All Posts in Blog
December 22, 2012 - Comments Off on Top 10 Albums (That I Bought) This Year 2012
For everybody new to this here blog, you should know that I like music. A lot. I've also been recapping my favorite albums of the year for the past few years. Sure, everybody does one of these things, but they're fun to do, so why not? Amiright? So let's get to it. In no particular order, here are my favorite long players from the past year with a bit of a video preview.
by Delta Spirit
I actually purchased this album by mistake. I thought that it was another band that I had heard before, but as it turned out, I really liked this album. The whole album keeps a fairly steady pace, but traverses a broad emotional spectrum. It seems like these guys have started to get some real media attention, and hopefully they keep putting out great tracks.
2. Yellow & Green
As much as I should like Baroness (I really dig heavy-but-not-brutal metal), their previous efforts always fell really flat for me. This album is their least "metal" of their entire catalogue, which finds the band stretching out and trying new stuff here, and I guess that is what was missing for me. Add to that the fact that the delux packaging of the album has beautiful design and illustration, it's a win-win.
by The Holograms
I caught one of their tracks on WMBR, and had to check out this whole album. The track ABC City is straight up killer, and the whole album has a Class of ’76 with synths vibe. Must be something up there in the water in Sweden, because they've produced some of the most interesting punk bands between the recent Ice Age and the classics Refused as well as Randy.
4. Hypnotic Nights
by JEFF The Brotherhood
Coming straight off the success of "We are the Champions" last year, I had high expectations for JTB with this album. At first listen, I was a bit lukewarm on it, but then the second time around, it really caught me. Like the previous record, it's generally straight-forward minimalist rock and roll, but the brothers really take it a step further on this one. A bit headier and certainly more dynamic, they even include a few choice covers at the end.
Liars have made a name for themselves playing spazzed-out noise rock with high concept themes. With this record they take a major left turn into electronic music, and I think that it really works. While the instrumentation is a departure, as is the song structure, this still sounds like a Liars album. It's almost like a Liars synth cover band, but it totally works to convey vivid emotions and feeling.
6. Sports EP
by Speedy Ortiz
Western Mass is turning into a bit of an Indie hotbed, and Speedy Ortiz is at the top of the heap for me. While the band name isn't the best, for some reason I couldn't get these simple tracks out of my head. They have that very sincere feeling with sparse arrangement that really works for me. Their rawness is much of their charm, and you can pick a demo album up on their Bandcamp for free.
7. Fresh Kills Vol. 1
by Night Birds
What would it sound like if the classic OC hardcore band, Adolescents, covered their peers, Agent Orange? It turns out that it takes a band from Brooklyn to tell you, and man does it sound fantastic. Each of these songs blister with a sense of urgency and vitality. Music to skate to.
by The Sword
Since their first album, I've been a huge fan of The Sword. Somehow their second album upped the ante, though its follow-up dropped the ball. None of the songs really stuck for me, and it seemed like there wasn't a standout track to anchor the whole thing to. The good news is that they are back and really ripping with this album. Great heavy riffs backing lyrics of medieval mysticism. Perfect.
by Jack White
With so many different projects, you wouldn't think that Jack White could pull it all together in one package that made sense. He has collaborated with so many interesting musicians and created classic tracks that sounds so unique, but with elements the remain constant throughout his catalog. This album sounds like White's music—all of it. It jumps around from style to style, but is built on a basis of guitar-driven rock music. Jack White continues to prove that there's no-one else like him in music.
by Ty Segall
The young Mr. Segall is one prodigious dude. Just this year he has released an album, a few EPs and had songs on a bunch of comps. He's taking a page from Jay Reatard's book in more than one way—just hopefully not the last page. Heavily influenced by garage rock, you'll also hear a lot of ’90s Alternative, old-school Punk and even some Metal riffs on this particular record. Even though I picked this up late in the year, I can tell that it's going to have a lot of staying power, and I'm pretty psyched to see what this guy does next.
Wrap It Up.
So that's it. The year in music that stuck with me. Hopefully you found some new musicians to check out, and feel free to throw out some things that I might have missed.
For the latest Super Precious art show, the theme was 20th century authors. One of the most formative pieces of fiction for me was William Gibson's Neuromancer. I came to it as a fan of science fiction, but the book really turned my expectations on their heads. The shiny, clean, sterile promise of the future came crashing down and was replaced by a gritty, vibrant and thoroughly wired future. Filled with interesting and diverse characters, the world of the Sprawl was both horrible and incredibly alluring at the same time. This amazing world-building was combined with wonderful and obtuse prose that just had me riveted from the start. The above (abridged) line is the first line from the first chapter of the book, and if you aren't hooked by then, there's no hope for you.
Check out my piece, as well as all the other art from the show at the Super Precious site, and if you're so inclined, pick up a print of my piece.
Working under the direction of Adam Larson at Adam & Company, I designed a poster for The Avett Brothers' appearance at the Greek Theater. The concept behind the poster was associating an element to each of the members of the band, all connected by an energy that is conveyed in their live shows.
Designed in collaboration with Adam & Company.
Here it is: the doldrums of summer. The air is ripe with the hum of cicadas and the smell of charcoal. It also signifieds the first six months of my freelancing career, so this seems as good a time as any to take stock of where things are and what the future may bring.
Are you taking notes?
I'm sure that different people approach it in different ways, but I sort of jumped into the freelancing thing. I knew that I was going to do it, I did as much planning as I could, and just rolled with it once the beginning of the year came around. To help me keep track of how this whole thing is going, and what I need to do to keep on track, I started writing a business journal. It's not much of a structured thing, but I try to write in it every weekday while I'm drinking my coffee. I sum up any project developments, and usually jot down thoughts or feelings about how things are going.
I've never been much of a journal guy. I think that I had one for a while--maybe for a month in middle school--so it's a new thing for me. I'm going to try to do it for a full year and see how it goes. Many people have suggested it, so I'm interested to see what particular relevance it has to me.
Getting down to business
Finding things to do since the beginning of the year hasn't been too difficult. I've even done some work that I'm really proud of. As I tell people what it is that I do, I'm getting more comfortable in talking about the things that I'm good at and the things that I like to do. It may sound weird, but that sort of thing is really difficult for me. Where I grew up, having a big ego is rarely the way to make friends, and talking about my work still feels like showboating to me.
As I start to find my groove with running my own business, I'm becoming more confident in the work that I've done. It certainly helps that I'm now more able to take on projects that appeal to me and that I am more invested it. It really does help to have a say in the type of work that you take on.
Like a Glove
There's a lot to like about the freelance life. I wouldn't say that it's an easy life, necessarily, from the standpoint of putting on the cruise control and taking it easy. It's a way of working--and living--that instills a need to be frequently re-assessing what you're doing. It also means that the walls between work and not-work start to blur noticeably. This is good for some people, no so much for others. I'm adjusting to it, but the main upshot is really feeling like this is a good fit. The way of working and the feeling of pride in seeing something that I've done makes up for the times of agonizing proposals or longer than normal hours.
One thing that has made this easier is the fact that I have forged some relationships with clients that have been really supportive of what I'm doing. They appreciate the work that I'm doing, and in turn I hope that I'm contributing to their projects in a substantive way. I also like that I don't always have to work in isolation, and there are times when I can bounce ideas off of folks pretty quickly.
It has also been really great to meet cool people who have started their own design businesses and have been really helpful with advice and guidance. Whether it's a networking event, or just meeting up in person, people in this field have been really generous and open.
As I continue along this little journey, I definitely have some direction in mind. The first thing I want to do is take it to the next level. I really enjoy branding work, but I want to keep pushing it. Where else can the logos that I've designed live? 3D? Motion? Retail? Installations? I'm not sure, but I want to find out.
I would also like to do more UI/UX work. I used to do a fair amount of it, but started working in some shops that focused on print work. Print is great, but I love the challenge of the web. It's a big problem, and it's a really exciting time to be working on those projects. It's great to tickle that part of the brain and I hope to do more of it.
Other than those two things, I'll take the challenges where I find them. It's certainly an exhilarating time.
Just a quick thank you to some of the people who have taken their time to talk with me directly. They're great individuals and extremely generous.
I have been contributing to Boston Review Magazine for the past year. Primarily, I've created infographics for the "State of the Nation" section, but I have also done some feature illustration for them. All of the infographics are to accompany a longer form article that often discusses social-political topics.
Known for their exceptional skin products and outstanding environmental record, Burt’s Bees recently unveiled a line of acne prevention and treatment products. The campaign that they commissioned as a promotional tool surrounds the kit in an enticing wrap. Inside the wrap, recipients found a sixteen-page, saddle-stitched booklet that informed them about the Acne Solutions line as well as product samples and coupons. The booklet features a felt textured cover and a multi-level emboss that encourage viewers to pick it up and explore its contents. All of the components of the guide were printed on recycled stocks, which reinforced the Burt's Bees message of sustainability.
Designed at Alphabet Arm Design.
February 22, 2012 - Comments Off on The Shit We Say – Brand Artifacts
You've probably seen the video by now, as it's been making the rounds in pretty much ever social network.
It's pretty funny, and well written. Having a guy play the part of the girl is pretty ingenious and the whole thing is put together skillfully, with its repetition and quick cuts. It has a lot of what makes pop songs catchy, just in video form.
What really interests me about the video, though, is how it's transformed into a meme that has become increasingly granular. In fact, I wasn't aware of the video until I saw one of the take-off on it. Several of my friends posted a link to the video, "Shit New Yorkers Say," which was somewhat funny to me (as a Bostonian). I couldn't totally relate to it though, as I'm not a New Yorker. I've been there many times, but I don't know it as intimately as my friends. I understood some of the jokes, but not all of them, so I watched the video and then moved on to the next thing.
The following day, another group of friends posted a link to this video:
This I could relate to and here's where it gets interesting. I've been a passionate mountain biker for the past three years, and it's a subculture which I've immersed myself in. I've probably said a bunch of lines from that video, and so for me there's a lot of truth in it. That authenticity is where the power in these videos is, combined with the sense of community they create. If you're not a mountain biker, you probably didn't relate to that last video, but that's what makes it great. The tribe of mountain bikers is so small that it has developed specialized language to accompany the central activity of the group. In essence, the language is one of the main defining aspects of the subculture.
We humans have always sought to form groups of like-minded individuals, and in the modern connected area, this is easier than ever. We're no longer limited by spacial boundaries, but we still seek out ways to make these connections. Language is one of them, and so are these sort of cultural artifacts that we create. They are a means to bring together members of a subculture from far-flung reaches of the globe and create things to talk about and share common experiences. We all seek these things out, and therein lies their power.
The Implications for Branding
Of course, professionals in the Branding spheres have known this for a long time. Logos are artifacts, so are modes of fashion and pieces of media. Just as a lot of the videos in this meme were created out of a passion for their culture, I've seen quite a few that were created by more corporate entities. From my point of view, not a single one of them has rung true. They have that whole stink of cashing in on the zeitgeist, for money and profit.
Smart folks in Branding know that you can't create these memes, and most of the time you can't piggy back off of them either. People can smell inauthenticity from a mile away, especially in such niche subcultures as mountain bikers (or fixed gear riders, or knitters, or organic gardeners, etc.). The risk of coming off as fake is always a consideration when you're creating branding, but if you're just recycling someone else's idea, you're chances of attaining an honest connection are pretty small. Your best hope is to already have enough brand equity in the viewer to overlook the face that you're just taking wholesale from an original idea. There hasn't really been a lack of corporations doing this historically, but I would suggest that this is the root of some of the corporate disillusionment in our society.
Strive for Authenticity
When we create branding, it's imperative that we understand our audience. It's not about riding the latest wave, it's about making connections. To do that, you really have to get to know who the audience is. One of the first things to realize is that you don't dictate branding. You can help to guide it, and provide input, but brands—whether they be corporate or non-profit or individual—are always about conversation. The hard reality that most organizations struggle with is that brands are not dictated, but are shaped by people just as much as they are created by designers, strategists and marketers.
January 27, 2012 - Comments Off on Changing Status: Deciding to Freelance
It's been a month of rather intense change for me. The biggest change has been a decision to quit my current full-time job and begin freelancing full-time. This hasn't been an easy decision for me—as you might imagine—with the job market being pretty poor and a lot of people still out of work. There are a few reasons why I decided to make a move, but I'll only get into a few of them here.
A Rolling Stone…
…gathers no moss, or so they say. It became abundantly clear to me, especially over the past 9–12 months, that I wasn't growing. I felt like my skillset was stagnating, and I could read articles and self-educate all I wanted, but the types of projects that I wanted to work on just weren't coming in. I wanted to work on a project that would challenge me and really push the limits of what I felt comfortable doing creatively. I wanted to think big and I wanted to get crazy. None of these things would happen at my previous job.
Some designers, especially these days, take this opportunity to create their own projects. This is great, and some amazing stuff has come of these kinds of ventures. For me, at this point in my life, I find the external stimulus far more motivating than self-defined projects. I'm not great at defining constraints for myself, so I find client work more rewarding.
One More Time, With More Focus
Some of the clarity that I've gained over the past 18 months relates to the type of work that I want to do. I realized that at some point, I got away from what I want to be doing. My first passion in design is Branding. The thrill of connecting with people and (positively) impacting their lives through my work is exciting. Branding is one of the things that I do best, but I want to do more of it, in a different way and bigger.
I'm also really excited with Interaction design. I've always loved technology, but I think that we're getting to a point where the technology is starting to disappear. By this, I mean that designers (and engineers, programmers, etc.) are creating systems that people can interact with on a complex level with minimal interference. This dove-tails with wanting to relate to people through my work, as well as engage them in a shared experience. All exciting stuff that I want to do more of.
In Which a Garden Analogy is Used
Even though I've had the pleasure of working with some really great folks over the past nine years, I realize now that I've hoed a pretty narrow row. I have worked primarily in small firms for much of my career, and so the type of work that I've done has been small firm work. That's not to say that there are benefits to the small firm environment. The relationships with clients, the accessibility to your boss, the ability to have some say in the direction of the company; these are all great things. For my immediate future, however, it's not what I want. I want bigger and I want different.
As a freelancer/sole-proprietor, I want to work as part of a large campaign or bring my services to a company that might not be able to use them otherwise. I want to do important work and meet a bunch of different people. All-in-all, I just want to get out there and see what's available to me.
So What Now?
Well, I'm not entirely sure. I suppose that I will more or less figure that out as I go along. What I do know is that I will feel a lot more in-control than I have in a while, and it's exhilarating. Sure, there is the possibility for failure. I know it's a risky move, but part of this move is having enough faith in myself that I can do it.
Of course, if you have any suggestions, words of wisdom or even a project that you might be interested in working with me on, feel free to drop a line. I'd love to chat more.
December 24, 2011 - Comments Off on Top 10 Albums (That I Bought This Year) 2011
Just like last year, I decided to do a wrap-up of the music that I've really loved from the past 12 months. And also like last year, I'm not limiting myself to albums that came out last year. The reason is that even though new music can be very much "of a moment," I really feel that new artists or albums can relate to something that you're going through that might really strike a chord at a particular time in your life. Subsequently, I think it's fun to talk about those records too because readers may have missed them the first time around too.
Gang of Four - Content
I am a die-hard Gang of Four fan. When I hear that this album was coming out, I battled with equal parts excitement and apprehension. It seems like Punk is becoming more like the new Classic Rock with every passing day, but I was hoping the these guys hadn't lost their touch. Fortunately, I wasn't let down. Content sounds both like old GO4, and like something new. With so many bands influenced by GO4 out there these days, it's nice to know that they still have some lessons to teach.
The Kills - Blood Pressures
I'm not totally sure why, but this album really clicks for me. It probably has something to due with the minimal approach and electro-guitar sound combined with the drum loops. Allison Mossheart's pained wailing of considered lyrics can't hurt either. The total effect is a record that is fun to tap your foot to, but also stands up to deeper scrutiny.
The Thermals - Personal Life
Ok, here's where I go off the rails and start in with albums that I didn't get around to until this year. I've liked The Thermals' previous releases, but this one really stuck with me. It's definitely a bit more chill than previous albums, with the track that I'm including below being the fastest and most hard-hitting of the bunch. Taken as a whole, the album has a great arc however. It's more dynamic, and at the same time this me a feeling of greater emotional range than their previous albums.
Battle House - Some Sleep
This one's the first up from the somewhat obscure local releases. From my perspective, Boston has a bit of a sleeper scene right now. For every Passion Pit, there are a dozen bands around here that are just fantastic and subversive but put on a great show. I would put Battle House on the top of that heap, with their hard-to-categorize sound and general weirdness. I'm not sure how much widespread appeal that they have, but I'd nominate them to be our Rock Ambassadors anyday. Download the album for free here.
tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L
I don't normally take to music endorsements from NPR as a rule. I couldn't help but an exception in the case of this record, which I heard about on Studio 360. It's a little tough to describe this release, what with each song being primarily composed of electronic loops, percussion, ukulele, bass, a couple saxophones and vocals. I guess the best way to sum it up is Paul Simon's Graceland through a post-punk lense. Great stuff.
Jeff the Brotherhood - We Are The Champions
I started to come into my own—personally and musically—in the mid-'90s. Looking back, it seems like a rather odd time in music, with Rock ’n’ Roll really looking purpose, Hip-Hop coming into it's own, and MTV really going through its transition to not playing music. I definitely fell into the Grunge thing fairly hard, especially on the heavier end of the spectrum, so that may be why I have a soft spot for this album. We Are The Champions sounds like something that could've come out during Grunge's heyday, but the suburban angst is swapped out for a generally chill vibe and songs about girls and partying. Basically, making it much more fun and less mope-y.
Olde Growth - s/t
Back to local releases, and this case probably the heaviest slab on this list. I've been checking out more and more metal these days, and Olde Growth plays exactly the kind of stuff I like. It's dripping with sludge, and pretty heavy at times, but the tempo still gets rolling and the variety of the tracks keeps things interesting. I'm pretty sure that these guys aren't really breaking any new ground, but I really like this album and I think it deserves attention from a wider audience for sure. Oh yeah: and there are Tolkien references. Check them out.
Various - Drive (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Didn't see that one coming, right? When Drive came out in the theaters, I went to see it and generally enjoyed it. Good, but not awesome. For the week afterwards, the music kept haunting me though. It fit the mood of the movie really well, but it also seemed like it might stand on its own pretty well too. I grabbed the soundtrack, and it turned out to be quite good. In a way, it's two albums: five tracks by various electro/dance groups, and then 15 electronic and highly atmospheric instrumental pieces (by Cliff Martinez, no less). As with any compilation, there are a couple duds, but I think these tracks have longevity because they don't have that "soundtracky" feel that you often associate with glitzy Hollywood productions.
Iceage - New Brigade
12 tracks in 24 minutes. I'm not sure if there's a better indicator of quality in a record, but if you need one then this album probably isn't for you. It's fast, raw and refreshing. It could've been a Class of ’76 release, and I think it still would've stood out with the best of the Buzzcocks and 999.
Cold Cave - Love Comes Close
My other exception for the 2011 stricture. I bought Cherish the Light Years when it came out this year, and it was my introduction to Cold Cave. I really liked it, and the only reason that it's not on this list is that I went out and got Love Comes Close shortly after and liked it even more. I fully realize that this album sounds a lot like the ’80s recycled some thirty years later, but it still sounds great to me. I wasn't really aware of the early 1980s New Wave music when it first came around, so I can appreciate it much more now. As more of an oddity in 2011, it's easier to appreciate that it's just enjoyable music to listen to.
Generally, I think it was a pretty good year for music. It's a great time to be a music fan, since groups are pulling from so many different time periods and stylistic influences. Especially in small, local scenes (like Boston), artists are exploring and pushing some interesting boundaries.
So what do you think? Did you guys enjoy any of these albums too or did I shine the light on some stuff that you might've missed the first time around?