Judging albums by their cover

Architecture In Helsinki: In Case We Die

Design & Music would seem to be a perfect match. Art and design school seem to be filled with would-be-musicians, and many a well known band has found it’s genesis in one of these institutions over the years. It comes as some what of a mystery then, why there remains so many really badly designed album covers. A lot of output from the major labels can be put down to the machinations of their marketing departments. Primarily they are releasing albums to move product, therefore they are trying to create an ‘image’ of the artist, an ‘ideal’ that their intended market (whether this be teenage girls are whatever) want to aspire to, rather than an interpretation of the specifics of the music (in a lot of cases there wouldn’t be that much to work from anyway). The independent release has a lot more freedom and hence, the results of the cover artwork should be better, unfortunately there are still a lot of roadblocks in the way to stymie this. Bands just starting out and releasing their first album are often still finding their feet as far as style and image. They are invariably short of cash and any money they do have is usually put into producing the best recording they can, using a designer for cover artwork is probably last on their list of priorities. This leaves the design of the cover up to the most ‘capable’ band member or a friend who has some artistic ability (or at least knows how to use Publisher! šŸ™‚

The fall-back and easiest position is to usually copy the aesthetic style of their musical idols and inspiration (as best they can) rather than establishing their own visual identity. This can work ok as long as all the members agree on this aesthetic – the worse case scenario is the ‘design by committee’. This happens when everyone from friends, family, partners, their hairdresser (she’s really artistic!) put their two cents in over the design. What results is a cover that tries to incorporate everything and please everyone, but ultimately portrays nothing other than a confusing, unappealing morass.

Sometimes bands get lucky though, and actually have a member with design talent and an individual vision – such is the case with Architecture In Helsinki’s ‘In Case We Die’. The advantages of being an independent band with their own label are self -evident on the cover. It’s doubtful that a major label would find the artwork of front-man Cameron Bird particularly marketable, even though it perfectly parallels the bands style – a handmade aesthetic. It combines childlike scribbles and free-hand fonts with a clear, colourful, hand-drawn style. The band photos on the inside cover are playfully coloured, scribbled upon and drawn around in a spontaneous, random manner, much like the band introduces unusual instrumentation and lyric structure to the songs. Architecture In Helsinki quite literally wear their independence on their sleeve.