Thursday, 4:13pm
28 June 2012

Emigre puts its eggs in one basket

Emigre no. 60 and ECD020

Four-issue subscription costs $16 (US), $18 (Canada), $29 (Elsewhere), $49 (‘Deluxe’)<br>

At first glance there is much to enjoy in the new-look Emigre, subtitled ‘The Next Phase’. The tasty box-board wallet, housing a seventeen-track CD (I-10 & W.AVE.) by Texan band Honey Barbara and a reduced-size Emigre, is both tactile and portable. The publication showcases new font families, including Solex and Lo-Res (designed by Zuzana Licko – see Reputations, pp. 58-64). Taking the idea of ‘place’ as a theme, it features a visual remix of Peter Maybury’s Hard Sleeper, eighteen pages of CD packaging proposals/lyrics and an essay about LA by Naomi Yang.

Emigre has chosen to make the music featured the main content for the next couple of issues, and this is where my problem, of sorts, starts.

As a fan of the 4AD label, I found the idea of this package exciting. In Honey Barbara I heard elements of The Wolfgang Press, Ultra Vivid Scene and Red House Painters, bands that have at one time been 4AD label mates. Yet a band such as RHP creates music that is mysterious, lost, intense yet shrouded with aching beauty.

Although I-10 & W.AVE. has a similarly brooding, ‘filmic’ quality, there is a claustrophobia so intense to every track that you find yourself needing to punch a way out midway to take a breath of air. I get a little cynical when I’m asked to be challenged ‘creatively and intellectually’ by songs described as ‘aural backdrops’, when I can listen to My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Bowie’s Low or Röyksopp’s Melody A.M. to formulate my own opinions.

Record companies sometimes release ‘taster compilations’ to tempt potential fans into the world of that label.

Emigre has released a number of these compilations including bands such as Cindy Talk, Ui and Basehead, which is a far more exciting and innovative idea. A compilation pulls together the sounds of different bands in a way that echoes contributors to a publication, a perfect mirror to Emigre’s pioneering philosophy. You can forgive the odd howler when 90 per cent of the album is great. If we are asked to judge Emigre on the musical merits of its one band of choice and the music doesn’t get you, the idea of the supporting CD/lyric graphic content means less. And I would have liked to see more of a process of evolution in the graphic work on show, seeing the design from initial stages to the more finalised printed visual. I found myself asking, ‘Why put all your eggs in one basket in this way?’

The answer is ‘Why not?’ of course, and this attitude is ultimately to be applauded. Representing a band, and thus attempting to illuminate the relationship of design and music, is brave and outspoken. Yet music by its nature is intensely personal. My own studio is a hotbed of loves, argument and opinion in all matters musical. The danger is that the overall message of the package may be lost on those who simply don’t like the music.