Portrayal of an Artist – Part 2 [Music Parody]

Yesterday I shared the first part of a project I created with friends for the now defunct website artlick.com (see part 1 here), where we satirised the music industry through a series of fake album covers entitled Portrayal of an Artist. The back catalogue is absolutely huge, so here is the second part of that look back through the album designs (alongside some thoughts on the accompanying creative process). Hope you find it interesting. Join me now to explore the slightly more esoteric output of my musical back catalogue from an alternate universe…


Albums: French Aphrodisiaque; French Aphrodisiaque (Live in New York)

Conceived as a pair of fusion jazz albums released on the same day (ala the Guns n Roses stunt of releasing Use Your Illusion I & II simultaneously) with the added twist that one was a studio record, and the other a track-for-track live performance of the same record. We had created the artwork for the first album and were pleased with it (it now has echoes of The White Stripes, but I didnt personally discover them till many years later) Then one day we were inspired by a large red cube shaped sculpture down in the NY financial district near our office. Dave took a photo and added the white stripe to it in Photoshop, and a second sleeve was born. We were then torn between the two and stumbled upon the idea of the dual release. I wonder why more bands don’t do exactly this.


Album: Office Politics
Single: 95% of what you do here is utterly useless

 

The punk album. I get the sense I may have been less than enamoured with my job at the time, or certainly was channeling some frustration about it anyway, when we came up with this album (and the exaggerated lyrics printed on the back cover). It began with a photo of my head in a photocopier.

The general concept for this one, as I recall, was to put out a raw, more rough looking punk record, but due to cluelessness and contrivance on the part of the artist, it failed to be in any way punk at all. In fact, a punk rock album centred around working in a generic office, couldn’t be less punk rock really. There was a lot of that kind of commercial “punk” music actually floating around at the time, like Green Day, so I’m sure that inspired it.

The record label was Bourgeoisie Beat, which I still reckon is a cool name, and I still dig the logo. I may be misremembering it now, but I wonder if we also imagined a backstory where this record label was a sub-division of some mega label, and this was their effort to have some kudos and be cool.


Album: Pure Yang

This one came from a photoshoot we did one night in my apartment, where we ordered a ridiculous amount of food from the delicious local Chinese restaurant. If memory serves I was also going through some spiritual quest where I was trying out meditation, and I think my roommate Mike had recommended the ‘I Ching’ to me. So all of those influences are part of this one. The record label, Bass Envy, is possibly my favourite label name, but I have zero recollection of what genre of music the label was supposed to put out. At the time it was undoubtedly crystal clear, but I no longer remember. Isn’t it funny how something matters so intensely in a creative process at the time, but with distance, not only does it matter less, you probably don’t even know why it really mattered in the first place. Having said that, I think all of this meticulous attention to detail that myself and Dave put into every one of these pays off in the final product.


Album: Replenish
Single: Lost your nerve yet?

For some of these records, the album title came first, and then the artwork. And on other occasions a cool or funny photo would provide a spark of an idea and the album would blaze on from there. This was definitely one where the photo came first. Dave and Jenn had been defrosting their fridge and this huge chunk of ice had fallen out. We knew instantly that we had to take a photo of some kind with it. When we discovered that the camera had a multiple photo burst feature on it , the idea clicked into place to photograph me breaking it over my head (anything for art, of course!). Now, a reminder that the camera was a super early digital device with a 3.5″ floppy disk recording the images, so it was sloooooooooow. Hence, only the first two photos really captured the moment, and we certainly couldnt go for a second take. But on reflection, the negative space of the subsequent frames was actually kinda cool.

For the single we took a burst shot of my poor forehead that had taken the brunt of the impact of the ice block and had left a little cut. So that had to be documented too of course. And I think we imagined this music to be quite hardcore and abrasive Electronic Dance Music, so it ultimately belonged on the Purification Records label. Our reference point for it musically was a band I never listened to more than one song of called Speedy J (which was more than enough)


Album: Flip you for real
Single: Early Sunday morning

The only album that Dave appears on, and is co-credited as writer and performer. The title came from a line by Benicio Del Toro in The Usual Suspects ( a film we both deeply admired), and it was one we used to jokingly quote at one another often. So it then somehow morphed into us flipping off the camera and turning that into a collaborative album.

And this was our “censored” version of the album cover. We really should have stuck one of those old school Parental Advisory stickers on it.

The record label is Purification Records again, as I’m pretty sure we saw this as an ambient soundscape-y sort of record, maybe even drum-n-bass. In fact, around this time, there was a regular gang of us going to a monthly live drum-n-bass show called Prohibited Beatz hosted by Swiss drummer Jojo Mayer in Manhattan (how pretetnious does that sound!) and that was definitely part of the creative osmosis on this one. I was, and still am, a huge fan of LTJ Bukem, so that may also have been an influence. Either way, the song title “My porch is a ballroom dance floor” ranks up there as possibly the greatest one we came up with.


[Warning – Slightly NSFW]

Album: Se tirer d’affaire, s’en sortir tant bien que mal
Singles: Ne pas, ne jamais, ne rien ; Cannelle

This one was a truly hilarious creation to work on. We figured an artist this enamoured with himself would go full hipster and create an album so pretentious it would be written entirely in French (I am not even sure what it means entirely – Any French speakers out there, please let me know!). To capture that spirit we went for a Jim Morrison-in-a-bathtub-in-Paris photoshoot that showed of my Adonis-like physique (I have to work out to look this bad). In the end I really love the way Dave stitched together the images to make something even more quirky than the originals we shot.

The singles were simply variations on the decadent bathtub theme. The old New York bathroom added a fun flavour to the look and feel of the photos (especially the old school taps in the wall)

Fun fact. This is the same bathroom we took the photos for Replenish in


Album: Continuity in a Box: The Sovereignty Sessions

We envisioned this one as an early years demo tape style release on a renegade label. Or perhaps a session so deliberately bad it would never see the light of day (much like the infamous bang sessions by Van Morrison). To capture that vibe, we made the record look almost like a homemade piece of cover art. At the time there were a lot of live CDs of bands floating around the East Village record shops, and this design was heavily influenced by those DIY creations. Musically I imagined poorly recorded demos with audio quality akin to the first few Mountain Goats records recorded direct to cassette tape on a boombox.


That’s all for now on this phase of the Kalle Ryan album back catalogue. Catch up on Part 1 here. Continue reading in Part 3 here

 

10 incredible songs you need to listen to right now

music

Every one of these songs is a masterclass in songwriting and performance. Every one of these songs strike me deep in the heart. Every time.  Some you may have heard, some you may not have heard. Every one of these songs deserves to be heard more often. Enjoy! – Kalle

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1. May You Never – John Martyn

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2. Jesus etc. – Wilco

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3. No Children – The Mountain Goats

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4. Dance All Night – Ryan Adams

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5. Nothing But The Same Old Story – Paul Brady

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6. Pink Moon – Nick Drake

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7. Living Room – David Gray

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8. Things Have Changed – Bob Dylan

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9. Lay Me Down – The Frames

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10. Wagon Wheel – Old Crow Medicine Show

7 incredible songwriters with lyrics that are pure poetry and melodies that are mindblowing

In my mind, Bob Dylan is without an equal in the modern living songwriter stakes – he is our poet laureate and Shakespeare and oracle all wrapped into one. But there are several other lyrical and melodic masters that I adore that I would love to share with you. For some of you, these names are not new and for others only a handful may be familiar. Either way, all of them will hopefully resonate with you and open a new world or extend existing ones. I urge you to seek out more of their work and listen to it. There is nothing quite like the joy of discovering a fantastic new musician or poet and then realising that they have a huge body of work to dive into. Life is good to us sometimes!

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1. John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats)

The Mountain Goats are one of those best-kept-secret bands that are whispered about in hushed reverence by those who know about them. I am one such fan, but I want to shout about them. John Darnielle is one of the great living songwriters and each song brims with intelligence and humanity. He began his songwriting career by recording songs onto hissy tapes on a boombox and garnered a deserved cult following. In recent years he has released full studio albums (often incredibly realised concept albums) and enlisted the help of talented bandmates to produce glorious, gorgeous songs about the world we live in. Many of Darnielle’s songs manage to tell a compelling story with great characters, while swinging around a hooky melody and killer chord changes. All in 4 minutes. All delivered in his trademark, arresting singing voice. Yep. John Darnielle rules.

What album should I start with? Tallahassee

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2. Jeff Tweedy (Wilco)

When they put together those lists of the best bands and albums of all time, Wilco rarely show up on them. But anyone who knows their music and who has seen their live shows know that they might not be the most popular but they are the best. Jeff Tweedy writes songs with such invention, melody and emotion that you would be hard pushed to find many better living songwriters with such a volume of high quality songs. From the alt-country simplicity and beauty of a song like “Box Full Of Letters” to the brainbending oddity of “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart“, Tweedy has the capacity to wrap words around chords in a truly compelling and original way. History will remember him as one of the greats.

What album should I start with? Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

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3. Katell Keineg

I remember when I first heard Katell Keineg’s album “O Seasons O Castles” years ago and being struck by how exquisitely crafted it was, both musically and lyrically. And that voice. Oh my goodness. That voice elevated the entire experience to a near spiritual experience. Some time later I saw her in Whelans and that elegant songwriting seemed to extend to her magnetic presence on stage. Every single song was spellbinding and inspirational. Do yourself a favour and immerse yourself in her songs. You will arise refreshed.

What album should I start with? O Seasons O Castles

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4. Ed Hamell (Hamell on Trial)

Ed Hamell is a one-man folk punk band with explosive songs that tell wild tales of working in upstate New York, delicate ballads about love, powerful political treatises and hilarious stories of a life well lived. To see him live is to witness a hurricane of profanity and sincerity wrapped up in lyrical complexity and cool chords. As a test of his own songwriting skills, he recently embarked on a project where he wrote a song a day for over 440 days! A great songwriter with songs that kick you hard, just as quickly as they tickle your funny bone and tackle your conscience. A true original

What album should I start with? Ed’s Not Dead: Hamell Comes Alive

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5. Mark Linkous (Sparklehorse)

Alas, Mark Linkous is no longer with us but he left a legacy of incredible layered, inventive songs. I first heard Sparklehorse open up for Radiohead on the OK Computer tour, but my brain wasn’t ready to hear the brilliance on offer. Years later I heard a friend play “Piano Fire” on an acoustic guitar and the stripped back simplicity of the song revealed the pure poetry of Mark Linkous’ songwriting. I immediately returned to my Sparklehorse albums and marveled at the potent production as much as the poetic lyrics. I dare you to listen and not find magic within the layers.

What album should I start with? It’s a Wonderful Life

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6. Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams is probably one of the more well-known names on this list thanks to his songs “When The Stars Go Blue” and “New York, New York“, but he has a wealth of incredible, captivating songs that are equally worthy of your ears. (He also does an unbelievable cover version of Wonderwall by Oasis.) Adams is a prolific songwriter and has managed to amass a body of work that stands alongside the very best out there. For me it is his ability to bring both melancholy and sweetness in the twist of a word or bend of a note that mark him out as a really great songwriter. Lyrically strong, melodically masterful, consistently brilliant.

What album should I start with? Heartbreaker

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7. Dan Bern

Dan Bern is a songwriter in the mould of Dylan and Guthrie, but with his own anarchic, witty songwriting twist. His songs tackle topics from the ridiculous to the sublime and always with real heart. Again, he is best experienced in a live setting, but on record he brings his quirky sensibility to the studio and delivers one fine song after another. His trademark, humorous take on the world shines through best in his marvellous “Tiger Woods” song. Once you have heard it, you will never be quite the same. Dan Bern is a truly prolific songwriter with the ability to write children’s albums as easily as powerful socially conscious albums for an older generation. One of the good guys.

What album should I start with? Fifty Eggs

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