Rock’n’roll. Typography. Two subjects that many believe shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath. We beg to differ.

RockThatFont.com celebrates the union of rock’n’roll and typography, both old and new.

Join us, as we share our journey of discovery and dig a little deeper into the origin of particular fonts used on some of our favorite album covers.

I have few rules in life. One of these rules is to never cover Bruce Springsteen songs. That is, unless your name happens to be Eric Bachmann.

From his tenure in Archers of Loaf to Barry Black to Crooked Fingers, Bachmann has influenced my own songwriting and guitar-playing significantly more than most. (And he recently has been spotted on stage with Neko Case, another fave of mine.)

But as with many of our beloved artists, life occasionally gets in the way. We don’t bother to make new playlists, we lose track of tour stops in our hometown, and we miss out on that critical release of note. Such is the case for me with 2011′s Breaks in the Armor from Crooked Fingers.
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Tender New Signs is the welcome follow-up record to Tamaryn’s 2010 release, The Waves. Using most of the 80′s Creation Records’ roster as a jumping-off point, New Zealand born vocalist Tamaryn and collaborator Rex John Shelverton make the kind of hazy left-of-center pop music that should be on big, expensive radio stations but is not. This is a shame because you should be able to be driving down a big city boulevard and randomly hear songs like “While You’re Sleeping, I’m Dreaming” on your car stereo.

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There are so many intriguing things about Unrest’s final full-length, it’s hard to even know where to begin.

The Robert Mapplethorpe portrait of musician/journalist Cath Carroll on the cover, the rich history of lead singer Mark Robinson’s Teen-Beat label, Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon as producer, the fast and catchy pop perfection of songs such as “Make Out Club,” the mention of “no guitar effects or synthesizers used on this recording” — there’s so much to take in and digest. However, we’re just going to ignore all of that and focus on the very fitting Pump Triline typeface by British designer and typographer Philip Kelly, who is still independently producing typefaces today.

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Lemonade’s Diver is pure summery electronic pop, with enough darkness at its edges to keep from falling into saccharine territory. The cover pares well with the overall vibe — clean and minimal while evoking an unplaceable nostalgia. Recently we talked to the designer Tim Saputo about Gotham, photography and how obsessive listening helps music package design.

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A friend recently asked a funny question: “What song did you listen to right after losing your virginity?” While I really don’t remember, it very well could have been “A Thousand Stars Burst Open” by the always underrated Pale Saints.

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Linda Park Editor’s Note: We were thrilled when writer, photographer and all-around badass Linda Park accepted our invite to be a guest contributor. She’s worked in the music industry for longer than she’ll allow us to mention, tour managing famous bands and working on events such as SXSW. But mostly, she “tells it like it is” like no one else. Catch more of her talents and grains of wisdom at Afraid of the Park and Into the Great Wide Open.

When Shawn asked me to do a post for Rock That Font, well of course I was excited because anyone asking me to write anything is pretty groovy and sure, I like music and design. I am not, however, a super smart font nerd so it became ponderous, what record to discuss.

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Classically beautiful and hauntingly melancholic, Jacaszek’s Glimmer exists in that thin space between orchestral and ambient. Replete with harpsichord and clarinet, the Eastern European sensibilities of the Baroque period twist around the sounds of bitcrushed digital noise to create a delicate tension that makes the record compelling and beautiful.

The sleeve reflects Jacaszek’s moody atmospherics perfectly. Executed by Michael Cina—founder of the design studio, Cina Associates—the cover features a broken, fragile gold leaf ellipse set against a dark background. Both earthy and sophisticated, the contrast matches the simple elegance of the music. Recently, Rock That Font caught up with Michael Cina to discuss the cover design, naive craftsmanship and the value of not knowing your limits.

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It’s rare these days that an album grips me so completely as Bon Iver’s recent eponymous release. It’s an album in that classical, 60′s-era sense — every song is necessary and complete. Songwriter Justin Vernon has created a unified work that both touches on and transcends folk, soul, rock and chamber music. Maybe it’s Vernon’s work with Kanye West, maybe it’s his preoccupation with Bruce Hornsby, but Bon Iver, Bon Iver aims for the grand statement and wins; all the while managing to maintain that intimate scale that Vernon created on his debut, For Emma.
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Dean Wareham, the frontman for Luna, spent well over a decade perfecting his craft before he recorded the dream pop masterpiece Penthouse. A New-Zealand-born New Yorker, Wareham began his career in earnest with the seminal Galaxie 500, a three-piece that predated and prefigured the shoegaze movement. But Wareham had ambitions beyond their modest, but enviable, success. Luna was his next project and three records in, he and his bandmates hit creative gold with their paean to New York and moody nightlife, though not much gold apparently in the way of record sales. Regardless, it was a critical success and Rolling Stone put it in their top 100 albums of the 90s.
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Rhino Records UK released TOTAL: from Joy Division to New Order on June 6, a collection of both bands’ best-known songs. Linking the two makes sense, as the dark post-punk of Joy Division ended abruptly when leader singer Ian Curtis committed suicide. After the posthumous release of their second album, Closer, the remaining members reformed as the decidedly brighter New Order, enjoying decades-spanning commercial and critical success. TOTAL follows the two bands chronologically, highlighting the musical evolution of both.

It’s always been very hard to separate the music of either band from their sleeve art. Peter Saville, a dominating influence in the world of design, crafted a minimal, highbrow ethic for both bands. Saville returned with longtime collaborator, Howard Wakefield for TOTAL. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Wakefield about TOTAL, typography and working with Peter Saville.
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Anthemic is a word that is thrown around a lot when describing rock music, but there is no doubt that The Hold Steady’s latest effort, Heaven is Whenever, qualifies for this special adjective.

While the band is now based in Brooklyn, vocalist Craig Finn grew up in Minnesota — and echoes of Minnesotan influences such as The Replacements and Hüsker Dü are certainly found on this record. However, the band has most definitely carved their own path of punk-derived catchiness, with Finn’s narrative ramblings garnering most of the well-deserved attention. It’s hard not to sing along to songs like “The Sweet Part of the City,” “The Weekenders” and “Touchless.” Infectious and anthemic indeed.
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Before having heard a note of the Arcade Fire’s latest album, I knew that I wanted to write about it. The cover art was immediately arresting and I knew it would be a great excuse to discuss hand-drawn fonts. Not that I hadn’t thought about discussing them already: Dinosaur Jr’s Bug, Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted and The Pixies’ Come On Pilgrim are some old favorites of mine, both in terms of cover and content. Any one of them would have been a proper jumping off place. But, somehow it makes sense to start with this summer’s particular gem.

After having lived with The Suburbs for a couple months, I can firmly place it in my short list of favorite long players of the year, with its themes of isolation and suburban despair and the sleeve-worn musical influences that bubble to the surface. Not, possibly, as immediately accessible as either of Arcade Fire’s previous offerings, my appreciation of this current collection of songs was a slow burn, with a couple of false starts in there. In the end, it was the noise-soaked melodies that won me over, not necessarily the darker ideas of suburban ennui and apocalyptic sprawl.
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I once traded a ’62 Gibson Melody Maker guitar for a ’63 Ford Falcon station wagon.

It was one of those somewhat regrettable deals that occurred more out of the fact that I had a crush on the car’s owner. In catching up with her recently (after more than ten years), I inquired about what happened to the guitar — only to discover that she had sold it to a (now former) member of Band of Horses.

Funny what happens to the objects around us. They have a rich history, and just as often, their own secret future.
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So it’s the middle of summer here in these United States. I live in the South, which means a lot of humid nights. Since it’s pretty much too hot to move much, the best evenings are spent lounging on porches, candles flickering, friends sitting around a table with a box fan and a bottle of wine, listening to something or other on the record player. This particular summer has seen Phosphorescent’s album, Here’s To Taking It Easy, on heavy rotation. It’s pretty much perfect southern summer fare — languid and loose, like Carolina in July. Matthew Houck’s meandering vocals provide the perfect foil for nights out in the heat. Maybe it’s because he’s originally from Northern Alabama, I don’t know.
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Let’s face it. There is quite a bit of saxophone on this 1982 release, the third album from Australia’s INXS. And much like that piece of fruit you left too long in the refrigerator drawer, not all of the sax solos have, uh… aged particularly well. However, such is the case with many of my favorite bands from the 80s (The Psychedelic Furs come directly to mind) — therefore let us not judge a work too harshly outside its own time. Because there are certain hits that transcend, timeless and undeniable regardless of instrumentation, and such is very much the case on Shabooh Shoobah. Thanks in part to the current 80s revival in some indie circles, tracks such as “The One Thing” and “Don’t Change” are as fresh as ever on what many consider to be a lost record of the decade.
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This album pretty much changed my life. Shortly before the beginning of my sophomore year in high school, my friend Jason came over to spend the night at my house. We were both skaters, we both loved music, and our friendship was really starting to click.

Aside from being a much better skater, Jason seemed to know more about, well, pretty much everything. In particular, dude put me on to a lot of music. That night, he brought over three cassettes for me to copy, A Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels … and two fIREHOSE tapes, if’n and Ragin’, Full-On.
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David Shaw Editor’s Note: We were more than pleasantly surprised when David Shaw contacted us to share his Belm Blog post on Joy Division’s Closer. Inspired by Eric’s post on Unknown Pleasures and a little Joy Division obsession, David really knocks it out of the park — and it’s our pleasure to re-publish it here. When not rocking that font, David is a music critic and amateur graphic designer. He blogs about music and design, but mostly about cooking.

As synchronicity would have it, I have been reading and watching a lot of media about Joy Division; Factory, their record label; and Peter Saville, Factory’s first graphic designer. Saville designed Unknown Pleasures, and somehow managed to follow up that feat a year later with another Joy Division icon, the cover of Closer. (The title is pronounced with a soft “s,” as in “more intimate” or “nearer to a goal,” not with a hard “z” as in “one who closes or concludes.” Pedantry, yes, but mispronouncing the name of this album will not put you in my good graces.)

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Geoff Peveto Editor’s Note: We are very honored to have Geoff Peveto of The Decoder Ring Design Concern as our very first guest contributor. In addition to his duties as president of Decoder Prints, he currently serves as President of the American Poster Institute and runs the international Flatstock poster convention — even curating the forthcoming Rock Paper Show book about Flatstock. Recently he decided sleep was overrated and opened Frank, a sorely-needed artisan porkhouse in Austin specializing in hot dogs and cold beer. This is where we would normally insert a bunch of legalese about Geoff’s views and commentary not representing Rock That Font and what have you, but our lawyer is on vacation.

So Les posted an excellent entry about Cooper Black… it’s so good I almost wrote Shawn to tell him I missed my window to contribute. You see when Shawn asked me to be a part of RTF, the first LP design that came to mind wasn’t anything from the thousands of records and CDs I have. It happened to be a new release that wasn’t even out yet. However, the art (leaked or otherwise) was online and it was typeset with Cooper Black. And man I fucking LOVE Cooper Black.
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I discovered John Coltrane about the same time I discovered Jack Kerouac. I’m pretty sure it was the summer between my sophomore and junior year. They seemed to go together seamlessly, Blue Train was my soundtrack to On The Road and it made sense to me, the restless teen I was — looking to, you know, burn like a “fabulous yellow roman candle.” Coltrane’s music always made me think that the saxophonist may have well been one of those kinds of people Kerouac talked about “ambling after”, one of those, “mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved…” The intensity of recordings definitely felt that way.
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There are better R.E.M. albums, but Lifes Rich Pageant is one of my favorites. For me, it sat at the precipice of R.E.M’s catalogue — not as shiny and happy as Out of Time, but not quite as “seminal” as say, Murmur. When the record was released, it was a quite a success for the band. It was their first album to go gold and another step up the ladder that would eventually take them to international acclaim. Still, Lifes Rich Pageant (no apostrophe) was “college rock” at its finest, arty and left-of center, tackling subjects like the environment at a time when most people could care less.
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It’s very difficult for me to separate Cooper Black from my childhood.

I will confess to you all now, I was a huge Garfield fan. Huge. I’m talking 1978 original Garfield huge. I collected all the books. For years, I begged each Christmas for the new Garfield calendar, my most anticipated gift. I cursed Mondays and made lasagna my favorite food.

This went on for a long, long time. Much too long, honestly. Even to this day, I take a few moments every June 19 to acknowledge his birthday, a loving salute from one sardonic young Gemini to another.
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Like your favorite bar band, we occasionally take requests. This one goes out to Benjamin Sutton at The L Magazine.

Wilco’sYankee Hotel Foxtrot is kind of the OK Computer of the alt-country set. The ambitious record is sprawling and adventurous — and everyone except Wilco’s record label agreed that the album was an instant classic. If alt-country is a genre, then Jeff Tweedy and company way transcended it. And the general public rewarded them for it — the album went gold, far surpassing anyone’s expectations.
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Leeds’ The Wedding Present recently wrapped up a North American tour to celebrate the 21st anniversary of Bizarro, their first full-length for RCA (released in October of 1989). Full of fast, jangly, mostly three-chord progressions — it laid a dynamic and melodic foundation that David Gedge would perfect on the masterpiece that is 1991′s Seamonsters. Recorded in under ten days with Steve Albini, Seamonsters’ success within indie circles allowed the band to then experiment with their release format. In 1992, they put out a series of impressive 7″ singles rather presumptuously titled, The Hit Parade. From Wikipedia:
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This 1982 debut album from the Descendents sticks in my memory like few others, mostly because it pretty much made it cool to be a nerd. It’s now common knowledge of course that the album title and cover refers to singer Milo Aukerman’s departure from the band to study biology at the University of California, San Diego (later receiving a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison).
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The way I see it, you may as well get the icons out of the way right at the beginning. And this album is chock full of icons. From Peter Saville‘s minimalist package design to the frontman Ian Curtis’ enigmatic presence, Joy Division’s debut album Unknown Pleasures pretty much has it going on. And let’s face it, is there anything cooler than the white illustration on the front? Take that, mix in the single “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” and the whole thing kind of exists in a haze of unapproachable cool.
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Supergroup This Mortal Coil, led by 4AD founder Ivo Watts-Russell, holds a unique place in post-punk and dream pop history. Just like the assortment of innovative artists who made appearances on Blood (from Kim Deal to Tanya Donelly and more), 4AD’s passion for great album cover design continues to influence today.
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I know that Robert Mapplethorpe‘s famous portrait of a young Patti Smith is the star of this show, but I love how the understated Helvetica Condensed complements the beauty and simplicity of the photo and the raw and glorious music that made this debut such a seminal classic.
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At a time when most were watching Miami Vice and sporting Hypercolor, the Psychedelic Furs’ 1988 compilation All of This and Nothing delivers a minimalist black and white composition to near perfection. No bright attention-grabbing neons or funky typefaces here. Simply Univers in all lowercase (likely Univers 49 Light Ultra Condensed with tightened tracking). The neo-grotesque sans-serif was originally designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1954 and released by the French foundry Deberny & Peignot in 1957.
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We all hold dear those bands that forever changed us in our formative teen years. For me, one that often comes to mind is Fugazi.

I was 15 years old (and full of all the naive, idealistic, invincible lust of youth) when I first saw them perform. Throw in a guitar for my birthday, a few power chords and some borrowed stage moves from Guy Picciotto… and before I knew it, I was in my own band. I’m just one of thousands who were inspired in this very manner, back when the word “emo” seemed to reference something very different than it does today.
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i’m not a font policeperson, nor do i aspire to be one. but i do agree with them on one thing: ikea’s choice to move from futura to verdana was a bad one. i remember my first awkward photoshop sessions in the nineties—i’d always use futura in all my creations—it was the coolest looking font that came bundled with my pc at the time. as a result, i have this soft spot in my heart for the bold sans-serif.
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Ikea, your recent move from Futura to Verdana has caused quite a ruckus amongst certain folks that I can only refer to as The Font Police. You should take a lesson from one of the greatest live rock’n’roll bands ever… The Who. They know how to rock some Futura, as evident on their 1978 album Who Are You (the last record with drummer Keith Moon).

You think that album cover would work in Verdana? (Ignoring for a moment that Verdana was designed by Matthew Carter for Microsoft and released in 1996, with hand-hinting done by Thomas Rickner).

We both know Roger Daltry wouldn’t stand for it.

Front cover photo: Terry O’Neil. Back cover photo: Martyn Goddard. Design: Bill Smith.

I wanted to follow up Eric’s inaugural post with another shoegeezer classic and offer a piece of advice.

The next time you put on Slowdive’s Just for a Day (in an obvious attempt to set the mood for a make-out session), whisper this little tidbit in your partner’s ear: “This album’s font is a variant of Caslon Bold, based on William Caslon I’s first English Old Style typefaces of 1725.”

You’ll thank us later.

Editor’s note: Is there a more appropriate record to kick off this project? We didn’t think so.

it’s hard to believe that my bloody valentine’s loveless album is nearly 20 years old. the first time i heard it, way back in the early 90′s, it pretty much exploded my ideas about what pop music could be. when i first heard the careening, overdriven guitar swells of “only shallow,” i was in my room working on something or other. i had to stop and listen to the whole disc in its entirety before moving on to anything else, it’s one of those albums, like sonic youth’s daydream nation that begs to be listened to straight through. it was immediately timeless for me. it’s easy to understand why it would have been so hard for kevin shields to follow it up.
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