Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

23 OCTOBER, 2009

Vintage Album Covers

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Private collections, public perceptions, and all that jazz.

We love jazz. We love album cover art. And we love vintage design. So we’re incredibly excited to bring you three fantastic collections of vintage jazz album and LP cover artwork.

VINTAGE VANGUARD

Vintage Vanguard may be an obscure Japanese website, but it’s brimming with remarkable cover designs of classic and rare Western jazz albums from the iconic Blue Note record label.

LP COVER LOVER

LP Cover Lover is both an archive of “the weird and wonderful world of record covers from the golden age of LPs” and a social bookmarking platform where anyone can submit a cover and everyone votes on the artwork. And while we wish the collection were browsable by rating, it’s still an absolute treat for musicologists and vintage design junkies alike.

BIRKA JAZZ ARCHIVE

In 1938, Columbia Records hired designer Alex Steinweiss who, at the age of 23, invented the concept of the album cover. Until then, records came in plain brown paper wrappers. Steinweiss’ idea was not only a pivotal moment in packaging history, but also a monumental shift in the relationship between music and art which, through the introduction of illustration, typography, vivid color and bold graphics, completely revolutionized the record industry.

Columbia Records’ Birka Jazz Archive houses rare and beautiful album covers by Steinweiss and other iconic designers from the golden age of jazz — some from private collections not previously available to the world. Sorted by label and country, the artwork also features fascinating historical notes about the labels, designers, photographers, and the music itself.

Explore this incredible cultural gem and, if you find yourself fascinated by the history and heritage of jazz, we recommend the Jazz + Culture course on iTunes U, a free podcast from Arizona State University. While it may lack the charm and production value of a TED talk, the course is a densely informative and captivating journey through the evolution of a cultural movement much grander than its musical foundation.

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20 OCTOBER, 2009

One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur

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What literary genius has to do with indie music icons, a cabin, and San Francisco.

Jack Kerouac was perhaps the last big literary rock star. The avatar of the Beat movement, he skyrocketed into success in the late 50’s after the triumphant debut of his groundbreaking novel, On The Road. But, by 1960, Kerouac had fallen victim to his own success, unraveling into addiction, depression, cynicism and a jaded disaffection Beat culture. After a tortured attempt at spiritual revival in Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin, Kerouac wrote the gritty semi-autobiographical novel Big Sur.

This year, director Curt Worden takes us back to that cabin and to the Beat haunts of San Francisco and New York City in One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur — a cinematic journey into the events the book is based on. Narrated by John Ventimiglia of The Sopranos fame, the film stars some of Kerouac’s iconic contemporaries — writers, poets, actors and musicians, including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Joyce Johnson, Tom Waits, Patti Smith, and Sam Shepard — whose first-hand accounts and reflections come to life in a stunning selection of high-def visual imagery.

But what caught our attention about this film in the first place was its extraordinary soundtrack, an inspired collaboration between Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Jay Ferrar of Son Volt. Recorded over the course of three days in the cabin Kerouac wrote about, the original score is coupled with haunting, intimate lyrics taken straight from the pages of Big Sur — a melodic contemplation of this powerful story of epic talent and epic collapse.

Today, the film opens in theaters and the gem of a soundtrack becomes available on appropriately classy vinyl with DVD. But, if you’d still rather have bits over atoms, you can snag it in good ol’ mp3 form, too.

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06 OCTOBER, 2009

Indie Music Meets Indie Film: First Days of Spring

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What a red Beetle has to do with the future of the music industry.

British pop-folk outfit Noah and the Whale first caught our eye a few months ago when they released a lovely short film serving as the first-ever trailer for the first-ever film/album hybrid, The First Days of Spring, featuring the track Blue Skies — which is a free download on Amazon today.

Today, the album drops as a limited-edition two-disc set, including a bonus DVD of the film. The release was timed to coincide with the London premiere of the film.

The First Days of Spring was recorded in London and New York with producer Emery Dobyns (Patti Smith, Antony & The Johnsons), and the film was shot on location in London and Surrey, with vocalist Charlie Fink in the director’s chair. An ensemble cast, includes model Daisy Lowe, adds a cherry on top of what’s already an all-around piece of creative genius.

And while the band’s sound is undeniably unique, we sense some of those dreamy, drowsy Magnetic Fields vocals and we can’t get away from the thought that this is exactly what Regina Spektor would sound like if she were a man and played the guitar instead of the piano. Our favorite track: Slow Glass.

Noah and the Whale’s unorthodox hybrid format and release model join the ranks of other indie innovators we’ve featured recently — from The Ditty Bops‘ fantastic pop-out album design, to Jill Sobule‘s clever fan-funded record, to the Darwin Song Project, to They Might Be Giantschildren’s album. At a time when the music industry is gasping to stay afloat, such creative innovation with the meta-elements of music — presentation, distribution, funding — may well emerge as the most powerful differentiator and game-changer for artists.

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