[vinylsighting] Minimalisn't

What isn't magnifies what is.

In the steady march from the 12-inch square LP and the 7-inch single to the 5-inch CD booklet and, lastly, the 300x300 jpg, certain effects no longer resonate in quite the same way. This week I found myself dwelling on the space, clarity, and immediacy achieved by simple, uncluttered design that maximizes impact by minimizing graphics. On a big playing field  — like that of an LP or 45 — the smaller gestures have greater impact: call it the lone-voice-crying-out-in-the-darkness effect. I’ve been told the unoccupied areas are called “negative space,” but every designer I’ve ever met despises the term. Here are a few exemplars whose oomph would doubtlessly be diminished as a mini on an iPhone screen.

Phill Niblock

Reverse psychology, perhaps? In its efforts to diminish itself, this marriage of title and design is only more arresting. It’s a perfect reflection of the music, which consists of long overlapping drones created by recording extended trombone notes to magnetic tape and then carefully editing and overlapping them. The end result is captivating, revealing a hidden world of harmonic overtones dancing over the music’s seemingly static palette.

Enrico Rava Quartet

European jazz (and eventually classical) label ECM’s stark designs created their own visual language, tying together a catalog that is more diverse than first brush would indicate. Since jazz buffs are obsessed with who-played-what, ECM did the heavy lifting for us on this one by putting it all up front in an almost confrontational manner. Those who think of ECM as a home for Nordic watercolor jazz would be surprised by this one… 

Standard Fare 

…and speaking of watercolors. I hesitated to put this one here, because the ratio of content to void is a bit more equivocal, but it still radiates the assuredness and plaintiveness that’s been intriguing me. Also, the infectiously bashy English trio STANDARD FARE are one of my favorite bands to emerge in the past few years, and this single (“15”) deserves three minutes of your time. Six, actually – play it twice.

Love of Life Orchestra 

Hip indie label DFA recently did a retrospective of PETER GORDON'S LOVE OF LIFE ORCHESTRA
that skipped this, their first full-length, entirely. While it’s a bit more slick than their earlier EPs and singles, its interlocking grooves and keen use of dissonance is still quite fascinating. And look at that cover! Note: I picked this up at Weirdo Records in Central Square. One week later, I saw a bootleg CD of it in a cool downtown New York shop for three times the price. Lesson: please support your local shops, and they will support you.

Alan Licht
With a title this great, who needs a design, right? The artist is ALAN LICHT, and this single contains dedications to Nikki Sixx and Tone Loc. And the liner notes boast scattered references to Ted Nugent. Ok, then…

The Motifs

Australian indiepop band THE MOTIFS played a rare set in Somerville back in May, and I snagged this copy of their sole LP from them. Minimalist design as pure DIY expression. Rather than have jackets printed (expensive and impersonal), they dismantled and reversed existing sleeves (note the rips along the bottom this one is a Ray Conniff disk called 'S Wonderful) and drew their own covers with Sharpies. The back contains hand-written track titles. This one was done rather quickly, but doesn't suffer from haste. It suits the hushed, homemade music rather perfectly.

Brad San Martin is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter in the Boston-based indie-pop trio One Happy Island, who will be clattering away from 10am until noon-ish this Saturday, August 13, at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. His recently minted VinylSighting blog is a welcome addition to On The Download, despite the shortcomings of not being able to download a vinyl record.  

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