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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.

I was recently given the opportunity to design a couple of small pins for a band called The Scarring Party. They take early jazz and old-timey music and mix it together with a punk attitude and a bit of irreverence. They describe themselves as “End-Timey” music, which is about as short and accurate a description that one needs. End-Timey. Perfect.

I had done some flier work for them before, but it had been a little while since I’d helped them out with design, so when I began brainstorming some ideas, I wondered if and how much their design sensibilities had evolved.

Their initial aesthetic started out with a collage of classic looking cross-hatched animals in suits, or distinguished gentlemen on high-wheel bicycles, or tea-cups filled with razor blades. It was like Salvador Dali for the flapper generation. When I talked with the lead singer, Dan Bullock, he confirmed that the band was going to uphold this bizarre sensibility. Excellent, I thought. I think I can work with this.

So rewind a few months ago. I was working on a different logo for the companion to OnMilwaukee.com, OnMadison.com (I’m hoping the logo that currently sits there is temporary). When I was brainstorming new ideas for the site I began playing around with the strokes on a font by the name of DIN Black, and accidentally created a font that was like an Art Deco font, but with a Modern spin. I knew it wouldn’t work for the company, but I immediately tapped out “The Scarring Party” and thought it looked delightful. I decided to save it for the future.

Fast-forward. I took the “font” and tweaked it a little bit further. I noticed it wasn’t reading well at the one inch size; I punched holes in the “P” and “A” characters, for instance, and adjusted the “Y” so that it tucked in under the “G”. Definitely Dali, I thought, for the flapper generation.

The design was ultimately rejected, but I still think it’s grand. It’s one of those things that I’ll have to tuck away for a while until the next perfect project comes along to which it can be applied. The good news is, you can still find a couple of other fine looking pins both with custom adjusted typography and one with a couple of boxing fancy-pants (to be displayed at a later date).

Also, be sure to turn up to their CD Release at Turner Hall on the 15th of March. They always put on a great live show. I’ve also previewed the album and it sounds splendid to be sure.

Daniel Johnston played a mesmerizing set and wished everybody a “Merry Christmas” at the Turner Hall Ballroom last night. It’s the middle of February, obviously, but as he pointed out, “With all this snow, you’d think it was Christmas.” That’s the kind of whimsical naïveté that points the spotlight on Johnston’s song writing abilities. John Sieger & the Subcontinentals and The Scarring Party opened the show.

Every time I go to see a show at the Turner Hall Ballroom, something is different, whether it’s the entrance point, the start time, the floor layout or even improvements on the acoustics. Unlike the last couple of rock shows I’ve attended, this time we were greeted with a floor full of tables with candles, each with two chairs pointed towards the stage. It was a kind of sweet ambiance, as Johnston’s music is less about the rocking out, and more about life reflection.

When Daniel Johnston took the stage his hands were shaking, his fists were clenched and his eyes were closed. I first took this to be nervousness, but as the set went on, I could see that Johnston seemed barely aware that there was even an audience in the room. Even when the crowd was heckling / requesting, it fell on deaf ears. Usually you can see the recognition in a performer’s eyes, when they hear a shout out and choose to ignore it, but all I could see was an intensity in Johnston’s eyes, deep below his furrowed, bushy eyebrows. To him, it seemed, this was no time to be thinking about anything else, except this song. The result of this focus? Well, the first song wasn’t particularly “good.” It lacked pacing, Johnston’s voice never seemed to find a key, and the song may have been under-practiced. But none of that really mattered, because the intention was there, and the audience sensed that. At the song’s closing, the crowd broke the delicate atmosphere with whistling and clapping.

At first Johnston was the sole performer on stage: a large, round man standing in front of the skinny microphone stand, clutching a back-packer guitar — a sort of mini, snubbed guitar that truncates the reverberation of the strings. (Think ukelele, but with more power.) It was alone, under the spotlight, that all of the ironies that comprised this musician were made obvious: He was a powerful character, yet entirely timid. His performances were clumsy, but his music was beautiful. It seemed he didn’t want or recognize his fame, yet a full house was honored to watch him perform. He’s been compared to blues man Robert Johnson and country star Hank Williams, yet he is simply Daniel Johnston.

His instrumental performance was varied. On a few songs, Johnston’s fat fingers strummed his guitar, and later he ticked away on a piano (unfortunately for just one song) with an overwhelmingly bright sound. Most often, though, he was without an instrument, clenching his fists, or clutching the mic stand, backed by other musicians, including the openers John Sieger and the Subcontinentals. All through the performance, Johnston’s quality see-sawed between an endearingly child-like first recital and an impressively honest artist, who unabashedly announced his intentions, beliefs and fears, deep from within, without holding back. No matter what the quality of his performance, you knew when he meant what he said. When he sang the words “This is life, and everything’s alright,” I genuinely believed him.

Special guest John Sieger played the kind of tambourine–happy, Summerfest blues that is best enjoyed with a plastic cup in each hand. Opening band The Scarring Party played what they call “End–Timey” music, a combination of apocalypse–rooting, haunted jazz and folk with a hint of punk, held together by a diverse instrument line–up including banjo, accordion, tuba and typewriter. The new mellophone machine gives them a spookier sound, akin to Ramero–era horror films.