You’ve probably seen them too, while flipping through bins at the library sale or the Salvation Army: album covers that have been altered in some way. For one reason or another, there are a lot of them out there: whether it’s a singer’s face, or an illustrator’s concept, or some other carefully-chosen design that has been scribbled on, augmented, obscured, or otherwise defaced. 

The artwork ranges from crude to expert; the writing tends toward lovers’ initials, song lyrics, slogans, and opinions as to the quality of the music inside the sleeve. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ve happened across an unusual one: painted, or collaged, or highlighted with an eraser, or simply executed with a little extra dose of wit or artistic skill; and you may have paused to wonder why someone took the time. 

Whatever the reason, they...

August 23, 2018

From 1979 through 1985, Martin Atkins was on the road playing drums with Public Image Ltd., John Lydon’s post-Sex Pistols, post-punk agent provocateur that emerged intent on smashing the tropes of popular music. In a 1980 interview with Tom Snyder for The “Tom Snyder Show,” Lydon explained: “We ain’t no band. We’re a company. Simple. Nothing to do with rock ‘n’ roll doo-dah.” … For Lydon, that vision evolved over the years. For Atkins, the time spent touring with PiL and co-writing songs that appear on albums such as 1979’s Metal Box, 1981’s Flowers Of Romance, and 1984’s This Is What You Want...This Is What You Get inspired a 40-year DIY legacy. The spirit of listening, collaborating, and allowing other voices to flourish was an integral part of the post-punk experience that he carried into performing with the...

March 5, 2018

Undead. Undead. Undead.

A refrain that would launch a new genre. Formed around David J. Haskin's plunging, dub-inspired bass line, Peter Murphy's sepulchral vocals and Daniel Ash's jagged guitar, upon its debut in 1979, Bauhaus's landmark single, "Bela Lugosi's Dead" earned the band mythic status as the "Godfathers of Goth." If early fans might have dismissed them as a novelty act, the band quickly disabused them of that notion. Using similar imagery to underpin a theatrical, and often danceable catalog of songs, Bauhaus's ensuing singles and albums were all, stylistically speaking, considerably different from one another.

Although counterparts like Joy Division and The Cure were simultaneously exploring the gloomy corners of the post-punk landscape, it was Bauhaus's striking and perfectly conceived visual aesthe...

February 22, 2018

Roe Ethridge is not particularly known for making album covers; his photographs appear on only a handful. Then again, that handful includes more than its share of brilliant gems. His portrait of Andrew W.K. for the cover of I Get Wet -- an iconic image of the musician’s bloodied face -- is arguably one of the most recognizable album covers ever made. Another standout is his photo for Cat Power’s Moon Pix. It’s a simple black-and-white shot of Chan Marshall in a jean jacket, surrounded by magnolia blossoms; yet the expression of vulnerability and hope on her face perfectly encapsulates the quiet magic that made that beautiful, intimate recording stand apart from the background noise of the nineties.

I don’t remember how I met Roe, but I remember the first time I saw his work, at a party at Carrie Przybilla’s hous...

December 26, 2017

If he’s most often described as a collage artist, it’s perhaps because Lou Beach, over the course of a long and productive career, has created a body of work that is difficult to sum up any other way. You can’t bottom-line him; and describing him by naming his medium of choice sidesteps the obstacle of categorizing his prolific output in other, more specifically descriptive ways. 

The obstacle is a significant one: in terms of composition, color, iconography, mood and motif, Beach’s work spans a spectrum about as broad as life itself. By turns elegant, funny, uncanny, startling, unsettling, and beautiful, his illustrations cover so much territory that it’s a wonder there is anything recognizable in his style. 

And yet there is: whether bright and poppy, or dark and surreal, there is something signature and unmist...

November 12, 2017

The Replacement’s Let It Be. I try to recall one close friend during my teenage years who didn’t own a copy. Often the record was sitting out somewhere you could easily spot it: on the floor, on the top of a stereo, or slipped inside the front of one of those wooden crates we all used to house our favorite LPs. Westerberg’s talent for capturing the ever-shifting range of adolescent sentiment aside, there was a reason for the album's ubiquitous appeal: Daniel Corrigan’s cover image spoke to an undeniable detached cool many young indie music fans sought to emulate back then.  

Growing up in the South during a particularly vibrant era of the Georgia music scene, it was easy to identify with the unfettered attitude of this photograph, as it was reflected in some of the sparse black and white promotional shots of Ath...

March 19, 2017

The illustrator talks composition, meaning, and the Spirit of Talk Talk.

January 10, 2017

When I started planning interviews for Cover Our Tracks, the first image that came to mind was the face that appeared on The Cars' 1978 self-titled debut. The photo - one we all know - features a deliriously beautiful woman behind a clear steering wheel - she's wearing a wide smile with her head thrown back, her nails and lips are so vibrantly red that she appears to be exploding out of the cover. Maybe it was a tad unoriginal, considering The Cars cover was everywhere when a lot of us were growing up. But for album art enthusiasts, it hits all the right notes. In one way the image feels familiar, recalling the glamazons featured on the decadent Roxy Music covers of the seventies. In another way, it's innovative, if you think of it as a predecessor to a later cover that would define the next decade: Patrick Nag...

September 26, 2016

Viewed from our age of text boxes, snap-to-grid anchor points, and digital thumbnails, the hand-drawn, lushly colored, shape-shifting forms of Bob Pepper's illustrations seem to epitomize a lost epoch. 

From his era-defining album covers for Elektra and RCA in the 1960s to his designs for Milton Bradley's Dragonmaster and Dark Tower games in the 1980s, Pepper's work pops up everywhere once you begin to look for it. Excellent universes seemed to find their way to him, seeking to be made real in his signature style, which combined a love of symmetry born of a solid art-school education with a deeply individual color-sense. His judicious respect for pattern, blur, bleed, and imperfection makes his work as instantly recognizable as it was ubiquitous: he illuminated worlds and ideas large and small all across the vas...

July 6, 2016

Before receiving international acclaim for his Galesburg, Illinois documentary series, fans of Atlanta's music scene knew photographer Chris Verene as the dynamic drummer for an eclectic mix of local acts, such as DQE, Bach on a Hook and The Rock*A*Teens.

Formed in 1994 and hailing from the rundown former mill neighborhood of Cabbagetown, The Rock*A*Teens triumphantly arose from a series of tragedies that plagued the local music community in the early part of the decade. Helmed by the unparalleled talents of songwriter and frontman Chris Lopez, over the course of eight years and five albums, The Rock*A*Teens built a catalog of clamorous, reverb-soaked anthems that chronicled distinctly Southern-flavored tales of love, heartbreak, and despair. After reforming for a reunion tour in 2014 to celebrate the vinyl reis...

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