Mitski’s The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We

Design for Mitski’s 7th studio album, The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We, released on September 15, 2023. The album has been described as “some of the most surreal, existential, and fascinating songs of Mitski’s career“ (Cat Zhang, Pitchfork)

Collaboration with Mitski. 
Photography Ebru Yildiz.
Typeface “Ready” by Plain Form and “Tofino” by Alanna Munro
All photos below with red background by Anna Powell Denton.

This process began with Ebru’s photographs (hundreds) and a playlist (normal size). Together they sparked a lot of ideas: dirt, dust, archaeological dig sites, mythology of “the road”, property, grids, weaving, and I became very interested in a Walker Evans photograph of a billboard. Some highlights from my notes include “a big stick” “fences” and “hand as land” — it all makes sense in the end, right?

For the typography, I wanted to express the idea of “unruly and free”, like the idea of the American Old West. Ready Active by Plain Form fit my vision of what “lawless typography” might be, and it follows that through in that it is always breaking the border of the image in the design. From the Ready specimen: "Ready does more than flirting with abstraction: it tips over into becoming pure shapes, only sprinkled with a few hints of our long-established and codified writing system.”

I spent a lot of time thinking about the album title, there are many ways the land and people are inhospitable—one literal thought I persued is the simple idea of the land rejecting a person walking on it, which conjured the image of shards poking out of the dirt. As the ocean erodes the land it reveals this physical evidence of the human experience—shards, bones, scraps of metal. The land is inhospitable because we made it inhospitable? The digital drawing of an early American jug (Weller pottery, 1872) became the formal representation of this, and as a graphic device helped carry the campaign across the many materials it demands.

The album package has two slip cases, one in aster pink and the other in robin egg blue. The pink slip is accompanied by a blue vinyl and the blue slip offers a pink vinyl. The peaceful nature of these hues is activated by an electrified orange*. Made even louder with a glossy spot, this hot orange functions as the molten core of the package with a full flood inside both slip cases. When the slip is empty, the two die cut shards on the cover light up like a freaky pollution sunset. Dark forest green functions as an alternative to black in an effort to respect the rich black of Ebru’s photo series. A sandy blush like the dry dirt kicked up in a dust storm grounds the rest of the artwork.

* Best viewed in person, the gamut for digital images does accomodate a color this hot!

Physical media with tactile embossing and hot and slick colors contrasting against Ebru’s intense images.

Label: Dead Oceans / Secretly (special thanks to Miles Johnson)
Management: Good Harbor (special thanks Tom Chiari & Ben Levin)

Endless Thread identity

A new identity for WBUR’s Endless Thread podcast designed with Elena Foraker.

Animations by Mark Buenafe directly inspired by the end scene in the 1990’s computer game Microsoft Solitaire.

The type is a modified version of TINY by Jack Fahnestock.

About Endless Thread: Hosts Ben Brock Johnson and Amory Sivertson dig into the internet's vast and curious ecosystem of online communities to find untold histories, unsolved mysteries, and other jaw-dropping stories online and IRL.

Mitski’s Laurel Hell

Design for Mitski’s 6th studio album, Laurel Hell, select merch, and art direction for website, additional consulting on merch lines. Laurel Hell was released on February 4, 2022 and is categorized as synth-pop, indie pop and electro-rock.

In an interview with Variety, Mitski describes “Laurel Hell is a soundtrack for transformation, a map to the place where vulnerability and resilience, sorrow and delight, error and transcendence can all sit within our humanity, can all be seen as worthy of acknowledgment, and ultimately, love.”

Collaboration with Mitski. 
Photography Ebru Yildiz.
Typeface “Resolve” by Corinne Ang
All photos below with red background by Anna Powell Denton.

A line was drawn in response to each track on this album and is printed in shimmering (like “wet teeth, shining eyes”*) silver foil. These lines are, at the same time; lightening, evidence of a journey, and the tangled branches of a mountain laurel bush (so thick and overgrown you can’t escape it—the namesake of this record), and when layered with Yildiz’s photography portray an emotional state between agony and ecstasy. Upon opening the record package the silver marks reveal a complex and tangled map on which the lyrics coax a reader along a tumultuous personal journey.

Intentionally, a single photographic representation of Mitski is used for all the music packaging. Side A and B of the record label also feature Yildiz’s singlular image, on side A the portrait of Mitski is clear, while side B presents her likeness buried under a mess of laurel leaves.

As elegant as it is fierce, the typeface “Resolve” by Corinne Ang and was chosen for it’s attributes, as described “stubborn & grounded, not delicate nor fragile” and how it “reveals a bittersweet sharpness to accompany the everflowing swerving curves”. Practically, the typeface performs well at both very small and large sizes, and formally the expert craft reflects the quality of the music, writing and production on Laurel Hell.

*Valentine, Texas

Above: Primary record package design, red vinyl; black vinyl, triple button red and black vinyl

Above: CD package design

Above: variant CD slip case design: “stay” “soft” “get” and “eaten” reveal a new crop of Yildiz’s iconic portrait of the artist. 

Above: cassette package design: when closed, the track list and cassette title present opposing reading experiences — neither is right side up, hopefully frustrating the consumer 

Work includes:
—Vinyl Laurel Hell US
—Vinyl Laurel Hell UK (Rough Trade exclusive)
—Vinyl Stay Soft, Get Eaten: Laurel Hell Demos (Rough Trade exclusive)
—Vinyl variant specifications (all records world wide, standard retail variant, DTC exclusive, Secretly Society Album of the Month, Rough Trade album of the month, Vinyl Me Please, Japan, Mitski Store)

—Set of 4 limited edition CD slip cases

—Cassette tape

—Digital album cover (design optimised for for music platforms)
—Digital singles for Working for the Knife, The Only Heartbreaker, Heat Lightning, Love Me More
—Digital art for Love Me More (Clark Remix)

— Custom lettering and font for album art and website


—Series of 5 Mystery T’s
—Dust Devils shirt
—Secretly Shirt
—Commemorative dice set

Label: Dead Oceans / Secretly (special thanks to Miles Johnson)
Management: Good Harbor (special thanks Tommy John Chiari & Ben Levin) previously Salty (special thanks Chris Crowley)
Merch: Second City Prints (special thanks to Emily and Carly)

RISD Viewbook

This book is an overview of undergraduate life and study at Rhode Island School of Design intended for high school sophmores, juniors, and guidance counsellors.

Reflecting a museum and school that offers both a world-class arts education as well as rigorous liberal arts study, the conceptual framework for this book is “new collegiate”. Innovation, but steeped in history. Latest technology, but founded in 1877.  Additionally, the formal moves in this volume are meant to convey the idea that studying at RISD is like “sunshine on a cloudy day”. Several hidden rainbows are waiting to be discovered by readers: one on the foredge comprised by the “Programs of Study” section, the rainbow foil on the spine, and the colorful crystal photography by alum Maria Constanza Ferreira throught.

A modest proportion connotes an academic journal or novel, and is offset by the dramatic unfolding of oversized flaps covered in Ferreira’s fantastic microscopic crystal photography. Dimesional, blind embossed typography on the cover offer hands a soothing tactile experience— and yes, it feels good to hold this book.

The display typography is Canela by Miguel Reyes, a refined semi-serif that appears to reference the tool it was made by (and was influenced by his experience with stone carving). Canela seems to be in a dialogue with the RISD seal, drawn by John Howard Benton (1901-1956), also local stonecarver and RISD professor. From the Commercial Type website, “its forms are in an ambiguous space between sans and serif, both soft and sharp, modern yet with roots in the classical“ which made a lot of sense for this project. Canela is complimented by Maison Neue by Timo Gaessner—a grotesque sans serif that is sophisticated, confident, and comfortable to read.

Created for/with RISD MEDIA GROUP

Creative Director: Huy Vu
Creative Strategist: Lauren Maas
Design: Mary Banas and Jordan Gushwa; student designer: Utkan Dora Öncül

Illustrations: Suerynn Lee
Photograpy: George Gray, David O’Connor, Jo Sittenfeld; Bruce Damonte, Alexander Kern, Jocelyn Arruda, Pneuhaus, Acacia Johnson, RISD Museum, Tavares Strachan/Joe Vincent Grey, Brooks Hagan, ArTwerk/The Avenue Concept, Studio and NADAAA/John Horner, Kendra Xu, Matt Watson

All photography of the book itself (below) by Erik Gould.

Be The Cowboy

Be the Cowboy is the fifth studio album by Japanese-American indie rock musician Mitski and her greatest work to date. Pitchfork deemed the album "best new music" and Rolling Stone refers to Mitski a "visionary singer-songwriter".

I designed the album art including vinyl record packaging, movie-size poster, and a pair of 100% silk handkerchiefs, as well as a CD package and art for 3 digital singles for Mitski / Dead Oceans.

Album photography by Bao Ngo. Additional credits below.
FRONT COVER: The only instance in the package design where the artist makes direct eye contact and returns the gaze put upon her is on the cover. Other instances of eye contact are mediated (i.e. by sunglasses) or the artist is looking in another direction.

INSIDE GATEFOLD: the words just how many stars will I need to hang around me to finally call it heaven? from the song “Remember My Name” appear like an aura around the artist. The text, in a clear spot gloss can can only be seen in the “right light.”

BACK COVER: featuring the BTC track list and can also be read as a cute public inside joke—fans often share that the music of Mitski makes them cry.

POSTER: A glossy, movie-size poster amplifies the themes on the album and the photography by Bao Ngo—it's huge, though, and difficult to unfold alone. 27” x 40”.

SINGLES: Three singles had custom artwork for digital music services (i.e. Spotify, iTunes) above is the cover for the second single: “Nobody“.

SPINE: An excerpt lyrical line reaches across the divide on the front and back cover—many of the songs and narratives on this record suggest a dual consciousness as well as a loneliness/seeking, which are amplified with the design and the attention to little moments.

RECORD PROTECTIVE SLEEVE: The record protective sleeve and label on the record complete an image on both sides and are most often poetically misaligned. The coke-bottle green record was a special edition for the deluxe album bundle. 

INSIDE THE POCKET: Owners of this record will find the hidden lyrics printed inside the cardboard sleeve but it might make the person holding the record a little uncomfortable to stretch the pocket enough to read them.

DELUXE ALBUM BUNDLE: A pair of 100% silk handkerchiefs have corresponding lyrics but are sold separately and numbered as an edition—perfect for dabbing tears or waving goodbye to a lover on the train. One of the two handkerchiefs was randomly included with each deluxe album bundle, so for example, there will be a red number Edition #11 and a white Edition #11 out in the world, but they will never be together.

Nominated for “Best Recording Package” for the 61st Annual Grammy Awards (2018).

Buy a copy here. Your local independent record store may have the coke-bottle green version as well as a bonus sticker pack.

Another version of this record design available from Vinyl Me Please.
Photography: Bao Ngo

Label: Dead Oceans / Secretly Group

Silk handkerchief directly inspired by Shiraz Abdullahi Gallab.

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