Another new feature at RSTB begins today, this one taking a look at designers that have proven above and beyond the average sleeve jockey. Sleeve art has always proven to be more than just decorative dressing for an album, oftentimes it can be as integral and inseparable from an album as any song gracing the sides. And while they say you can’t judge a book (or album) by its cover, we often do just that, so designers can act as the gatekeepers of taste. Of recent designers, I can think of few that have been proving more of an inspiration to psychedelic savants than Robert Beatty. His style evokes classic silkscreen techniques and custom painted vans from the ’70s. He’s got an eye for the surreal and a feel for color that’s made him a favorite of everyone from Real Estate and Thee Oh Sees to Oneohtrix Point Never, culminating in his most famous run last year on Tame Impala’s Currents and its surrounding singles. In this new series, I’ve asked designers to go pick the works that inspire them, choosing five of their favorite album covers and explaining how they’ve influenced their style. Robert’s picks are below, spanning from Tropicalia to a collab between Stereolab and The High Llamas, each one peeling back a layer of Beatty’s iconic style.
Almendra- s/t (RCA/Vik, 1969)
This portrait of a man in a pink and white striped cap crying with a toy dart stuck to his head was painted by guitarist and leader Luis Alberto Spinetta for Argentinian psych rock band Almendra’s self titled debut. After objections to the artwork from the record label (they wanted a photo of the band instead), Spinetta refused to allow the record to be released without his art and the label conveniently ‘lost’ the original artwork. He then painted it again and re-submitted it as the cover. Inside the artwork there is a key with the eye, the teardrop, and the arrow outlining the perspective from which the songs are sung.
Omit- Quad (Corpus Hermeticum, 1997)
There’s something so mysterious and intriguing about New Zealander Clinton Williams’ artwork for his project Omit. The cover for his epic three-hour album “Quad” is somewhere between a graphic score, an architectural diagram and a surrealistic op-art scene. With the cryptic text outlining machinations of various states of consciousness and disconnection I can’t help but think it was possibly influenced by Paul Laffoley’s visionary paintings, but it stands as the perfect accompaniment to the fragile and chaotic sounds contained within.
Bruce Haack- The Electric Lucifer (Columbia, 1970)
This is a strange cover because it seems very homemade and outsider (much like the music), but was done by Isadore Seltzer, who was a very prominent illustrator and member of the legendary Pushpin Studios design and illustration studio started by Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast. The apocalyptic themes of destruction and redemption present on the record are beautifully rendered in pencil and watercolor and you can’t beat the quote at the top of the sleeve- “I do a lot with touch… let electricity flow through our bodies and touch each other and the electricity becomes sound…” The text on the back cover outlining Haack’s concept of “Powerlove” is just icing on the cake.
Turn On- Turn On (Duophonic Super 45’s/Drag City, 1997)
This sleeve for the sole collaborative EP between members of Stereolab and the High Llamas was done by the brilliant Julian House, who is responsible for all of Broadcast’s sleeves and the majority of Stereolab’s. There was so much 70’s influence in record covers in the mid 90’s and early 2000’s when I was first buying records that left a huge impression on me. This cover distills the institutional simplicity and movement of Library Music sleeves into a perfectly balanced and iconic design that opened me up to a rich new world.
Gilberto Gil- Gilberto Gil (Philips, 1968)
I remember the first time I saw this insane theatrical cover and immediately knowing I would love this record. This is a collaboration of three artists whose names are all signed above Gil’s on the cover. Three photos of Gil as different characters taken by photographer David Drew Zingg are flanked by vibrant psychedelic clouds and patterns drawn by the amazing Brazilian pop artist Antônio Dias and all brought together by designer Rogério Duarte, who is responsible for many of the iconic sleeves of the Tropicalia records of the late 60’s.
Aside from his work with cover design, Beatty’s works have appeared in New York Times, Wired UK and his book of designs Floodgate Companion is out next month, collecting unpublished works that show Beatty’s surrealist style and op-art prowess at its peak. The book’s up for pre-order HERE.