As an art director, the intersection of music and art mean a lot to me. In fact, I tend to take it personally when its devalued, as both have increasingly been pushed to the fringes of culture. This year, my frustrations reached an all-time high this year when listening to a certain pop culture-based podcast’s frank and indifferent conversation about cover art’s role in the experience of an album. I won’t be surprised if this trend continues, but it’s unfortunate. In the right hands, the artwork of an album tightly binds to the music and holds together as an entire artistic statement.
Douglas Wolk has already covered Print’s top album art excellently here. In this column, I’ll offer ten more of my favorite creative moments in music from 2014:
1. David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed Design: Jonathan Barnbrook
Career-spanning box sets are ideal projects to take a chance with creativity, doubly so with an musician like David Bowie. This packaging demonstrates a project 40 years in the making, showing the shape-shifting artist looking at himself in a mirror (Barnbrook alludes to The Picture of Dorian Gray as an influence in this interview).
2. St. Vincent – St. Vincent Design: Willo Perron & Associates
There aren’t many artist’s today who can frame their albums around an entire artistic theme like St. Vincent’s Annie Clark. The android motif of this year’s self-titled LP was so clearly defined by this album cover, that by the time confused viewers were scratching their heads over the band’s SNL appearance, savvy fans knew it was just another layer to the music’s identity.
3. Todd Terje – It’s Album Time Design: Bendik Kaltenborn
A whimsical New Yorker-style illustration is quite possibly the best way to introduce Todd Terje’s “It’s Album Time” – a record that combines danceable electronic landscape and caberet attitude.
4. Oneohtrix Point Never – Commissions 1 Design: Robert Beatty
These covers for a record store day exclusive by the composer Daniel Lopatin use the symbolism of simple color schemes, crumbling typography and falling stacks of bars to perfectly represent this ambient music that sounds as though it’s being sliced up by buzz-saws.
5. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings – Give The People What They Want Design: Gabriel Roth (direction) / Fritz Aragon (artwork/illustration)
Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings’ retro soul aethstetic lends itself to any number of variations of that theme, so it’s not surprising that for their latest album, Fritz Aragon illustrated this ornate frame, complete with psychedelic clouds, flying pigs, and elaborate monograms. Read about Aragon’s process in this interview with music blog Drowned in Sound.
6. FKA Twigs LP1 Design: Jesse Kanda (imagery) / Phil Lee (design)
This striking image that crops up repeatedly in 2014 year-end best lists proves the enduring strength of Photoshop manipulation. Somewhere between illustration, sculpture and portrait, the image (and it’s variations on the inside cover) are equal parts alluring and disturbing, a perfect analogy for LP1.
7. Run The Jewels – Run The Jewels 2 Design: Nicholas Gazin (artwork) / Mikel Lukowski (direction)
While the artwork for this album is merely a variation of the band’s logo and first album design, something about setting the image over the top of an electric red perfectly sets the tone perfectly. Similarly, it’s a small twists to the formula that benefit the the music from this volume, making it one of the year’s best.
8. Aphex Twin – Syro Design: The Designers Republic
I’ve previously made known my love for this subversive album art, and for an artist like Aphex Twin, who has been known to push buttons, it’s the perfect fit.
9. Schoolboy Q – Oxymoron Design: Vlad Sepetov
This artwork, for the deluxe edition of Oxymoron, uses black and white photography to create a striking image of Q wearing a white ski mask. While the regular edition features his daughter, sans mask, acts a perfect companion, the subtle touches of this cover make for a far more compelling image.
10. New Pornographers – Brill Bruisers Design: Thomas Burden
UK-based illustrator Thomas Burden created this typography-based sculpture for the latest New Pornographers album that works both as a interesting image and a colorful representation of the bands harmony-laden pop.