DFC Discussions: Does album art matter in music?

Local Natives – “Hummingbird” (2013, Frenchkiss)

In this day and age of optical illusions, strange fonts, and even nudity on album covers, there is always a question that comes up: does album art matter? Will it affect your listening experience? Are there any album covers out there that perfectly reflect the music it represents? Deep Fried Certified has gathered four insightful and knowledgeable music fans to discuss this very important topic: Jessie-Jamz from the musical project The Nostalgia Factory, Tom from the music blog Velocities in Music, and fellow friends of the blog James and Bret. Are you up to the challenge to read our entire discussion? If you are, read on.

Jeremy (DFC): Do album covers matter in music?
Music nowadays is everywhere. Thanks to the internet, you can basically find new songs and albums with the click of a mouse. Because of the amount of music out there, you need to have some uniqueness to make you stand out above the rest and to make you get noticed. A visually striking album cover will draw new listeners in. When I am searching for new music online, I always see the covers first. I am curious about the music due to the quality of the album art. If an album cover is crappy or not interesting to look at, most likely I will turn away and find something else. What are your thoughts, guys?

Tom: That’s interesting – I’ve never turned away from an album simply because the cover art was boring, but I’ve also never pursued an album simply because the art was visually gripping. I think it can be supplemental to the music in very crucial ways, but it still comes down to the music. The music shouldn’t need art to justify it or make it good, but it can enhance and give context.

James: Album artwork does influence me when buying albums but only when I take a gamble or “blind buy” on something that may capture my attention in a store or online. If I know the music and what to expect, it has no influence on me, but if it’s a cover I don’t find particularly appealing it does distract somewhat from the overall experience. I wouldn’t turn away an album however simply if I didn’t care for the artwork.

Bret: Some of my favorite albums have amazing covers, so sometimes the cover and the music go hand-in-hand.

Tom: Personally, I’ve never been one for the “don’t judge a book by its cover” cliché. I think you can judge books by their covers, and music by its art, but only to acertain extent. Artists/authors (to continue the analogy) choose these things to represent their work visually. It still comes back to their artistic decisions, which we as music/literature enthusiasts, should absolutely judge.

James: I agree, but sometimes I find an album that has no visual appeal but still fall in love with the music. The music will always be first when I make buying choices.

Jessie: We also got to put into consideration that some artists do not have control over their own album artwork, usually artists from major labels. This also touches the aspect of the image of sexualization (i.e. sex sells), where the artists poses in a sexual manner to attract the viewer.

Tom: Yeah, I’ve never enjoyed cover art like that. It just doesn’t enhance or complement the music in any way.

Jessie: But yes, album art does have a considerable amount of influence on attracting a potential listener. Good or bad, we all have different tastes, some like it hot, some like it not.

Tom: I think that’s a really cool perspective, and one that I haven’t considered much. I always end up taking album art into account after I’ve already heard the music, so it’s not a factor that really attracts me in the beginning, but something that enhances it later. Yeah, they don’t always correlate.

Jeremy: Any albums you guys have that have great artwork with equally good music on it?

Bret: I tend to see music in colors, relate to music in colors… sometimes the artwork hits the colors of the music dead on. When I think of Joy Division’s music…. I think of black and white… the covers fit perfectly.

Jessie: Color in an album is really important to me. I usually associate the color of the album art when I’m listening to the music.

Jeremy: I also have to mention the new Foals album as an example. The album cover shows people riding horses into the ocean with a yellow tint. When I hear “Holy Fire”, I can see the cover in the music. The cover totally embodies the record. It may not be my favorite record this year, but the album cover is amazing.

Tom: Along with that, it really bothers me when there are conflicting color schemes in album art to associate with the sound. The Strokes – “First Impressions of Earth” has this really sharp black, white, and red color scheme on the cover. Kind of futuristic and spacy. Then, you open it up, and the CD was all brown and Earthy. It really bothered me when I first bought it.

James: Then there is David Bowie’s new album… that one has been debated and discussed to death this year.

Tom: I think a great example of album art matching the sound is My Bloody Valentine – “Loveless”. How better to describe the sound of that album than a washy, blurry, pink close-up of swirling guitar? The art and sound are really one in the same.

Jeremy: Oh yes, Loveless is a great example.

Tom: I also like it when bands have similar art throughout their careers, or even a series of albums. Tool, Radiohead, and The White Stripes, for example, have all done this. It helps create continuity for their entire discographies. They typically work with the same artist in those cases too.

Jeremy: Yeah, Kanye did that with his “dropout bear” theme.

James: That works well if you like it, but if you don’t like it, can be a problem.

Jessie: What do you guys think of nudity in album art?

James: Would say very few are taboo or inappropriate. Any naked children though I’d say crosses the line, like the Scorpions notorious cover years ago. Nudity should not be just out in the open though, needs to be censored at least until opened.

Jeremy: Nudity is always questionable. If the music evokes a very sensual or sexy feeling, it would be okay. IMO, the music is the deciding factor to tell whether it needed to be there.

Tom: I’d agree with that. Unjustified nudity becomes a gimmick. But if it works, you can tell. I think you can usually tell when it’s done for artistic reasons.

James: Think Tom said it best… don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s a mistake, but if it’s so much of a turn off, then that’s up to the individual. I like to be open minded about most “art” though. I like to take risks and try new things, but it doesn’t always work out.

Tom: Artists want listeners to hear their music in the way it was originally envisioned, and I willing to bet 99% of artists have visuals in mind when they’re writing, producing, recording their music. If they don’t represent that visually, they’re missing an opportunity to provide context to the listener and make a more comprehensively sensory experience. It’s all about communicating an idea, IMO, and without the visual to go along with it, there’s more room for misinterpretation of the original musical message. Still, I think the music itself should be enough, but great art can really take it to the next level.

Bret: James and I grew up when record shop owners could get / did get arrested for selling records that had nudity on the covers (Jane’s Addiction)… those records happen to be 2 of my favorite records and covers of all time. They’re pieces of art, and fit the music/theme of the albums perfectly. Perhaps shocking to some, but still tasteful.

Jeremy: Alright, I think we have to close up. Thanks for your time, guys!

Bret: Hey guys, it was fun chatting. I gotta get back to some stuff over here. Cheers yo.

Jessie: Cheers James and Bret! Keep spinning!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s