It wasn’t the best year for album cover design.
Oh dear… I now imagine an army of designers lying in wait behind the ‘comfy couch’ in my favourite coffee emporium, waiting to beat me to death with their Moleskines.
I understand the argument that there should always be good and bad in any year, but compared to the previous few, I haven’t been struck by many.
There’s no Sunbather – Deafheaven, Abandon – Pharmakon, Slow Focus – Fuck Buttons, Bubblegum – Kevin Devine, Aheym – Bryce Dessner & The Kronos Quartet, Bloom – Beach house, Exercises – CFCF, Vital – Anberlin, Ravedeath – Tim Hacker, For Now I am Winter – Olafur Arnalds, Magic Chairs – Efterklang.
It’s impossible to be objective about cover design. The music you are moved by must affect how you feel about the packaging it comes in or digital art on Spotify.
Being most obsessed by classical and orchestral music, I was trying to find something exceptional and found very little. The state of design creativity in classical and even jazz album artwork is depressing. It has become even more overtly literal and prosaic than ever. Deutsche Grammophon and Naxos among other classical labels have been pushing out very bland and formal artwork for years now.
Gone are the wonderful abstractions of the 60’s and the minimalist rigour of the 70’s. There are exceptions – a few smaller indie labels are sprouting up and doing some interesting artwork, but not this year. In trying to appeal to a broad market, Classical labels have been forced into putting pretty faces on every cover. It’s a sea of faces in the classical landscape. And then there are the cases of putting the conductor and lead musician on the front, who lean awkwardly on their instruments in their best sports casual. Not very inspiring.
Real creativity seems to reside in the narrow stream between indie and electronica. Popular genres will obviously attract the best artists. Also, the rise of the DIY ethic in music is creating a natural environment for these musicians to design their own artwork.
My choices of design come more from a visceral reaction than any intellectual analysis. They rely on photography, impressionism and simple uppercase type. It’s been a clean year.
Songs From Before
Artwork: Nic Shonfeld
I love the way the type contorts and blurs into the mysterious image below. It gives it an ethereal quality much like the music within.
Artwork: Designers Republic
Who would think that Richard D. James could produce something so fresh after more than 20 years. It seems that Designers Republic, who have also created many of his previous covers, brought the mundane aspects of his music-making to life. The cover shows a receipt of all promotional and recording costs of the album. It’s a cover for obsessives.
Artwork: Tina Frank
Abstract and striking. The base material for the artwork is inspired by and taken from images of the construction area around Vienna’s new main train station and cut up into shards of bright imagery. Future past future.
Artwork: Steph Elizabeth Third and Harry Wright
A stunning and disturbing image. It confronts the viewer. It makes the viewer work hard to find the subtext. It’s difficult to see where one body meets the next. Contortion never looked so ethereal. My number one on the list.
Under the Skin Soundtrack
Artwork: Neil Kellerhouse
It’s a simple concept done beautifully – a starfield overlaid on Scarlett’s face, with a banded exposure burn effect. It echoes the beautiful strangeness of the film. Doesn’t hurt that the audio within pushes boundaries.
Artwork: Scott Hansen
Hansen is Tycho, and he is also a talented designer. Intense geometry, wonderful palette. The logic of his design echoes his hypnotic and taut compositions.
Void of Illusion
Artwork: Florian Schommer
Amazingly detailed image from Florian Schommer. His attention to detail in this pattern is wonderful. His use of type is also well handled.
Artwork: Chris Cunningham
Simple and evocative overlaid images of the band from film luminary Chris Cunningham. The colour cast gives it a classic feel.
Oneohtrix Point Never: Commissions I
Artwork: Robert Beaty
Beaty explains it as “an attempt to capture that feeling – something you’ve become familiar with suddenly collapsing and transforming right before you in a flash.”
Artwork: James Lake
Beautiful overlay of images from the natural world. It gives it a letterpress feel but is much more sophisticated in its layering.