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These days, album cover designs have to serve multiple purposes. For the increasing numbers of listeners who have given up on physical music media, covers have to be instantly recognizable as tiny icons; for vinyl-collecting audiophiles, they have to be worth lingering over at LP dimensions. Here are a half-dozen albums that managed to accomplish both this year.
1. World Peace is None of Your Business (Morrissey, Capitol/Harvest)
Morrissey loves the late-’60s album covers to which this one pays homage through its nostalgic design and palette (dig that little “stereo” symbol in the corner!). But this cover is also a sly commentary on his own ineffable image as a rockabilly ironist, with his dubious expression and graying quiff, as well as the rustic, rusted scooter behind him. Harvest’s in-house team landed upon an ideal design to embody and reflect the artist’s much-publicized persona.
2. To Be Kind (Swans, Mute)
The New York noise-rock band Swans has been playing with metallic-gold cover artwork since 1986’s Greed. Still, the subtly disturbing image of a baby (a painting by conceptual artist and punk pioneer Bob Biggs) against their blaring color field is something new for the band—a suggestion of fragility—and echoes some of the album’s lyrics.
3. 1000 Forms of Fear (Sia, RCA)
Over the past few years, Sia’s blonde bob has evolved from a simple style trademark to a full-blown identity for the media-averse singer/songwriter. Sia has ceased to show her face in public, and the wig now stands in for her stage persona. The artwork she designed for her new album—the wig and nothing else, lit to look menacing—perfectly reflects that progression.
4. Brill Bruisers (The New Pornographers, Matador)
Created in Cinema 4D by Steven Wilson and Thomas Burden, this striking neon-sign–style cover art literally wraps one typeface—the album’s title, rendered in the mode of ’70s California airbrush art—around another. It’s a smart symbol for a group whose signature sound is built upon the radically different voices of multiple lead singers.
5. Our Love (Caribou, Merge)
Jason Evans and Matthew Cooper have been designing artwork for the Canadian electronic musician Dan Snaith, aka Caribou, for a few years now. Their album cover for Our Love is comprised of displaced cyan, magenta and yellow plates of what might, or might not be, the same floral photograph—an organic image turned abstract.
6. Unplugged 1991 and 2001: The Complete Sessions (R.E.M., Rhino)
R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe’s cover design for this archival release of two “MTV Unplugged” sets is a clever homage to the way the performances were originally seen and heard: mangled by the artifacts of videotape and fuzzy transmission, with a very early-’90s sans-serif typeface and “artfully” broken-up text.
This article originally appeared in the December 2014 issue of Print: The Regional Design Annual. For more best of the year coverage, plus the 350 best designs of the year broken down by region, get a copy.