If there’s one album I listen to on repeat, it’s the self-titled debut from the Allah-Las. Not only is it a joy to listen to from beginning to end, I enjoy the album cover, which features a pony-tailed girl listening to a seashell amidst the dark grey skies and khaki shores of an uninhabited beach. While perusing new music, I came across the latest album from the band Taken by Trees featuring a familiar cover; in fact, it seemed to be the very same image from the Allah-Las cover only flipped and brightened. Rather than listen to the album, I dismissed it altogether thinking, upon first look and judgment (which I admit is petty and ridiculous), that it was a blatant rip-off of my favorite album. But that is not the case, and this is an issue that warrants further discussion.
The photo on the Allah-Las cover is actually taken from controversial photographer David Hamilton. Per a post on the blog Gorilla vs. Bear, Taken by Trees singer Victoria Bergsman talks about being inspired by Hamilton’s work and recreating the photo for her own cover. Thus, the two photos are different but also the same—purely in imagery. Though the albums came out roughly a month apart (the Allah-Las’ album was released in September 2012 and Taken by Trees in October of 2012), it’s likely that both bands were unaware of the similarity between the covers.
This debacle catalyzed a much larger debate in my psyche on the current state of album art that culminated in the question: Is great cover artwork dead? The quick and easy answer is no. But with music largely going the way of internet streaming and downloads, there doesn’t seem to be much attention paid to the album cover as a lasting piece of art you might lean up against a desk or take out of the CD case and pin up on a wall. Also, album art, specifically in the indie category, has become freakishly similar. How many more circles and spheres are we going to see on covers? (Full disclosure: my significant other did his own post on this phenomenon.)
In regards to the Allah-Las and Taken by Trees, neither of the cover images are original. Yes, many artists before them have referenced well-known photographs or recreated the work of other artists. But we’re living in a digital world rife with graphic designers and digital artists; it seems strange to me that more original artwork and concepts aren’t being implemented. Maybe it’s a nostalgic longing for the album art and music videos that impressed upon me in my youth, but I’d like to see more effort put forth in regards to current album cover art.
And just to emphasize that I don’t dislike all new album covers, here are a few I’ve recently enjoyed.