A Gift to Artwork, taken from the Caligula’s Horse song “A Gift to Afterthought”, breaks down and analyses your favourite album artwork. The first time an album’s name appears, it will link to a large and (where possible) high-resolution image of the cover so that you can take a closer look. Read other entries in this series here.
Another month and another article where I ramble on about some lovely looking covers. Today we’re looking at doomy, progressive, and psychedelic rock band Elder. They’ve earned plaudits far and wide for their recordings and live performances and I felt it was high time their artwork got a little attention. Today we’ll be focusing on three covers designed by Adrien Dexter: 2011’s Dead Roots Stirring, 2015’s Lore and 2017’s Reflections of a Floating World.
At first glance what is it that catches our eye with Dead Roots Stirring? We have a nude woman in the foreground and a natural setting elsewhere, with a tree overhanging her and a mountain and large lake in the background. Symbolically, women and nature often go hand-in-hand. Both are fertile. Both bring new life into the world. Both can be ravaged by man. Together they represent one pillar of Elder’s conceptual world. The second pillar is the journey – the journey outwards and the return journey home. The third pillar is ego. The dangers and threat of ego and the need for humility and unity. These three pillars serve as recurring themes in each of the records we’re examining today. Not only do they each stand proud individually, but they can be interwoven at will in the tapestry that is Elder’s discography. The natural wilderness is there to be traversed and explored. We must be one with nature to preserve it and, by extension, ourselves rather than allow our ego to feed its relentless destruction. We must journey within ourselves to find the right path, the path away from ego and towards unity.
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Taking a deeper look at the music and lyrics we can start to find parallels with the artwork. Opener “Gemini” speaks of the journey home, one past mountain peaks and frosty waters – both of which are visible in the artwork. The gemini constellation is based, at least in part, on the Greek Gods Castor and Pollux, protectors of sailors. We also find an instrumental midsection which beautifully evokes a sense of yearning. Similarly, the women on the cover seems to be yearning for something as she stares across the dark lake shores. The title track then discusses the growth of new life, dead roots stirring back to life. The tree depicted below, whilst devoid of leaves, continues to reach upwards and seek new life. Similarly, the woman still appears young and fertile – capable of ushering new life into the world. The final few words usher forth the final pillar, for “it’s hard to live when we go it all alone”.
My favourite of the three, the cover for Lore is breathtaking. The dark, murky palate of Dead Roots Stirring has been usurped by vibrant hues of blue, pink and orange. A mist filled mountain range is surrounded on all sides by apparent representations of the classical elements – nature at the forefront of the cover once more. At the top we have aether, the element of the heavens, towering even above the mountains. Next we have air on either flank, the wind driving the etherial mists inwards. The orange/yellow looks like fire, whilst the dark blue at the bottom is water. Each elements depiction is both uniform yet unique. They’re all drawn with the same style and stroke work. Yet, for aether they represent light and the spiritual realm. For win they’re a cool breeze. For fire it’s the flickering of flames and for water it’s schools of fish.
With titles like “Legend”, “Lore” and “Spirit at Aphelion” the cover art certainly seems apt, with spirituality and journeys prominent among both art and lyrics. The lyrics are more philosophical and introspective, the journey on this occasion centring on the search for the meaning of life, a journey just as arduous as the scaling of mountains as we search for the “cusp of revelation”. Finally, on a musical level we can infer that the free-flowing, circular imagery of the cover’s elements make for a neat parallel with Elder’s composition. Songs sprawl across each disc like mountain ranges, always hovering around the 10-minute mark, while song structures duck and weave through verses, choruses and epic instrumental passages.
Finally, we reach the similarly vibrant Reflections of a Floating World. The concept behind the record loosely focuses on a Japanese term meaning “the Floating World”, referencing the country’s rapid technological growth following its opening to the West in the 1800s. Yet, such flourishing brought with it a more hedonistic lifestyle and Elder use this lens to examine the shallow floating world of modern-day society. While this lens is suitably dark, there is a balancing side – an aspect of hope that it may not be too late and that there is still time to change. There is again a spiritual focus, which clearly comes out int he record’s instrumentation (e.g. mid-section of “Staving off Truth), as they once again explore the search for meaning within today’s floating worlds.
Turning to the cover we see that balance could be seen as the central theme. Green is the predominant colour, both in the sky and in the water’s depths. Green can be associated with nature, growth and fertility – with life, but equally with the greed, ambition and jealousy that has delivered mankind to its current state. The jagged peaks are reflected on both sides, balancing each other out, whilst the violent crashing of waves above the surface is mirrored by peaceful waters beneath. Yet, unfortunately the latter does not balance out, there is no opposing force to the ugly reflection of today’s society. Their hope is that, by illustrating that reflection, we can realise it’s not as pretty as we’d like it to be and take action to strive for a better world. Anyway, that’s all we have time for today – tune in next month for the next instalment.