Feature:

13 bands on their favourite album artwork

Picks from Lomelda, CHUCK, Petite League and more

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intro by sammy maine

I’ve always been drawn to album artwork. It acts as a frame, a presentation of months or years of work. It’s the thing that opens you up to the vision of the artist without ever listening and there’s definitely some power in that. When probed about their aesthetic choices, artists often reveal more about themselves and their musical output than some of their songs could even muster – a great example of this being a chat I had with Evan Stephens Hall about those Pinegrove squares late last year.

So, I thought it would be fun to open up my interest in album art to artists themselves. How they perceive someone else’s album artwork must hold some contextual aspect, seeing as most of them will have gone through the stresses of figuring out just what they wanted their cover to say. Below, the likes of Lomelda, CHUCK, Petite League, Spectres, IDLES, Gothic Tropic and more pen some thoughts on what their favourite album cover means to them.

Lomelda on Hand Habits ~ Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)

It’s just Meg, central, sitting strong and nonchalant, in an abstracted room. It’s flat and deep. The room has all the colours, has a life of its own. And the things on display look like they almost don’t belong, colourless, careless, crossing the linear planes like its nothing. It’s a display of force — to say this and that goes there — I go here. And at the same time, it feels like a gentle acceptance — that fitting in isn’t normal, that belonging anywhere is a choice, that it all comes and goes.

But for all this, my eyes zoom on Meg, being still, giving me the chance to get to know her, at least one side of her. Of course, I’m making this all up. Because I’ve listened to this record more than anyone else in the world, and I am deep in the void with Hand Habits. Everything about this record feels like this cover — the romance in a room, the fight to sit still, the potential for some small peace despite the pushes and pulls all around.

lomelda.bandcamp.com // handhabits.bandcamp.com

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CHUCK on Yo La Tengo ~ And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out

I hate that I’m about to wax poetic about social media, but it plays a role in why I like this cover so much. I spent my teenage years in a series of middle-class suburbs in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania. It was a very lush, quiet and spacious place to grow up in. Most of my favorite memories from that time feel like the cover for Yo La Tengo‘s And then nothing turned itself inside-out. Drug use, sexual encounters, and wobbly, drunken walks alone through the quiet, deserted suburbs in the blue pre-dawn light.

These memories are particularly special to me because I didn’t have an iPhone or any social media at the time. I was part of the last wave of teenagers who grew up without those things. So I don’t have photographs of every person and place and party. I don’t have a transcript of snarky tweets. I didn’t have to create an online identity. I wasn’t able to escape reality in the same way I am now, and I have no real record of these years. All I have are a series of dreamy images drawn in my head – and the closest thing I can compare them to is this cover. On top of all that, I had this CD in my car at the time and I love the music.

charlesgriffingibson.bandcamp.com // yolatengo.com

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Guy Andrews on Explosions in the Sky ~ Those who tell the truth shall die, those who tell the truth shall live forever

I was drawn to the artwork as the whole aesthetic really aligns with the album. I feel there’s a certain rawness to the sound of this particular album and the textures in this art really tap into it. The searchlight from the plane shining on to the angel highlights the feelings of hope that occasionally rise to the surface during what is predominantly a dark and somber sounding post-rock record. Out of all the Explosions in the Sky album covers, I think this one best represents their music. To me, there’s a narrative in this album of having some level of overruling or spiritual protection/guidance in an otherwise chaotic and desperate situation, and the artwork totally represents this.

guyandrews.bandcamp.com // explosionsinthesky.bandcamp.com

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Adrian Dutt of Spectres & Jamie Cameron of Last Dinosaur on Bill Evans and Jim Hall ~ Undercurrent

Adrian: For me, few covers really capture a record’s sound, and out of those that do, few hit the heady successes of Bill Evans‘ 1962 masterpiece Undercurrent. Toni Frissell’s photograph “Weeki Wachee Spring, Florida” shows a beautifully shot, haunting, black & white image of a woman suspended in deep and perfectly still water. It’s unclear whether she is floating, or in fact at the start of a completely surrendered sinking. But it mirrors Evans’ mesmerizing piano, it’s hard to not sink into the music and lose myself.

It is the perfect melancholia, a snapshot in time where for a moment I am drowning in all the sombre emotions this record brings me. I’m not a photographer, so it hasn’t informed any of my artwork, but it certainly cemented the idea that music and art can be equally as powerful, and when put together in the correct way, can really stop someone in their tracks, as it did me when I first saw it. The lack of text and colour are a powerful statement, and that is something we have carried over into Spectres’ artwork. A record cover that also works as a piece of art, and offers the question: which is the accompanying element, the music or the image?

wearespectres.bandcamp.com

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Jamie: My girlfriend would put on Midnight In Paris every morning as we drank coffee and made breakfast. I would pretend I hated it but secretly I loved it every time. There’s a feeling that I find difficult to deconstruct which binds the cover and the film together so tightly in mind as I write. The most obvious is the comparison between the music of Bill Evans and Jim Hall and the soundtrack to the film itself. There are notable differences, but the feeling that it produces inside me is the same. Jazz music that glides across the scale as effortlessly as the movement of a dress. The sort of music that makes you feel more alive just from listening to it.

You wonder to yourself why you don’t make more time for the way this music makes you feel. It’s because it’s completely at odds with the time period in which we currently reside but in every way that counts. The second reason the film and the album are so inextricably linked in my mind is the photograph that lies on the cover which shares an aesthetic quality with the most striking shots from the great Paris street photographers from the last century. People such as Cartier-Bresson, Jacques Henri Lartigue or Robert Doisneau.

Much later I discovered that the artist responsible was Toni Frissell, an American fashion and portrait photographer who honed her craft throughout the second World War. The reason I love this photograph is because right there in stark sepia is a demonstration of artistic achievement that I could only ever dream to flirt at the very fringes of. The capturing of a moment  which exists outside of time and place, never to be repeated. It’s also the way it makes me feel each time I look at it, which is difficult to deconstruct. I think I’ll go watch Midnight In Paris.

thelastdinosaur.bandcamp.com

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Lorenzo Cook of Petite League on Bombay Bicycle Club ~ I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose

I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover (or a record by its art) but when I saw I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose, I knew I was going to love everything about it. I was 15, just starting high school and woefully an extremely teenaged person. Impressionable, hormonal, in love, and reckless. Bombay Bicycle Club’s early EPs had been handed down to me by an older friend of mine named Einar (who now drums for Vök) in the coming of age ritual of passing off a hard drive full of music to influence the next generation of obsessive music listeners. I was eagerly anticipating their debut record and when I got my hands on I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose, it was instantly solidified as one of my all time favorite records.

The photograph on the cover is part of a collection by Joseph Sterling called The Age Of Adolescence and it depicts someone being launched into the air with a makeshift blanket trampoline with held by on the beach of Lake Michigan in Chicago in the 1960s. Before I researched the photo, I was taken by the photo because of the strange and unlawful physics of it all without any context on what was actually happening. I just knew I liked it. Looking back on it now at 23, I suppose my relationship with the record and the art makes sense. I Had The Blues But I Shook Them Loose was young, excited, reckless, and teenaged as fuck just like me.

petiteleague.bandcamp.com // soundcloud.com/bombay-bicycle-club

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Ryan H of Sound of Ceres on Frank Comstock ~ Project Comstock

This is one of my favorite albums ever. The cover is great because of that weird, evocative shape in the middle, floating over an equally ambiguous field of hazy clouds. To me, any kind of album packaging should bring up more questions than it answers. That image could represent any variant of sci-fi apparatus, or just exist as an abstract shape, hinting through its appearance alone at the themes within the mostly-instrumental music.

I also like that you can’t quite figure out how they made this image. Is it a negative of some obscure machinery? Is it a composite of several different sources? Eschewing the usual dark blue nightscapes of contemporaneous space-age releases, Comstock’s cover glows with warm reds and yellows against a white background. The best thing about it, though, is the ridiculous title.

soundofceres.bandcamp.com

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Chris Anderson of Firesuite on Mew ~ No More Stories…

I am pretty obsessed with Mew. I have been since I managed to hear some tracks from A Triumph For Man, and my obsession hasn’t wained since. Their artwork can be pretty divisive though. Notably …And The Glass Handed Kites was met with some derision when it was released, what with its big faces all over the place. Anyway. The artwork for No More Stories… is, for me, their high watermark and is some of my absolute favourite artwork ever. As soon as I saw it, it left a mark. It was beautiful.

The symbolism of the eggs and rebirth, in a cacophony of colour after the departure of one of their founding members was really powerful. The way the lettering fades (washed away you could say…), the butterfly which looks to have been caught and pinned to a board which given the traumatic birth of the album could symbolize the creative process. My son loves Mew too, and he gravitated towards the artwork immediately. He says “the colours and the way they overlap remind me of the rhythms and personalities of the band members, and also the people that like Mew, all blended together”. So yes, some of my/our favourite artwork, from the best album by one of my/our all-time favourite bands.

firesuite.bandcamp.com // mewsite.com

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Jamie Hall of Tigercub on Bauhaus ~ The Passion of Lovers

I’m a huge Bauhaus fan and always reference this cover when creating artwork for Tigercub. I love how utilitarian this cover is – like it could have been taken out of a textbook of entomology with really simple striking text all soaked in a brutal red coloured gradient.

To me, the cover gives a lot of context and insight into the song meaning, with the pragmatic, textbook-like examination of a relationship between two lovers, which is distorted with violence, showing a praying mantis feeding on it’s prey – the fact that female praying mantis’s are known for their sexual cannibalism is no coincidence, I’m sure.

tigercubtigercub.co.uk

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Ben Ward of Superglu on Interpol ~ Turn On The Bright Lights

I love this album. It sounds like dark streets and cold nights. Like loneliness in a big city. As a kid growing up in rural Suffolk I found the idea of isolation in a metropolis kind of romantic… I thought that maybe I would move to New York City and smoke cigarettes out of my bedroom window, wear a suit and be all post-punk and cool. It was never to be.

The artwork is so simple. An empty stage illuminated in red. As a debut album it makes sense, the sense of anticipation and beginnings and all that… it really makes me excited. It’s that feeling of looking out from behind the curtain before you get up there and play a show.

As cool as that is, my original visual interpretation is probably better: I used to think that the image was an empty billboard basking in neon red lights. I thought it was so profound but it turns out I was totally wrong about what the picture actually is! What an idiot. Even so, this first idea still sums up what the album is and means to me. I think the fact I found the cover so striking probably partially informed these notions – I associate Turn On The Bright Lights with certain themes both because of the music and lyrics as well as the album cover.

supergluband.bandcamp.com // interpolnyc.com

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Joe Talbot of IDLES on The Streets ~ Original Pirate Material

The first thing you hear on Original Pirate Material is a rousing orchestral loop, a glitchy, grandiose sample that pricks the ears; I like album covers to somehow capture its entity and this photo does exactly that. It embodies the sum of its parts; a cluster of beautiful yet clustered vignettes piled on top of each other housing something wildly complex and intricately humane. The photo and album are a chaotic hum of the urban plan and its glorious mistakes.

idlesband.com

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Sebastian Arnström of Simian Ghost on Sonic Youth ~ Murray Street

I was sixteen when Murray Street came out, and still had a narrow frame of reference when it came to music. I mostly listened to Wu-Tang Clan and played snake on my phone.

Anyway, I found it a friends place, under a stack of other strange vinyls. We were smoking some drugs, and I felt like being alone, so I went into my friend’s big brother’s room and looked through his record collection. I didn’t know what anything was, but the Murray Street cover really spoke to me. I listened through the whole thing, was completely blown away, and I haven’t gotten my priorities straight ever since.

I guess the first thing about it is the colors. It has all my best ones—green approaching turquoise, light blue and pink notes as well. Sepia I can live without, but it works here. It’s a really great photo. The thing of children picking berries under a big plastic net, it contains so much. You have the kids perspective on it—sneaking in under stuff, looking for hidden things, treasures and secrets. And that berries really motivate you to work when you’re young.

Then you have the thing of the net, of humans trying to shield nature from itself. This is our berries, let’s cover them with this horrible thing we made. It sums up the Sonic Youth thing nicely I think—that balance between the innocent playful discovery and the muddy dysfunctional stuff.

simianghost.com

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Gothic Tropic on Sam Evian ~ Premium

I just organically discovered Sam Evian, and his album Premium. From what I can tell he’s a new artist based out of New York, and is currently writing (next release?). There’s no personal connection that I know of, but I’m a huge fan. The album art reminds me of the type font on my middle school trapper keeper folders, or the metallic 90s Barbie fonts. “Premium” kind of stands on its own! If you like the grand pop compositions of The Beatles mixed with the languid psych genius of Mild High Club you’ll be obsessed with this record.

gothictropic.bandcamp.com // samevian.bandcamp.com

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