Friday, August 30, 2013

Replicating Album Covers

Sometimes, when I'm bored and feel like playing with Photoshop, I'll do this:
Madness cover art I've tried doing my own versions of.

Some of their covers are quite straight forward, so it's just the positioning and having the photographs. I've always admired the artwork for their single 'Shut Up' (a single released from their 7 album in 1981) and even find some of the expressions, particularly Chris Foreman's, funny to an extent. I don't know why since Mark Bedford, Chas Smash and Woody have more obvious silly looks, but I guess it's just how normal Foreman looks, particularly in the bottom two images (pale blue-green background). A very slight smile, a serious look...I don't know, I just like it. Looks adult and kind of expressive of an adult's dealings, hardships and responsibilities.

It also kind of makes me think of the kind of expression I'd wear on my face in a photograph, almost exactly, which is why I inserted myself in his place in my reproduction of the cover.

The cover is one I've been trying to do my own version of for awhile now, and the one I've done above is the most recent, most accurate, most identical one so far. Madness often accepted fan submissions for their cover artworks and 'Shut Up' was one of them. The illustrator obviously used images of the band from posters, magazines and other published shoots of them, outlined their heads and faces, and coloured them in, probably with pastel crayons, giving each black hair and their own distinct background colour. While I wasn't going to colour in versions of myself and people around me, I was at least going to use photos with the same colour scheme and similar drawing technique, but adapted instead as using a 'threshold' technique in Photoshop that basically turned the image into black-and-white contrast with detail. The colour was added by flattening the layers, adding a new layer on top, filling it with the colour, and then making it transparent to the black contrast by changing the layer's blend mode to 'multiply.'

I find it challenging and fun to try and replicate an album cover's artwork, substituting myself and friends/family into it instead, and adding my own title. I have a tonne of photographs from photo shoots taken at school for assignments. For the 'My Girl' single artwork (1992 re-issue), I simply added guides onto the original album for the image squares, found any high-key portrait I had in my archives from photo shoots at school, and added them in. Brian, at the lower-left, was the only low-key image I resorted to after running out, so I dumbed the contrast in the background to the point it was milky white, masked it in behind him, and ta-da. I did the 1992 re-issue because I found it more interesting, and the contrast isn't nearly as high as the 1979 cover - the original is purely white and the contrast is virtually black and white - no grey area.

I do this purely as a compliment to the original artists that did the cover, and the photographers. It's also a compliment to the band. It's challenging and fun and pretty satisfying in the end. While I've only done (or attempted to do) Madness cover art, I should branch out and try other stuff. The big thing with me though is that I wouldn't try and replicate an album cover that doesn't purely feature portraits or photographs arranged on it - that would be too hard and I'd consider it going too far in terms of replication - after all, it's just a fun activity for when I'm bored and want to try something. I've tried redoing and parodying movie posters before - I tried The Big Chill with its neat narrow vertical image slides and colour scheme and made 'The Big Hill' out of it with my own narrow image theme.

 I don't know whether I'll keep doing stuff like this for fun, or if I'll do many other original stuff (like original movie posters, etc., which I have whole folders of) but it's a fun little graphic design/photography challenge. Whether it's trying to replicate something or create something of your own (in my final semester of Photography in college, one of the big assignments was to replicate a movie poster as closely as possible, and I decided to create my own based on a story I wrote altogether). The other big assignment was recreating a magazine cover, which I did, but I did TV Guide and based the cover around a TV series I came up with, no drawing from actual television shows.
Music Video Disaster, 2011

When you're creative, anything's possible.
See all my graphic design/photography-related stuff here. Some are re-creations of things while most are original efforts based on songs, words or other stuff I've created.

Justin C.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Change, You Can Change

'Change' is a song written and performed by English group Tears For Fears. Everyone over thirty-five years of age will likely know them for their big hit 'Shout' as a typical 80s staple. 'Shout, shout, let it all out, these are the things I can do without...'

They had that, and 'Everyone Wants to Rule the World,' among other much smaller hits like 'Mothers Talk,' 'Head Over Heels' and 'Sowing the Seeds of Love,' but the one that really strikes me is 'Change.' Recorded earlier than the aforementioned hits, it was an early hit for them in 1983 and charted well internationally, giving the band their first notice elsewhere than their homeland. It's a simple song that sounds kind of New Wave and kind of pop.

It was written (as virtually all Tears for Fears hits) by Roland Orzabal, and sung by bassist Curt Smith (Orzabal and Smith were basically the two faces of the group, while also being supported by Manny Elias on drums and Ian Stanley on keyboards). Apparently, according to Orzabal, there isn't much meaning behind the lyrics, or intent, and they are rather just 'cheap pop lyrics.' I like to add meaning to them, though, because they seem meaningful to some extent - 'you walked into the room/I just had to laugh/the face you wore was cool/you were a photograph...' then there's the big calling of the song: 'well it's all too late.'
That refrain really strikes me. I feel I can relate to it quite well, as well as the opening lyric about laughing at someone's entrance - social awkwardness, insinuating a wrongful reaction by mistake and impulse, and it's all too late to change it. I didn't mean to laugh, you looked perfect. You know.

In general, the song has a sombre tone to it, as if the focus is of one who has just had a let-down of a day or encounter. There's a bit of anxiety to the music as well, but in between everything there's also this soothing sense to it. 'Now what's happened to the friend I once knew/has he gone away?' Then Ian's keyboard bit takes off.

Curt Smith's vocals are part of what makes the song soothing to me - his voice sounds smooth and easy to listen to as he sings the 'it's all too late' refrain. That's what drew me to the song, as well as his bass playing and general tone.

All in all, it's a good if not gloomy song that I like due to its relatability, atmosphere and lyrics, and Curt's voice. Perhaps what makes Roland Orzabal say it's 'meaningless' is the main chorus - 'change, you can change' - as that kind of phrase has been around for a long time, by adding it into a pop song now (or then, when it was released) it's become meaningless. It's kind of like a cliche. Of course you can change. But I still enjoy the rest of it.

'Well it's all too late...'

Music: B+
Lyrics: B+

Justin C.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Canadian Music!

Last year, in October, I got my first car, an 09 Toyota. Since then, it's opened me up to some amazing, much broader horizons.

Like the radio.

Following the advice of Imad, a co-worker of mine who's hilarious, I tuned into Boom FM (99.7) and kept it on there instead of the traditional 93.9 'Bob' FM; I've tuned into 93.9 ever since I was a child and got my first alarm clock radio for Christmas in the late 90s. Back then it was called 'Kool FM' and I'd listen to it every night, falling asleep to it. I can still remember, with nostalgia and fondness, the morning jingle music - 'coolest hits in the morning - 93.9! Kool FM!' The very attractive, directional, colourful synesthetic landscape it provided keeps it alive and fresh in my mind, as if I heard it yesterday.

I'm getting off topic. Boom 99.7 - similar to Bob but without the 'whatever.' I've come to find that 'whatever' refers to current music, at least current as of the early 2000s, which I don't particularly enjoy, so Boom FM (which doesn't sometimes hover over the same song often like Bob does now and then) just focuses on the 70s, 80s and 90s, a time period of music I actually enjoy a lot.

The big thing about that station, though, is that like every station or program in this country, while it legally has to provide some Canadian-based content, this station does it remarkably well and in generous amounts. It's opened my eyes to almost countless previously unknown or obscure Canadian artists - and within a time-period I find music appealing.
Top Row:
Men Without Hats, Tenants, The Box, Len
Upper Middle Row:
Idle Eyes, Martha & The Muffins, Spoons, Sherry Kean
Lower Middle Row:
Kim Mitchell, Payola$, Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo
Bottom Row:
Eight Seconds, Gowan, Toronto, Gino Vanelli

I did this montage of music videos from Canadian bands/artists between the early 80s and the late 90s; the earliest one is Men Without Hats, and the most recent one, from 1999, is Len. They all come from largely the Toronto area, though The Box, Vanelli, and Men w/o Hats are from Montreal and Payola$ and Idle Eyes are Vancouver-based. Eight Seconds is actually composed of, guess what, Ottawans. The screenshot I used for their video was from their song 'Tell Diane' (1990) and intentionally features a Bank Street sidewalk at night, the old familiar 'Bank Street Promenade' lamppost roundel clearly pictured.

When one thinks of Canadian music, they probably think of it in terms of current music, or music that's iconically Canadian - other than current stuff like Hedley, Nickelback, Carly Rae Jepson or whatever, there's the iconic stuff like Barenaked Ladies, Bryan Addams, Rush, or perhaps even the Tragically Hip. They probably also think about the celtic-like music of the Maritimes, or the French-language stuff. But there's so much more to it than that.

Prior to being exposed to all of this stuff on the radio, my musical interests were almost entirely - probably 98% of it - British stuff. Not just Madness but Genesis, The Beat, many others. There might have been one or two American artists or bands, but American content was always limited with me. It was largely music from Europe that I liked.

Not anymore. And it makes me happy. I don't have time to give reviews on every newly discovered Canadian artist, because there's too many and they often only had one or two hit wonders in Canada only (explaining how I only really came across them on that wonderful radio station) but they are definitely worth a mention here.

Gowan has a few great pop-oriented songs, particularly 'Strange Animal' and 'Cosmetics' (the latter of which I love its stylistic bass line and superficial glamor). I've mentioned Sherry Kean on here already, more than once, though commenting on her face more than her one-hit wonder 'I Want You Back.' The song has an unusual but 80s-standard warbling keyboard effect to it that kind of drew me to it for its eccentricity. I'm in love with The Payola$' 'Eyes of a Stranger,' with its main chorus riff, bass, and guitar rhythms. The verses are laid back and the singers' sustained, deep main refrain - 'you've got the eyeeeees...' is memorable. Idle Eyes' 'Tokyo Rose' is dark and has an eerie tone to it, while Eight Seconds' 'Kiss You (When it's Dangerous)' is dancy and well-written. It has a great beat and atmosphere to it.
Kim Mitchell is the standard rock and roll man with uplifting songs like 'Go For A Soda' (simple yet catchy) and the dreamy 'All We Are' which blends in keyboards with soft rock. 'Rocklandwonderland' is also a good, catchy song. Then there's Montreal-based Gino Vanelli, who is mostly known for the keyboard-heavy 'Black Cars,' which I love while driving my own during a hot summer day - there's nothing more appropriate than those lyrics in that situation, literally. Black cars look better in the shade? Oh yeah. They're tolerable to be in while in the shade. The lyrics are metaphorical, though: the song talks of an older woman who slaps on makeup heavily in vain to make herself appear younger, to appeal perhaps to younger men. She looks great from a distance, even better in the shade. But his song 'Just A Motion Away' is what I like most, for its lyrics, tone and main piano riff - A-B-C. That's all that's played, really, other than the quieter notes that follow immediately after. But the ABC ones are the main, catchy ones, so basic yet so catchy.
Martha & The Muffins - the name sounds light-hearted yet they were a serious band - did a great debut with 'Echo Beach,' which has a great, fast-paced chorus with relatable lyrics. I love the catchy guitar riff and constant, happy-sounding organ. They later had another song called 'Song in my Head' which was all right as well.

There's many more. Originally I thought Men Without Hats was Australian thanks to the lead singer's voice. The Box is funny and witty - 'Walk Away' is exactly that, while 'My Dreams of You' is forlorn and full of yearning. Spoons were synthy and electronic with 'Nova Heart' and then pop-adult with 'Romantic Traffic' (life and love in complete transportation metaphors that seem kind of like they couldn't come up with enough, so they just went 'do-do-do' for a chorus). The song's music video was filmed entirely in the Toronto subway system, and, interestingly, at one point you can see a billboard for 'the Green Machine' with a slogan that reads 'withdraw $40 in 32 seconds flat.' Apparently TD bank's ATM first appeared in 1977, yet the video was done in 1984. I guess it was still considered worth advertising at the time.

I'd recommend checking out all of these artists as well as Blue Peter ('Radio Silence'), Toronto, Tenants (the only band I discovered on YouTube rather than the radio, out of enthusiasm for locating more Canadian 80s content online) Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Len, FM ('Phasors on Stun' is energizing) and good ol' Philosopher Kings - a 90s outfit with a sometimes jazzy, sometimes sincere sound.

This website also has information and listings of every recorded Canadian artist out there, too. It's quite comprehensive.

Justin C.