Decorating with album art. It seems like a no brainer. You like albums. You like art. Albums have art. Just put the albums up on the wall as art, right? So why can it feel so weird?
You wouldn’t think twice about hanging a painting you like. But album art isn’t just album art. It’s the brand of the artist. It’s where the artist sits in the culture. And where that culture meets politics.
When it’s on your wall, that Fleetwood Mac record says you buy your vinyl at Crate and Barrel. That Bob Marley record says I hope you brought rolling papers. That Gang Starr record boasts you know way more about hip-hop than you actually do. That Steve Reich record says you are either an insufferable aesthete, a charlatan, or likely both.
Or at least it can feel that way.
Just to be clear: you shouldn't be ashamed of your taste. Anyone who wants to stick their nose up at what you do or don’t listen to can kindly see themselves out. But feel-good affirmations won’t stop those weird feelings that you can’t quite pin down. We at Deep Cut feel pretty confident in our taste, and we still feel the awkwardness way more often than we’d like.
So, what do you do? Here are a couple of strategies for decorating with album art that are aesthetically pleasing and easy on your stomach.
Feature records you really love
First, if there’s any album that you love so much you just can’t wait for someone to ask you about it, that’s a great candidate for display. If getting asked for a light every time someone sees your copy of “Catch a Fire”, just means you can start talking about Bob Marley’s narrative voice and his role as an international liberationist figure and how you enjoyed A Brief History of Seven Killings, but you really wish Marlon James would have emphasized his… oh, and can you believe there’s a Broadway show?... If that’s how you feel, surface-level stereotypes won’t have any power.
The trouble is, of course, that it’s hard to love something that much. And even when you do, the album cover might be ugly, stupid, or both (lookin’ at you, Let it Bleed).
Find a conversation piece
If you browse enough record bins, you may eventually find something strange or wonderful. It could be a pressing of old Pan American Airlines commercials, or the theme song to the 1982 World’s Fair, or the soundtrack to the Munsters. Anything that would make you want to say to someone, “hey, isn’t this cool?” would fit in this category.
Choose artful covers
A lot of covers look more like branding that art. The Artist’s name is in big font, and there may be a photo of a band. Putting up an album like that not only leans-in to all of the connotations around the band, it can feel like putting up a poster.
Some covers, on the other hand, are genuine works of art by notable artists. An obvious example is the Andy Warhol cover art for The Velvet Underground and Nico. Lorde’s Melodrama, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica, The Strokes’ The New Abnormal are some other instances. Covers like those (minimal branding, compelling image, even when they aren’t by ‘notable’ artists) are as good as any lithograph for our money.
Use record sleeves as a color pallet
Another way to approach album art is to work in sets. Find a few sleeves with monochromatic images (different shades of the same color), or striking colors, and use them to make a block of coordinating colors. This puts less emphasis on any one album and more on your arrangement.
Keep it flexible
Obviously, you can frame your albums and hang them like you would a painting. However, we think part of the fun of decorating with album art is that you can mix it up. So we’d recommend against mounting your records with anything that is a pain to change out. There are frames specially designed for records that allow you to slip covers in and out. Even better are mounting shelves that allow you to pull one record off and plop in a new one without re-mouting anything.
(And, while we’re on the subject, might we suggest some Deep Cut Flip shelves for the job?)