A Code of Signals: Exploring the symbolism of Loney dear’s album art

There is a sparing, minimalist approach to production on Loney dear's forthcoming new album, A Lantern and a Bell. It's a collection of nine piano-led songs, occasionally embellished with dark, brooding synths and electronic atmospherics, clocking in at just under the half-hour mark. Despite this, the album is far from simple, and each of the carefully distilled compositions reveal new layers with every listen. The same might be said for the album's artwork, which on the face of it looks boldly sparse, but is actually full of symbolism.

The flags which feature on the album and singles cover art belong to an international code of signals used to communicate between ships at sea, or between ships and the shore. Each flag has a different meaning, and in some cases can have several different meanings, according to how they are used. We spoke to Emil Svanängen (a.k.a. Loney dear) and album co-producer and art director Emanuel Lundgren to find out more about the inspiration for the visuals.

“We felt that the artwork should have very few elements, just like the music itself,” says Emanuel. “We liked the simplicity of a flag, and finally stumbled upon the distress flag — a universally acknowledged signal code — which is used on the album cover.”

A Lantern and a Bell will be available on CD, Vinyl and digitally.

“Imagery based around the boats and water seemed to make sense. The album was recorded at a studio right next to the bay and archipelago in Stockholm, and Emil has played around with those themes in his lyrics for decades. Early on, we had talked a lot about the nautical themes on the album itself. The image of someone at sea, both physically and figuratively, is quite strong. And if you’re lost at sea, what would you do? You’d raise some kind of distress signal!”

With the album cover decided, Emil and Emanuel began to explore other options for the single covers, keeping with the visual theme of maritime signal flags. These flags belong to the International Code of Signals, and each represents a letter, as well as having their own individual meanings, which happen to echo some of the lyrical themes of the record.

The cover art for ‘Habibi (A clear black line)’ uses the ‘H’ flag, which also carries the meaning I have a pilot on board — somewhat fitting for the poignant subject matter of a song which describes the journey of refugees across oceans ‘on boats with no names.’

When signalled together, the flags used in the cover art for ‘Trifles’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ are also understood as an international distress signal. Separately, in sailing regatta, these flags can also mean change of course and abandon, return to starting point respectively.

Cover art for Loney dear's album 'A Lantern and a Bell' and singles 'Habibi (A clear black line)', 'Trifles' and 'Oppenheimer'.

Track of the day: ‘Oppenheimer’ by Loney dear

Loney dear's latest single was inspired by the American theoretical physicist, J.R. Oppenheimer.


“The main flag, the orange one, was custom sewn in Stockholm.” says Emanuel. “Then we bought some smaller letter flags at a marine shop in Stockholm and I sat in the studio and cut them with some scissors.” They both laugh. “They are actually not in very good shape now as after I took the images that were used for the cover art of the singles I tried burning them. So they don’t look so nice, but they were actually very safe flags because they didn’t quite catch fire, they just kind of melted.”

“Choosing the background colour of the front cover was a big decision,” Emanuel remembers, with a smile. “It reminded me of that great scene in American Psycho when Christian Bale’s character is choosing which off-white to use for his business card. It was kind of like that the day we photographed the flags.”

Photo credit: Kristofer Samuelsson
"The 'underwater' to which we are referring is actually 'the subconscious'. It's quite philosophical, but I think it's an interesting distinction to make." Emil Svanängen

“For me, the album doesn’t technically take place or refer to underwater,” says Emil Svanängen a.k.a. Loney dear. “The ‘underwater’ to which we are referring is actually ‘the subconscious’. It’s quite philosophical, but I think it’s an interesting distinction to make.”

“But I also  think that those cargo ships near the studio were inspiring, during the recording process.” Emanuel remembers. “Emil, I know you have a very deep interest in those cargo ships as well. You follow them online on the map?”

“Yeah, I do! I’m not interested in leisure marine life, you know. I mean I can enjoy being on holiday — that sounds perfect — but my interest is in these really big structures floating on water, partially submerged. What happens down there? How come everyone doesn’t talk about this all the time…?” He laughs, “It’s just stupid, but there is something about these huge objects and the fact that they constantly move across the planet. It comes with a certain magic, I suppose. They’re both super static but also mobile. It’s something about that I can’t grasp.

The Jehander 2, Hammarbyhamnen, Stockholm, Sweden — close to the recording studio where Loney dear recorded A Lantern and a Bell. Photo courtesy of ShipSpotting.com (photographer username: Foggy)

“I guess that part of it is the fact that being submerged in water will, in just a few minutes, lead to death. I think that’s a part of it. Something like this is terrifying to me, but it’s also fantastic. I find it really difficult to put in words why this fascinates me, but it does.”

A Lantern and a Bell is out on Friday 26 March on CD, Vinyl and all digital platforms.

Pre-order the album

  • A Lantern and a Bell

    Loney dear

    Released 26 March 2021

    Sea birds, distorted noise, and then the line “Mighty ships hung over ground” — the marine theme not only begins but makes its mark throughout the entirety of A Lantern and a Bell. The soundscape, with Emil Svanängen's unmistakable falsetto at the very front of the mix, is extremely stripped down. A compliant piano, a discreet double bass, occasional chords, and diffused water sounds, at dark low frequencies, pulsating from unknown depths.

By Online Editor

Main image: flags featured in the artwork for Loney dear's album A Lantern and a Bell and its singles.

Published on Mon, 15 March 21

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