The Obelisk Presents: 10 of 2015’s Best Album Covers

Posted in Features, Visual Evidence on December 4th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

I didn’t get to do this list last year — at least not that I can find — but especially as vinyl continues to grow as the dominant media for underground and/or heavy genres, it seems more and more necessary to highlight quality cover art as a focal point. This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. There were way more than 10 badass album covers, and I’m hoping you’ll add your favorites to the comments on this post, but these were some of the ones and some of the artists who most caught my eye. A few of the names are familiar — one artist also appeared on the 2013 list — and the work of some was new to me, but all made striking impressions one way or another in a range of styles, and I hope you’ll agree.

No need to delay. Let’s dive in:

Ordered alphabetically by artist

Ruby the Hatchet, Valley of the Snake

ruby the hatchet valley of the snake

Cover by Adam Burke. Artist website here.

Formerly (or at least sort-of-formerly) of Fellwoods and currently also playing in Pushy, Adam Burke‘s style has become essential to the aesthetics of doom and heavy rock. His work for bands like Ice Dragon, Mystery Ship, Pastor, Mos Generator and a slew of others — including me — never fails to impress with its deep colors, natural tones and, in many cases, a sense of underlying threat. So it is with Ruby the Hatchet‘s Tee Pee Records label debut, Valley of the Snake (review here). Burke presents the title literally as a winding serpent in the sky becomes a river leading to a waterfall, the colors of a sun either rising or setting giving a glimpse of the otherworldly while the earth below is presented in darker browns and the jagged rocks in the foreground. There were a few candidates for Burke this year, but this one continues to stun.

Elder, Lore

elder lore

Cover by Adrian Dexter. Artist website here.

A record that, for many, defines 2015 in a major way, Elder‘s Lore (review here) is not the first collaboration between the Massachusetts trio and artist Adrian Dexter, but the results this time around are particularly satisfying. And since we’re talking about vinyl, the creativity in the gatefold design and the other pieces Dexter contributed to the album proves no less impressive than the progressive turn Elder took in their songwriting — a fitting match in scope and execution. Released by Armageddon Shop and Stickman RecordsLore has pushed Elder into a different echelon entirely, and this will not be the final year-end-type list on which it appears around here, but Dexter‘s work, detail, subtlety and use of color for the cover simply had to be seen to be believed.

Kings Destroy, Kings Destroy

kings destroy self titled

Cover by Josh Graham. Artist website here.

Though he’s perhaps best known for his work doing live visuals over a stretch of years for Neurosis, Brooklyn-based Josh Graham‘s list of cover art accomplishments also include Soundgarden, KENmode, Vattnet Viskar and his own projects, A Storm of Light, Battle of Mice and Red Sparowes. With the cover for the self-titled third album from fellow New Yorkers Kings Destroy (review here), he seemed to encapsulate everything the War Crime Recordings release was driving toward with its urban crunch, aggression, and the feeling that all of this is a part of something larger and barely understood. Is it a bowl? Part of some ritual offering? Is it a drain? The expertly manipulated photography takes landmarks from the city and turns them into something as beautiful as it is malevolent, and Kings Destroy lived up to that standard on the album itself.

Snail, Feral

snail feral
Cover by Seldon Hunt. Artist website here.

Every bit worthy of the frame it has. Going back to pieces for Neurosis, Isis, Made out of Babies and more, Seldon Hunt‘s work is always widely varied, covering a range of styles and media. His piece for Feral (review here), a pivotal fourth album by West Coast heavy psych rockers Snail (released by Small Stone), seems to play off the single-word title in portraying a threatening vision of nature. At the bottom, we see human skulls as giant snails, weird glowing dogs and a deer with yellow eyes and snakes entwined in its antlers survey the landscape of huge mushrooms and sparse grass. Behind, two tangled trees add to the sense of foreboding, and a sky that runs from black to red speaks to a night that doesn’t look like it’s about to end anytime soon. Is this Hunt‘s vision of nature’s revenge? Either way, it’s engrossing in its three-dimensionality.

Valkyrie, Shadows

valkyrie shadows

Cover by Jeremy Hush. Artist website here.

Valkyrie‘s third full-length, first for Relapse Records and first in seven years, Shadows (review here), was a classic guitar rock fan’s dream come true. Brothers Jake and Pete Adams led the band through cascading solos, memorable songs and unpretentious vibes. The cover art by Jeremy Hush stood out to me particularly for the violence of its depiction. We see smaller blackbirds using spears or arrows to attack a hawk, and three on one is hardly a fair fight, even with a bird of prey, as a skull looks on from nearby grass. What I don’t know, ultimately, is whose side we’re on — ravens are hardly a traditional harbinger of good fortune — but somehow not knowing that only makes the piece more evocative, and from the detail and use of empty space in its parchment-style background to the struggle it portrays, Hush‘s work certainly grabbed attention.

Ahab, The Boats of the Glen Carrig

ahab the boats of the glen carrig
Cover by Sebastian Jerke. Artist website here.

A Germany-based painter who’s done art for Desertfest Berlin, Colour Haze, as well as the Freak Valley and Keep it Low festivals, Sebastian Jerke contributed several artworks to Napalm Records this year. He’ll continue that thread in 2016 with Greenleaf likely among others, but in 2015, his pieces for My Sleeping Karma and Ahab especially stood out, and the latter most of all. The funeral doomers don’t to anything on a scale less than grand, and Jerke‘s cover for The Boats of the Glen Carrig (review here) offered scope to match. Its sea monsters have breathtaking color and detail, and are familiar and alien at the same time, the central figure’s human-esque hand drawing a crowd either awed or looking to feast. This was one you could stare at over and over again and still always find something new.

Acid King, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere

acid king middle of nowhere center of everywhere
Cover by Tim Lehi. Artist website here.

I actually saw when Acid King unveiled the cover for their first album in a decade, Middle of Nowhere, Center of Everywhere (review here), that there were some people giving them shit for the artwork out front. Don’t get me wrong, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and if you ever wanted to find a bunch of conflicting ones look no further than the internet, but excuse me — it’s a wizard (Hell, that might be Gandalf), riding a tiger, in outer space. If there’s any part of that that isn’t frickin’ awesome, I’m not sure what it might be. What directive tattoo artist Tim Lehi was given going into the project, which would eventually surface on Svart Records, I don’t know, but it’s hard for me to listen to the far-no-farther out riffs of “Center of Everywhere” and not at very least want to be that wizard. Riding that tiger. In outer space. I’ll defend this one all day if necessary.

Serial Hawk, Searching for Light

serial hawk searching for light
Cover by Samantha Muljat and Sara Winkle. Artist websites here and here.

If I had gotten to do this list in 2014, Samantha Muljat could have easily appeared on it for her manipulated landscape that adorned Earth‘s Primitive and Deadly. For Serial Hawk‘s debut album, Searching for Light (review here), she’s partnered with Sara Winkle, whose work ranges from commercial design and album covers to animation and more. What the two offer in their work for Serial Hawk is a blend of the real and the unreal. We don’t see the face of the photographed subject, but she leads our eye toward the white circle, which, on a horizon could be the sun, but here seems to have descended to the field, landed there toward some unknown purpose. The tall grasses seem to fade into a wash of lighter green, but note the angle of the arm on the right side and the legs toward the center is nearly identical and seems to be working opposite the windblown direction of the field surrounding. Like the piece as a whole, it’s as much natural as unnatural.

Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux]

various artists electric ladyland redux
Cover by David Paul Seymour. Artist website here.

My notes for this list contain no fewer than three separate entries for Minneapolis artist David Paul Seymour. There’s one for ChiefsTomorrow’s Over (review here), and one for Wo Fat‘s Live Juju (review here), but when it came time to pick just one, nothing stood out like Magnetic Eye RecordsElectric Ladyland [Redux] (review here). The full-gatefold spread is my favorite album cover of the year — and a good deal of this year’s covers were by Seymour, who has become nigh on ubiquitous in heavy and psychedelic rock — and for Jimi Hendrix, who’s been portrayed so many times it would be impossible to count, to show up in an original way in an original setting, it showed creativity on a scale fitting to the logistics of the compilation itself, which pulled together groups from around the world in due homage to Hendrix‘s 70th birthday. Its colors, its shading, its strange mercurial pool and waterfall — it’s just perfect for what it was intended to do.

Kind, Rocket Science

kind rocket science
Cover by Alexander von Wieding. Artist website here.

He’s split his time these last several years with his one-man band incarnation Larman Clamor, but Hamburg’s Alexander von Wieding continues to find time for copious design work for the likes of Brant BjorkKarma to BurnEnos and more. This year, in addition to a logo for a forthcoming The Obelisk t-shirt, he also did a cover for a split between Larman Clamor and Blackwolfgoat, whose Darryl Shepard also plays guitar in Kind, so to have him also illustrate that project’s Ripple debut, Rocket Science (review here), only seems fair. I’ll make no pretense of being anything other than a fan of von Wieding‘s work, and he’s in his element with Rocket Science, line drawing a spacescape with a crashed ship manned by what appears to be a frustrated chicken and rabbit (“Rabbit Astronaut” is one of the song titles). A lizard looks on and sticks a forked tongue out at the scene, and as mountains and planets loom behind, von Wieding reinforces a charm in his work that has drawn bands and labels his way for the better part of the last decade.

Like I said at the outset, there were far too many covers for me to call this list comprehensive — right off the top of my head: SunderGroanMos Generator/StubbMonolord (that solo figure walking into the lake continues to haunt), BaronessHigh on FireGraveyardMonster MagnetThe MachineEggnogg/BorrachoEcstatic Vision, Uncle Acid, on and on — but these were just some that particularly resonated with me. If you feel like something was criminally ignored — maybe I missed it — please let me know in the comments.

And thanks for reading.

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Various Artists, Electric Ladyland [Redux] & The Best of James Marshall Hendrix: Scope Worthy of the Source

Posted in Reviews on August 24th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

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Even before you press play on Electric Ladyland [Redux] or its companion piece, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix, it’s hard not to admire the coordinating prowess of Magnetic Eye Records in making it all happen. Most people couldn’t corral three bands to put together a single show bill, and the label’s Mike Vitali has wrangled 20 acts from the US and European heavy rock underground to pay homage to Jimi Hendrix in time for what would’ve been the supra-legendary guitarist’s 75th birthday, topped it of with artwork by David Paul Seymour, whose piece for Electric Ladyland [Redux] easily stands among the best covers of 2015, and Caitlin Hackett, whose three-eyed-bird portraiture perfectly suits Hendrix‘s groundbreaking psychedelic blues. Packaged separately on 2CD and 2LP but clearly intended as complements, both tribute collections showcase staggering ambition on the part of the label putting them together, and the fact that Electric Ladyland [Redux] and The Best of James Marshall Hendrix materialized at all is an automatic, unqualified triumph. Here are the full tracklistings:

VA, Electric Ladyland [Redux]
1. Elephant Tree, “…And the Gods Made Love” 01:44
2. Open Hand, “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)” 03:01
3. Superchief, “Crosstown Traffic” 03:32
4. All Them Witches, “Voodoo Chile” 14:59
5. Origami Horses, “Little Miss Strange” 03:52
6. The Heavy Eyes, “Long Hot Summer Night” 04:17
7. Earthless, “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)” 05:03
8. Wo Fat, “Gypsy Eyes” 04:34
9. Mos Generator, “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” 03:34
10. Gozu, “Rainy Day, Dream Away” 08:07
11. Summoner, “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” 12:56
12. Claymation, “Moon, Turn the Tides… Gently Gently Away” 01:24
13. Mothership, “Still Raining, Still Dreaming” 06:20
14. King Buffalo, “House Burning Down” 04:44
15. Tunga Moln, “All Along the Watchtower” 03:28
16. Elder, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” 07:08

VA, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix
1. Child, “In from the Storm” 04:57
2. Elephant Tree, “Manic Depression” 04:10
3. Wo Fat, “Machine Gun” 12:49
4. Stubb, “Little Wing” 04:18
5. Rosy Finch, “Foxy Lady” 05:17
6. Geezer, “Little Miss Lover” 04:50
7. Wo Fat, “Gypsy Eyes (Extended)” 07:13

As I said, staggering. Even more so in the case of Electric Ladyland [Redux], since not only do the usual comp and tribute album concerns apply of getting everything together and turning it into a cohesive listening experience, but also because in paying homage to a full-length album specifically, it’s also pivotal that Electric Ladyland [Redux] flows front to back while being comprised of 16 separate recordings taking place in 16 separate studios with 16 separate performances and treading on some of rock and roll’s most sacred, pivotal ground. Covering Hendrix? Unless you’re Stevie Ray Vaughan — and hell, even if you are — it’s a tricky proposition for one song, let alone a full record. It’s like someone asked Magnetic Eye if they wanted to go mountain biking and the label built a rocket, went to Mars, terraformed the planet and then decided to tackle Olympus Mons, on a Huffy.

va the best of james marshall hendrix

Okay, an exaggeration, but you take my meaning. And Electric Ladyand [Redux] mostly succeeds in its decidedly Herculean mission. There are one or two changes that come across choppy — an early one in the jump from the groovy vibes of Elephant Tree and Open Hand into the burlier Superchief, who give an able showing of what they do but ultimately feel out of place — but on the whole, it’s hard to argue with the results as they’re presented throughout, whether it’s King Buffalo‘s dreamy “House Burning Down” or groups making the material their own, like Wo Fat‘s “Gypsy Eyes,” Summoner‘s re-envisioned “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)” and Gozu‘s adventurous “Rainy Day, Dream Away,” which leads off the second CD of the collection after Mos Generator‘s “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” finds the Washington-based act showing the roots of their own approach to landmark hooks, as do Mothership with their “Still Raining, Still Dreaming.”

Hearing Earthless with vocals is something of a surprise, and their take on “Come on (Let the Good Times Roll)” (an Earl King cover) not only is true to their Hendrix influence, but is a decided showcase of just how influential they’ve been on the West Coast underground — there are a good number of bands out there striving to sound like Earthless covering Jimi Hendrix — and having Swedish rockers Tunga Moln perform “All Along the Watchtower” in their native language puts an unexpected spin on arguably Electric Ladyland‘s most recognizable piece. All Them Witches are right in their element jamming on “Voodoo Chile,” and Elder do justice to the album’s closer in their “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” capping the tribute with one last highlight to round out the many before it.

There are several acts who reappear on The Best of James Marshall Hendrix, including Wo Fat and Elephant Tree, but as the latter only had the intro “…And the Gods Made Love” to lead off Electric Ladyland [Redux], it seems fair enough. In the case of Texas fuzz forerunners Wo Fat, I’m not at all going to fight with their extended jam on “Gypsy Eyes” as it closes out The Best of James Marshall Hendrix, and their 12:49 run through “Machine Gun” suits just as well. Leading off the companion tribute are Australian blues rockers Child, who give “In from the Storm” due soul and sway, and after Elephant Tree‘s “Manic Depression” and Wo Fat‘s “Machine Gun,” hearing Stubb take on the sweet melodies of “Little Wing” couldn’t be more perfect, especially leading into Rosy Finch‘s stomping “Foxy Lady,” which in turn gives way to Geezer‘s “Little Miss Lover,” coated in wah and right in the New York band’s wheelhouse, even as it gives way to a deconstructing long-form fadeout.

Wo Fat‘s extended “Gypsy Eyes” picks up from that silence with a bonus track-style vibe, but really, both releases feel like a bonus the whole time through. There are some variances in sound and style and some bands are more suited to the source material than others, but the effort that has been put into Electric Ladyland [Redux] and The Best of James Marshall Hendrix and the passion that bleeds from every second of each of these tracks are simply inarguable. It may be preaching to the choir to have heavy rock and psych bands covering Hendrix tracks, but the vibe throughout both of these tribute comps is much more of a genre paying homage to one of its founders who, sadly, didn’t live long enough to see the generation-spanning impact of his work realized. Equally admirable in mission and execution.

VA, Electric Ladyland [Redux] (2015)

VA, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix (2015)

Magnetic Eye Records on Bandcamp

Magnetic Eye on Thee Facebooks

Magnetic Eye website

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Magnetic Eye Records Makes Electric Ladyland [Redux] Available to Preorder

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 16th, 2015 by JJ Koczan

va electric ladyland redux

If, say, you’ve spent the better part of the day today figuring out why there’s water coming from the kitchen ceiling and chasing down busted baseboard leaks owed to poor insulation, you might take great comfort in knowing that Planet Earth is just a little bit closer to the arrival of Electric Ladyland [Redux], the compilation revisiting some of Jimi Hendrix‘s most essential material, as well as its companion, The Best of James Marshall Hendrix. The David Paul Seymour gatefold cover — click above to enlarge it — has been unveiled and is flat-out beautiful, and the tracklisting is iron-clad both in terms of who’s involved and which songs they’re taking on. It may not dehumidify the guest room, but god damned if it won’t at least make the place sound better.

Magnetic Eye Records, whose ambition in this undertaking isn’t to be discounted in the slightest, sent an update down about some presales they were doing through Bandcamp, where previously Electric Ladyland [Redux] was only available to those who contributed to a Kickstarter, but even more than that, I’m just happy to have another chance to stare in awe at the tracklisting of the 2LP, which I think you’ll agree is a stunner.

Behold the latest:

va best of james marshall hendrix

Project Update #41: Electric Ladyland [Redux] by Magnetic Eye Records

Just a quick update for February, we have a lot of tracks that have been submitted for both Electric Ladyland [Redux] and the stretch goal bonus LP ‘The Best of James Marshall Hendrix’. What a treat this project and these records are turning out to be. We have received nearly 1/2 all the tracks for Electric Ladyland [Redux] and nearly all the tracks for the Best of record.

All I can say is I am being blown away right now by All Them Witches version of Voodoo Chile. DAMN! Happy Valentine’s Day all you heartless bastards. You probably really, really need to pre-order Electric Ladyland [Redux] for you and/or your sweetie. This double gatefold tribute of Jimi’s masterpiece includes tracks from Open Hand, Elephant Tree, Summoner, Earthless, Superchief, Mothership, GOZU, Elder, The Budos Band, Claymation, Origami Horses (filling these dudes in for the The Phuss – sorry Phuss fans, they’ve bowed off the LP), King Buffalo, Mos Generator, TUNGA MOLN, Wo Fat.

The Electric Ladyland [Redux] 2XLP features art from our man David Paul Seymour. About 1/2 thru the final 100 copies we have for pre-order from Magnetic Eye Records. Get your copy at https://magneticeyerecords.bandcamp.com/album/electric-ladyland-redux

Electric Ladyland [Redux] Classic Black Double Gatefold 180g 12″ 2xLP

Side 1
1. Elephant Tree – And The Gods Made Love
2. Open Hand – Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)
3. Superchief – Crosstown Traffic
4. All Them Witches – Voodoo Chile

Side 2
5. Origami Horses – Little Miss Strange
6. The Budos Band – Long Hot Summer Night
7. Earthless – Come On (Let The Good Times Roll)
8. Wo Fat – Gypsy Eyes
9. Mos Generator – Burning Of The Midnight Lamp

Side 3
10. Gozu – Rainy Day, Dream Away
11. Summoner – 1983… (A Merman I Should Turn To Be)
12. Claymation – Moon, Turn The Tides… Gently, Gently Away

Side 4
13. Mothership – Still Raining, Still Dreaming
14. King Buffalo – House Burning Down
15. Tunga Moln – All Along The Watchtower
16. Elder – Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

https://www.facebook.com/MagneticEyeRecords
http://www.merhq.net/
http://store.merhq.com/album/electric-ladyland-redux

All Them Witches, “Voodoo Chile” Live in Seattle, WA

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Magnetic Eye Records Extends Pressing for Electric Ladyland Redux Jimi Hendrix Tribute

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 17th, 2014 by JJ Koczan

jimi hendrix project

Some of today’s finest heavy bands covering some of the best rock and roll ever crafted, the Electric Ladyland [Redux] tribute to Jimi Hendrix from Magnetic Eye Records was going to be a hard one to beat from the start, but at this point what started out as a Kickstarter presale with a $5,000 goal has surpassed five times that. As of this post, it’s over $26,000. Today, Nov. 17, was to be the end of the presale. 500 copies sold, a bonus Best of Jimi Hendrix covers LP (the cover below) included as a thanks to those who contributed enough to get it, done and done. Well, the announcement just came through to the backers that Magnetic Eye is continuing the push.

The new goal? $30,000. That ups the pressing from 500 copies to 1,000. Less than $4,000 to go, and given the scale of the project at this point, that seems infinitely doable. Kudos to the label on coordinating such a powerful assemblage. It’s rare to see the heavy rock scene so universally agree on anything, but I’ve yet to hear any dissent when it comes to this, and the amount of money put in speaks for itself.

Here’s the announcement and the tracklisting for who’s covering what:

best of hendrix lp cover

Electric Ladyland [Redux] by Magnetic Eye Records: Smashed Right Thru SOLD OUT Status! 2nd Stretch Goal, $30,000.00!

Being that we are smashing thru 500 backers and a pressing of 500 LPs we are deciding to put the pedal to the metal and go for 1,000. There will only be a 1 and only first pressing of Electric Ladyland [Redux] so the time to act is now. Tell your friends, your neighbors, etc…. EARTHLESS, ALL THEM WITCHES, THE BUDOS BAND, SUMMONER, ELDER, OPEN HAND, KING BUFFALO, TUNGA MOLN, CLAYMATION, ELEPHANT TREE, GOZU, MOTHERSHIP, WO FAT, MOS GENERATOR, SUPERCHIEF, THE PHUSS covering Electric Ladyland in full with cover art by David Paul Seymour, COME ON!

And if that is not enough, a ‘Best Of’ including Child, Ironweed, Geezer, Stubb, Rosy Finch, Elephant Tree, etc! with cover art by Caitlin Hackett. Out of control. So we made a final stretch goal. Here is the info:

FINAL STRETCH GOAL: $30,000.00 = 1,000 Electric Ladyland [Redux] LPs Pressed

Clearly, we are thrilled with the support and interest this project and these releases are receiving. We are creating a $30,000.00 stretch goal to allow us to increase the amount of records pressed 1,000 to accommodate additional backers. We planned to hit $25K and press 500 copies, as we pass 500 backers we will continue to adjust our plan based on the number of backers and amount pledged. We are already so humbled and grateful. Thank you!

the Electric Ladyland [REDUX] track list:
Elephant Tree “…And the Gods Made Love”
Open Hand “Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland)”
Superchief “Crosstown Traffic”
All Them Witches “Voodoo Child”
The Phuss “Little Miss Strange”
The Budos Band “Long Hot Summer Night”
Earthless “Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)
Wo Fat “Gypsy Eyes”
Mos Generator “Burning of the Midnight Lamp”
Gozu “Rainy Day, Dream Away”
Summoner “1983… (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)
Claymation “Moon, Turn the Tides… Gently Gently Away”
Mothership “Still Raining, Still Dreaming”
King Buffalo “House Burning Down”
Tunga Moln “All Along the Watchtower”
Elder “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/magneticeye/electric-ladyland-redux
https://www.facebook.com/MagneticEyeRecords

Jimi Hendrix, “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”

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