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Jason McDowell is also known as Little Tiny Fish. He is the Creative Director for OnMilwaukee. Occasionally he freelances. Mostly he rides bikes.

littletinyfish.com is not a cohesive blog, but a repository of musings on an assortment of topics, such as design, art, cycling, Milwaukee, and other personal experiences.

It looks like I’ve been nominated for Best Album Art (twice!) for Radio Milwaukee’s Fourth Annual Milwaukee Music Awards!

Nomination #1 was for The Scarring Party’s “Losing Teeth”

The Scarring Party's "Loosing Teeth" album cover.
The Scarring Party’s “Loosing Teeth” album cover with illustration by Ray Caesar.

For this album I did the typography, layout design, and back illustration. The main illustration was provided by Ray Caesar.

Nomination #2 was for Pezzettino’s “Lub Dub”

 

Pezzettino's Lub Dub album cover
Pezzettino’s Lub Dub album cover

On this album I did the whole design, from illustration on up.

I’m not sure if you can only vote for the one category or if you have to select something from each category, so you may need to know something about Milwaukee’s music scene. (However, if you had to cheat, all the info you need to know, really, is in this post.) You can find out more about the individual albums here.

Give it a shot. Show your support and vote!

RANDOM FACT: The 88nine image for this article happens to be the 88th image uploaded to my site.

Archived Comments

These comments were pulled from the archives after a site failure in mid 2014. Though I no longer accept public comments on my site, I’ve included them for posterity. If you’d like to submit a comment, send one to littletinyfish@littletinyfish.com.

  1. Congrats, Jason! These are great works and the honor is very well deserved. Count my vote.

    Tim · 2011-01-24 14:15 · #

So as always I don’t care what year the albums were released, what matters is they’re new to me and for me they defined the year of 2010. Sad to say this isn’t a Top 10 list, but a Top 8. I felt a sense of musical lethargy this year and really have no right to be tacking music on to the list that was decent, but not anything I would recommend purchasing. Most of these albums were released this year. But there are some albums that were released previously that still deserve to be talked about. What? You only see 9 listed? Well take a closer look, cuz there’re 13 there.

1) Sleeping in the Aviary – Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel (2008), Great Vacation! (2010), Oh This Old Thing? (2007)
I fell hard onto this band. The night I went to see Sleeping in the Aviary perform live I was complaining that I had such a small connection to music this year. That there was simultaneously nothing interesting and an overload of awful music coming out this year. I was paralyzed by my lack of desire to listen to the next hot recycled sound. That very night, Sleeping in the Aviary opened my eyes. The nice part about this band is their song writing skills are extraordinary, but each album progresses through a different sound. “Oh This Old Thing?” is a garage punk assault, “Expensive Vomit in a Cheap Hotel” is more boozy folk, and their newest release is closer to indie folk pop. Their lyrics switch between fun and catchy to introspective and painful—and sometimes all of that together in one song—as he tries so unsuccessfully to navigate the complex realities of unworking relationships. He shouts off the pain in “Maureen Doesn’t Like Me Anymore,” shrugs it off in “Gas Mask Blues” and croons it off in the dreamscapes of “I Want You Back, I Want You Dead.” He almost acts as an anti hero, where his lyrics are so poetic you want him to succeed, but so misogynistic that it doesn’t surprise you that he’s failing. I’ve collected all three of their albums into the top slot because they’re all so good (and a Top Ten list with 30% of the list taken up by the same artist is kinda lame). Subsequently I’ve ordered them by which you should buy first (if you can’t get them all at once).

2) Little Dragon – Machine Dreams (2009)
A Swedish electro pop band with a Japanese-born female lead with album art by her accomplished Illustrator dad, Yusuke Nagano. Sounds like a recipe for a good time. Little Dragon plays understated dance music that is more personal and less flashy than what you’d see in the clubs. It’s not really shoe gaze, but it wouldn’t be such a lie to lump it in with the genre.

3) First Aid Kit – The Big Black and the Blue (2010)
I first heard these of these Swedish girls while watching them do a cover of the Fleet Foxes Tiger Mountain Peasant Song. Now I’m no fan of the Fleet Foxes, but these girls took their song and improved upon it so much that I believe Fleet Foxes should just stop singing it. It’s not their song anymore. First Aid Kit’s first full length album follows suit, keeping up with the beautiful harmonies and melodies and proving they have songwriting chops beyond covers.

4) The Scarring Party – Losing Teeth (2010)
I am good friends with the guys and girl in The Scarring Party, so it is a coincidence that this album made the list. They combine the vaudeville sounds that your grandmother would love but give it a punk attitude by mixing in lyrics that tread the line between eerie, funny, bizarre, pointed and clever. It is a sound that you can’t find anywhere else. Their latest album takes the best elements of their last two albums and mixes them together into a coherent package that I’ve been waiting for for the last 5 years. Their previous releases were good, but “Losing Teeth” gives me what I want.

5) Bomb the Music Industry! – Adults!!!… Smart!!! Shithammered!!! And Excited By Nothing!!!!!!! (2010) & Everybody That You Love (2010)
It’s cheating to include EPs, right? Well, I’ll tack on the two tracks from the “Everybody That You Love” 45 that got screwed up and was never released on vinyl. I never have anything exciting to say about Bomb the Music Industry! because they are constantly putting out the same kind of in-your-face catchy pop punk songs that just don’t quit. I say it over and over. I love it. With this kind of consistency I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving it. On ETYL Rosenstock tries out a little My Bloody Valentine with middling results. At this point his voice may not be subtle enough to pull off that kind of dreamy reverb, but the potential there does excite me.

6) Various – Yo! MKE Raps (2010)
My knowledge of hip hop and rap is so microscopically small that I couldn’t tell you the difference between Kanye West, Will Smith and Eminem. I didn’t grow up with it and I never found its subject matter appealing, mostly because the only people I ever heard talk on the subject were people who chose to remain ignorant about it. “It’ just black people talking about getting drunk and treating women badly.” Well no more! I’m getting in, though perhaps through the basement window. I don’t mean this as a dis to Milwaukee artists, but it’s not exactly the most forward way of learning more about the genre. Nevertheless, “Yo! MKE Raps” is an expertly compiled compilation that runs the gamut of storytelling tropes, from love to violence, from hope to dispair, and sometimes even a dash of comedy. It was also released free to download.

7) Holly Golightly and the Brokeoffs – Medicine County (2010)
This third release from Holly Golightly and her husband promised to be better than her second because they spent more time writing and recording. I was in for a treat then, I thought, as I really liked “Dirt Don’t Hurt.” The results were…less than I’d hoped, but the album seems to be more of a grower. After a little fuel and a few more plays I started to see that it wasn’t outwardly as humorous, but was more personal in an understated way.

8) Murder by Death – Good Morning, Magpie (2010)
When I found out that lead singer Adam Turla was penning the latest tunes for Murder by Death in a cabin in the middle of the woods I thought “Oh god, not another one.” Thankfully the album turned out to be more classically folk than, other cabin-in-the-middle-of-the-woods writers. I have mixed feelings about this album. The pacing on it is weird, causing it to act more like two EPs than a cohesive album. A few of the tracks also diverge into an early 1900s commercial jingle territory but they don’t quite work as placed (or produced?). Overall it feels like a serious of brainstorms, contemplating in which direction the band should head next.

9) The 1900s – Return of the Century (2010) & Medium High (2009)
The 1900s return with a paired down lineup that still attempts to project a sound that is as full bodied as its previous releases and it mostly succeeds. But the album feels a little more disjointed than before, where songs written by leads Edward Anderson and Jeanine O’Toole feel as though they’ve been written in a universe apart from each other. The songs themselves seem a little more personal, though. It’s a little weird to go backwards directly after you’ve heard their new direction, but their previously released EP, “Medium High” felt a little more familiar with rerecorded tracks from earlier records mixed in with some previously unreleased tunes.

The Scarring Party has been one of my favorite bands from its inception. Lead singer Daniel Bullock has managed to combine folk, old-timey, and punk ethos into a sound that isn’t duplicated anywhere else. And really, I’m not just saying that. Please let me know if you’ve heard anything remotely similar anywhere else.

There are bands that lean more Waitts-ian, or bands that tilt more accessibly (i.e. weird instruments with a more recognizably modern sound), but The Scarring Party sound like an off-kilter version of something you’d have heard crooning out of a giant radio box in the 30’s, in between episodes of The Shadow and Little Orphan Annie.

Swirling this audio aesthetic together with an accordion, tuba, and other homemade instruments might sound like a gimmick if it weren’t for Bullock’s understanding of music and ability to write a solid pop song that could stand under any genre.

The Scarring Party’s newest album, Losing Teeth, will be released on August 13, 2010. Ray Cesar gave his blessing to use one of his paintings for the cover, while I was responsible for incorporating the logos and track listings, as well as designing the disc face and accompanying lyrics book (images coming soon).

I also worked with Daniel to conceive of this t-shirt design. The Scarring Party has released a few t-shirt designs, but have found that most people will only buy black; any design that works optimally on a colored shirt, no matter how clever it is, will reap approximately an eighth of the sales.

On the other side of the pop coin is a one woman band that goes by the name Pezzettino. She, too, employs an accordion, but to a much different effect, with an indie pop sound. Her latest album, Lub Dub, is a break up album that starts with the sugar high of a fresh relationship and follows through to the inevitable crash.

I had the honor of conceiving and illustrating a candy coated cover for this project. Working with Pezzettino has been a great experience; I have felt confident throwing her several designs, knowing that she would make the best choice regardless.

And for the record, I wasn’t going for the whole Pez Candy to Pezzettino thing. That wasn’t something I had considered until after work on the illustration had begun.

Her album is basically all set to release, digitally speaking, but she wants to see it on vinyl as well. I, too, would love to see my work on a 12” cover, so run over to her Kickstarter fund and toss some cash her way. (Besides feeding my ego, there are more good reasons to support artists through Kickstarter, too.)

Look for Pezzettino’s official release to happen sometime in September of 2010.

It’s been a rough couple of years for music and while some powerhouses released albums this year 2009 was still kinda in the weeds. I usually do a Top 10 Favorite Albums that Defined my 2009 with an emphasis on my because I am often late to the game. Several years ago my number one album was The Postal Service’s “Give Up”, which was several years too late.

But even as I put this list together I can’t help but think that 2009 was more defined by Podcasts than albums. Leo Laporte and the TWiTs, RadioLab, Savage Love,The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast, You Look Nice Today, The Bike Show, and to a lesser extent, The Moth, were always more enticing than the latest release. I mean, Phoenix is everybody’s favorite band this year? How plain. They were so good, in fact, that it’s left me wondering how much I should be paying them for their entertainment and information. Their value is truly more than I can afford.

It’s been a rough couple of years for music and while some powerhouses released albums this year 2009 was still kinda in the weeds. I usually do a Top 10 Favorite Albums that Defined my 2009 with an emphasis on my because I am often late to the game. Several years ago my number one album was The Postal Service’s “Give Up”, which was several years too late.

But even as I put this list together I can’t help but think that 2009 was more defined by Podcasts than albums. Leo Laporte and the TWiTs, RadioLab, Savage Love,The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast, You Look Nice Today, The Bike Show, and to a lesser extent, The Moth, were always more enticing than the latest release. I mean, Phoenix is everybody’s favorite band this year? How plain. They were so good, in fact, that it’s left me wondering how much I should be paying them for their entertainment and information. Their value is truly more than I can afford.

At any rate, here is the list, with a surprising amount of albums actually released in 2009:

  • 10. Rx Bandits – MandalaThe Rx Bandits abandoned the last of whatever brass instrumentation they had and come alive with a distinctly more rocky and maybe regrettably proggy sound. The tracks are strong through the whole album but nothing stands out except for the annoying “Bled to be Free (The Operation)” which is the second to the last song. Thankfully “Bring Our Children Home or Everything is Nothing” cleans the bad taste before the album closes.
  • 09. Kria Brekkan – Apotropaiosong ArmorCreepy and experimental noise from Scandinavia. There appears to be a severe lack of musical structure but the sounds aren’t at all overcoming. They’re subtle, soft and lap along the shore like waves.
  • 08. Propagandhi – Supporting CastePropagandhi recovers from their previous album rather nicely with this one. While they’re sticking with the thrash metal sound that they’ve evolved into they have managed to provide a much stronger musical base for their noisy protest.
  • 07. Rural Alberta Advantage – HometownsI didn’t really understand the hype behind RAA, but after giving their album a few spins I’m beginning to appreciate their clean pop sensibilities. It’s true that it’s definitely the next in line of the Indie rock genre, but there is something that is still comforting about this album.
  • 06. Murder by Death – FinchMurder by Death have been looking to do an instrumental soundtrack for a while now. Last I heard (in 2005, maybe?) they were going to do a soundtrack to an imaginary Tim Burton movie. They did one better, though, by doing a soundtrack to an actual property; it’s not a movie, though. It’s a book called “Finch.” They’ve always had an attraction to album concepts and their best stuff comes from their storytelling hearts. It’s a little short and a little quiet, but I am excited to see the band push into this new direction. Hopefully some of these sentiments will find their way on to the next album, but a lot of artists have taken to writing in isolated cabins, deep in the woods, the musical equivalent to sketching on a moleskine, and unfortunately, Murder by Death seems to be going that route.
  • 05. Andrew Bird – Noble BeastAndrew Bird continues his reign as violin/whistling/looping master. This album is infinitely more fun to sing and hum along to than the more atmospheric (maybe that should read: boring) “Armchair Apocrypha” was and that pleases me.
  • 04. Sparks – PropagandaThis is the oldest release to find it’s way onto my list this year. I wasn’t entirely convinced of Sparks’ legitimacy because I haven’t been a huge fan of glam rock in the past, but the music is poppy and deceptively complex. Sometimes it goes a little overboard, though, that it gets a little tiresome, but it won’t be an album I’ll quickly stop spinning.
  • 03. Neko Case – Middle CycloneNot only is Neko Case a beautiful singer, but this album was well constructed from beginning to end. It doesn’t have a lot of fiery tracks but it’s still bound to be a classic. This one was recorded in a barn on a lineup of twelve pianos, which is somehow less of a gimmick than the artist in a cabin thing, but I think that’s because it produces tangible results (you can hear birds chirping on some of the tracks, for instance) not just pretension. But speaking of pretension, maybe we could have done without the half hour track of nature sounds at the end.
  • 02. Beiruit – March of the Zapotec / Realpeople – HollandThis album is technically two EPs by two bands who happen to be the same person. Zach Condon is back with the full band and sounds from Latin America, but the mood is just as morose. Realpeople is Zach Condon’s alias who plays around with electronica more than wind instruments. I am surprised at how well the sounds from the old country act so complementary towards the modern electronic sound.
  • 01. Bomb the Music Industry! – ScramblesThis is by far the best album of the year. Jeff Rosenstock understands punk better than most of its modern heroes. While writing a catchy, pop punk, anthemic album he still manages to connect to punk’s past and create an album that is bound to live past its expiration date. If I had to chose my way to die it’d be driving off the Hoan Bridge into Lake Michigan at high speeds while blasting 25! as loud as I can. Now Jeff is in yet another band (that makes three) called Kudrow, with members from The Gaslight Anthem and Propagandhi. They just released an EP so I’m sure as hell gonna have to check it out.
  • BONUS: OnMilwaukee.com released their OMCD3 this year, featuring, perhaps, the best lineup of Milwaukee bands since they started putting these compilations out. And I’m not just saying that because I designed the cover for it. They’ve got The Scarring Party, Pezzettino, The Candliers, Decibully, and The Celebrated Workingman. Milwaukee’s music scene never looked so good. Download the album for free.

I haven’t put together a mix since Muxtape was shut down months ago. I’m still hurting from that one. I’ve also been a bit out of the creative loop lately, producing very little of any substantial quality. That, however, is about to change. The last few weeks have seen a new creative burst of energy and with the end of the holiday glut and the onset of a gloomy winter, it couldn’t come too soon.

The first fruits of the new burst of creativity includes this new mix. Granted the only amount of creativity that went into it was merely arranging the music in a pleasing manner, but it may be one of my most diverse mixes yet. It travels between a little hip hop, a little folk, a little fuzz, and a little punk. It doesn’t dwell on any one genre for too long before it’s off to another song.

1

k–os – Emcee Murdah
This guy has a beautiful voice and mixed together with those violin tracks, which feel like two elements operating separately. It is powerful without being overstated. k–os laments that hip– isn’t dead, but the minds of those who currently practice.

2

Dokkemand – Lapp
This is Norwegian folktronica in the same vein of Ratatat and Múm. This was the last track I added to the album, and I’m not entirely sure if it’s supposed to be in here, so what more appropriate place than the second track of the mix? It’s quiet and cool and manages to find some interesting experimentation further into the album.

3

“Blue” Gene Tyranny – Next Time Might Be Your Time
A quiet, yet beautiful track from the mid 70s from avant garde composer, “Blue” Gene Tyranny. There are a lot of weird transitions that crop up throughout the song, the most bizarre being that sax solo that squats over the track towards the beginning and then taking over in a sort of rondo towards the end. But there’s some flute, sax, guitar, and, maybe synthesizer/harpsichord? A pleasantly entertaining tune about friendship.

4

The Fourelles – Waiting for a Crisis
This song isn’t an adventure in new sound, a very solid entry into sugary girl rock, but its lyrics remind me of my younger days when love was simpler (or merely imagined) and required romantic movie trickery, the death of a loved one, or a bad day at school to show how much you care.

5

Vivian Girls – Tell the World
Vivian Girls are this decades White Stripes. You love ’em or you hate ’em. These girls use fuzzy shoe-gaze but take out all the melancholic emotion. Lo-fi and full of feedback, they still manage to be compelling. Many seem to agree since this band has coasted to popularity with almost no official promotion.

6

The Pica Beats – Poor Old Ra
Melancholic, lo–fi indie pop rock that leans away from (to positive effect) the nearly requisite squeeze box/trumpet/banjo combination that has become so popular. Bands like this have become so common it might not be important to give these guys their due, but I feel like there is some genuine emotion in there, I think due to the wailing, almost heartbroken Oboe that laments through the entire track. The full album apparently follows a lyrical narrative featuring Egyptian gods, demons, and cultural oddities; I dig a good concept album.

7

Jay Reatard – My Shadow
More and more my tastes have been leaning away from the punk rock that I clung to during my late teens and early twenties, but there’s still something about the rawness of Jay Reatards ultra-fuzzed music that keeps me coming back. He’s one of the guys responsible for drawing attention to The Vivian Girls (one of the previous tracks).

8

Miranda Lambert – Dry Town
Miranda Lambert exemplifies what pop country should be about: namely it keeps the COUNTRY part in the equation. It isn’t shy and she whips through a cute story about a girl who’s looking for a drink in an alcohol–free town. Upon further research this girl has apparently made it platinum, has had four Top 40s hits, has been nominated for two grammys, and finished in third place on Nashville Star, the country version of American Idol.

9

Wild Beasts – She Purred While I Grrred
This groovy tune is as sexy as the title sounds.

10

Marnie Stern – Transformer
Highly technical guitar wankery that is nevertheless exciting to blast down the highway.

11

Rowan & Hastings – My Favorite Bears
The end of my 2008 was filled with reluctant trips to the concert hall, mostly for bands that started out as jokes. Once a joke starts taking itself seriously half the point of the bands existence must now rest on the weaker part of the equation, i.e. their talent. As a related note, I’m not a huge fan of ironic hip hop, which mostly feels like a weak excuse for white people to broach the genre without fear of criticism; afterall, it’s not like they take themselves seriously. However, there is something about Rowan & Hastings clever rhyming that makes me think that School House Rock needs to be rebooted with a few modern tunes (though, perhaps, with fewer swear words).

12

Selda – Nasirli Eller
I think there was a Selda track on my last mix, but that was from a single. Based on that track I picked up the self-titled album and was beyond impressed with the strength of the music. It became one of my favorites of the year. This track is like a beautifully composed Turkish torch song, but coming from a revolutionary background in a language I can’t understand, I’m sure this song is more powerful than I imagine.

Download the Mix.