Welcome to the first, most irrelevant round of the Gremmy Awards. Album Art matters. Without listening it gives you an idea of what an album might sound like, the effort put in, and even though it shouldn't, it usually does have some say in whether or not you end up listening to it. Even when listening to the final product, it can guide the mindset that you listen in.
Here are several picks from this year that really stood out.
sirfjsh - Subacquea
by Sara Mattaioli and Flavio Baraccia
We're all used to images of bodies of water and islands etc in our surf album covers, but not quite in this way. I believe this is a set of composite photos, cleverly joined and color treated -- in fact I'm guessing that the bottom of that island is actually an aboveground mountain, and it looks like the sea floor might just be a grassy plain fading into blue. It's effective! And it sets the scene for a dark and moody album
The Surfrajettes - Hale'iwa Hustle b/w Banzai Pipeline
Though not completely uniform, the Hi-Tide label has certainly developed a strong visual identity due to their frequent collaborations with Scott Sigiuchi (who it should be noted has also done great work for Double Crown and other surf/garage acts). While a beach scene is hardly the most interesting subject matter he's presented, I love the strokes and how it deals with monochrome. The palm leaves, the water, the stylized sun, the bare essentials to discern the figures. And the sparingly used colors. I think it's interesting that this doesn't use the Surfrajettes logo from their previous records, but I don't think it would fit stylistically here.
The Manakooras - S/T 7"
by Grey Haas
Scott Sugiuchi is not the only one building that Hi-Tide look, case in point this beautiful 7" from the Manakooras by Grey Haas. The debut EP from this surf/exotica supergroup looks really sharp and visually complements the audio experience very well. Peeking out of the jungle and onto a moonlit scene with an alluring and unexpected color palate with its printmaking approach giving it a retro feel -- it's perfect.
The Evanstones - 1961
A trad surf record explicitly evoking the golden era of surf daringly takes a trip to the mountains instead of the shore, but there's plenty of that already. The larger picture of the time was about exploration of recreation, and this collage certainly gets that point across with the added subtle strangeness of mixing daylight and night-time and an absurdly large moon. Puts you in the right mental spot while also shaking it up enough to stoke curiosity.
the_birdcage - Wave Machine
This would be an attractive enough surf album cover were it played straight -- the sunset is striking, particularly with the beautifully painted colors of the waves in shadow. But of course, there's that gas mask... and once you notice that you realize that's not a sunset. It's a fitting image not only for a year of chaos, but for an album that tries to jostle your expectations of surf music. Made with such technical skill that I wish I had bought the vinyl instead of the digital.
Big bonus here: it was painted by their guitarist.
And the Gremmy goes to...
Diesel Marine - Staycation
What a cozy scene. The unassuming subject matter suggests a quaint recording, and the fact that it's miniature makes it very endearing. There are so many small details that contribute! The bending of the tower, the imperfections of the paint on the sign, the red light inside the garage, the rust on the garage, the sparkle from the stars, the lettering of "Staycation" (an appropriate year for that), the single patch of grass near the bottom, the boat painted into the background... and it's not just the construction but the lighting too, convincingly feeling like night despite the bright light. And if that weren't enough, the music itself was a completely solo effort from the artist. While looking at this I thought "if this guy isn't doing this professionally..." and yep, sure enough. Though sculpture isn't his main medium, he's very much a professional artist with a lot of cool work.
Nicely done, Dylan. You've earned a .png file.