The double album epitomises rock’s excess, especially of the seventies. Comprised of lengthy songs, often packaged in an appropriately grand gate fold sleeve, the whole album demanded your attention – both audio and visual.
With the return of vinyl’s popularity, double albums seem on the rise once more. Perhaps performers used to the largesse of the digital format need four sides to express their musical ideas.
Then there are those which don’t reach for the heights of a full double album but decided not to scale back to the 40 minutes of a single LP. In the end they released an LP on three sides, i.e. two actual discs, but with one side of the second disc left blank. This musical oddity is called a sesquialbum, which literally means “one more half album” and recently they seem quite popular.
Warpaint, TV on the Radio, Pavement, Palace, Low and Flying Saucer Attack are among the artists in my collection who haven’t strived to write extra songs to flesh out their release. Perhaps they didn’t have enough material and pride prevented them from releasing substandard material. Maybe it was simple laziness.Whatever the reason, the artists have put the additional surface to striking use.
Warpaint is one of the acts which got visual on their sesquialbum. Their eponymous second album has the band’s trademark triangle composed of a fade script spelling Warpaint along each side.
Flying Saucer Attack chose a series of etched swirls recalling the band’s interplanetary themes and imagery to decorate their recent release.
Low’s Things We Lost in the Fire is a near perfect album, so it is hard to imagine the need for additional songs or the cutting of a single one. Faced with the blank extra side, Low chose to create one of the most unique lyric sheets in rock history.
The lyrics of the songs are etched in the face, forming a spiral of words, which comes close to mimicking the intoxicating effect the words and music can have.
Perhaps it would have been better to have more songs, but in the case of these acts at least, the use of the blank side as a visual rather than musical medium is a reminder of the vinyl record as more than a vessel, a conveyance, a medium. It enhances the physical presence of the music. All records do this of course, but the artistic designs of sesquialbums add another dimension.