Photo Gallery: The Art of the 7-inch

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The 7-inch record is, first and foremost, a way of distributing music, a few songs at a time. While it isn’t nearly as popular as it was a few generations ago, when the weekly trip to the record store to snap up your favorite single was a sacred ritual, it remains an important mode of distribution on the underground circuit. And the 7-inch isn’t just a vessel for music — often, it’s a thing of beauty unto itself.

In Touchable Sound: A Collection of 7-inch Records , editors Brian Roettinger, Mike Treff, and Diego Hadis — a graphic designer, former label manager, and writer, respectively — celebrate the visual aspect of 7-inches. Featuring thoughtful contributions from Chunklet magazine founder Henry H. Owings and a slew of designers and indie label types, the book breaks down the American underground music world into seven regional scenes and reproduces some of the strangest, coolest, and most beautiful 7-inch packaging from the past 25 years.

The editors’ selections are solid and diverse, featuring everyone from Stereolab to The Melvins to Against Me! to Lightning Bolt. Some designs are minimalist, while others are saturated with color and pattern. And every now and then, a thin, brown strip of paper appears to introduce an important facet of 7-inch culture, from the obscure, handmade records of the mysterious artist known as Caroliner to the seminal Sub Pop Singles Club.

Touchable Sound is a gorgeous, unique record of a vital medium that may find itself endangered as indie artists move to release singles exclusively online. We suggest paging through it with your record player nearby and a stack of 45s at the ready.

Click through for a gallery of images from Touchable Sound.

Lightning Bolt, s/t (Load, 200). Designer: Brian Chippendale

The Melvins, Skull series (Amphetamine Reptile, 1996-97). Designer: Haze XXL

Stereolab, The In Sound (Independent Project Records, 1998). Designers: Bruce Licher (design and printing); William Faircloth, Mary McCormick (printing)

Top left: The Locust, s/t (Gold Standard Laboratories, 1997). Designer: Jesse Keeler.

Top right: The Locust/Melt Banana, split (Gold Standard Laboratories, 2002). Designer: Sam McPheeters

Bottom: The Locust/Arab on Radar, split (Gold Standard Laboratories, 2000). Designer: Nell Burke.

Top left: Sissy Spacek with Panicsville, Phys Ed (Helicopter, 2002). Designer: John Wiese.

Bottom left: Sissy Spacek, Sepsis (Helicopter, 2006). Designer: Corydon Ronnau

Bottom right: Various artists, Sissy Space Comp (Helicopter, 2002). Designer: Joe Grillo, Laura Grant

Various artists, A History of Compassion and Justice? (Lengua Armada Discos). Designer: Martin Sorrondeguy

Caroliner, Adobe Horse Haven (La Brea, 1996).

Left: Family Underground/Quintana Roo, Split (Not Not Fun, 2006).

Right: Various artists, Bored Fortress series (Not Not Fun, 2006). Designer: Erin Allen

Against Me!, Sink, Florida, Sink (No Idea, 2005). Designer: Steak Mtn.

Le Shok, S&M (Slamdance Cosmopolis, 2000). Designers: Andrew Reizuch (design); Laura Lazarus (photography)

Various artists, Post Marked Stamps (Tree Records, 1996-1999). Designer: Ken Shipley.

Los Crudos, Las Injusticias Caen Como Pesadillas (Lengua Armada Discos). Designer: Martin Sorrondeguy