Next week we’ll look at the year’s best cover art; in this article, we consider overall packaging. In an era when many consider the physical format to be extinct, these artists and labels say otherwise. A couple can still be purchased. Others have long since sold out. But we’ve seen them all in person and can vouch for their appeal.
From etched vinyl to USB sticks to books to enclosures, artists and labels have been finding fresh new ways to promote their music. Records and tapes have continued to find new homes, while even the CD has begun to inspire a bit of nostalgia. But for aficionados of physical editions, there may never have been a time such as this, when the production of art pieces has been paired with the ability to purchase them in a timely manner.
And now, without further ado, here is our selection of the best packaged releases of 2016!
Forresta ~ Bass, Space & Time (Self-Released)
If we had a single packaging award for 2016, John Eckhardt’s labor of love would win it. Bass, Space & Time comes with a choice of 100 different covers; the vinyl LP is a gorgeous moss green; and the box it comes in is hand-embroidered. It’s impossible to compete with something as thorough and lovely as this; and all without the support of a label. A small selection of covers is shown in the photo above.
Ian Humberstone and David Chatton Barker ~ Black Dog Traditions of England (Folklore Tapes)
The ever-consistent Folklore Tapes struck gold again in 2016 with this elaborate historical booklet and vinyl release, echoing the mystery of the subject matter with the curiosity of its contents. The stunning 10-minute distressed 16mm DVD is the icing on the cake, itself worth the price of admission.
Katrien De Blauwer + Danny Clay ~ Stills (IIKKI)
The first project from IIKII Books, Stills pairs the musical talent of Danny Clay with the visual talent of Katrien De Blauwer. The hardbound book was a success right out of the gate, and more will follow in the new year. With a project this big, the promotional video was a winning idea as well, portraying exactly what customers would get for their money.
Kirill Nikolai ~ Letting Go Variations (Fluid Audio)
(See photo at top of page.) Every Fluid Audio release is something special, an aspect they have in common with Time Released Sound and Wist Records (listed below). But Letting Go Variations went the extra mile, pairing the music and notecards with an old second-hand book unique to the recipient. Mine was Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol; others received poetry, prose, non-fiction. The release feels like a present, as well it is.
Kösmonaut ~ Master Generator
(Time Released Sound)
One of the most personal releases of the year, Master Generator invites recipients into the world of the artist’s 9-year-old Sevigny, who is battling leukemia (and at last check, winning). The packaging includes an x-ray, child’s tongue depressor and chemotherapy bag; sales proceeds from benefit the family’s cancer support group, the Creston J. Walker Foundation.
Mikel Nieto ~ Dark Sound (Gruenrekorder)
A black disc lodged in a black book with black print? This didn’t seem like such a good idea, until we read the text and thought about it for a while. As it turns out, the project is a parabolic reflection of its subject matter, the redacted and silenced voices of the oppressed. This is a perfect example of a label fully committing to a vision, and in this case, amazingly, the risk pays off.
Molécule ~ 60°43′ Nord
(CLASSIC, Mille Feuilles & Bleu de Paname)
Multiple special editions of the album were released this year, including double splatter vinyl, single sea-stamped 12″ and our favorite, the yellow raincoat book. This 336-page hardback is sturdy and thorough, following the artist as he canvases the seas in search of the perfect sounds and the perfect beats to accompany them. Store it next to Dark Sound above.
Sculpture ~ Form Foam (Ana Ott)
Just look at this thing! All you’ll need to activate it is the right kind of camera or strobe. Sculpture has made a career of producing objets d’art, and Form Foam is only the latest in a long line of successes. The duo continues to go from strength to strength, and every release is now an event. The video allows the listener to become a passive viewer; the music invites listeners to dance.
The Sly and Unseen ~ The Crossley Heritage (Wist)
Wist Records continued its Jackdaw Series this year with The Crossley Heritage back in winter and Being & the Humble Bee‘s The Atlantic Cable this fall. Each release contains CD3″s along with multiple ephemera; in the former, folded posters, a map and a set of postcards. To view it is to step back in time. Every installment is worth the purchase, so sign up for that mailing list now if you haven’t already!
William Ryan Fritch ~ New Words for Old Wounds (Lost Tribe Sound)
Not many copies were made of the limited Japanese side-stitched edition, but that’s what happens when editions are assembled by hand. Not that anyone will be disappointed by the beautiful vinyl gatefold edition! But when a label goes all-out, we tend to notice, and this beauty is a keeper.