Animal Collective — Live at 9:30
Animal Collective does vinyl porn right. Hand-numbered (just 2,000 made — mine is 1,998) and meticulously put together — complete with a reprint of the characteristically trippy poster from the 2013 show the album documents — the whole thing is gorgeous. The kicker: From the back cover art, it would appear that the front reacts to black light. I don’t have a black light, which makes this the Schrödinger’s cat of album packaging — as long as I don’t try to verify the black light thing, it’s both true and not true.
Grimes — Art Angels
Art Angels would have made this list on the stunning cover art alone (designed by Claire Boucher herself), but the vinyl package includes individual pieces of art for each track, and I’d bet the farm — easy for me to say, because I don’t have a farm — that Boucher designed those as well. It’s a flood of distinctive, expressionistic creativity — so fitting for a collection of songs that offers the same.
Joanna Newsom — Divers
Much like Art Angels, there’s an insert for each song in the Divers vinyl package, but these feel more practical. The designs are simpler, and they function nicely as a delivery mechanism for Newsom’s lyrics, which can fly past so quickly that whole stanzas get lost. But practical and amazing aren’t mutually exclusive, and the experience of listening to Divers and reading it at the same time really is amazing. It reminds my of something I wrote about Lucy Dacus recently — “You read the song and listen to it at the same time, like two forms of art unfolding simultaneously” — except even more literal.
Positive No — Glossa
Hats off to the Positive No gang for this one. When they decided against pressing vinyl for Glossa, they didn’t forget how engaging the medium is — how a physical object with detailed notes and beautiful design can strengthen your connection to a collection of songs. Guitarist and founding member Kenny Close produced 12 unique pieces of lyric art and put them togehter in a 7×7, 28-page lyric book, which came with a digital download of the album and a bookmark. The package I got in the mail even included a copy of the band’s entry in the Negative Fun Singles Club 7-inch series. What an awesome surprise, and what an awesome way to start a relationship with a new album.
Matthew E. White — Fresh Blood
From my review of the album:
As much as I enjoyed Fresh Blood when I streamed it via NPR First Listen, having the deluxe vinyl edition — which includes an alternate, stripped-down mix of the album called No Skin — is a whole different ballgame. I keep going back and forth between the two discs, and I’d even recommend starting with the No Skin version. It’s a great way to take in the structure of the songs, Cameron Ralston’s amazing bass lines, the texture of White’s voice, the full glory of the guitar build that brings “Holy Moly” to a close…
Switching then to the official version is like opening the shutters on a bright and beautiful day. With apologies to Beyoncé, I’m finding Fresh Blood to be a very visual album. All the depth and shading that come from the string, horn and choral arrangements make the songs feel sculptural, and I think having No Skin as a second vantage point has a lot to do with seeing that third-dimension. (I’m reminded of the “Camera 1, camera 2” routine from Wayne’s World, but that’s neither here nor there.)