The selection I have made is deeply driven by the visual concepts that lay behind the graphic work. For me these covers go way beyond the mere satisfaction of the retina. They are not meant to sell records. Their aim is to lock your assumptions and throw away the key.
20 Jazz Funk Greats (1979)
This image is a visual détournement worthy of any of Guy Debord's best lines. Throbbing Gristle is the band that created the genre known as Industrial Music. Uneasy sounds, confrontational attitudes and uncomfortable topics were all part of their cultural credo. This record has no jazz in it. No funk. No greatest hits. The photo was taken at Beachy Head, on the South Coast of England, one of the world's most notorious suicide spots. The perfect artwork for a band that constantly played with the unsettling power of the unexpected.
The Disintegration Loops (2002)
Basinski is a one of the most prominent American sound artists and avant-garde composers. While he was working on the multiple playing deterioration of tape loops, he witnessed, from the roof of his Brooklyn apartment building, the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. While the tapes were still playing, Basinski took out his video camera and filmed the aftermath. The album cover is a frame from that video. The sense of calm that the image communicates, in contrast with the tragedy that lies beneath the image, represents Basinski's music in an unforgettable way.
Various Artists From Pan Records
Mono No Aware (2017)
This compilation from the Berlin-based record label PAN takes the listener to brand new and unexplored territories of what is normally called ambient music. It's romantic, hypnotic and somewhat arresting work. It's not a new-agey, after-work, glass of red wine moment kind of playlist. And the cover, created by the South Florida photographer Molly Matalon, says it all. That special heat that a gentle flame can give right before it begins to hurt. Simply beautiful.
Nurse With Wound
The Surveillance Lounge (2009)
Nurse With Wound is a band that has been flirting with Dadaism, Surrealism, Musique Concrete and experimental attitude since the late '70s. The constant member of the band, despite the multiple line-ups, is Steven Stapleton, a multimedia artist who, when it comes to the artwork of the albums, signs his oeuvres with the Babs Santini moniker. This record came out in 2009, 17 years after the death of the artist and gay rights activist, David Wojnarowicz. Babs Santini managed to create a stunning image that could have been elaborated by Man Ray himself. Photographer Marion Scemama's famous portrait of David Wojnarowicz takes on a complete new meaning after Babs' graphic collage remix.
Horse Rotorvator (1986)
This is the second album from Coil, a band that merged their art and their personal life like nobody has ever done before or since. Their music wings are too big and their lyric claws too sharp to put them into any box. Coil goes beyond any definition of music and this cover perfectly matches their playground. The title comes from an imaginary device created from the jaws of the horses of the Apocalypse. The image, shot by the former Hipgnosis art director Peter Christopherson, shows the bandstand in London's Regent Park. A site that was the object of an IRA bomb attack, an attack that killed military personnel and several Royal horses.
It doesn't very often happen that the title of an album is turned into a tattoo on an artist's chest and then turned into the photo for the record cover. The American artist Krystin Hayter, better known as Lingua Ignota, decided to go deep into her vision and this cover says it all. In Krystin's own words, the explicit reference to Caligula comes from the fact that "the Roman emperor exemplifies the society we live in on the edge of ruin, the edge of collapse". This album is a declaration against misogyny and I can't think of a better cover to deliver that message.
M.B. is a world of his own. A true legend in experimental sounds. Since the early '80s, he has been exploring the potential of pre-recorded filtered sounds, putting rudimental DIY technology at the service of the awareness of humanity's decadence. From his hometown of Milan, he produced noise, cracks, loops and cut ups that, despite the ultra limited editions, changed the face of electronic experimentation. MB's no compromise attitude is so well expressed in this cover. I truly love his no-aesthetics aesthetic.
Pink Flag (1977)
This is the very first album for Wire, at the time, an unknown band from London. Twenty-one tracks, most of them developed in less than two minutes. A turmoil of ideas presented with a truly amazing cover as the graphic ambassador of their unique sound. The sleeve concept came from band members Bruce Gilbert and Graham Lewis, while the actual photo was taken by Annette Green. A flagpole without a flag on a parade ground the group passed on the way to a show. The flag is not a flag, it's just paint on the ground. A symbolic way to underline the misplaced perception that the music from this band can generate.
New Directions in Music 2 (1959)
The cover of this 1959 album represents the story of the relationship between two great American artists. The contemporary music composer Morton Feldman and the abstract painter Philip Guston. Friends for decades, Feldman and Guston shared their passion for abstract expressions of art, actually more than a passion, it was a lifelong commitment to the "beauty without biography" codes of abstractionism. This friendship came to a halt in 1970 when Guston chose to delve into figurative art, a choice that Morton Feldman would never be able to forgive. I love this album cover because, somehow, it's the visual statement of the unique artistic complicity they were living at that moment in time.
No Artichokes (2007)
This cover is part of me. It's the second record I curated in 2007 in memory of my brother Jacopo, who died in a car accident when he was only 23. My brother was a new school breakbeat DJ and, with the help of Fetisch from Terranova and his friends, we brought this EP to life. The cover is from Peter Saville who, with immense kindness, allowed us to use one of his photos. Saville did astonishing, world famous album covers for Joy Division, New Order, Roxy Music, Peter Gabriel, and this time he managed to capture the essence of that unique joy of life that everyone who got to know my brother saw in the sparkling light of his eyes.
Art of the Album is a regular feature looking at the craft of album-cover design. If you'd like to write for the series, or learn more about our Clio Music program, please get in touch.