Music is narrative. It is love, obsession, pleasure, sorrow and joy, but always and consistently it is a map, a glass through which to better understand ourselves and our place in the world. As instrumentalists and songwriters, storytelling is central to our work. Every piece is a kind of journey, both for us as the music makers and for the listener and the evocations it brings about.
The Harrow & the Harvest (2017) (chosen by Polly)
There's so much going on here that I love. This is album is simmering with low-boil intensity, songwriting perfection with no smokescreen of production to hide behind. It's raw and evocative, devastating in its own quiet strength. Gillian Welch has always been an inspiration to me, and I think the cover perfectly captures her old-world, earthy power. Her image on this cover is so compelling, strong and godlike, perfectly in harmony with the seasons and the natural world that surrounds her and quietly conspiring with her partner in life and music, David Rawlings. The cover, just like the album, is gorgeous American folk art that says so much with so little and holds you gently spellbound in its majesty.
Loner (2018) (chosen by Polly)
I absolutely love Caroline Rose. She has this self-assured, tongue-in-cheek sheen of arrogance about her that's so sexy and cool but she also has this fragility that's so real and honest. There's a dreamlike quality to this album and it feels like you're being let in on this juicy secret; a kind of coming-of-age confession. It's bittersweet, fun, sarcastic, scary, irreverent and totally glorious to sink into, even though it feels like it's not always good for you. I think the cover says it all, honestly.
Absolution (2003) (chosen by Polly)
This is one of the first albums I ever bought. I was just a kid when this came out, but I knew this was music I had to get lost in before I could find myself again. I felt like I could be anything and do anything when I listened to this album; it was music to live and die to, and everything in between. It's a great trip to listen to it again now and be transported back to such a specific point in my life. That's what's so amazing about music—it makes time travelers of us all. It makes perfect sense that it was Storm Thorgerson who was let loose on this cover concept—known for his classic Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin sleeves, this heady, otherworldly moment he grabbed in an Essex gravel pit somehow totally captures the essence of what this album is to me.
Illusions (2013) (chosen by Tomos)
This album picked me up with both hands and hasn't put me down since. First heard at parties as a fresh-faced English teacher in Lebanon, Maalouf's Illusions is as bombastic as I was, a twenty-something Welsh boy in Beirut. I couldn't picture the creators of this new soundscape, but I certainly didn't expect gold shoes, a turquoise and white suit, and a half-dressed burlesque troupe of fishnetted musicians. The cover art is surprising, yet is a perfect fit for the cocky music it envelops. "True Sorry" is adored for its universally understood call and response between mournful, sophisticated horns. The whole album echoes this instrumental verse-chorus structure, and presents a remarkably cohesive dialogue despite relentless sizzling changes in time and tone.
Crosby, Stills & Nash
Crosby, Stills & Nash (1969) (chosen by Tomos)
All I ever wanted was to be one of those long-haired hippies on that faded pink sofa. Blue jeans, an acoustic guitar, and faces too cool to smile. Crosby, Stills & Nash included some of the cheekiest and simultaneously profound songs I'd ever heard as a recent graduate first leaving the U.K., and the lineup of musicians on the couch were a perfect fit as the authors. David Crosby's plump mustache may or may not have inspired my own facial hair for the resulting decade… Remarkably, it seemed at the time, the album is littered with acoustic instruments, which was hugely gratifying to a budding band consisting of an acoustic guitar, mandolin and bouzouki.
Gorillaz (2001) (chosen by Tomos)
This was certainly the first, and perhaps only, record I've bought purely based on the cover art. Picked up at the tender age of twelve in a French supermarket, it quickly became the soundtrack to much more than the family holiday I hoped it would fill. The cover art, and later learnt concept of the "virtual band," raised so many questions. Perhaps the fact it attracted the attention of a twelve-year-old speaks to Albarn's intention, reportedly a comment on the lack of substance he and Hewlett saw on MTV at the time. It certainly worked in creating a lifelong fan out of me, a young boy who came for 2-D's jagged hair and Murdoc's disquieting eyes, but stayed for the lo-fi beats, Latin piano and Albarn's falsetto.
Houses of the Holy (1973) (chosen by Robin)
Led Zeppelin were my first true musical obsession and this album completely took over my world when I first heard it. I love everything about this record from the swaggering confidence projected by the cover art (featuring no album title and not even the band name) to the ethereal magic of songs like "The Rain Song" and "No Quarter." For me, Houses of the Holy is Led Zeppelin at their most mysterious and captivating.
Incredible String Band
The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (1968) (chosen by Robin)
This album cast a strange spell over me when I was a teenager. Discovering the Incredible String Band was like opening a window where I saw the black and white world of folk music spattered in technicolor for the first time. I have the cover art of this album framed on my wall at home—for me it perfectly encapsulates the playfulness of the Incredible String Band's approach to "folk" music, and reminds me that no matter how much we might experiment with traditional sounds, nothing we create will ever be quite as bizarre as "The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter"...
In The Court of the Crimson King (1969) (chosen by Robin)
You know things are getting serious when you see this guy getting pulled out of the record collection. I've stared at this album cover so many times, smiling at the expression of awe and alarm on the guy's face as I'm reminded of my own reaction the first time I heard tracks like "21st Century Schizoid Man." Five prog rock odysseys ranging from 6:52 to 12:09 minutes long—what's not to like?
The Trials of Cato
Gog Magog (2022)
Gog Magog is the name of a legendary giant, or two giants, who appear in various medieval and biblical legends. One of the most well-known references to Gog Magog can be found in the Arthurian myths of Celtic Britain, where Gog Magog is described as one of the Giants of Albion who were said to have terrorized the country before the arrival of King Arthur. It is this same giant who is seen emerging from the briny sea and onto the shores of Britain on the cover of our latest record. We've always been fascinated by mythology, and tales of the medieval giant Gog Magog have always resonated strongly. Even the name itself is enough to conjure images of the mist-swirled legendary past of the British Isles—a time when the footsteps of prehistoric giants echoed around the land. We tried to capture some of that imagery in the stomp and swagger of the title track. It's not a coincidence that the area where we currently live happens to be known as the Gog and Magog Hills. This is where we composed most of the second album over lockdown, and after spending so many months closeted here writing and arranging the material for the new record, the title seemed too good to pass up!