Aah, the collectible MP3 release sitting on your hard drive right now. Does something sound morbidly paradoxical about that statement? Despite the sheer convenience of having instant access to 10,000 songs at all times via your MP3 player (and most likely a bunk pair of earbuds), there is still something to be said about having the hard copy of a release. Regardless of whether it is a vinyl record, a CD, a limited-edition jump drive, or the like, many people still feel that having a hard copy of a release is the true definition of “ownership”.
Part of the reason the hard copy has not gone away is because of the packaging. Call it a gimmick if you will, but there have been some very interesting concepts that have risen to the surface over the past several years that have allowed the theme of the album to extend beyond just the music. Bad packaging often drives people away from the release, and even good packaging often gets taken for granted. However, amazing artwork or a completely ridiculous concept will often be one of the key driving forces to a successful album, gimmick or not!
Let’s have a look at some of the weirdest and wackiest releases that have been dictated by their cover art, or in extreme cases, how the physical disc itself was manufactured! A bit of Internet research, as well as some of my own exploring, has led me to find some crazy concepts that just would not be possible through a series of 1’s and 0’s sitting in your iTunes library.
You might be tricked into thinking that this is just a mix CD, hence irrelevant to the scope of this article. However, Detroit techno pioneer Mills, who has consistently found ways to push the envelope as a DJ over the past three decades, might be fooling you here. Earlier this year he released a strictly limited edition “hybrid” CD that actually had two thinner discs bonded together. One side is a standard, hour-long DJ mix, namely of his own material. It is playable in a standard CD player. However, the other side of the disc is actually made of vinyl and has one short track etched into it titled “Markings”. Although you need an adaptor for the hole in the center of the disc in order to play the vinyl side on a turntable (which is fortunately included here), it’s a neat concept and you may see more releases down the road in this format.
A classic release that dropped near the end of the acid house heyday in 1993, Caustic Window’s “Joyrex J9” two-tracker was extremely limited: only 303 copies produced. That was for a specific reason. What makes this a unique record is that pictures of the classic synthesizer and drum machine, which were epitomized in the music on both sides, were actually printed inside the discs themselves. The vinyl was clear and about 10” in diameter, with the Roland 303 sticking out of one side, and the similar-sized 606, on the other. Similar to the beloved TR-606 and TB-303, the value of this record has done nothing but appreciate heavily over the past 15 years!
A purely experimental unofficial release by Wolf Eyes, Pentogram was a 12” disc that showcased two short songs on each side. Although the music itself, which mainly consists of heavily distorted and reveberated feedback and what sounds like a piano going through a lobotomy, is interesting, the medium is a bit of a corker too. Only one side is standard vinyl. The other is a 12” laserdisc (remember those?) - the grooves cut right into the surface. Although the resulting quality sounds something like a worn out acetate, with more surface noise due to the different properties of the material, based on a listen to sound clips of this EP I was actually pleasantly surprised. 40 sets were produced, by hand, with custom cover art. Good luck finding one, you’ll need all the help you can get.
It’s always interesting how the drone and experimental artists like Batch Totem tend to be the ones who convey their unique ideas not just in the music, but in the physical medium as well. Starting in 2008, this group released a series of records called “Funktion”. What makes these hip is the fact that each one is printed on a small colored 4” flexi-disc, one track per side. The flexidisc is then housed in the casing of a 5.25” floppy disc, instantly bringing the elementary school nostalgia back of when you used to try beating your mates at a game of Oregon Trail on the classroom Apple II. Although it has yet been proven possible to try etching the grooves of the music onto the actual disk that came with the 5.25” floppy, it comes bundled in each package anyways. Batch Totem is currently on their fifth release of the series.
Another noise release, albeit a brief one, considering the fact that the record it was released on is a SINGLE INCH in diameter. For maximum fidelity, the track on side A (“Hemmorrhidal Dance of Death”) was cut at 78 rpm. An inch gives you a great deal of playing room, so you may as well max the sound quality out by cutting it at a faster speed with wider grooves anyhow. Needless to say, I don’t think either song on this “platter” clocked in at more than a few seconds. Only 14 copies are known to exist, several which have traded hands on the auction sites at several hundred dollars a pop. Equating roughly to about $2,500 per minute of music if you did the math.
Looking for some brand new Boards of Canada-esque trip hop to sort out your day? Well, this release sure does remind me of Canada all right, in the format the medium itself comes in. WOOD. That’s right folks, 100% pure unadultured oak with a 2 GB USB drive neatly encased inside. Not only is the music on the drive fantastic (check this link to listen), but you won’t ever have to worry about your copy drowning if it somehow lands in a river somewhere. (I’ll let you fill in the blanks as to how it got there in the first place).
You know the feeling when you bought a record that was horrifyingly bad? Yeah, I’ve been there too. The suspect record proceeds to sit on the shelf for years afterwards. You can’t sell it because nobody else wants it either, but you hate to just throw it out too. Well how about if all records were made of chocolate? Then you could at least make good use out of that 12” reissue of “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Em” your mother-in-law bought you because she thought it would be uber-cool again since Hammer’s all the rage on Twitter these days. Although the chocolate record is still just a concept, a German culinary expert is in the process of making it come to life. Non-Antarctica residents might consider investing in an air conditioner if they choose to collect these once they do start appearing on store shelves.
Remember how cute scratch-and-sniff cards were when you were a child? Scratch scratch, hey it’s orange! Scratch scratch scratch…hey, chocolate! Scratch scratch…strawberry-banana! Scratch…human feces?! Wait, three out of the four of these scents were Hallmark trademarks. Let’s discuss the fourth. This is a 4-track 12” single released by longtime producer Vincent Koreman. In the vein of much of his other work, this record had a bit of an electro feel to it, with plenty of action from the usual arsenal of Roland drum machines. But according to a comment left on the Discogs page for this record, the brown-colored release has more than just a weird color beneath the surface:
“The browny-purple colouring is obtained from adding small amounts of hemorrhoid infected diarrhea to the vinyl mix before pressing. When chopping this up on the ones and twos (in this case, “scratch” refers to the DJ technique) a subtle but detectable odour of human faeces emanates through the air around the DJ. Very cool, but best played at open air events.”
Well, at the end of the day, this is obviously a joke. But if someone actually pulled this off, wouldn’t it be, for lack of better terms, the shit? I guess we can still give this one an honorable mention for the horiffic color of the record itself.
So I might as well end this with what is probably the most contemporary release of this entire lot: Chromeo’s new, ahem…LP…entitled “Drive Time”. With 55 tracks, you would think this would be the “All Things Must Pass” of dance music. Wrong. Pressed on a 5” plate, there is just over three minutes of music total. And of course, despite this electro band’s popularity, this one is limited to 40 copies, so it’s no more abundant than many of the other records here. You can still head over to YouTube to check it in its entirety though. The signature legs make their normal appearnce even on this album cover, as per the course.
Image credits: http://www.psfk.com/ | http://www.todayandtomorrow.net/ | http://www.kingbeerecords.co.uk/ | http://1.bp.blogspot.com/ | www.discogs.com | http://www.popsike.com/ | http://www.aiaiai.dk | http://www.limitemagazine.com/