FLUME Skin

Futuristic digital flowers express the electronic euphoria of Australian dance musician Flume's album 'Skin'

BY SOPHIE DAVIES

How do you capture the dreamy, euphoric qualities of electronic music in artwork? It's a challenge relished by LA-based Australian graphic designer Jonathan Zawada, who created the look and feel of Flume's latest album 'Skin'.

Launched in May 2016, the second studio album by young Sydney dance musician/producer Flume (aka Harley Streten) poached the place on our playlist which his dazzling 2012 debut album 'Flume' had been monopolising. In November, 'Skin' won eight ARIA awards, including Album of the Year and Best Cover Art for the visionary Zawada (and 'Skin Companion EP 1' was released). This year, Flume's single 'Never Be Like You' (featuring Canadian singer Kai) bagged the coveted number one spot in Australian radio station Triple J's Hottest 100 2016 (receiving 2.2 million votes), teaming ecstatic, honey-in-your-ear vocals with stuttering synths and pulsing, percussive beats. Melancholy, other-worldly single 'Say It' and hip hop-infused 'Smoke & Retribution' and 'Lose It' also made the list.

A rollercoaster of soaring melodies and intimate songcraft, Skin is a mesmerising mash-up of hip hop, pop and EDM, but its design wows too. At first glance the CD cover looks ultra-pretty, innocently natural and photo-realist, with a delicate flower backdropped by a pinky-lavender-blue haze. Look closer and a metallic stem and leaves suggest a futuristic edge. The pull-out, folded paper insert features more dreamy blooms, their seductive, vibrant hues set against moody nocturnal backgrounds. A dark, thorny cactus glistens with a silvery sheen. Organic meets synthetic, and the botanical flirts with the alien, as Zawada makes digital design feel emotional.

Multi-talented Zawada's output spans painting, drawing, sculpture, textiles (for fashion duo Romance Was Born), lighting and furniture, frequently shown in galleries. But the creative director is best known for technology-driven album art, music videos and live gig graphics, attracting a host of electronic music clients including The Presets, Baauer and Mark Pritchard.

Inspired by legendary Manchester graphic designer Peter Saville (of Factory Records), Zawada aims to craft vinyl records, CDs and digital downloads that are things of beauty in their own right. While 'Skin's beguiling artwork seems by turns natural and hand-painted, it's actually computer generated, based on mathematics algorithms. If you sit at your screen but yearn for the Great Outdoors, this evocative design will get under your skin... Fizz rating: 9/10.
flumemusic.com

Flume's album 'Skin' is out now on Future Classic. For Jonathan Zawada's personal work see zawada.com.au or for commercial projects including album design check out zawada.io

KAISER CHIEFS Stay Together

Kaiser Chiefs go pop? Who would have thought it? We predict a riot...

BY DEE IVA

You could be forgiven for thinking that The Voice judge Ricky Wilson has released a solo album. To be fair it has been quite a while since Wilson's band Kaiser Chiefs troubled the charts. Their new album 'Stay Together' has jettisoned their signature indie rock in favour of bright shiny pop seemingly aimed at a bright new shiny following who've never heard of the Kaiser Chiefs.

It could be Two Door Cinema Club, Simple Minds or, God forbid, even Olly Murs in places so far from the tree has the apple fallen. The single Parachute could be on loan from Keane while Press Rewind is pure Duran Duran.

The biggest clue to the new direction lies in the album artwork by Salvador Design. The animated geometric blocks of colour, repetitive black and white patterns, and bold sans serif type are pure Eighties. Perhaps the album should be renamed 'Now That's What I Call Kaiser Chiefs' or 'Ricky Goes To Memphis'. 

Having said all that, 'Stay Together' is a very good album full of catchy, polished pop songs that will have you up and dancing around your living room. Ricky Wilson is in great voice but this is not really a Kaiser Chiefs album and whether any of their original fans will buy it remains to be seen. But maybe that's the point... Fizz rating 9/10
kaiserchiefs.com

'Stay Together' is out now on Caroline Records

TOURIST – U

Tourist's new 'U' album cover draws on high-contrast typographic design to draw you in to its realm of ephemeral textures and trippy beats...

BY DEE IVA

TOURIST.jpg

For someone who may be on the cusp of becoming a household name, Londoner William Phillips, aka Tourist, already has a pretty impressive bunch of collaborations under his belt.

Brit talents Lianne La Havas, Disclosure and last year’s breakthrough act Years & Years have all benefitted from Phillips’ crystal-clear production and love of electronic dance music, but it’s his songwriting chops that have brought him his biggest success to date. Co-writer of Sam Smith’s epic ‘Stay With Me’, he won a 2015 Grammy award for this tense torch song. 

Having lit up the dance floor with tracks like ‘Illuminate’ (featuring Olly Alexander from Years & Years on vocals) and ‘Patterns’ with Lianne La Havas, Phillips’ debut album ‘U’ goes a few dubsteps further into more experimental territory. Title track ‘U’ glides into focus with pensive synthscapes and sound effects, adding sampled voices reminiscent of Jean Michel Jarre’s 1984 ‘Zoolook’ album. ‘To Have You Back’ uses reversed loops and stuttering rhythms that James Blake would kill for and the electronic noodlings of ‘Foolish’ sound like Phillips has been let loose in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. There are enough floorfillers here too. Current single ‘Run’ is a hypnotic rush of uplifting energy while the chilled euphoria of ‘Waves’ is a blissed out summery groove.

Phillips chose the single letter title as the album reflects a past relationship. 'I called it 'U' as the word 'You' looks a bit accusatory, and the tone of this album certainly isn't bitter. 'U' is a shape that is balanced but also incomplete,' he says. 'I thought it was a nice visual metaphor for a failed relationship.'

The sleek, crisp and punchy typographic sleeve design comes care of UK talent Jacob Robinson. A big sans serif 'u' holds centre stage, offset in white, pink and bright red. It sets up a vibrant colour clash against the graduated blue-green background creating an arresting image that also lends itself perfectly to accompanying merchandise (from T-shirts to totes, patches and pencils). 'About two years ago Will and I started talking about his album. We wanted to move away from moody imagery and develop a bold, colourful and expressive look in line with the tone of the record. I made lots of sketches based on our references and listening to the tracks as the album came together,' says Robinson. 'Pretty early on we agreed on the form of the ‘U’ and spent the next couple of years refining it. Luke Griffiths came on board and together we improved and adapted the design across formats.' As well as vinyl (white, naturally), 'U''s designs span CD and MP3 offerings.

It's proof positive of the power of design. We saw the sleeve before we'd heard a single track and it drew us right in. The recent resurgence of vinyl has also reawakened the art of the album cover as the large format becomes a visual playground for designers once again. 'U' not only sounds good, it's also sharply dressed to boot and that's a winning combination in our eyes... Fizz rating: 10/10.
tourist music.com

'U' by Tourist is out now on Universal

DAVID BOWIE Blackstar

Now The Man Who Fell To Earth has sung his last song, we tune into 'Blackstar' and bask in Bowie's sound and vision one last time...

BY DEE IVA

Our copy of 'Blackstar', David Bowie's final album, arrived on the day that rock's most original and innovative artist shuffled off this mortal coil. Released on his birthday, it became immediately apparent that this was his parting gift to us and that, as always, he knew exactly what he was doing.

'Blackstar''s stark cover – a black star on a white background for the CD and a black sleeve with a die-cut star for the vinyl release – is the first Bowie album not to feature an image of Bowie himself. A recurring motif throughout his career, it’s only fitting that the Starman chose this device to represent himself at the end. The strange rune-like shapes below it are fragments, shattered pieces of a star that once was whole. Bowie's message is loud and clear.

Jonathan Barnbrook’s design for Bowie's 28th studio album is sharp, elegant and utterly beautiful. Apart from the CD front cover, the rest of the sleeve and the accompanying booklet is a study in black. Black pages, with shiny, practically invisible ink and moody photography – you really have to look closely to decipher the lyrics within. Words are dotted around forming mini constellations and Bowie appears, blindfolded at times, dressed in black among the stars.

Having experimented with so many musical genres before, this time Bowie returns to his core. 'Blackstar' is very Bowie; it couldn’t have been created by anyone else and is made all the more poignant by lyrics on the title track that suggest he knew this would be his last album. 'Something happened on the day he died / Spirit rose a metre then stepped aside / Somebody else took his place then bravely cried / I'm a Blackstar'. Bowie’s love of mix and match works very well here as the song is split into two parts, shifting from haunting intro to melodic interlude and back again. Lasting nearly 10 minutes, it’s one of the longest singles ever released.

Second single Lazarus is frighteningly prophetic. Bowie tells us he’s in heaven and that he’ll be free ‘Just like that bluebird’. In hindsight it seems like he’s saying goodbye but the title is provocative as it suggests reincarnation, which he was a master of throughout his life.

In Girl Loves Me references to A Clockwork Orange abound, with vocabulary from Anthony Burgess’s seminal novel wrapping around more explicit lyrics, but it’s the final track which really hits home. I Can’t Give Everything Away is a classic Bowie number which could have been on 'Heroes' or 'Low'. It sounds like a hit single and is the perfect track for 'Blackstar' to bow out on. Of course, in the end, Bowie gave us everything and for that we’re truly grateful.
davidbowie.com

JOHN GRANT Grey Tickles, Black Pressure

Iceland's adopted singer-songmeister John Grant is back with an album of bitterness and bile set to a singular soundtrack of fierce beats and lush orchestrations. What's not to like?

BY DEE IVA

John Grant is a firm Fizz favourite. His mix of folksy rock, heart-rending ballads and spiky electronica peppered with cutting diva-ish lyrics make him a formidable force to be reckoned with. His last outing 'Pale Green Ghosts' was a perfect slice of contemporary pop music accompanied by equally arresting cover artwork showing Grant glowering at the viewer from a spartan café.

The cover of new album 'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' ups the fear factor as Anton Kaldal Ágústsson’s artwork takes on an eerie Village Of The Damned vibe. A smiling sightless Grant sits with a pair of eerie blind owls on the cover only to appear as an expressionless blood-splattered murderer on the inside sleeve. This air of menace is softened somewhat by pictures of kitschy animals and figurines which in this context begs the question ‘Is John Grant railing at suburbia?’. 

On opening track ‘Intro’ overlapping voices intone poetry against a wall of sci-fi B-movie sound effects setting us up for a journey into Grant’s personal twilight zone. ‘Snug Slacks’ and ‘You & Him’ employ treated vocals and insistent synth soundscapes. ‘Voodoo Doll’ is certifiable death disco funk while ‘Disappointing’, featuring guest vocalist Tracey Thorn, is Grant's most likely contender for a top ten hit to date. So to paraphrase Bette Davis, fasten your seat belts as you’re in for one hell of a ride…
johngrantmusic.com  bellaunion.com

'Grey Tickles, Black Pressure' is out now on Bella Union