The Road

Tasked with created a visual response to a story, poem or song, my mind immediately crossed to create an image for Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’. The book’s prose-like style and poetic descriptions make it perfect for interpreting, and I always felt like the movie missed that opportunity. My challenge was adapting my own style to suit the more morbid theme of the book, since my usual work is often more cheery. A few adaptations and I created something I’m really proud of, and might expand in the future. The white skin and stylized eyes were inspired from the film ‘Waking Life’, which on second viewing I can only recommend more. While the rest of the movie chose realistic colours and shapes, certain scenes use more geometric shapes, which remind me of my own style. The result is a clash of the two, and I’m glad I dipped my toes in the water.

Fully Loaded Magazine

The other day I attended a workshop hosted by Alec Dudson – founder of Intern Magazine. Above all else, the workshop introduced me to just what an ‘Indie Magazine’ was. My perception of magazines almost entirely comes down to the big name titles that line the shelves at WHSmith’s. Indie Magazines find themselves in this rather beautiful limbo, never quite breaking into the mainstream, but often produced to a high enough quality that they don’t come across as cultist. Especially in this day and age, where an abundance of information can be found online, Indie Mags are certainly targeted at a niche audience. They’re not cheap either, like personally printed zines, each copy will set you back £8-10, so a passion for what’s discussed inside is a necessity, not to mention a certain degree of a disposable income.

Picking up one of these magazines, however, and I immediately understood the appeal. I won’t bore you with what you already know about the ‘authenticity’ of holding an actual book as opposed to reading something online, but these went further than that. Each magazine was meticulously designed, and absolutely gorgeous to indulge in. These are crafted by people with an understanding for typography, an art sometimes forgotten on the world wide web. You’ll be lucky to see a new issue of these magazines more than twice a year, so it’s clear that every issue has been very well considered and pieced together. Online journalism can give me a headache – it’s a mish-mash of rushed content surrounded by more links to get you to keep clicking, and that’s before advertising is squeezed into every corner it can find. Once you’ve purchased one of these magazines, sure there’ll be some pages featuring sponsors, but otherwise it’s no longer trying to sell you anything, because you’ve already purchased its content.

While it might not be practical for me to get into collecting Indie Magazines right now, perhaps in the future.

So, in the workshop we were encouraged to devise our own magazine – it’s name, it’s business plan, target audience, and so on. My team devised a concept where the magazine would share different designers and artist’s paths to inspiration – quirky stories and how they ultimately influenced one of their pieces. It’s rare we get to see just where inspiration comes from, often only comparing ourselves to the final piece, so an exploration of different creative processes would be welcome in printed form. The name: ‘Spur’ – something catchy for the kids to enjoy. Our team’s designed cover was met with real enthusiasm, especially considering it’s just an image of an elephant and some trees overlayed that took us no time at all. We thought the abstract look worked well with the ultimately abstract concept of inspiration. It was great fun to make and plan, and almost a shame that after all the work, it certainly won’t materialize any time soon. Still, all good practice.

spur

Jam #1 / Anecdotes – Joanna Newsom

It’s a strange choice for my number one. After five years, ‘Divers’ was a very safe album from Newsom that I was a bit disappointed with, and I’ve only committed two listens to. It’s still an astonishing listen, but as one of my favourite musicians of the 21st century, it covered very little new ground, especially after the sprawling (in my opinion) masterpiece that is ‘Have One On Me’. Fluttering orchestration, whimsical lyrics and of course Newsom’s iconic squeaky vocals, ensure that this is her doing what she has been doing for years, and it’s what she does best.

Maybe what left me feeling so empty, however, was that none of the songs were able to compare to the opening song ‘Anecdotes’, which, upon first listen, I knew in my gut was the best song I’d heard all year, and perhaps this decade. It’s hard to explain why, but the whole track left me with goosebumps from start to finish, I felt as though I’d heard an entire album as the song concluded, because I was left so floored by its sheer scope and sound. Even now, relistening to the song (as I do almost every day), I get shivers down my spine when hearing those first chords, and a deep emotional throttling as Newsom repeats them in falsetto. The woodwinds and strings dance around in unpredictable ways, even occasionally reversed to give them a cosmic, psychedelic sensation. A deep electronic hum sings under Newsom for the refrain, a first (as far as I’m aware) in her music, and yet collides so seamlessly, making the song feel so alien, as well as so familiar.

It’s likely others might not be so shaken up upon hearing this song as I was, but three months later it still resonates as beautifully as it did the first time I heard it. No song has made me feel as though life begins at the moment the song ends as this one – that’s an incredible feeling, and that’s why it’s my Jam of 2015.

Listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CjBGuX3dp5M

Thanks so much to everyone who’s followed me over the last months and supported me sharing these songs. I hope whoever has joined me in this list has found something they enjoy. It’s been a pleasure writing and understanding just what it is that I love about each of these tracks, perhaps more so this year than any other. 2015 has truly been an earth-shaking year for music, and 2016 has a great deal to look up to. The blog will be returning shortly with comics, design thoughts and my own work after this little yearly digression.

Jam #2 / The Charade – D’Angelo & The Vanguard

And so it goes, while in the middle of typing up my best songs of 2014 last year, what would end up being my favourite album of the year (and possibly my favourite album of the decade) was released. While technically released in 2014, since it was after December 10th, it’s fair game for this list, and it would criminal not to mention. It was fourteen long years since D’Angelo released his last album ‘Voodoo’ to critical acclaim, and the funk seemed to have ended there. Literally deciding to disappear because he couldn’t handle how sexy the public thought he was, then battling through lawsuits and artistic troubles, he announced ‘Black Messiah’ late last year – and the wait was worth it. Featuring his typical, neo-soul, improvisational sound, ‘Black Messiah’ has its own, metropolitan feel, underpinned by an impressive array of different instrumentation, yet somehow still capturing what the essence of a D’Aneglo record is. Be it the plonky jazz piano in ‘Suga Daddy’ or the sweet spanish guitar that rides through ‘Really Love’.

While no single from the album, the song that’s stuck with me, and the song I always find myself going back to, has been ‘The Charade’. Perhaps its partly down to the slightly more left-of-field opening two songs, and then The Charade kicks it all off with a sound you can understand immediately. This song is defined by it’s impossibly funky guitar playing, which as far as I’m concerned might very well be a sitar. It’s a sound you don’t expect to work, but provides the track with such a steady rhythm, that everything else on top just works. No verse is the same, instruments appear and disappear based on what feels right, and in doing so makes it feel like The Vanguard are playing live right before your very ears. Even after all the times I’ve listened to this track, it still surprises me at each bar, and is still infectiously upbeat. Stepping through the city of Bristol on cold morning with this playing on my headphones has been a perfectly soundtracked moment, and this song, even though released in 2014, will always remind me of the times I’ve had in 2015.

Listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3CunfPYkME

Jam #3 / Song of the Sun – Timbre

What may be the most slept on album of 2015, Timbre’s ‘Sun and Moon’ is a massive album of sweeping chamber folk, choral singing and modern classical orchestration. It’s entirely gorgeous for all two hours, and frequently found myself returning simply because how easy it is to work alongside. It takes you on a journey, from the first half (Sun) featuring more typical tunes, to the second half (Moon) which is almost entirely choir music and orchestration. Many people simply dubbed it as ‘pretty’ and moved on, but I felt I’d discovered a gem here, that I love more and more on each listen, and secured its place as my second favourite album of 2015.

The flagship song on this album is without question ‘Song of the Song’, perhaps the most accessible song on the album, and also the most immediate, as it’s the one we’re all greeted with. The song builds, with each element introduced one at a time, until everything so perfectly pieces together towards the end. The percussion is spontaneous and thuds and clacks underneath Timbre Cierpke’s delicate, yet commanding, vocals. It’s completely magical, and warmly life affirming. Few moments from 2015 have invoked pure joy in me as much as the soft middle-eight of the song that breaks the mayhem, or the anthemic refrain “I am standing in the sun, and there is nothing light can touch”. I’ve found myself lost in it all too many times, and I invite you to do the same.

Listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_n4OEKcMxow