The music business may be mainly about downloads these days, but a decent album cover design remains vital to the success of a new release, and a recent revival in vinyl has guaranteed a future for this graphic design discipline.
Over the last year, there have been so many brilliant designs that it seems churlish to whittle it down to just 20. But here, in no particular order, are our favourites - let us know yours in the comments below.
- Also read: The biggest logo designs of 2013
01. 'Bubblegum' by Kevin Devine
We love this album cover for Kevin Devine's 2013 album 'Bubblegum'. The painting, titled 'Melted George Washington 2' was created by artist Valerie Hegarty while the album layout was taken care of by Chris Bracco. It's great how Hegarty's artwork challenges the norm of traditional portraits, mimicking Devine's musical output.
02. 'Surfing Strange' by Swearin'
Keeping with the monochrome colour scheme that was first seen with Swearin's self-titled debut album, 'Surfing Strange' is a brilliant execution in playful illustration. The child-like scrawls perfectly complement the chosen typography, whilst the placement allows for the band's name to remain at the forefront of the design focus.
The album comes as a clear vinyl - proving that the design elements continue through to the inside aspects. Each element in this creation effortlessly showcases the band's grungey aesthetic, whilst also providing music lovers with something nice to look at!
03. 'Line the Wall' by Bo Ningen
Created by band member Kohhei Matsuda, the album artwork for Bo Ningen's 'Line the Wall' sees colourful strokes and inspiring placement. Whilst the typography is kept stripped back and simple with it's white execution, it allows the artwork to really speak for itself.
The artwork was carried through to the band's promotional material including posters, merchandise and more. Whilst the colours have been slightly altered to adhere to each product, the artwork remains beautiful and wholly inspirational.
04. 'Dromes' by Younghusband
The sleeve for 'Dromes' from British psych pop band Younghusband was designed by London based illustrator Luke Frost, who has already completed works for the likes of Tim Burgess and fellow Sonic Cathedral signees Psych For Sore Eyes. As part of the Heretic design studio, the team's warped and wonderful style was a perfect relflection of Younghusband's release.
The flourescent colours teamed with the psychedelic typography and photography enables this release to truly stand out from the shelves. Complete with white vinyl, this is the kind of artwork that looks as good as the record sounds.
05 'Melophobia' by Cage the Elephant
The artwork for 'Melophobia' from American rock band Cage the Elephant was created by illustrator, artist and graphic designer R Clint Colburn, who created a variety of characters to choose from. Moulding each surreal creation with plasticine, the characters were then placed on a monochrome, striped background and photographed.
Once the final characer was chosen, colour-juxtaposed lettering was placed on the front and back cover, with a bright yellow vinyl placed inside. It's a wonderfully absurd creation that brilliantly reflects the band and record itself.
Brooklyn's !!! (usually pronounced 'Chk Chk Chk') hired award-winning photographer Chase Jarvis to create the artwork for its 2013 album 'Thr!!!er'. The overall design was created by James Burton, with the water theme running throughout posters, videos, flyers and the band's latest remix album 'R!M!X!S'.
07. 'Exhibitionists' by Superhumanoids
The art direction for 'Exhibitionists' from Superhumanoids was taken care of by Hassan Rahim, who specialises in collage art and an original approach to any project. The photography was shot by Nick Walker, who has an impressive background in fashion and portrait photography.
The slight 'S' shape is subtle enough to express the band's name, without being overly literal. We love the eccentric use of colour which, juxtaposed with the stark white background, allows this artwork to work effortlessly across posters, campaigns and more.
Rap star MIA's is known for her outlandish style and thought-provoking artwork and 'Matangi' from artist is no different. Said to be influenced by her collaboration with Versace, the artwork is a mind-bending and colourful creation to reflect the album's contents.
You can see plenty more visuals of the album artwork over on her Tumblr page, with a whole host of inspirational imagery that inspired the finished album artwork. Bold and certainly in-your-face, we don't think we could look at this one for long!
09. 'Weird Sister' by Joanna Gruesome
The illustrations on the sleeve for 'Weird Sister' from Cardiff five-piece Joanna Gruesome were created by artist Andy Hart. Channelling inspiration from some of the best comic book artists of all time, the black and white colour scheme really makes his character designs shine. He was also responsible for the typography design - a handwriting font that perfectly complements the illustrations.
Emma Hall took the reigns with the layout, picking and choosing the best drawings for the cover and insert sleeve. The vinyl editions include a pink offering as well as a black and white splattered design.
10. 'Big TV' by White Lies
'Big TV' is the third full length album from the British band White Lies, who have had previous successes with 'To Lose My Life...' and 'Ritual'. Here, they enlisted the help of New York based painter Michael Kagan for the album's artwork. Entitled 'Pilot 2', the painting is used as the main image, whilst three additional paintings feature inside the album.
Studying at The George Washington University before heading to the New York Academy of Art, Kagan has worked with a number of big-name clients and has been exhibited numerous times. His colourful creations work effortlessly with the band's aesthetic and make for a truly stunning output.
11. 'Engravings' by Forest Swords
Forest Swords - the musical guise of Matt Barnes - himself crafted this beautiful set of imagery to accompany his hypnotically repetitive music. His surroundings have always proved to be his biggest inspiration and that's certainly the case with 'Engravings', in terms of both sound and aesthetic.
The exclusive LP bundle comes with a limited edition 20-page A5 art and photography zine, also collated and designed by Barnes specifically to accompany the 'Engravings' release. It's risographic printed on 80gsm/120gsm recycled paper in single colour flat gold, with saddle stitch binding. Just beautiful.
12. 'Paracosm' by Washed Out
'Paracosm' was the 2013 release from American electronic musician Ernest Greene, aka Washed Out. "Ernest really wanted the art to look natural and low-fi," explains designer Sara Cwynar. "He wrote all the songs in a house in the country outside Athens, Georgia looking out into a lush natural setting and wanted the art to reflect the surreal, natural landscape where the songs were made, and also the warmer, analog instruments he used for this record."
Cwynar worked with found images of flowers from the New York Public Library and manipulated the images in Photoshop and with some hand drawing to push the illustrations to look more surreal than the found pictures.
Released on independent Bristol-based label Howling Owl records, the design for 'A Brief Introduction to Unnatural Lightyears' was crafted by local artist Robin Stewart. Included was a beautifully surreal screen print designed by James Hankins, while illustrator and Howling Owl member Adrian Dutt helped to position the typography on the cover art.
The illustration for 'Repent Replenish Repeat' by Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip was drawn by London based artist Paul Jackson. Taking inspiration from the duo's combination of ideas, each animal represents part of the band and the objects their individual musical offerings. The blue and green undertones throughout the artwork give it a darkened feel - perfectly executing the album's output and overall feel. The distressed corners are also a really nice touch.
15. 'Modern Worship' by Hyetal
Designed by Amelie Petit Moreau, the artwork for Bristol-based producer Hyetal's 2013 release is a beautiful mixture of colours, shapes and swoops with Moreau making full use of the humble line. Creating abstract and sculptural graphics to coincide with the tracks, Hyetal has said that his music truly lives through these images.
Using plain black sleeves with simple, effective typography ensures a sleek and original output from both designer and artist. This would certainly catch our eye on the shelves.
16. 'Immunity' by Jon Hopkins
The artwork for Jon Hopkins's album 'Immunity' was created as a collaborative effort between Hopkins himself, art director Craig Ward and biochemist-turned-artist Linden Gledhill. The trio initially produced a video for each song, using incredible time-lapse photography of crystal growth and chemical reactions. Then the end results were used as the basic for the album artwork.
The image used for the front cover is an understated, yet beautiful choice, and the rest of the artwork, from the striking colours to the almost unbelivable patterns produced, is truly something to marvel at.
Bell X1 is Ireland's second biggest band (U2 being number one). The band enlisted the help of illustrator Alexis Deacon to design to front cover for 'Chop Chop'. In what's surely a first for the music industry, he the title of the album quite literally and created a gorgeous oak chopping board to encase their new release.
The super-limited edition sold out almost instantly. Let's hope more bands focus on their physical releases and create similarly inventive, inspiring and beautiful presentations for their music.
18. 'Slow Focus' by Fuck Buttons
Consisting of one single affecting image, the sleeve photography for Fuck Buttons' album 'Slow Focus' was taken by Alex De Mora. Based in London, Mora has worked with a wide range of impressive clients including Red Bull, Blackberry, i-D and Vice. After the electronic duo met whilst attending art school, Fuck Buttons member Ben Power created the rest of the artwork himself allowing him to flex his artistic ways in more ways than one.
19. 'The Next Day' by David Bowie
The world went Bowie-mad in 2013, as the singer launched his first in 10 years on his 66th birthday. And no one expected a cover design like this - it's exactly the same image as that of his 1977 album 'Heroes', but with a white box covering the singer's face and containing the new title, while the original title is crossed-out.
The cover was designed by graphic designer, film maker and typographer Jonathan Barnbrook, who has long history of involvement with Bowie. And while it caused inevitable controversy, we had to say we loved its chutzpah, and we couldn't resist including it on this list.
20. 'Yeezus' by Kanye West
If Bowie's album was controversial, how about this? Kanye West's CD Yeezus was released with starkly reductionist packaging - just this clear jewel box with a simple red sticker affixed to the back. In a year when minimalism was making waves across multiple design disciplines, hip-hop's superstar was typically ahead of the curve.
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What do you think of these cover designs? Did we miss your favourites? Let us know in the comments!