Surely no record label in history has defined an absolute, ideologically driven aesthetic – and thus helped to define those drawn to said aesthetic – as sublimely as 4AD. Still difficult to properly explicate, it was some kind of ethereal, existential joining point for French Surrealism, German Expressionism and Mitteleuropa gothic, all carried out with a very English sort of post-punk postmodernism.
Founder Ivo-Watts Russell, of course, painstakingly selected those who would be welcomed into the 4AD artist “society.” But the man who gave it such an ineffable visual expression was one Vaughan Oliver, who along with Peter Saville and Ralph Steadman, are indisputably the most important cover art designers in contemporary pop music history. Oliver tragically passed away yesterday, aged just 62 – no cause of death was given.
Considering the exaltation with which we regard Oliver’s work, we consider it essentially futile to put that work into words. So rather, we offer up six of his most astonishing album artworks themselves – not all of which, of course, were done for 4AD – and the songs that best exemplified each of those albums.
The Pixies, Doolittle (top image)
Key track: “Monkey Gone to Heaven”
Modern English, After the Snow
Key track: “I Melt With You”
David Sylvian, Secrets of the Beehive
Virgin Records, 1987
Key track: “Forbidden Colours”
Xymox, Twist of Shadows
Key track: “Obsession”
Cocteau Twins, Treasure
Key track: “Lorelei”
This Mortal Coil, It’ll End in Tears
Key track: “Song to the Siren”