Local band Popular Mechanics didn't set out to create award-winning packaging, but that's what happened when the regional branch of a national design organization recently recognized the brilliance of the group's latest album art.
This spring, the St. Louis chapter of the AIGA, a professional organization for graphic design, crowned Popular Mechanics' album Anti-Glacial as a winner in its annual design awards competition -- an honor bestowed upon just 30 winners out of nearly 400 entries under consideration. The album packaging -- produced in a limited run for vinyl only -- features custom typography and triangle cutouts on a cover that opens to reveal a painting of the band. AIGA exhibited the art during its exclusive annual design show at the Center of Creative Arts in University City.
The album art was a big undertaking, but vocalist/guitarist Dave Todd says the time simply was right for a project of this magnitude.
"It's an idea I've been kicking around for a few years," Todd tells RFT Music about the creative direction. "There were different versions, none of which were as good as this turned out. Hence, why I needed Andy and Jim."
"Andy" and "Jim" are guitarist Andy Brandmeyer, who joined Popular Mechanics about a year ago, and designer James Walker, one of the founders of graphic design firm Husbandmen. Both men contributed greatly to the Todd's vision for the album, with Brandmeyer's painting serving as the focal point around which Walker built the design's creative direction. The image, shown below, depicts Brandmeyer's perspective of Popular Mechanics' four band members during the songwriting process.
"When Dave approached me about having my hand in the artwork for the album, I was stoked," Brandmeyer says. "He gave me some compositional ideas and mentioned Jim's idea of negative triangular spaces as part of the design on the cover."
Todd and Walker had previously discussed using cutouts in album art, but Brandmeyer's painting cemented the idea and steered the direction of the cover, with his painting peeking through.
"The layout was based on Andy's painting," Walker says. "Triangles were placed using a phi grid but still showed the characters in the painting."
Even the typography is custom, with Walker designing a Dali-like sans-serif to spell out "Anti-Glacial" between the negative-space triangles on the front cover and using a mid-century modern font for the band's name and track list.
"Dave and I did have a conversation about some initial layouts looking a bit predictable," Walker says. "So Dave sort of forced me into pushing the typography a bit further, which was great."
Continue for more about the art for Anti-Glacial and a music video from Popular Mechanics.
Because special features like cutouts or commissioned paintings can be time-consuming and expensive, album art with Anti-Glacial's level of detail isn't often seen from local bands. However, Popular Mechanics found ways to carry out the members' creative vision on a DIY budget. Todd and other band members cut out the eye-catching triangles, Brandmeyer contributed the painting and Walker screenprinted the album covers himself. The run of 100 vinyl albums proved to be surprisingly affordable.
"This cost less than most records cost, at least when you're talking the small amount of records we made," Todd says.
But while Todd, Brandmeyer and Walker are excited that the Anti-Glacial art has been recognized by the AIGA and important design sites like Creative Review, Todd asserts that Popular Mechanics wasn't going for kudos. For the band, the music is what matters most.
"It wasn't like 'Wait 'til the people see this!" Todd says. "Because at the end of the day if the record sucks musically, nobody's gonna give a shit."
Speaking of the music, Popular Mechanics has been hitting the stage hard to support Anti-Glacial. The group even released its first proper music video last November, with Walker directing the shoot. The video for "Seven to Three" features the band as office workers during the holiday season and includes cameos from the St. Louis music community:
The shoot lasted about eight hours, not including prep time, and it was filmed in a building with no functioning toilets.
"I don't think any of us have made a proper music video, and it was a challenge I was interested in, so we just went for it," Walker says.
"Anytime we can put a bunch of friends in a room and make something, I'm on cloud nine," Brandmeyer adds.
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