ACL 2018 ~ The Year’s Best Packaging

During the giving season, we remember the importance of packaging.  Not only do we want our gifts to look well-wrapped, we want what’s inside to appeal as well.  One can’t wrap a stream or a digital download.  This brings us to one of the greatest losses of the digital era:  music as gifts.  The Year’s Best Packaging honors those who are still invested in the tactile.  When we’re old, will we feel the same warm nostalgia when we see an old download in our iPhone 100 that we will as we slip a vinyl album from its sleeve one last time?

We’re no curmudgeons.  All formats (vinyl, tape, disc and download) are represented in this year’s list.  But whether accompanied by a book, film or other inserts; whether boxed, loose, or encased; every release here offers something special to the person who holds it.

2018 was another great year for vinyl.  At Barnes and Noble, the record section now challenges the print section for supremacy.  More record shops are opening, online trading is rampant, and limited editions often sell out in hours.  Some particularly pretty records were released by Foxhole (pictured at top) and Glasir at the end of the year, while Molecule and Maribou State found rare colors in the vinyl spectrum.  A special shout-out goes to Paul Nataraj, who personally etched 14 records as a PhD project and in so doing, gave us a new way to look at the beauty of vinyl.  The original records are pictured above.

The best vinyl package of the year will come as no surprise to our regular readers, as it was the top fall pick in our Experimental category.  Field Works ~ Metaphonics: The Complete Recordings Box Set is an extravagant, 7-LP set with accompanying hardback book.  One can read about the field recordings while listening, or simply marvel at their integration in these sonic collages.  Temporary Residence hit a home run with this one.

Institute of Landscape Architecture’s wintry Melting Landscapes is another triumph, as the vinyl is glacier-colored and the LP includes a full-size booklet of black-and-white photography.  This project seemed to come out of nowhere but was in fact the end result of years of hard work by the research team.  They’ve given it the release it deserves, which if all goes well will give the subject the attention it needs.

Folklore Tapes continued its stellar Industrial Folklore Tapes series this year with Mary Stark‘s Film as Fabric. A fabric phonogram is included with the 10″ record, and the accompanying booklet is hand-sewn.  The record highlights the (nearly) lost art of linear film editing in a manner that makes us want to go back in time.  Spools and sewing machine not included.

Time Released Sound is a perennial presence at ACL, and was our site’s very first Label of the Year.  It’s wonderful to see how they’ve doubled their staff (to two!) and continued to put such tender into their releases.  Our favorite was Enofa‘s Arboretum, an album that looks like fall, sounds like fall and was released in fall.  Every copy is different, regular and deluxe editions both.  It’s also a great album!

There’s not much to be gained from showing Thembi Sodell‘s Love Songs; none of the online photos do it justice.  This black-on-black release includes a book of harrowing journal entries against a black background; the music slides from silence to cacophony, and is a sobering monument to the #MeToo movement.

Manu Delago‘s Parasol Peak was included in our Best Winter Music article earlier this week.  But it’s also a wonderful physical package. Despite the fact that it’s available in vinyl, we prefer the CD version, which is presented in a hardcover book of still images and includes a download code for the film.  You really can’t go wrong with this one, and winter is the perfect season to enjoy it.

ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ Records ~ May Batch
Every season, St. Petersburg’s ΠΑΝΘΕΟΝ releases an exquisitely-designed package.  This past spring three discs (from Rhucle, EugeneKha and Pools of Light) each received handmade cloth treatment, and were collected in a wooden box.  Those who adore physical editions should keep an eye on this label, as there’s always something new on the horizon; a new batch has just been announced!

Original Review


We love the thought of being able to choose our own covers, and thanks to the good people at Spring Break Tapes, we can.  The new split release from Amulets and Bus Gas affords us the option.  Visit SBT’s Twitter page for a great GIF and video of the cover in action!

Book and Download
Joshua Van Tassel‘s Crossworlds was released just in time for Halloween and was included in our first year-end feature, Music for Haunted Houses.  (For obvious reasons, the list was published two months early.)  The haunted novella is accompanied by powerful symphonic music that brings every chapter to three-dimensional life.  Here’s hoping for more literary releases like this!

Combustable Fire Log
Finally we arrive at the most original physical release of the year, Capac‘s Through the Dread Waste.  The code is etched on a small brass plate embedded in a log, and in order to access the digital copy, one must burn the log.  (Through the kindness of This Is It Forever, one may also request a separate download.)  It’s a real pleasure to watch the log burn, and to cherish the time it takes to be destroyed.  Then it’s just a matter of retrieving the plate from the ashes.  In addition, the release includes an art print, booklet and sheet music.  We bet you don’t have anything like this; a second edition is available!

Richard Allen


  1. Garreth

    Lots of good recommendations! But I’m really surprised not to see Thesis Project in here. Handmade, individually crafted vinyl sleeves and usb drives – it’s gorgeous stuff. Thesis Drive is definitely my favourite physical project of 2018.

  2. Thanks Garreth ~ the answer is simple! We only list the projects we’ve seen, touched and reviewed. Otherwise we’re reviewing photos of packaging, which may be more comprehensive, but it doesn’t seem honest! So if no one sends us the physical release, and we don’t buy it, it’s not eligible.

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