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No Jacket Required: Aidan Moffat's Inspirational Album Art
Aidan Moffat , April 24th, 2017 09:29

L.Pierre is just about to release his final record - and crucially it doesn't come with a sleeve. Aidan Moffat takes this opportunity to write about what he does like in album art... Contains images that are NSFW

Like you, I love music. From heartbreaking ballads to disco bangers, from beats and rhymes to drones and howls, from stirring strings to strained saxes – we respond to music on a primal level, each of us unique in our tastes. Whether it comes via radio or playlist, from a friend’s recommendation or a chance hearing at a local gig, our response to our favourite music is instinctive and immediate, and it can linger in the mind for a lifetime.

But sometimes love isn’t enough. The avid fan needs more: photos, symbols, lyrics, sleeve notes, personnel lists, studio addresses; whatever the musicians behind the music have deemed fit for public knowledge, however meaningful or inscrutable it may be. And there’s no greater vessel for this information than the record sleeve.

At worst, a sleeve can be dully functional, perhaps just a glamorous shot of the singer within. The best sleeves, though, are an essential addition to the music, an extension of the story, ideas and emotions that can be heard on the vinyl itself. They are inseparable from the music, intrinsically linked with the artist’s philosophy and the message they’re bringing, often creating icons and influencing fashion. Or maybe they just look nice; maybe they’re just daft and cool, or funny and offensive. And maybe they’re even better than the music.

Below, I offer a few of my favourites, randomly pulled from my dusty shelves. There are literally hundreds I could write about, but these are the ones that popped out at me tonight for reasons I’ll explain below. I’ve avoided the obvious, iconic stuff – The Velvet Underground & Nico, Never Mind The Bollocks, Sgt. Pepper's, Unknown Pleasures etc. – choosing to stick with the covers that, for better or worse, have personal meaning and significance to me, and even a couple I just like the look of.

BIG BLACK – HEADACHE

The original limited edition of this was housed in a sleeve so gruesome it came sealed in its own black “body bag”, hiding the graphic images of a crushed human head from sensitive eyes. It also had a 12-page, 12”x12” booklet that featured Steve Albini’s always entertaining sleeve notes, a couple of short stories and a guide to sexual positions; a massive fold-out poster, and a bonus 3-track 7”. By the band’s own admission, it’s not their best music – a sticker on the front announced to potential buyers that this record wasn’t as good as the last one – but whatever they thought was lacking in the songs, they made up for it with this brilliant package.

NESLON RIDDLE – SEA OF DREAMS

The scantily-clad temptress is an easy listening sleeve staple, and there are hundreds to choose from, but my favourite by far is Nelson Riddle’s Sea Of Dreams. It’s a beautiful, evocative image that perfectly fits the dreamy, romantic, aquatic sounds inside.

JONI MITCHELL – THE HISSING OF THE SUMMER LAWNS

I love this sleeve. Drawn and designed by Mitchell herself, the figures on the wraparound image are embossed, and the gatefold opens to reveal a cool shot of Joni doing the backstroke in a pool. Unfortunately, I don’t love the music. This was a charity shop purchase bought solely on the lure of its gorgeous artwork, but when I took it home and played it, my ears were absolutely horrified. Still, it’s lovely to look at.

ALBERT VAN DAM – THE TOUCH OF

Hey girl, why don’t we split this scene and go back to my place? We can light the fire and drink cocktails on the shagpile rug and listen to some sultry sounds on the hi-fi… This record sounds exactly how it looks – like a Vaseline-smeared, softcore 1970s sex scene.

JOSEPH HAMMER – I LOVE YOU, PLEASE LOVE ME TOO

The Pan label’s early releases all came in printed PVC outer sleeves and all looked spectacular, but this 2010 Joseph Hammer album is my favourite. It’s probably my favourite album from the label too, a woozy, disorienting blend of found sounds, samples and field recordings that might be out of phase and sounds like a vertiginous nightmare. But in a good way.

VARIOUS OLD CLASSICAL RECORDS

I’ve bought hundreds of cheap classical LPs from charity shops simply because they looked beautiful, and these are just two of my favourites tonight. I’m not even sure I’ve ever listened to them, so I’m rectifying that right now as I write, and it turns out I’m a Brahms fan.

PLUSH – MORE YOU BECOMES YOU

Plush’s debut LP came in a gatefold sleeve tucked into a plain white paper bag with a silver sticker, which was then all housed in a protective plastic wrapper, presumably so it wouldn’t get dirty in transit. Even with all that space to fill, the album had very little info beyond the song titles on the paper bag, which together with the music created an intimate, enigmatic whole. Plush is Liam Hayes, and this brief album finds him alone at the piano singing mysterious ballads and occasionally giggling when he can’t hit the high notes. A gorgeous wee cuddle of an album.

MOLLY DRAKE - MOLLY DRAKE

This posthumously released album of Nick Drake’s mother’s piano songs has sung me to sleep on many a quiet night – it’s like an album of lovelorn lullabies. The sleeve, as released by Squirrel Thing in 2013, is beautiful: the laser-cut cover acts as an ornate picture frame for the hand-coloured photo of Molly printed inside on the inner sleeve, and it captures the intimate, antiquated – and rather posh – nature of the music perfectly.

TALKING HEADS – FEAR OF MUSIC & SPEAKING IN TONGUES

A double entry for Talking Heads: one for guitarist Jerry Harrison’s design for Fear Of Music, which came in a jet-black cover embossed to resemble a metal floor; the second for artist Robert Rauschenberg’s limited edition of Speaking In Tongues. Rauschenberg, whose White Paintings inspired John Cage’s '4’33”', was approached by David Byrne to design a cover but instead rethought the whole package, and the album was released on transparent vinyl in a plastic case with revolving discs that featured Rauschenberg’s colour-separated collages, which could be spun round to form different images. This stunning, innovative design went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Recording Package in 1984.

And finally …

DWARVES – BLOOD, GUTS & PUSSY

Dwarves always aimed to offend, and this cover – featuring naked models drenched in blood while a dwarf appears to shag a rabbit – still shocks me a little now. I can’t say I like it, but it’s certainly unforgettable. I saw Dwarves in Austin once – they played a ten-minute set, threw bottles at the audience, then fucked off before the fighting began. I still have absolutely no idea if I like them or not.

Aidan Moffat’s new album as L. Pierre, 1948 –, is released on April 28 by Melodic on vinyl only – and with no sleeve. Click here for the full story

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