We Wish You Well on Your Way to Hell
Le Grand Magistery
Computer Perfectionists and Pas/Cal-inites Gene Corduroy and Bem were living in Brooklyn when they met commercial illustrator Andy Taray (ohioboy.com), the man responsible for the art found on the cover and throughout the packaging of the Ferndale-based band's debut record, We Wish You Well on Your Way to Hell. It was a chance meeting, but, as Corduroy recalls, "we just kinda hit it off. We were both Midwest transplants to NYC and we were both Tigers fans. Plus, he liked our music and we liked his art."
It was serious symbiotic appreciation and, as the story goes, they made a pact to collaborate at some point down the road. That point was met in autumn of '09. Taray's job would be a hard one, but he knew what he was getting into. The time and effort the band put into crafting the release of We Wish You Well is apparent on each track. These songs are lit by magic-hour sheen and Taray's abstract flaming branch (or whatever it is) of blues, red and purples reaches across the confines of the cover; drawing you in. It's a dazzling collection of shape and color.
As for the meaning behind the album's title, when Metro Times writer Chris Handyside profiled the band last October, they told him it wasn't a jab directed toward anything, rather just a cynical and subversively positive spin on dealing with the cruel, weird and crazy shit the world throws at you. But to be honest, the title's inherent meter and attitude sure don't detract from its cool-factor. It looks good on a cover; it's kinda fun to say.
Corduroy says that for the album's cover art, the band wanted a "handcrafted feel. Whatever you think the band is — the opposite of that." He goes on to say that the band isn't really about perfection after all, and that they embrace the "messiness of recording." Still, there's no arguing the comfortable mesh of sound from the band's stark indie-pop debut. These guys do stress details.
Inside the packaging you'll find plenty more detail. You'll find hand-drawn text for lyrics and liners, frenetic and familiar doodles, and more hard-line sketches, "like old-school engineering drafting," Corduroy says. That the whimsy of the inside art isn't reflected by the album's more barren cover is not coincidence. "We wanted a singular and simple kind of image," Corduroy continues. "Simple at first — many layers when you really take it in. I like how it abstractly resembles all sorts of things: tree branches, flames, hands reaching toward the sky. That's just what I see, I'm not sure what Andy intended."
Stoopz N Breeze
Turn Up the Smooth
More considerable record cover art comes by way of a throwback hip-hop, slow-soul project from Detroit producer Hugh Whitaker, aka Bob Stoopz. His partner in rhyme, Leif Erikson, aka Drew Breeze, is along for the ride. Everything that the cover evokes — Miami Vice, early '90s computers, golden era hip-hop, fashion faux pas — is sonically matched in this debut.
With guest appearances by the likes of B.l.a.k.e. Eerie, Ohkang, Dirtee Curt, the especially adept Metasyons (United States of Mind) and the late Slum Village legend Baatin, Turn Up the Smooth is undoubtedly Detroit, but it's all fed through a filter that makes it sound sanded-down and glossed-out, like Dr. Dre's early West Coast G Funk hip hop. Whitaker's cuts are blended further with cut-and-paste production, like early DJ Shadow but without the morose minor-key transitions and decapitating scratch tantrums. Sub all of that for jazz flute samples, clean piano and silky synth lines and it's all about good-time, weed-laced perma-grin grooves and vintage pop-culture referencing.
From the moment you lay your eyes on the CD, you know you're in for it. According to the group, "Turn up the Smooth tells the story of Stoopz and Breeze's exodus from Detroit to Miami, and their rise to the top of Dade County's criminal underworld. Along the way, they tangle with female drug lords, sell cocaine to Dan Marino, and party with Shalamar." The beats are serious, but it's not a record to be taken seriously.
How to capture all of that on the cover? That job was given to U.K. underground artist and Wax Poetics illustrator Pencilface (Bristol's Joseph Blakey), who Whitaker tracked down after seeing the art he did for the Uncut Raw record by producer Fluent and MC Selfish.
"It looked like a kid did it," Whitaker says. "It looks choppy and simple, but there's way more to it, you know?" The patchwork, hand-made nature of the artwork is mirrored in the music. What's at first a simple rap rendition turns out to be a cleverly layered jam. Verses about Fila sneakers, beepers, velour jumpsuits and fake crimes committed under fake aliases haven't sounded this fun in a while. But, like Pencilface's cover art, you have to have some '90s nostalgia to fully appreciate the entire package. If that cover does nothing for you, there's little hope the sounds inside will.
Computer Perfection plays the Blowout pre-party on Wednesday, March 3, at 10 p.m. at the Majestic Café. See computerperfectionists.com. Stoopz N Breeze play Thursday, March 4, at 12:40 a.m. at the G of C Hall. For more, see Myspace.com/stoopznbreeze.Travis R. Wright is arts and culture editor of Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org