Design Inspiration: Darryl Norsen

I’m excited to get back to a feature here at the site that takes a closer look at the designers behind the album art that adorns so many of my recent favorites. As much as any other part of the full album experience, good art draws a listener in and cinches the argument on owning the physical package. In the past this series has explored works from Robert Beatty, Jason Galea, and El Praraiso’s Jakob Skøtt. This week I’m shining a light on Darryl Norsen. You’ve most likely encountered Norsen’s work on excellent show posters, or in graphics for Raven contemporaries Aquarium Drunkard’s Talk House and Laginnappe series. Those of you winding down the extended path of Dead reissues would likely also have seen his work in recent Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders reissues and 75th Birthday materials. Norsen’s crisp type work and clean lines have also found their way into excellent albums from Beyond Beyond is Beyond, Three Lobed and No Quarter Records. As usual with this series, I asked Darryl to explore his own favorite sleeves and recount how they may have shaped his own approach to design.

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Kikagaku Moyo

On their latest album for GuruGuru Brain, Kikagaku Moyo have dug deeper into their psychedelic soul than ever before. The album, produced with Portuguese jazz musician Bruno Pernadas, still weaves their appreciation for psych-folk, spiritual ambience, sitar breakdowns and deluges of guitar, but adds a newfound spaciousness and attention to groove that pushes Masana Temples to the top of their catalog. The band’s last album was awash in pastoral hues, and while it often lit the match on psychedelic burdowns, the remainder of the album rooted itself in a crisp coolness. The aptly titled House in the Long Grass evoked the lush countryside and the solace of verdant spaces. While some of that aspect still remains on their proper follow up, there’s an indelible sense of the city and humanity’s hum present in the mix this time.

Perhaps part of this arises from the band members putting space between themselves, thus necessitating entry to the clockwork coercion of city environs. The mournful lilt of “Orange Peel” and the lonesome slink “Nazo Nazo” capture a sense of traveling – echoing loneliness among a hive of constant activity. As the members work their ways back towards one another the modern world inevitably creeps up to try to reclaim them. The band, however, slips through with the steadied pace of cosmic travelers straight out of a Jodorowsky vision. They seem to radiate a utopian bubble of classic ’70s psychedelia that wards off the technological tangle all around us. The record bends creative restlessness into an organic set of songs that breathe with tension, elation, and as usual, ferocious catharsis. When they flick the flint to flame on “Nana” and “Gatherings” its with purpose, burning down the modern marvels to reveal the old temples beneath.

Perndas, it appears, shares their interest in lending immediacy to a recording, with the band working in one or two takes, even if it means the song isn’t note perfect. Not that Kikagaku Moyo are sloppy, but the imperfections lend even more weathering to their vintage air, conjuring up communal psych communities more attuned to the trip than concerned with the token of a pristine recording. Kikagaku Moyo perked many ears with Forest of Lost Children, positioned themselves at the top of Tokyo’s psychedelic circuit with House in the Long Grass and now they cinch their pedigree with Masana Temples. If somehow you’ve missed out on the band up ’til now, this is the perfect moment to come on board.



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Slift

At this point it might be said that Thee Oh Sees are a genre unto themselves. The psych-scratched garage rock, punctuated by John Dwyer’s echoplexed howl is a calling card of their frantic punk pedigree. As such, its hard not to immediately think of them whenever a band wades into their particular sonic jungle. Whether a new artist is expanding the sound or not, its always going to immediately shift the brain to comparisons with San Francisco’s untethered heroes. Same goes for Animal Collective, I suppose. There are just a few indie bands today that have nailed their milieu and no matter how universal some of their underlying influences are, they own their sound. With that said, its hard not to feel the specter of Dwyer looming over La Planète Inexplorée, the debut album from French quasar-punks Slift.

The album lifts off from the same platform of heavy, syncopated riffs and psych freakouts, even executing Dwyer’s caustic creep vocal patterns. However, they’re working well to try to make their own mark in in the heavy tank treads left behind by SF’s favorite sons. The trio takes the frizzle fry to some excellent heights, drops in some icy flute to creep up the spine and works out their best motorik impulses all over this platter. The record’s burrowed deep into a subterranean cave ambience, feeling like an otherworldly accompaniment to sci-fi wonderlands parched by desert heat and strange magic.

The LP brings to mind the harsh yet vivid worlds built into the comic works of Rick Remender – complicated vistas full of wonder that are often just as deadly as they are breathtaking. The deeper the record goes, the more the band begins to swirl the heavy smoke and smolder that permeates the mind. Divorced from its most obvious influence, its a spot on psych record that’s clearly built by skillful players with a tendency to push their songs as far as possible to the outer reaches of fuzz and froth. The band proves that their initial EPs were no fluke and makes it clear that they belong in the expansive arms of a well thought out full length. Perhaps as they soldier on the band will evolve their sound and hone in on what separates them from their looming shadows.



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RSTB Shirts Pre-Order!!!

I’ve been wanting to get together some Raven merch for a long time and now things have finally aligned to make it happen. For the first ever Raven Sings the Blues t-shirt I asked award-winning illustrator Will Sweeney to design a shirt and he went for it! The design sums up all the psychedelic chaos you know and love from RSTB and highlights Sweeney’s intense character work. I’ve always thought of RSTB as a secret handshake between music freaks and now there’s some official merch to let ’em know you’re in on the secret.

Shirts will be printed on a per batch basis and will be shipped out as I get enough orders to fill print minimums. Keeping things small and and emphasizing quality around here. They should ship out a couple of weeks from purchase date. This is the first printing of the Sweeney design in a Black/Pink colorway, details of the design can be seen up close below. Buy ’em HERE!

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GØGGS’ Chris Shaw on Final Warning – “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”

Got another edition of Hidden Gems and this time I’ve got Chris Shaw digging into his record bin to pick out a treasure that’s been roughed up by the injustice of history. If you’re unfamiliar with Shaw, he’s been the enigmatic front man for Ex-Cult, who burnt through a run on Goner and In The Red in the last few years. Following that he’s paired up with Ty Segall and mems of Fuzz to bash out psychedelic heaviness with GØGGS. Their latest LP elevates the band to a heady, heavy level that’s enviable to say the least. Now Chris looks back to a perennial favorite from Final Warning, a record that rips as hard today as it did in ’84. I asked Chris how this record came into his life and what impact it’s had on his own music.

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Michael O – “Haunted”

More good news arrives from The Mantles’ camp this week as songwriter Michael Olivares has a new single on the way for Fruits & Flowers. The first song from the single, “Haunted,” is a dreamy, delicate bit of jangle-pop, bolstered by a pillowy touch of keys and a hum of violin. Like much of his work for the small SF label, the song picks at the past with a reverent comb. There’s a looming shadow of The Jacobites here, as well as flashes of The Go-Betweens and The Pastels. Along with producer Edmund Xavier, Olivares has woven another stunner. Fruits & Flowers is quietly building themselves as the new Sarah Records (for those just now getting interested in the veteran label’s Bandcamp revitalization) and I hope that it gets recognition as such in its own time. The fear always remains that something this delicately niche could suffer in silence, only to gain the following they should have had two generations down the line. Prevent that cruel curse by jumping into their catalog with both feet now.



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Constant Mongrel

Festering beneath the underbelly of Aussie indie, Constant Mongrel has occupied space on RIP Society and Siltbreeze’s roster and now they make a jump to hometown heroes Anti-Fade and Spain’s pounding punk nerve, La Vide Es Un Mus for a joint release. Living In Excellence perches the band at the acerbic edge of post-punk, as one might expect of Siltbreeze alums to say the least. The record’s riddled with a restless twinge that could read as dance-inducing if your idea of dancing swings towards the asymmetrically violent. Taking up the traditions of The Fall and The Screamers, the band prowls through each song with a manic red-eyed intensity that prickles the skin and pummels the base of the skull.

In tandem with their paint-peeler aesthetic, the band’s lyrically lashing into their surroundings. The bulk of Living in Excellence takes on banality’s bite, the rot of religion and the slow slide towards a fascist state in any corner of the world you happen to inhabit. The band’s “Living in Excellence” theme erodes the notion of making anything great at this point, from America to Australia, but the band is weathering it well. They seem fine watching the ship go down, even if it means they get their own shoes wet in the process. They’ll sink with a sneer, taking the piss out of life rafts if it means they get to rankle the rest of the riders.

The band have consistently brought quality grime over the years and they show no signs of letting up now.



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Sextile – “Spun”

Now paired down to a duo, LA’s Sextile have stripped back more than just their stage plot. The new EP pushes post-disco and post-punk down the same staircase, winding up a skin-tight dancefloor freak that’s bound to get sweat in everyone’s drink. They’re searching the same future free bins that have given license to NY’s Future Punx, sharing in their tattered silver lamé take on the synthwave riot. For “Spun,” though, the band push the fader further toward their punk impulses, reveling in the grime of their basest gutter scraping impulses. The song’s swathed in the kind of broken futurist visions that welcomed John Carpenter fans and oozed out of the margins of Cronengerg’s world. While the whole EP tends towards the dancefloor, the band feels more comfortable in the shadows.



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Doe

With their heels dug into the slightly grimy ‘90s, London trio Doe barrel into their sophomore album with nods to the hooky growl of The Amps, The Muffs, That Dog, and Imperial Teen. While less likely as a touchstone, they’re also dredging up flashes of underground Aussie grungers Fur as they met out their spring-loaded songs about growing older without the burden of ennui. With Hookworms’ MJ at the boards, the album can’t help but ping-pong between the furnace of fuzz and Windexed hooks as his undertakings often do, but the band makes good use of his stucco spit polish. Grow Into It sounds big, but also like it might feel better bursting out of it topcoat at any moment.

The band is remarkably confident on the record, leaning into hooks with a wink and a sneer, but even when they’re flipping the switch to engage, there’s a slight sense that they’re still holding back. They butt up to the cliff but don’t dangle nearly far enough. Songs like “Heated” and “Motivates Me” provide the best example of their unbuttoned abandon, but even here there’s a feeling that vocalist Nicola Leel could let loose with a vocal chord shredding yell to loosen things up to a frantic blast a la Louise Post or Kim Shattuck. The guitars could squelch just a touch hotter, letting the album boil over rather than conserving gas.

That said, at its core, the record is hopscotching through all the right ‘90s dress-up bins, and reaching further back to the Ric Ocasec and Bill Nelson excesses that helped usher in the right amount of sparkle vs. crunch. Doe are on the right track here and moving forward in nice strides from their more muted first album. There’s a sense that the stage might bring these songs out of their shell and the band would do well to keep pushing towards the powder keg moments they bring out under the lights.



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Paint – “Daily Gazette”

So, in general, the phrase Allah-Las solo project peaks my interest. Call it a trigger, if you must, but the thing that hooks me in here is that on top of the SoCal garage pedigree lies some production by Frank Maston. Maston’s albums of spot-on Library psych are intriguing to say the least, but when paired with a more traditional model, he’s laid the works of Pedrum Siadatian in to a frothy pocket that’s flecked with sea air and nonchalance. Siadatian’s songwriting is bleary, smudged, and unhurried in a way that begs for the aching expanse of the West Coast. While Ariel Pink might hold the ’60s xerox-pop crown, that’s not to say there aren’t other subjects in the realm. Paint’s first offering sits well within the same context, its imbued with jocularity, imbibed and exhaled with a cocked eybrow and slight smirk, but its refreshing all the same. What remains to be seen is how the rest of the album stacks up to the street corner swagger of “Daily Gazette.” For now, though, this is just the respite we all need.

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