Cover art and the vinyl renaissance

One of the things that vinyl has in its favour - and you'll always hear a vinyl enthusiast trot it out as one of the virtues of the format - is the cover artwork: it actually works, it actually is, or can become, art. The CD has a lot of faults and though it's convenient and portable it is a catastrophe design-wise. An embarrassment - particularly the early lazy transfers and the dodgy reissues where the artwork from the original LP was shrunk to less than a quarter of its size, sometimes even left as nothing more than a thumbnail in the corner, a sea of white around it.

Now you might have no interest in vinyl - you might have no interest in cover art, in the idea of artwork being associated with music at all - and that's fine. Now more than ever there's a drive towards the music, making it accessible and available, focusing on the availability of individual (key) tracks. But that drive is also part of the renaissance that vinyl as a format is enjoying. In an age where more and more people have devalued the album, record sales (LPs, that is) are not dropping; people are actually buying new turntables and creating new record collections, disappearing off into a world of back cover photos and liner notes, of flipping through the files, of changing sides after 20 minutes.

There are some amazing LP covers out there - and with new albums being produced on vinyl it's clear that this is an area that plenty of people, both artists and their audience, still care about. There are records that feature amazing photography, illustration or painting. Sometimes it's from a member of the band - sometimes it's from a band member who is, in their own right, an artist/designer.

It might be a dying medium - the fully unified album, the concept of a bunch of songs that hang together and are tied up by the cover artwork - but if that's the case it's another reason for the preservation.

If you can't afford artwork, a great cheap way to decorate a room is to find some bargain-bin records and use the kitsch covers as some kind of statement. We've all seen it, or done it. A Val Doonican here, a bit of Zamfir there. Or you might have seen (or done) the more serious angle: Pet Sounds on display; The Velvet Underground's third album or The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. You can of course combine elements of the kitsch with the classic - heck, you can do whatever you want. But vinyl is a cheap way to make a statement on the wall. And you can take the actual LP out and still play it.

A year or so ago I got the idea that it would be cool to create a frame for a favourite record - actually frame it on the wall - but have access to still lift it out so that the actual album could be accessed and played from time to time. My father is a very handy carpenter-type guy (very handy given it's only his hobby - see this recent post ostensibly about shelving; he built the shelves). So I figured he might be able to create something.

Katy had the very good idea that we could frame up the Velvet Underground & Nico album cover; you know, the "banana" - it's by Andy Warhol and has his name on it. Katy liked the idea that we'd a) be able to say we had an Andy Warhol on our wall and that b) given Warhol's aesthetic and his understanding of and for appropriation and the idea that you get to declare an object as art, we'd be carrying on the lineage. Also c) it's an album we both like.

So I was close to doing an E.T. (aka phoning home) when we had the thought that such a thing - a frame with access for playing the album still - probably already existed. Turns out it does. And now we have one.

They are being distributed in New Zealand by Southbound - I know that Slow Boat Records has them for sale (I assume some other stores might also; by all means if you know of other places where you can get them you can post the information below). They're a fun wee gift for the record-bore that has everything music-wise (I should know, we smell our own). And they're a cost-effective way of actually making your vinyl become art.

Since we've had the frame we've had Bernard Purdie's Lialeh on display. We've had Chet Baker Sings: It Could Happen to You in there. And there'll be plenty more changes - obviously it could be a real talking point with a signed LP in there. And it might lead a visitor to want to know what a certain record sounds like; clearly they'll be able to see that the album holds some appeal, design-wise, but what does it sound like? It might be that it just hangs there for a while with no comments at all. That's also fine.

Currently I've got Miles Davis' Bitches Brew in the frame. It looks cool - and it's a great album. And as I've said here you will remember the time recently when I talked about what value you place on music - after watching a person turn his nose up at the $60 tag on the Bitches Brew double-LP I made a point of going back to the store and buying it. I'd always wanted it on vinyl but that was the decider. And so I enjoy the fact that I've now got it hanging on the wall next to the turntable. It both sounds as good as I remember and looks as good as ever. Better in fact, given it is framed.

So it's an easy question for you today. If you could have one album hanging on your wall next to your stereo what would you pick? Would you want a funny/interesting/cool cover? Would you want a favourite/most-played album? Would you want an album as a talking-point? Would you want something kitsch/quirky? Something with sentimental value perhaps. And can you think of something that encompasses all (or most) of those attributes?

What album would you first display if you had a vinyl frame on your wall? And do any of you have one of these already or plan to get one? Or do you not see the point at all? You could always frame up your USB stick I guess, right?

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