Archive for February, 2012

Art On Our Sleeves: The Five Most Interesting Canadian Album Covers

Posted on: February 28th, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

Time is ticking down: The JUNO Awards are coming! April 1, to be exact. And while most of the attention will be focused on the big prizes – like the JUNO Fan Choice Award, for which big names such as Arcade Fire, deadmau5 and Drake are nominated, or the award for Album of the Year, which sees mega-names like Justin Bieber and Michael Bublé among its nominees – there’s a little-known category to which no one seems to pay much attention: Recording Package of the Year.

It’s probably not the sexiest category – there are probably no graphic design groupies hanging out behind Scotiabank Place after the show – and it might even be a bit out of favour these days, what with albums being released digitally and with little concern for packaging at all. But album artwork has long been the under-appreciated flipside to any musical release. All the more reason to celebrate it then!

This year’s nominees for Recording Package of the Year include art director Jannie McInnes; designers Robyn Kotyk, Graydon Sheppard, Sammy Rawal and Petra Cuschieri; and illustrator Heather Goodchild for Feist’s album, Metals. Also nominated are designer Jeff Harrison and illustrator Kim Ridgewell for Chris Tarry’s album, Rest of the Story, which is beautifully packaged to resemble an illustrated book. Without mentioning the other nominees in the category, there’s clearly a lot of talent out there, so we decided to take a look online to come up with some of the most interesting Canadian album artwork we could find. Aesthetics, of course, are necessarily a subjective experience – but we’ve narrowed it down to five album covers that really stood out.

OG Hindu Kush
In 3D

OG Hindu Kush are an Ottawa and Montreal–based rap group who, according to their Facebook page, aren’t “your favorite rapper’s favourite rap group.” Rather “they’re your favourite blood money billionaire’s guilty conscience.” However they prefer to be known, one thing is clear: their album art and packaging are impeccable. In 3D, which was released in 2011, combines the current 3-D craze with great comic book graphics and a sweet pair of retro blue and red 3-D glasses, which come with the album. Nice work.


Juggernaut of Justice

One thing about metal bands is that they always go large with their album artwork. And Anvil, Toronto’s own masters of metal, are no exception. To wit: their 2011 release, Juggernaut of Justice. The level of visual excess in this artwork is awesome: a sea of people carrying the band’s emblem through parting, wave-wracked waters. It’s so epic it borders on biblical, so grossly garish that you can’t help but smile.



Black Mountain
Wilderness Heart

Vancouver’s Black Mountain do rock and roll. Their 2010 release, Wilderness Heart, was long-listed for 2011’s Polaris Music Prize. If the judging had been on album art alone, I’m sure it would have won. This image is just… so… awesome.




Canadian Horse

On the other end of the metal artwork spectrum, we have Canadian Horse, the 2011 release by Winnipeg’s Archagathus. (Although, for the purist, this would probably be considered grindcore, not metal.) As far as album art goes, I guess Canadian Horse falls into the category of “so bad it’s good.” From the hot pink lettering to the sax-blowing rider, the artwork is perfect in its tastelessness – not unlike Archagathus’s music.



Neil Young

And then there are timeless classics like this one. Neil Young was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1982, and is the winner of seven JUNO Awards. His 1972 release, Harvest, remains an icon of album design. From the flowing elegance of the script to the minimalist simplicity of the single orange harvest moon, it’s a classic in all senses of the word. And it sounds just as good too.



This Week in History: February 20 to 26

Posted on: February 23rd, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By David Ball

Celebrated folk singer, activist, actor and teacher Buffy Sainte-Marie was born to Cree parents in Piapot Reserve, Saskatchewan, on Feb. 20, 1941. She was later adopted by a white family and grew up in Maine. Sainte-Marie broke onto the folk music scene in the 1960s with her first three efforts, It’s My Way!, Many a Mile and Little Wheel Spin and Spin. While these albums covered a wide variety of styles (traditional folk, ballads, blues) and themes (love, war, incest, drug use), it was her scathing socio-political anthems, such as “My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying” and “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone,” that helped her blaze a trail as folk’s most prominent voice highlighting the plight of Native North Americans.

While Sainte-Marie’s unique and often unsettling high-registered vibrato was one factor that likely prevented her from reaching a wider mainstream audience, being unknowingly blacklisted by the Lyndon Johnson administration and excluded from radio playlists didn’t help either. As a result, some of her best compositions became better known as covers, including “Universal Soldier” by Donovan, “Until It’s Time for You to Go” by Elvis and Janis Joplin’s take on “Cod’ine.”

Always interested in other genres, Sainte-Marie recorded a critically acclaimed country record in Nashville in the late ’60s and tried her hand at rock with 1971’s She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina, collaborating with Crazy Horse and Ry Cooder. The latter contained several quality originals as well as covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Bells” and Neil Young’s “Helpless.” From the mid ’70s onward, the multi-JUNO Award–winner explored her other talents, including acting, with a five-year stint on “Sesame Street” (1975-80) and composing music for films (winning an Academy Award, a Golden Globe Award, a Gemini Award and a JUNO for co-writing “Up Where We Belong” with then-husband Jack Nitzsche for An Officer and a Gentleman). She also earned a PhD in fine art from the University of Massachusetts, was instrumental in the creation of the JUNO category for Best Music of Aboriginal Canada, was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame  in 1995 as well as Canada’s Walk of Fame and was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. Her 2008 No. 1 hit Canadian album, Running for the Drum, won the 2009 JUNO Award for Best Aboriginal Recording of the Year.


I’ve passed on many concerts over the decades only to later regret my short-sighted and stupid decisions. The following ranks right at the top (along with Johnny Cash and R.L. Burnside)…

It took only 56 minutes to sell out all 32,000 seats for the Grateful Dead’s two-night stand at Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum on Feb. 22, 1992. The Deadheads – the legendary band’s almost-as-legendary core fan base – began lining up at the Steel City arena’s box office two weeks before tickets for the March 20 and 21 gigs went on sale. Andre, one of my oldest best friends and card-carrying tie-dye–wearing Deadhead, attended both concerts. His observations echo the sentiments of most Deadheads regarding the quality of Hamilton, minus the end bit: “First night was better than the second. I prayed three months for that ‘Dark Star’ and to this day, I may or may not have seen a dragon the second night.” I don’t want to speculate what Andre’s second sentence means, but it seems that Jerry Garcia and company delivered a truly mind-bending “Dark Star,” their dark epic masterpiece. I’ll never get over skipping seeing them since the Dead’s next planned trip to Hamilton was cancelled in 1995 after the untimely death of leader Captain Tripps (Garcia).


I’d be remiss not to mention this item…

On Feb. 23, 1970, the premiere of the JUNO Awards took place in front of an intimate gathering of 250 at St. Lawrence Hall in downtown Toronto. The Canadian music industry awards began in 1964 as the RPM Gold Leaf Awards, established by RPM’s editor and publisher Walt Grealis. The name was switched to JUNO in 1970, but the category winners were still decided by RPM reader polls until 1975. Today winners are selected via The Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences juries and sales. JUNO was originally called Juneau in 1971 in homage to then-head of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, Pierre Juneau, who was instrumental in establishing Canadian content rules for broadcasters in promoting Canadian acts.

Interesting to be sure, but let’s get to the good stuff. Some artists (plus a couple of “interesting” categories) that took home wooden statues (yes, they were made from trees waaaaay back then) at the first ceremony included: Andy Kim, who won the award for Top Male Vocalist; Ginette Reno, who captured the wooden award for Top Female Vocalist; and Gordon Lightfoot, who surprised nobody when he won Top Folksinger (or group). I love these last two categories: the JUNO for Top Record Company went to RCA Records and the award for Best Produced Single was won by The Poppy Family. And no, I didn’t make the latter category up.


Traditionally, the end of February is Grammy Award time. Without further ado, here’s more Grammy news…

It was indeed an unforgettable night for Natalie Cole and her Canadian-born ace producer David Foster (an Officer of the Order of Canada, five-time JUNO Award winner and Canadian Music Hall of Fame inductee in 1989) at the Feb. 25, 1992, Grammy Awards. Cole’s Unforgettable: With Love and its massive hit single won seven awards, including best album, best song and best record. And Foster took home producer of the year honours for his work on the album and single. Speaking of which, because of Foster’s deft hand, the duet “Unforgettable” sounds like an exciting and effortless collaboration between Natalie and her late father instead of an ingenious overdubbing mash-up. Nat King Cole may have died in 1965, but he got to sing with his daughter thanks to Foster.

Next week: Keith Richards and Pete Townshend

“Universal Soldier” by Buffy Sainte-Marie

Can We Talk About How Awesome This Is? Blue by Joni Mitchell

Posted on: February 22nd, 2012 by Ripple Creative Strategy No Comments

By James Sandham

Well hello there, music lover. Good to see you back on the blog. Or if you’re just joining us, then welcome. Why don’t you make yourself at home? Get comfortable, stay for a while, and put some music on while you’re at it.

It seems you’ve caught me in a mellow mood today. It’s grey out there, music lover. February’s dirty dishwater sky is hanging low across the city and a cold wind’s whispering outside my house. It’s on days like today I find it best to stay inside, drink tea, wear slippers and go back through old vinyl. That’s what I’ve been doing, and I just let the needle drop on this: Blue by Joni Mitchell. Can we talk about how awesome it is?

Ah, Joni Mitchell. She reminds me of my first apartment and the girl I lived with there, now my wife. But it’s not just nostalgia that makes Mitchell’s work so resonant – there’s something else, something about her voice and the way it just climbs from the speakers, fragile but elegant, like snowbells climbing from the soil, a soft harbinger of bucolic times to come…. Or maybe I’ve just got spring on the brain – it’s entirely possible on a grey day like this one. But in any case, I’d be hard-pressed not to argue that Joni Mitchell was made for mellow days like today, and that Blue, her fourth album, seems like it was made for this mood in particular.

It’s been more than 40 years since Blue was released, way back in 1971, a whole decade before Mitchell herself would be inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame. But she was already very well established as a musician then, and Blue was an instant commercial and critical hit, reaching No. 15 on the Billboard 200 and No. 3 on the UK Albums Chart. The New York Times would later choose it as one of the 25 albums representing “turning points and pinnacles in 20th-century popular music.” High praise indeed. But totally warranted.

Mitchell wrote Blue after a tough breakup with then-boyfriend Graham Nash, a British singer-songwriter best known for his work with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. She had taken a break from live performance at this time and was travelling around Europe after the breakup – in a bit of a mellow mood herself, by the sounds of it, because it was there that she composed much of the material that would eventually form Blue. Consequently, a lot of the album’s content centres on relationships, from the infatuation of “A Case of You” to the melancholy withdrawal and self-doubt of “River,” in which she sings of her desire for “a river I could skate away on.” There’s an emotional immediacy to these songs that is undeniable, a fact Mitchell herself acknowledged, remarking that “at that period of my life, I had no personal defences… the advantage of it in the music was that there were no defences there either.” As listeners, we’re all the richer for it.

The success of Blue would start Mitchell touring again and performing her music live. It was still only the beginning of a career that’s spanned decades, in which there were still many great albums to come. But Blue stands out among them – especially on vinyl, hissing and crackling on the turntable. And especially on grey days like today.

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