Paper shortages, vinyl delays and broken supply chains, added to the pre-existing shift to the digital format, meant a continued decline in physical formats in 2021. And yet many small labels continued to buck the trend, demonstrating the enduring appeal of the tactile: boxed sets and hardback books, colored vinyl, collectable ephemera. Sometimes it was worth paying the same amount in shipping as for the product itself. Ironically, for all the perceived lack of demand, many of the best packages sold out in as soon as a day, never to be reprinted ~ leaving fans with a feeling of regret after not signing up for the mailing list! Here are ten highlights of the year in music packaging, a testimony to the creativity and devotion of the creators. A few may even still be available ~ happy hunting!
An optical illusion was created by Louise Mason for Kate Carr’s dawn, always new, often superb, inaugurates the return of the everyday, with a pair of clear circular discs superimposed over the clear lathe cut. The presentation is a perfect match for the curious sounds within.
Earlier this year, Clay Pipe Music celebrated its tenth anniversary with a pair of exquisite reissues; throughout the year, they continued to offer more editions new and old, culminating in The Hardy Tree’s Stagdale Pt. 2. But our favorite Clay Pipe release of 2021 was Andrew Waslylk’s Balgay Hill: Morning in Magnolia, because the vinyl was offered in two different colors to match two different covers: a sweet and endearing touch.
A Strangely Isolated Place is another label whose every release is a work of art. So far the label has seemed immune to the vinyl shortage, but their most striking project of the year was actually their first: Illuvia’s Iridescence of Clouds, whose double vinyl looks like a pair of purple fried eggs: every copy different from the next.
Apparat’s Soundtracks has always deserved the box set treatment, due to the cover art and unified theme. Sharp readers may recall that Dämonen made last year’s list of Best Album Covers. These four soundtracks are accompanied by a 16-page booklet featuring even more artwork and prose (Mute Records).
We reviewed a few releases from Time Released Sound this year and could have listed any of them here. Even the ones we didn’t get to review were offered in a variety of beguiling formats. Our favorite stands out due to its simplicity; offered in a film can, with maps, tokens and poems, Francisco Sonur’s Morning Trials is a keeper. Even the “regular edition” is a labor of love.
Anoice’s A5 packaging for The Hidden Forest allows one to appreciate the 17 tracks along with the 17 paintings that inspired them. Naoko Okada’s art opens new windows of interpretation, while a personalized Polaroid taken by the band offers an even more intimate connection (Ricco Label).
Over 70 copies were made of Whitelabrecs’ The Home Diaries (not fair!), and most were given to the artists who made the series such a success. The accompanying booklet contains photographs of the artists’ homes. While this might have sold like hotcakes had more been offered, we honor the love that went into making keepsakes for contributors: a gift for a gift.
We’re bending our normal rules a bit for øjeRum’s Stigma because we intend to review it, but it hasn’t arrived yet. Suffice it to say that we have always wanted a book of øjeRum’s art, and now we have one, along with a disc of new music! The collages address the relationship between the plant and human kingdoms, a la Swamp Thing: a treat for lovers of the macabre (Cyclic Law).
The hardback edition of Blackford Hill’s Transmission / Volume One includes a selection of works by printmaker Peter Green, an essay from The Wire‘s Julian Cowley and a pair of discs featuring 31 artists from the label’s roster: a fine way to discover something new across a variety of disciplines!
The third entry in the Adventurous Music Book Series is a beautiful collection of photographs that turn decay into objets d’art, accompanied by the digital album Rust from Fail & Hendekagon. The music sounds like the photos, and the photos look like the music: a perfect pairing.