Records were my first exposure to ideas and art far beyond anything available to me growing up in South Omaha in the '80s.
Looking back, it's clear just how much of the world music opened for me, beyond the music itself. It gave me friendships, cultures, literature, politics, geography and on and on. In fact, it opened up a career. I would go on to work at a record store in college and started my post-college "real job" life doing public relations at Drag City Records.
Music is also signposts across time. And a coping mechanism. That's where my list comes in. These are my favorite covers for the music that's been helping me cope lately—at turns broody, soothing, optimistic and angry.
The Afghan Whigs
Ready to break up with 2021, already? Real human breakup? This is the nastiest breakup, betrayal, dirty, gritty, f*ck-your-feelings-but-I-have-feelings record. Its emotion pours out in ounces at the dive bar (god, I miss dark dive bars) where no one knows your name and that's a good thing. When this first came out, it took me an embarrassing amount of time to realize those were just kids in an adult situation.
Recommended track: "When We Two Parted"
All Things Must Pass (1970)
After you hit up the Whigs, please balance out the angst with this. While the cover nods to the end of the Beatles, it brings me joy in its somber yet revelatory liberation. If sprites and fairies practiced stoicism, it would look like this. Which probably is the first bang-on definition of my current aesthetic leanings. Stoic wood sprite? Dress for the job you want, folks.
Recommended track: Obviously when thinking about time, "All Things Must Pass." But for the joy factor, add in "I Dig Love."
The Milk-Eyed Mender (2004)
Speaking of wood sprites and fairies: Joanna Newsom. Her first record remains my favorite. It was also the last record I worked on before leaving Drag City, and what an honor it was to see Joanna take off. The first time I saw her perform was on tour with Bonnie "Prince" Billy. Through the dark of a random club, somewhere in the Southwest or Colorado, her music walloped my solar plexus with a shock that signals you're seeing/hearing something amazing. As for the cover, if I recall correctly, it was an actual textile piece created by a friend (Emily Prince). The symbol-laden hand stitchery was and still is the perfect entrée for Joanna's work.
Recommended track: "Sprout and the Bean"
Should we go outside/Should we break some bread/Are you interested
What Color Is Love (1972)
While not a Drag City record, this is a record that was introduced to me in my early 20s when I was working there, and it hasn't left my side since. This photo is so perfect that it might elicit a synesthesia-like response. Or maybe I just want to sit in that chair. Either way, when I look at this record, I hear the music and feel the feelings.
Recommended track: "You're Goin' Miss Your Candy Man"
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Cosmo's Factory (1970)
Spotify says my most listened-to decade of music in 2020 was the '70s. Indeed, this is the third on the list from that decade. Classic rock has been hittin' extra for me. With apologies to my neighbors, it's a reliable dance-around-the-house sing-along partner. As for this cover, it's a ramshackle studio menagerie that belies the masterful songs it contains. And I would very much like to recreate this with someone who has a Peleton. Please contact me to get involved. (JK, really don't.)
Recommended track: "Long as I Can See the Light"
Another Green World (1975)
While I most love the glam solo Eno of Here Come the Warm Jets, with Another Green World, the cover and the music are a bridge to a future Eno musical expression—between the past glam and future ambient. It's also interesting to me that the cover art is actually a fragment of a larger work by Tom Phillips, "After Raphael." It makes even more Eno-ian sense when you learn that "After Raphael" is all wrapped up with the artist's investigation of the Golden Section.
Recommended track: "Golden Hours"
World Galaxy (1972)
Another record from the '70s and more harp. When it came out, this record was panned, but it's now heralded as one of her best and described as "life affirming." For me, it's love affirming. Not everyone comes to this whole life trip with zest for it (OK, I do not), but this record gives me the "hugeness world system universe" vibes. For me, the cover looks magical in a way that moves from being "of the time" to timeless.
Recommended track: "A Love Supreme"
American Water (1998)
This record was in heavy 2020 rotation, as if written for the year. Maybe it's because David Berman managed to write songs full of wit, angst, vulnerability, awareness and disappointment that never felt cluttered. Along with Bright Flight, this is one of the more minimalist covers among Silver Jews albums. They're probably best paired together, but AW wins for me with the classic road to … somewhere? Nowhere? A somewhere that is nowhere? All of the above.
Recommended tracks: "Honk If You're Lonely Tonight" and "The Wild Kindness"
I am very into Swans' approach to their early covers—simple, bold—you just knew it was a Swans record the same way you can tell Pushead did the art for a record. Take a look at Greed or Holy Money to get the idea. But Filth—it looks like a record from 1983 to me but it doesn't sound like one at all. Every time this record leaves my life for a while, it freshly kicks my ass on its return. Cacophonous, angry, direct, and those teeth—my, what teeth. I would pay top dollar to stick my head directly against a full stack at a live show right now, especially if it was Swans playing all of Filth.
Recommended Track: "Power for Power"
Heaven or Las Vegas (1990)
It was a toss-up between this record and My Bloody Valentine's Loveless (released a year later, in '91) but I had to go with "Cherry-Coloured Funk." Both records look like they sound and look like they feel (more synesthesia?). It's ethereal but bright, which was the point, as I learned in this nice article from 2016 when the record turned 26.
Recommend Track: "Cherry-Coloured Funk"
I'm Melixseverin on Spotify.
Art of the Album is a weekly feature every Thursday 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.