20 best album covers of 2017

From pencil drawings to bold photography, this year's best album covers showcased a huge range of styles. It was a year where music artworks sparked debate. Three album releases in the first half of the year prompted us to ask whether we had entered the era of bad graphic design and we wondered whether Selena Gomez's Wolves single cover art was deliberately awful or not. But they also delighted – this Michael Jackson negative space album cover and Taylor Swift's animated music video being prime examples.

It seems the way in which music artists package and present their work is more important than ever. With that in mind, take a look at our pick of the best album cover designs from the past 12 months.

01. Björk – Utopia

Björk's Utopia album cover shows a fantastical alien face

Utopia is a strange and inspiring work of art

Björk returned with her ninth studio album this year, and as one of the most visually compelling artists around, her album cover artwork was of course breathtaking. The Icelandic songwriter teamed up with self-taught artist and musician Jesse Kanda, who has previously worked with the likes of FKA Twigs and Arca.

02. Girlpool – Powerplant

Girlpool's Powerplant album cover has a childlike drawing showing a person pulling a buggy with children across a barren landscape

Jaxon Demme produces another illustrative wonder for Girlpool

Jaxon Demme has worked with LA duo Girlpool for the past few years, producing hand-drawn, interesting designs that depict different characters in a childlike, inquisitive manner. This latest design – for their second album Powerplant – saw the band steer away from bright and bold colours in favour of a more subdued, doodle-like illustration that reveals more depth the more you look at it.

03. Thundercat – Drunk

Thundercat Drunk album shows a man in a pool, submerged from the nose down

The shot for the cover was taken in Flying Lotus' pool

This 70s-style album cover for Thundercat's Drunk certainly catches the eye. The vinyl edition also features individually designed sleeves for each side with artwork created by the musician's friend, Atlanta illustrator and comedian Zack Fox. The photograph for the main cover was taken in Flying Lotus' pool, with Thundercat telling the Independent that the shoot "felt totally natural".

04. Gingerlys – Gingerlys

Gingerlys album cover illustration shows children playing in a graffiti-strewn alley

Notice the band name and title written in graffiti font

Comic book artist and illustrator Eliza Walton created this brilliant album cover art for Brooklyn-based five-piece band Gingerlys. Depicting a city scene with bold shapes and striking characters, Walton's choice and use of colour is perhaps the biggest thing to take away from this work. The graffiti font used for the band name and album name is also a particularly nice touch.

05. Beck – Colors

Beck's Colors album cover features a black and white portrait photo in a hexagon, with blue and yellow shapes overlaid

The Deluxe Vinyl edition cover features a central hexagon die cut with varied coloured shapes

Speaking of his creation, album cover artist Jimmy Turrell said that Beck commissioned both him and Steve Stacey to create the entire visual representation of his latest album. Packed full of bold colour, Turrell says he and Stacey looked back to their youth for inspiration, considering what stimulated them visually as kids. The Deluxe Vinyl edition allows fans to remove and change pieces to create their own bespoke cover.

06. Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights

Julien Baker's Turn Out The Lights album cover has a purple and plue painted plant on black, and handwritten title

The freehand font style complements the painting style of this sleeve

This painted cover for Julien Baker's second album is as beautiful as they come. Using a colour palette that's perfect for the emotional vulnerability present in Baker's songs, it's a design that seamlessly flows through to the vinyl sleeve design, with illustrative flowers delicately placed throughout.

07. Wolf Parade – Cry Cry Cry

Wolf Parade's Cry Cry Cry album cover shows red rectangles stacked precariously with black vertical lines like supports

A simple but extremely successful design for Wolf Parade

Marking the Canadian's band first album in seven years, Wolf Parade's Cry Cry Cry is a great example of how simple linework and straightforward graphic design can produce an album cover that is not only successful but striking. The grid-based layout is a classic style but one that works especially well here – particularly when it comes to the bold colour choice.

08. Half Waif – form/a

Half Waif's form/a album cover shows a black and white photo of Nandi Rose Plunkett lying down, with golden threads stitched over it

Half Waif also featured in our 2016 best album cover round-up

We featured Half Waif's 2016 release in our roundup of the best album covers 2016, and songwriter Nandi Rose Plunkett has once again produced a beautiful album cover for her 2017 EP form/a. The cover photograph was taken by band member Adan Carlo and hand-stitched by Chilean artist María Aparicio Puente, who is known for her avant-garde embroidery.

09. Little Simz – Stillness in Wonderland

Little Simz' Stillness in Wonderland album cover shows the singer's face turned into part of a surreal London cityscape

McKay Felt created this immersive illustration for Little Simz

This in-depth album cover illustration for UK musician Little Simz is strikingly detailed, offering an emotive look into the inspirations of the album. The design shows Little Simz' head split open, revealing trees from the roots below her chin, and surrounded by a cityscape of her hometown of London. It was created by McKay Felt, who has previously worked with Thundercat and Flying Lotus.

10. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism

Moses Sumney's Aromanticism album cover shows a topless man from behind, floating and with his head down so it looks at first glance like it's missing

A simple photograph speaks a thousand words in this album design

Not featuring the name of the artist or album on the cover art is always a risky move but sometimes, the image speaks for itself. This statuesque, beautiful photograph of Sumney in a blank and bare room is perhaps a metaphor for the album's deeply moving content. The fact that we are unable to see Sumney's head in the piece also makes it much more stimulating and intriguing.

11. Brother Ali – All The Beauty In This Whole Life

Brother Ali's All The Beauty In This Whole Life album cover features Islamic pattern in orange, yellow and blue

This album cover art was a created by hip-hop head Daud Sutton

Classical Islamic geometry was used throughout the packaging for rapper Brother Ali's latest release. Adorned with arabesque ornamentation, it was created by Daud Sutton. The English lettering was done by Qasim Arif, and Rhymesayers' – Ali's record label – in-house designer Alex Everson.

12. St Vincent – Masseduction 

St Vincent's Masseduction album cover shows a woman in leopard print leotard, pink tights and heels from behind, leaning forwards towards a red background

St Vincent chose model Carlotta Kohl to feature on her album cover

This bold album cover art set off the beginning of St Vincent's – aka Annie Clark's – visual representation for the whole Masseduction campaign. The model used in the photograph was Carlotta Kohl, who also features in another campaign photo with Clark. Placing Kohl off-centre, to the right-hand side of the cover is a brilliant choice.

13. Caddywhompus – Odd Hours

Caddywhompus's Odd Hours album cover is illustrated with a debris-strewn back garden

Illustrator Max Seckel creates beauty in rare places

Acrylic artist Max Seckel works primarily with subdued, pastel tones, and he uses his work to explore the beauty of the everyday. Weaving the outdoors with the indoors, his work juxtaposes material items against lush, natural settings. This piece for Caddywhompus is particularly striking. Placing the band name and album title in the sign is a great touch.

14. Lorde – Melodrama

Lorde's Melodrama album cover is a painting of Lorde in bed, under blankets

Artist Sam McKinniss and Lorde reportedly bonded over their love of Prince

Brooklyn-based artist Sam McKinniss painted this intimate, blue-lit portrait of Lorde for her second album cover. Inspiration for the piece came from the album itself, which is all about 'nighttime attitudes' and the before-and-after of city parties. McKinniss worked from a photograph taken of Lorde in a friend's apartment in Brooklyn.

15. Jay Som – Everybody Works

Jay Som's Everybody Works album cover has a blue print of an owl and red print of footballs

A mismatch of images makes this Jay Som cover stand out

This screenprinted, primary coloured album cover art was used for Jay Som's debut album Everybody Works. Featuring layered imagery that combines an owl's face and soccer balls, the fresh, unique approach is what makes this design stand out. The overlapping imagery on top of an otherwise classic layout makes for a modern approach.

16. Feist – Pleasure

Feist's Pleasure album is a vignetted photo of a bougainvillea-covered building with a woman running through its doorway

Feist runs towards colour in this album cover art

The front cover of Pleasure is adorned with bougainvillea, its vibrant colours contrasting against a darkened sky that pretty much perfectly sums up the album's shifting tone – of seeing the light despite the darkness shrouding your mind. Feist was living in Los Angeles last winter and drove past the bougainvillea-covered building almost every night; it was two weeks before her eureka moment.

17. Alvvays – Antisocialites

Alvvays' Antisocialites album cover shows an old photo of people in red sweatshirts on rocks, looking towards a background that's been replaced by huge blue, white and yellow triangles

A National Geographic photo was used for this cover art

Canadian band Alvvays used a National Geographic photo for the cover of its second album. The original photo was taken by B. Anthony Stewart, and entitled 'Campers await breeze to sail fiberglass dinghies, Camp Sebago Wohelo, Sebago Lake, Maine'. The updated version features bright colours and a high contrast.

18. Jane Weaver – Modern Kosmology

Jane Weaver's Modern Kosmology album cover uses geometric typography to write the title and mirror it in a pattern

The font used on Modern Kosmology is as inspiring as they come

It's this album cover's use of typography that really makes it stand out. The mirrored writing and complementary colours mean it maintains its impact no matter which angle you view it from, while the soft font chosen for the album's title at the bottom contrasts nicely with the rest of the design choices. It's a brave and bold design.

19. Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void)

Hand Habits' Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void) album cover cuts out the singer and her home furniture, photographed in black and white, and puts them in a colourful cube

An album cover design that's both flat and deep

Featuring Hand Habits – AKA Meg Duffy – sitting strong and nonchalant, in an abstracted room, this is an album cover design that's both flat and deep. Using bright colours for the walls of the room and then black and white, blurry imagery for Duffy and her belongings makes for an emotive reckoning and a design that stays with you long after you've looked at it.

20. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.

Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. album cover features a photo of the musician and the title in red, Times-style font

Lamar's cover art was one of the most controversial designs of 2017

Love it or hate it, the release of Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. was an album cover design that made waves in both the design and music communities. It sparked a huge range of 'DAMN.' memes that spread across Twitter and saw Lamar's design beginning to break down the wall between himself and the audience.

Read more:

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Sammy Maine

Sammy Maine was a founding member of the Creative Bloq team way back in the early 2010s, working as a Commissioning Editor. Her interests cover graphic design in music and film, illustration and animation. Since departing, Sammy has written for The Guardian, VICE, The Independent & Metro, and currently co-edits the quarterly music journal Gold Flake Paint.