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Album covers–how much do they really matter?

Concordia students and artists talk about their favourite album covers.   

When we envision the sound of a particular album, one of the first things we might think of is its visuals. This can take the shape of a music video from a loved track, or a themed photoshoot from the album rollout. In most cases, the vivid image we might have of an album comes from its cover. 

The square shape that forms an album cover is often open-ended when it comes to its artistic perception. Be it a simple portrait or an intricate painting, a meticulous collage or a straightforward photograph, music artwork holds a necessary relationship with the sound of the music project itself. 

For instance, Childish Gambino’s album 3.15.20 (2020) is seen either as a solid white-filled square or a blank cover. Either way, this minimalist and nonchalant approach doesn’t necessarily lessen the quality and weight of the project that was released unannounced. One could argue that it lets the listener create their own colours by not being influenced beforehand by any imagery.

Yasmine is a first-year student in communications studies and she relishes in The Angel You Don’t Know by Amaarae (2020). She finds the cover to be very weird—cool illustrations like big eyes and written bodies featuring flashy colours. To her, it looks like an invitation for a magnetic sonic experience that’s so captivating that she added the album to her library even before listening to it. “[The] super sick illustrations speak for the song themselves so you can just look at the cover and connect those two,” Yasmine said. 

As for Simone, a student in photography, Marvin Gaye’s I Want You (1976) cover holds a special place in their heart. “It makes me want to dance and lean against the one I love,” they said. Indeed, the figures in the painting seem deeply in motion, present, and engulfed in the music. The songs on Gaye’s album directly affect the movement of the body and whenever Simone listens to it, she can imagine herself among others, “loving and yearning.” For Simone, dim lighting, a cigarette and a drink on a table close by is the perfect fit for her album.

Windswept Adan by Ichiko Aoba (2020) is Sylvia’s pick. A first-year scenography student in the theatre department, she finds the cover to be reflective of the album’s instrumentals and organic sounds. “[The cover seems] very freeing and feminine to me, which I also really love and resonate with,” Sylvia explained. In her eyes, the sparkly and magical cover perfectly summarizes the world of the album, enhancing its dreamy sound with such a hazy filter. 

Lindsay, a first-year communications student, appreciates Lorde’s Solar Power album sleeve (2021). She especially noted its interesting fish eye lens. “I love how she’s [Lorde] posed and takes up the whole frame with her legs,” Lindsay said. She also pointed out the colour palette of the cover and how it offers “a happy mood which corresponds with some of the upbeat songs in the album.”

Musicians at Concordia also had some words to say in regard to their own single and album covers. Minh Tu, under the stage alias LilMid, dabbles in a bit of everything artistic like videography and sewing and has been producing music since the age of 14.

The artist released his homemade project Stage Fright in early 2023 with the intention to tell a vulnerable story by figuratively putting himself on a “stage.” This EP’s artwork complements the messages of his songs that tell of the time Minh Tu performed in front of an audience for the first time.  For the Stage Fright cover, LilMid took a blank piece of paper, drew the emotions he felt during the making of the album, cut them up, and scanned the final product for a mixed media look. He hopes to inspire people to also come out of their shells and hop on a similar figurative stage. 

For Roxanne Izzo, a singer and a second-year communications student, the visuals are probably the part she loves the most about putting out music. “Even if I have yet to release a full body of work, I always strive to attach a visual concept for each of my single covers,” she said. The vision behind her recent single “What Have You Learned?” out since October 20th was to take a super glossy, airbrushed-looking image of herself and distress it so that it looks like a disintegrated poster on a wall. Despite thinking that not every single album has to be well-versed in its visual aesthetics to be thematically or musically evocative, the singer believes that album art as a whole is important because it’s all part of the physical body of work. 

All and all, an album cover is the natural half of the pairing that is the main visual and the music itself. It is so powerful that even noticing an intriguing album cover in a record shop while casually browsing can lead to someone discovering a gem of an album.

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