unknown-pleasures.jpgAlbum 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.

Minimalism is a fine line to walk. There’s a point where you really are saying too little about something – where the emphasis is lost between creator and viewer. But more than almost any other album art I can think of, Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures strikes such a profound chord, sets up such a perfect summation of what lies within, that it more than answers the question of why minimalist art actually means something.

The first time I picked up this album, and for much time afterward, the simplistic design on the front were mountains. Like some dread Caucasus, rigid and bleak, providing haven or heresy, disaster or divinity. And the music inside confirmed it – spartan, sounding like the echoes of music from between a pass, buried somewhere within that mountain range, distant and yet clearly discernible – not like real music, but a picture of it.
Later I found out the real story of the cover – that it was the mapped radio waves of the first discovered pulsar, PSR B1919+21. And here again was an appropriate vision – the steady, relentless broadcasts of a remote figure, sending out bursts of information, not knowing who was hearing. The songs on Unknown Pleasures were the pulses, Ian Curtis the pulsar – an eventual white dwarf, snuffed out rather than exploding in a nova. And just like those messages, they continue to arrive, whether the originator exists or not anymore. The messages keep reaching people.

What are the unknown pleasures the title talks about? Is it something incomprehensible, lost in the transmission, buried in the echo? The secrets are hidden in the passes of the mountain, buried in the static of the broadcast. However the art is interpreted, visual or audio, the two are linked in a way that is inextricable. words/j neas

Previously: Scratch The Surface, Vol. I :: Blood On The Tracks

MP3: Joy Division :: Disorder
MP3: Joy Division :: She’s Lost Control
Amazon: Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures

8 Responses to “Scratch The Surface :: Joy Division: Unknown Pleasures”

  1. With everything going digital it’s good to see team AD shedding light on album covers as a proper medium. Oddly enough there’s only of my favorite albums where I feel the cover complements the music properly. The cover for Godspeed’s F#A# Infinity is the first to come to mind. If the dystopic vision of the cover doesn’t point you to a graceful hell, the narrator’s wallet filled with blood in Dead Flag Blues will definitely send you there.

  2. No this blog is great! I’ve been reading you for a long time now.

  3. jneas sure was a way with words. “The songs on Unknown Pleasures were the pulses, Ian Curtis the pulsar – an eventual white dwarf, snuffed out rather than exploding in a nova.” beautiful.

  4. Even better, you can get it on a Zune!


  5. Incredible cover, great read.

    Hippies Are Dead, even better than the Zune is on a pair of shoes: http://hypebeast.com/2007/04/new-balance-joy-division/

  6. Thanks for the kind words, mcg.

    I’ve wanted those shoes, Kaley. I find it interesting the way the cover art for this album has been appropriated in all sorts of ways recently – I’ve seen tons of people with that pulsar wave on shirts – mostly females. One even with the wave in rainbow colors across it. Really interesting.

  7. this is a great post on a well deserved topic. i’ve been a joy division fan since the instant i found them, and much of that has to do with the imagery. Closer is another great cover, very stark and bleak yet full of a lot of emotion and depth. something Bauhaus at times also implemented, although they also went to the other end of the spectrum with their art and kept the minimalism to their music.

  8. The album is beautifully composed and it also gives me a great dimensionality to this topic. i am also working with this kind of innovative albums.


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