And Finally

Sufjan Stevens discusses typography of Savages album artwork

By | Published on Thursday 25 July 2013


Everyone loves Savages, but Sufjan Stevens has raised an important and unsettling problem with the artwork for their debut album ‘Silence Yourself’. I’m not sure it’s quite a Beef Of The Week, but from a design perspective he has a point.

Stevens writes: “The very cool Savages has allowed a very uncool typographical blunder on its LP cover: Helvetica Narrow (weight loss is the worst thing that can happen to an iconic font, aka iOS 6). Also can we talk about the weird italics (unnecessary affectation, and very un-British), cramped leading (totally unforgivable) and unnecessary line break? Who the Fraggle designed this?”

Of course, you might not think this is so important. You might even say Sufjan’s being a bit picky. In which case, you’ll no doubt be extatic to hear that four hours later he returned with a lengthy overview of other aspects of the album’s artwork. This time brandishing a handy diagram, he looked over the ‘manifesto’ published upon the cover.

“One more thing about this album”, he began. “The awkward blatancy of an ALL CAPS manifesto (with line breaks) on the cover is, on one hand, a bold move (typographically), and, on the other hand, an indication of restraint and self-possession (compared to the explicit cover design of most punk/rock albums; compared to the explicit cover design of my albums, always screaming for attention). Case in point: the inherent democracy of ONE CASE (every letter equally measured) forgoes the political hierarchy of upper/lower class. Am I reading too much into this? The band has somehow achieved mystery and modesty in brash exclamations about ‘silence’ rendered via typographical faux pas (all caps=yelling)”.

He continued: “Context is everything: punk sermons situated beside a muted black and white photo (evoking the band in stillness, slightly pissed off) provoke visual tension and/or situational irony, a reflection of the band’s sound and style (silence vs. noise). Restrained Aggression. Aggressive Restraint. Clean lines, crisp utility, minimalism, functionality. These are also the qualities of a good font, Helvetica being the supreme deity, and Futura Medium a minor prophet. (Times New Roman may as well be the air we breathe.) I recall in writing workshops the constant admonishment to allow your prose to disappear, so that the narrative became an “illiterate experience,” transcending the text itself, magnifying in ether (the magnitude of all things communicated by nothingness, ie silence)”.

Don’t worry, he’s almost done, He concluded: “To accomplish this on the page (or in a song, or on an album cover) is one thing; to live it is nothing less than enlightenment. Thank you, Savages, for the urgent all caps homily (to “recompose” ourselves in silence). I will never forgive your awkward italics, but I will forever sing your anthems to my children’s children”.

All’s well that ends well, eh?