Friday, March 11, 2016

On Pinegrove's Album Artwork

Pinegrove are a band from New Jersey. Their debut album, Cardinal, came out about a month ago, and it seems to have gone down rather well; Pitchfork gave it an 8.0, and according to Metacritic, that's the lowest score the album has yet received.

I purchased Cardinal from Pinegrove's Bandcamp page last week, and I've found that it largely lives up to the hype. I do have one complaint, however, and that complaint concerns the atrociously bland cover design:

Granted, it has a nice, detailed texture if you look close enough, but if that's the most interesting thing about your album artwork then I'm afraid something is quite awry. The design itself - two red squares on a solid grey background - drastically undersells the music underneath the cover, which is actually interesting and nuanced, with tunes and dynamics and lots of good lyrical titbits. Cardinal's songs sound like an autumn afternoon spent scrunching through leaves and contemplating the future; Cardinal's artwork looks like it belongs to a below-average Spandau Ballet album.

If I saw Cardinal on the racks at my local HMV, I would ignore it completely. "I don't need that album," I would think; "it's probably some middling 1980s synthpop record that's just been reissued for its thirtieth anniversary. I imagine this Pinegrove outfit sound like Depeche Mode with the parts that ended up influencing Trent Reznor surgically removed."

They don't sound like Depeche Mode at all, of course. Pinegrove actually sound like Hallelujah the Hills feat. Ryan Adams, but you'd never guess that from the artwork, the brief for which was presumably thus:

"If someone gets bored of this album and donates it to a charity shop, under no circumstances should it catch the eye of anyone perusing that charity shop's CD rack."

I'm glad that I didn't buy a physical copy of Cardinal, because that cover design positively begs you to spill a mug of tea on it and I'm not sure I'd be able to ignore the urge to do so. Seriously, this LP is well worth your time, but I am utterly baffled by Pinegrove's decision to use that dishwatery dullness to represent eight actually good songs. Maybe the intersecting squares are supposed to represent the singer's connection with the Old Friends and the New Friends that bookend this album, but I'm sure he could have thought of a more appealing visual metaphor for friendship than that underwhelming travesty. It looks like it belongs on the wall of Patrick Bateman's apartment, not on the CD that contains ace music like this:

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