Best Record Sleeves: April

Releases from Spectrum Spools, Cititrax, Morphine and Hyperdub feature alongside some impressive looking new labels.

April has become the one month where previously dormant feelings of affection for vinyl awaken in the wider public and they spend Record Store Day worshipping at the 12″ altar. Plenty of keyboards have been abused in the name of Record Store Day thinkpieces this year, but it should say something for the manner in which many small independent labels approach the art of releasing records throughout the year that only one RSD edition features amongst the selections made here.

Hyperdub’s decision to grant Memories Of The Future, the debut album from Kode9 & The Spaceape, a first vinyl pressing some eight years on from its initial release represents the real spirit of Record Store Day. Retaining the original artwork based around the neon lit photography of Italian artist Marco Bettoni, the weighty gatefold sleeve opens to reveal The Spaceape’s lyrics, while the decision to opt for clear yellow vinyl retains some visual consistency with the overall design.

The use of coloured vinyl has obviously been a bone of contention for as long as the technology was available to make it possible; where some see gimmick or obstacle to ease of mixing in a darkened environment, others see the chance to enhance the overall aesthetic look of a record. The Minimal Wave and Cititrax axis are steadfast supporters of the latter approach and April saw the New York operation reveal three releases that featured clear and coloured vinyl.

As impressive as the Sandra Electronics and Soma Holiday reissues on Minimal Wave were visually, the long awaited Woodwork from Further Reductions was more so thanks to the less-is-more approach. The spattered purple and silver finish to the vinyl was perhaps the least impressive aspect; instead the restrained design from Veronica Vasicka – which amounted to little more than a bold typeface on a glossy sleeve – had the desired impact on the eyes, tying in thematically with the reductive name of Shawn O’ Sullivan and Katie Rose’s project.

Along with Minimal Wave, Morphine is another label whose releases tend to find their way into this column’s affections each and every time, something largely down to the manner in which the artwork on their 12″ covers never quite reveals itself. The latest Doser from North Carolina-based musician Lack is a case in point; when you initially see the cover for Expect Night Work there’s something quite alien about the structure that seems barely decipherable, but closer inspection suggests it may be an aerial view of a stadium subjected to all manner of image filtration and saturation. Equally open to interpretation was Nina Hartmann‘s artwork for Brett Naucke’s album Seed on Spectrum Spools, though the digitally manipulated image plays off nicely with the reflective effects of the high sheen sleeve.

Rising Brooklyn label Styles Upon Styles have paid the utmost attention to detail on their records since they first emerged with the Bangers & Ash series in late 2012, looking to utilise the creative talents of various artists for each release. Since launching the label proper, SUS have largely entrusted the overall design of their records to Boston graphic designer Dave Tschiegg, whilst artist Calvin Ho has worked on the illustrations. Both individuals combined in fine style for the Sea Levels EP from Kloke, with Ho’s full colour illustration taking on an absurdist form reminiscent of Ralph Steadman.

Visual themes of pain and suffering seem to be linked intrinsically with darker strands of techno – for some of the best examples see Jonny Costello’s work for Perc Trax  – and it was a direction adopted by Unknown Precept on their presentation of Unseen Warfare by newcomer Damaskin. The somewhat worrying screen printed image and bold typeface implemented by label founder Jules Peter work very well with the heavyweight cardboard sleeves. Bedouin Records, a new “vinyl only imprint based in the desert” occupy a similarly dark visual space to Unknown Precept if their debut release is any indication. Allison Chanic’s Painlessly In Love features a finely poised balance of photography and design from Esmat Rabi and Laios Papaxoglou respectively and it will be personally interesting to see how the Bedouin aesthetic develops over it’s subsequent release schedule. Do check out the label’s Instagram account for an ingenious usage of the smartphone layout.

In her design work for fledgling reissue label Arc Light Editions so far, Jennifer Lucy Allan has demonstrated a flair for riffing visually off the original subject matter with impressive results. For the reissue of Another Thought by Arthur Russell, Allan simply focused on a rough outlined replication of the oversize paper hat the celebrated avant-garde musician was rocking on the original cover. For last month’s presentation of Fog Tropes / Gradual Requiem by Ingram Marshall, Allan elected to do a more extensive screen printed recreation of the original that worked nicely with the cardboard sleeves.

Finallly, the award for the most eye-catching cover art of the month goes to London artist Anthony Gerace and his work for Sd Laika’s That’s Harakiri, whose depiction of a grinning child repelete gold tooth lent the album an immediate sense of absurdism that seeps through the music contained within. A further nice touch was the design decision to highlight the spelling mistakes present within the tracklisting.

Tony Poland

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