The world seems to be in love with analogue again. Books, vinyl, cassettes and typewriters are all the rage, but realistically, most of us would find it hard, impossible even, to totally wean ourselves off the dexterity that modern technology affords us. A compromise may be found however, by reincorporating the analogue to sit alongside the digital, rather than one replacing the other.
Vintage vinyl never really went away, it’s just been ignored by a vast amount of the population who probably wouldn’t be able to fit a couple of records into the back seat of their cars, let alone their back pockets. That isn’t to say it goes unappreciated, it’s just a little inconvenient – but isn’t that true of anything ceremonial, and isn’t that exactly what music listening used to entail?
So what of those artists who choose to release albums in vinyl format today? By doing so, they uphold the ceremony formerly attributed to the experiential aspects of vinyl, but also keep them relevant to, and evocative of our highly digitised world. Exploring this, we’ve chosen a selection of some of the most eye-catching, and perhaps most peculiar contemporary vinyl artwork concepts that are breaking down the barriers between analogue and digital.
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Berlin based algorithm composer, TCF has released 200 vinyl editions of his latest album, delivering some heavy-hitting ceremony in the process. Designed in collaboration with Victor Robyn, the EP has been pressed onto 10” white vinyl, and comes vacuum packed in a silver silk-screen bag with a download code and 15 grams of Shui Xian Oolong Tea.
The experiential aspect here has not only been expanded by incorporating the sense of taste, it has also been exulted; once opened, the same ceremony can never be repeated. The packaging cannot be re-sealed and the tea cannot be un-brewed. These accompanying physical experiences therefore have an expiration date, which perhaps resonates with original vinyl being a thing of the past.
Although the unveiling is finite, the record’s sounds can be perpetuated - the accompanying download code encourages expansion into the digital realm. It speaks to the ease with which the sounds can be singled out from the whole process and carried through on a digital level.
Yeasayer – Amen & Goodbye
Experimental rock band, Yeasayer decided to collaborate with renowned artist, David Altmejd on their fourth studio album, Amen & Goodbye. The LP comes in a gatefold cover which, when folded out, depicts just once scene; an elaborate conglomerate of objects, some inspired by characters from Yeasayer’s songs and others from pop culture or religious figures. "It's Sgt Pepper meets Hieronymous Bosch meets Dali meets PeeWee's Playhouse” say Yeasayer.
In a behind the scenes video clip of the tableau vivant, it is quite clear to discern a sense of the ephemeral through precarious wobbling of human models and fragile suspension wires. Still-captured for the album art however, the resulting image is evocative of live music’s transition into digital recording; any unpredictability is lost and the path is predetermined.
Santigold – 99¢
On her third album, 99¢, Santigold explores the commercial nature of our world and the ways in which we package our lives for consumption. The use of playful satire, social critique, and self-examination to explore these themes is reflected in the album’s cover art, a collaboration with acclaimed photographer Haruhiko Kawaguchi (AKA Photographer Hal), known for his line of work depicting a variety of subjects all tightly sealed in plastic. His approach takes no exception in this case, and finds Santigold shrink-wrapped amongst her cluttered possessions ready for the store shelves; a jarringly unceremonious image of the artist as a commodity.
The decision to retail the album on vinyl as well as on CD, cassette tape and (of course) digitally is in itself a harsh example of the commercial nature of today. If at first somewhat ironic, this perhaps speaks to Santigold’s statement that, “We have no illusion that we don’t live in this world where everything is packaged” – if we know it to be true, then why bother pretending?
Heathered Pearls – Body Complex
For Heathered Pearls’ Jakub Alexander, the languages of music and visual art are permanently intertwined. Body Complex represents a new form of Alexander’s visually inspired sound creation. The artwork is another integral aspect of the album, especially as it was conceived around an object designed by Alexander.
The object in question is an abstract geometric form that is somehow reminiscent of Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ in its allusion to functionality and ordinary, tarnished appearance. It takes centre stage of the vinyl sleeve; white on a white background – no distractions. “The shape came from wanting to create an imperfect sculpture that, from a distance, looks like a display piece but when you get closer and you have more time with it, you see its flaws.”
The sculpture depicted is actually available to purchase alongside the LP and is possibly the most radical extension of the ‘vinyl experience’: It expands the aesthetic embodiment of digital sounds into the physical realm.
Petite Noir – La Vie Est Belle/ Life is Beautiful
This album represents the first full expression of what half-Congolese, half-Angolan Yannic Ilunga (aka Petite Noir) calls ‘Noirwave’, which is more of a concept than a specific sound. Together with creative director, Rochelle Nembhard, artist Lina Viktor designed an album cover that would reinforce this concept.
The finished image shows Ilunga floating in the air above a block of green malachite on a background of white marble. Malachite is the stone of the DRC, the green standing out boldly against the rather cold marble, whilst the dark body ascends in confident hyperbole. An outline of the same image has also been etched into the actual vinyl record – the message is deep, and has penetrated multiple layers.
On first glance, the artwork looks incredibly futuristic, however the materials used are all natural, and do not resonate with sci-fi metals or plastics. The surprisingly compatible mix is another nod to analogue and digital and how qualities from different eras may be combined in harmony.