Sylvie Plath / The Bell Jar
I DREAMT WE WEREN’T SO TIRED (2006-2012)
Mehmet Nevzat Erdogan
A self-portrait exploration of exhaustion as a modern epidemic.
We are all now part of a world that has been incessantly changing for the last 10-15 years and becoming ever faster with each passing day. Whether due to inconceivable technological advancements on a global scale and the way this has re-shaped our lives, or independent of these changes the growing prevalence of concepts such as “modernization” and “urbanization”, the modern individual has been wedged in the middle of strong tides of change.
While these developments may have empowered us to become more individualistic, more “liberated” and more in touch with the external world, they have also, as especially in many Western cultures where consumerism plays a major role, made more apparent the effects of spiritual, mental and physical exhaustion in other parts of the world as well. The average person, unable to compete with the speed of supercomputers, has now succumbed to the technology invented to ease their own life in the first place, and constantly struggles to adapt and reinvent themselves without having the opportunity to process their own emotions and mental processions. Today, the modern individual knows very well the marathon one must run to constantly become “prettier”, better,” “richer,” and “more productive,” but also feels suffocated within the meaninglessness of it all.
considering how much i look to music for inspiration in photography, it is no wonder album artwork continues to be very important to me in how to perceive a musician’s vision for their album, even in the post-digital age of iTunes cataloguing. here, i wanted to capture for my sake, and that of curious readers, some of the album artwork that pulls me immediately or has stayed with me over the years, to see whether perhaps they could give us a clue about why those album covers that work, work the way that they do.
agnes obel, aventine.
i’ll start with a new favorite. i like the minimalism as well the sense of claustrophobia here. the musician is in the centre of the work, which considering the album as a work of singer-songwriter, hints at a kind of musical self portrait. the red/orange hue is warm but sinister, the halo of light reminiscent hinting at a kind of personal purgatory, raising curiosity of the listener, specifically those who may be attracted to the melancholic (yet not sentimental) music it attempts to represent. which is what every album artwork should do, anyway: speak - call out, even - to its target group.
james blake, self titled.
just as minimalist as obel’s. yet where obel’s album calls upon the symbolism of personal inferno, blake’s sonic world is chilling and atmospheric. the album cover also functions as an archetypal first introduction to blake’s life long work, capturing some of the key elements of his sound that will probably be with him through the rest of his career: befuddled, meandering, experimental, otherworldly, and sometimes post human while remaining melancholic only in a way that is solely (and unmistakably) human.
the smashing pumpkins, mellon collie and the infinite sadness
the album cover for mellon collie works precisely because it stands at odds with the music inside. perhaps it would be reductionist to simply categorize the sound of the album as ‘hard rock,’ as it has a number of moments that are ethereal, dreamy, atmospheric and even mystical (‘porcelina of the vast oceans’ comes to mind). yet the sound here is indiscernibly billy corgan, vulnerable yet masculine, even by ’90s standards. perhaps it is to the credit of the illustrator, then, that the ‘muse’ on the cover, who is a collage of some famous figures from the history of art, brought together into a composite image by hand using only a color photocopier, works as a balancing act to the music within: wrapping the band’s work, which could be easily perceived as harsh, in dreaminess, fantasy and mystery, while remaining defiantly ironic and hinting at innovation through synthesis.
perhaps the best part of it all is that the album cover is only a start: the artwork inside is even more dizzying, insidious and creepy than the cover will suggest, giving the music contained here a universe unto itself.
to read more about the story of this amazing cover, go here
fiona apple, the idler wheel is wiser than the driver of the screw and whipping cords will serve you more than ropes will ever do
whether suffering from self doubt, schizophrenia, multiple personality or depression, mental anguish takes the front seat here, no surprise considering apple’s ouvre as a self revealing poet. the deluxe edition, too, comes with a gorgeous replication of artworks / scrabblings from fiona’s personal diary, just when you think, listening to the barely adorned music couldn’t get more personal and honest.
both the music and the artwork here are part of apple’s admirable attempt to strip down to the bones, and in tandem they work flawlessly. but let’s be honest: visually it would have been very hard to go wrong with this music, which is already better than fantastic.
radiohead, hail to the thief
radiohead can do subtlety well, but my favorite cover of theirs, incidentally, is this not-so-subtle album cover. it does their critique of capitalism great justice, i think: it is an immediate, in your face career-long critique of consumerism and western society, and despite its ‘wordiness’, manages to remain dreamy and emotional. yes, we expect the perfect album covers to be artistic, but when it comes down to it, they also need to remain commercial enough, and most importantly for their labels, to sell. perhaps that kind of impulse no longer applies to radiohead, who have in the past given away their work for free, and yet. this cover could work as a poster, t-shirt or a standalone artistic piece; that it is the entry point to a solid collection of songs only boosts its, for lack of a better word, charm.
cocorosie, noah’s ark.
cocorosie has certainly gone through their share of simply bad to mindbogglingly bad album artwork, but when they get it right, as they do here, they get it right perfectly. boasting lyrics such as ‘all of the aborted babies/will turn into little bambies,’ noah’s ark is one of the band’s most cohesive albums. it’s to their credit then, that the artwork here hints from the first moment at everything their music, at its best, can be: dreamy yet disturbing, childish but sexual, ambiguous and queer, playful but feverish. down to the creases and folds in the corners, the artwork feels less like artwork and more of a personal artefact, establishing intimacy but also creating intrigue within the listener.
fun personal fact: can you spot noah’s ark in my work, here?
my brightest diamond, something of an end.
minimalist, yet dark with an implied sense of playfulness. it is a statement, but refuses to state its case. hints at the brooding music to be later revealed inside, calls upon the listener to discover by themselves.
friday hyvönen, until death comes.
perhaps the polar opposite to my brightest diamond’s dark and sinister something to an end, until death comes is all overexposed white light reminiscent of illness (perhaps mental), psychiatric wards or hospitals, and electricity, perhaps an overall metaphor for passion - for music, life and love contained within the songs on the equally minimalist album.
"When I went to Alexander McQueen, I explained to him the person who wrote these songs - someone who was put into an impossible situation, so impossible that she had to become a warrior. A warrior who had to fight not with weapons, but with love. (..) I had 10 kilos of hair on my head, and special contact lenses and a manicure that prevented me from eating with my fingers, and gaffer tape around my waist and high clogs so I couldn’t walk easily. I wanted to put all the emotion of the album into that image." -Björk
rufus wainwright, want one & two.
released subsequently within a year of each other, coupled together, these two covers are everything i’d ever want from music and art: a little bit of theatricality and drama, some fantasy and performance, gender bending and storytelling. what could be better?
tori amos, boys for pele
to be honest, it is always a tough competition between under the pink / boys for pele & from the choirgirl hotel, all fantastic albums in their own right with thoughtful artwork to match. but to spare being called a fan boy, i am picking one today, and i am picking the boys for pele cover only for its intricacy and detail, the way it reveals more to you the more you look, keeping you coming back for more and more. how many animals can you spot?
tori embodies the goddess of pele in this album, sacrificing her piano (inner self) to the fire, to complete destruction of herself, only to emerge from the ashes, by the end of the album, as entirely new (not coincidentally the last song, titled “twinkle”, sees the narrator relating to the burning star of a fire, no less potent but now far away and even, finally, peaceful.) the new orleans ambiance of the artwork not only captures the gothic southern sound of the album but enhances it, adds meaning to it, expands it, makes the songs feel even more whole.
what are your favorites?