As we’re all told in primary school, you can’t judge a book by its cover. While that might be a great little symbol to live by we’re talking about music, so do the same rules apply? There’s plenty of records that don’t abide by that rule- 2014 brought us Mastodon’s Once More ‘Round the Sun (a prog-odyssey of a cover and the same inside) and Against Me’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues (stark, raw and as black and white as can be). Green Day’s albums all have similar vibes to their covers, and Iron Maiden’s are all practically the same because, well, they all sound like Iron Maiden. Then again, that’s not something that’s easily applied. Pink Floyd’s The Wall has a very simple cover, but it’s an incredibly complex album. Nirvana’s Nevermind is a swimming baby, and what could a swimming baby possibly sound like?
To test out this theory I picked some albums released this year, solely on their covers. Completely random, I had no idea who they were by, only a rough genre. So, could I (correctly) judge them by the art alone? Yeah, I was pretty sure I could.
First up was Copper Gone by Sage Francis, who sounds like a Mumford-esque singer-songwriter, but I’m assured is a rapper. The copper scratched illustration was more confusing than telling, but his name was in a pretty average font so ipso facto, it’s a pretty average rap album. There was a drawing of a house, so maybe it’s confessional? A conventional rap album, probably.
That is most definitely not what it is. Incredibly conscious and self-exploratory, Copper Gone is a profound look at social issues as well as his own experiences. In short- it’s pretty good. ‘Vonnegut Busy’ (the name alone says it all) takes rap’s average preoccupations and turns them upside down. “Sick of hearing rap with no feeling”, and that it certainly has. “Learn to express yourself if you’re gonna stand for things”, and he certainly did. Turns out Sage Francis has been active since the nineties and is an accomplished spoken word artist too.
Second was Lust For Youth’s International, and the cover screamed Factory. A white background with a blue triangle seemed incredibly Peter Saville, so I fully expected a new-age New Order. This time that’s exactly what I got. A watered down ambient version of the originals, the only real difference was a part that seemed like Italian spoken word. Digging deeper, Lust For Youth are Swedish coldwave. Yep, I’ll take that.
Lastly was Courtship Ritual’s Pith. I expected great things from the black and white cover, a DIY lo-fi outfit or something punkier. This was the biggest disappointment of the bunch- bland minimalist nothing-ness, probably progressive years ago but done over, not particularly well. Maybe it’s not my thing, but I expected PUNCH. On second look maybe it makes sense- stark but in a different, dull way.
So what’s the moral of the story kids? You can judge anything by its cover, but you’ll probably be wrong. See an album cover that catches your eye though, and pick that thing up straight away. It might be terrible, but it might be your new favourite thing. Sage Francis is definitely getting another spin.