At the risk of taking something way too seriously, let’s for a moment explore the intricate and under-appreciated world of album art. We’ll limit our exploration to the albums I personally own on vinyl (a format that is easily the best platform for admiring these pieces). A lot of what appeals to me is tied to the music on the records, so my descriptions will be laced with subjectivity. Still, there is not much better than holding a new record in your hands and getting lost in the art. Let’s do this!
These blended swatches of color outline something, but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what. A vague form of a microphone stand adorns the left side of the cover, giving me the impression that this is a water-color of a performance. The crystal clear live recording of The Weakerthans’ songs on this album carries the kind of warmth the painting inspires. As soon as the first guitar riff softly begins the album, these colors come to life. You don’t have to be a synesthete to hear them.
The mini-van on the cover of good kid’s vinyl release plays a pivotal role in the album’s narrative. It’s Kendrick’s mom’s van, and it transforms into its own character. You hear its tires squeal, its doors open and slam shut as Kendrick and his friends are caught in a short firefight. This cover is less of a summary of the album’s sound and more of a tangible, simple portrait of mobility (or the lack of it) on Compton’s streets. The cracked asphalt and blue sky tunnel your vision toward the main event. Who knew a Town & Country could mean so much.
For an album with bible verses for song titles, the art on the cover is a first underwhelming. Until you notice that each photo bends reality in the smallest ways – a spiraling staircase looks like a conch shell, a cloud rests on water, the sun paints a lake red. And isn’t that the reality of the world to come? All we’ve ever known, perfected, and floating on a song. Like the best apocalyptic art, it glimpses new life, and it’s enough.
I bought this record without ever hearing it. I was rummaging through the stacks at Grand Rapids’ Vertigo Records, and the cover hypnotised me. I got lost in the painting: the reflections on the lake, the two men in a small row boat, the church swallowed into the mountains. To this day, I have nothing articulate to say about why this piece forces me to catch my breath. It’s simply striking, a blur of color and shape and idyllic rest.