Album artwork: Does it indeed affect our listening experience, and if so, how? Scratch the Surface is a new feature on Aquarium Drunkard that that takes a look at particularly interesting cover art choices.
In 1967, Bob Dylan got into a motorcycle crash, retreated into the bowels of Big Pink with the Band, and emerged months later with a slab of records that sounded something like every American song ever written. The cover of Basement Tapes, which was finally released in 1975, is something similar, an amalgamation of images that evoke the old, weird America. Basement Tapes’ cover is a picture of everything Dylan knew about America – fire-eaters, t-shirts, strongmen, Inuits, a tiny dog, beards, sunglasses.
In 2005, Plants And Animals Nicolas Basque, Warren Spicer, and Matthew Woodley lifted a 24-track recorder up into Spicer’s Montreal apartment and spent two years piecing together something that sounds like every grassy bit of Canadian rock ‘n’ roll ever written, all with the barefoot spirit of Dylan’s Canadian friends, its cover a polite homage from the north; consider it bringing the basement up into the light. Like Basement Tapes, Parc Avenue is a picture of Montreal, and particularly of the Plateau neighborhood. This, too, is a picture of everything – ballerinas, snow hats, amplifiers, sleeping dogs, flags, t-shirts.
Parc Avenue, which found release this summer on Secret City Records, is a feathery flight through Canada’s rich cultural climate, stumbly Neil Young solos and Arcade Fire bombast that sticks like the grease on a plate of poutine and chimes like the Canadian sun coming through the trees. The album is named for the street running through the densely-populated Plateau Mont-Royal, which winds its way around smoked meat restaurants and vintage stores selling outdated Nordiques merch to the edges of Mont Royal, whose breathy greenspace serves as a gathering place for Montreal’s countercultural legions. It was among these trees that Plants and Animals shot Parc Avenue’s cover, culling together a group of neighborhood friends and family (detailed by name on the group’s website) in tribute to Montreal’s tricolor culture. This sense of home echoes down Parc Avenue, from the Broken Social Scene-cum-Neil Young guitars of “Feedback in the Field” to the sweater-down “Good Friend,” to the québécois-accented cheerleaders in “Mercy.” This is local music made for locals, but, like any good regional music, its charm extends well beyond its borders. To separate Plants and Animals from their Montreal context – to listen to Parc Avenue without thinking about its cover – simply isn’t possible.
Basement Tapes’ cover was shot among the dirty floor and hanging pipes of the Band’s house, where Dylan invited everyone in to the stylized carnival that would eventually produce John Wesley Harding; it’s a grimy project inside and out, the production smeared by the shaken insides of Dylan’s head. Parc Avenue, though, is as clear as its cover, the band opening a window looking out over the street, pulling in the sounds of the city and the country, and letting themselves spill out into the city’s spinning. words/ m. garner
+ Scratch The Surface, Vol. I :: Blood On The Tracks
+ Scratch The Surface, Vol. II :: Unknown Pleasures
MP3: Plants And Animals :: Feedback In The Field
MP3: Plants And Animals :: New Kind of Love
Amazon: Plants And Animals – Parc Avenue