network.
ARTIST: FILIPPO FIUMANI
An upside-down afro becomes a tail; arms change into wings; plus and minus change sides; the liquid dripping down your thighs is rain; your rear is the place that storms come from. This brash illustration simultaneously encapsulates both the bawdy connotations of barulho and the raucous fusion typical of Zouk Bass. Covered head to toe in doodled tats, the contorted kudoro dancer, of Afro-Portuguese heritage, represents a canvas within a canvas. By rendering the contiguity of the imagery contained within this supplementary canvas dependent upon her topsy-turvy posture, Italian designer Filippo Fiumani indicates truth and confusion, or narrative and distortion, go hand-in-hand. Beneath the gentle ribaldry, the presence of candles and doubly-inverted crucifixes alongside more animistic totems suggests a contest between conventional means of revelation and indigenous belief. The pounding hammers of the nocturnal owl convey the late-night throb of dance music. By isolating the body as a site for the transformation of values, Fiumani reminds us of the raver’s burlesque call to redress the prevailing social order.
The Garment District - If You Take Your Magic Slow
ARTIST: SHAWN REED
Diaphanous pastel tones invest this cover with a vivid, ethereal quality. The sun rays at the top of this image, suggestive of the dawn, indicate a fondness for Japanese Pop Art (Tadanori Yokoo, Keiichi Tanaami). Curved, decorative surfaces and contrasting voids unexpectedly recall the ornamental dissipation of Art Nouveau, while the splotches and whorls of red and yellow are reminiscent of phospene hallucinations. The presence of archways, cupola, and windows connotes the closing of distance and the importance of perspective. Receding borders of marbled greys and muted pinks signify the background fogginess of the daily grind. Musician, artist, label-head, and impresario Shawn Reed combines a love of history with ludic orderliness. In this respect, his collagistic designs are redolent of the work of Iker Spozio (whose Colleen cover made the top-10 of our top-30 album covers of 2013) and even Julian House’s Ghostbox sleeves (sans ironic framing).
Dalhous - Will To Be Well
ARTIST: ANTHONY GERACE
[Blackest Ever Black]
Streaks of dappled green glow with optimism, though their blurring suggests a disruption of boundaries. Toronto native Anthony Grace’s cover image for Will To Be Well returns to the cut-up grids of his 2013 solo show There Must Be More To Life Than This, a series of portraits tracking the disintegration of the real (embodied) self to the horizon of personal alienation. According to the exhibition text, TMBMTLTT “speak[s] at once to a longing for coherence and completion and the inability to ever truly achieve it.” Garbled reconfigurations in collage convey the formation of a schizoid, counterfeit self, understood by the alienated subject as just one object among others. As Pat Beane noted in his insightful TMT review, “[Dalhous] set out with un/clear aims and succeed, which results in music that feels fragmented, contradictory, uncomfortable at its core. But this faded self-consciousness is accompanied by a radiating, therapeutic warmth embedded in many of the songs,” and also, it should be added, reflected within the cover art.
Shivers - Shivers
ARTIST: ERIK K. SKODVIN
The distorted propagation of these glossy lines evokes existential anxieties. On the left, a single figure is frozen in a moment of tense ambiguity – a weapon without a target, a gaze without an object. On the right, the integrity of the lines has deteriorated into pixel dust, a double repetition producing polychromatic traces of an oscilloscope signal. Both enigmatic and unsettling, this memorable composition offers us a concise visual allegory in which the durability of human acts, represented by the openness of ethical decision, is compared to the persistence of sound. The name “Shivers” is an explicit reference to the Cronenberg body horror flick that frames its invasion narrative in terms of humanity’s essential carnality. By presenting the human body as a luminous site of dread and disappearance, artist-musician (and Miasmah honcho) Erik K. Skodvin illustrates the link between the movie and the sound of tenebrous electro-flecked jazz.