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100 Records

A Covers Compilation

The tide that is the mass digitalization of music has stranded the extrinsic importance of album covers. Thus the portentous and nostalgic air that haunts Sonny Smith’s 100 Records, an exhibit of 100 made-up album covers now playing at Gallery 16 until May 28th.

Sonny Smith, a local musician and artist (among other things), is the Lorenzo de’ Medici of the project. He commissioned one hundred artists to materialize the album covers of fictive bands and soloists that Smith thought up, complete with album titles and track names.

Consider some of these band names: Bandango Fandango, the Happy Endings, Wayward Youth, Fuckaroos, Petite La Fille, Ups & Down, Transient and Sandsun & Fun. It certainly invites comments like, “Oh man! That’s what I wanted to name my band,” as lamented by a patron during my visit.

The themes vary, though they’re all leftist at heart. Some albums, of course, are political — if this is not already a tautology. Others are racial (The Happy Endings are a group of Asian women), bohemian, sexually-oriented, psychedelic, or even pornographic. Each record is accompanied by a neat narrative that, more or less, yields context and meaning to the particular themes.

One such is the story of the soloist Lydia De Shultz. Protesting in London against Tony Blair’s backing of the Iraq War, De Shultz was arrested (for reasons unsaid). She made a garret out of her cell; she found productivity in her solitude from which she drew musical inspiration.

Another product of the political times is the group The Taliband Heroin, whose record “Invaders from Across the Sea” is nothing if not vulnerable to provocation. Is the title a euphemism for “terrorists” or an exercise in political correctness? How about a campaign to resist the definition bequeathed unto them by governments in order to justify their wars?

As for the art, you have a buffet of styles. It ranges from abstract impressionism to simple pencil doodles; from chichi to kitsch. Some covers are three dimensional, with protruding bric-a-bracs; there’s one in raw leather and another bathe in Japanese characters. As a collective, the covers take little delight in originality so much as it does in reveling in free expression.

That said, 100 Records, more than anything, is a billet-doux to music and its capacity to influence and inspire. The best part of the exhibit a handmade jukebox that houses two tracks from each of the pretend bands and soloists. You can listen to these songs (produced by Smith and Friends). Listening to one of the tracks, I felt the room come to life. And all of it sudden, the bands and soloists are real — contrary to what the advertising of this exhibit will have you believe.