The importance of cover art has been shrinking, much like the size of the format it represents — from LPs to CDs to thumbnails on your computer or iPod. Labels used to have in-house designers and it seemed like, in general, people cared. In the last five years, it's gotten much worse, whether it's the sort of Photoshop nightmares that were once found only on late '90s souther hip hop albums; the sort of lazy "this'll do" type-over-photo jobs that permeates "heritage artist" releases; stoner jokes that actually make to to press; or just plain bad taste (or a combo of all those), the state of album art seems to be at a low.
Yet there's still some musicians who seem to care. Here are 10 album covers worth framing.
1. Sky Larkin – Kaleide
Artwork: Jack Hudson
There's a 50s sort of vibe going on with Jack Hudson's work, almost like old Tintin on Babar, but what it really has me thinking of is some imaginary beatnik version of Highlights magazine. The album's 12 songs are all represented on the cover. Neat!
2. Frankie Rose & the Outs – S/T
Artwork: Mike Sniper
In addition to running the Captured Tracks label and playing music with his band Blank Dogs, Mike Sniper is a talented graphic designer. The artwork for Frankie's album is simple but bold, and is much more striking on the 12" vinyl sleeve which has a kind of textured feel to the print.
3. Klaxons – Surfing the Void
Art direction: Richard Robinson | Photograph: Mads Perch
A lot of album art appropriates internet memes, and there were a lot of cats too, but nobody did it with such style and class and humor as the Klaxons.
4. The Soundcarriers – Celeste
Design: Martin Goddard | Illustration: Lesley Coulson
Here's one that I think you really need to have the gatefold vinyl to really appreciate. A recreation of early-'60s Columbia releases, complete with an essay about the album on the inner sleeve, which fits perfectly with Celeste's retro-future soundscapes.
5. No Age – Everything in Between
Design: Brian Roettenger
It may just be a crumpled piece of paper with the band name/album title on it but the crisp, high-contrast image is stark perfection.
6. Weekend – Sports
Design: Jeff Brush
The abstract image to me looks like a blast furnace or a kiln — lonely, black as coal, but burning up from the inside — is pretty much what Weekend's punishing album sounds like.
7. Four Tet – There is Love in You
Design: Jason Evans and Matthew Cooper
Jason Evans and Matthew Cooper are amongst the best designers working in the music biz right now, maybe the current equivalent of Brian Cannon /Microdot who did some of the '90s most distinctive covers. The pair outdid themselves here, with a gorgeous gatefold sleeve…worth owning even if you don't have a turntable. These guys also did the artwork for Caribou's Swim.
8. Mark Ronson & Business Intl. – Record Collection
Design: Big Active
This is the kind of high-end design you don't see a lot of anymore. Clever, cool, and owing a lot to other others who did it first…just like Ronson himself. While referential by design, some of the individual pieces within remind me specifically of Barney Bubbles. You can actually get a version of the album that is a box of 7" singles, with all the individual sleeves… pretty sweet.
9. Cloud Nothings – Leave You Forever
Design: Cory Lasser | Photograph: Nirrimi Hakanson
Every chillwave musician should be really pissed off that the perfect sleeve was released by a powerpop band from Cleveland. This is actually a 7" but the art deserves to be wall-sized.
10. The Fresh & Onlys – Play it Strange
Art: Kevin Earl Taylor
Bassist Shayde Sartin does the art for The Fresh & Onlys' many, many singles but they turn it over to others for the albums. There's something spookily perfect about this painting, clearly the band, but feral versions of themselves. Be sure to check out Taylor's work, which is also played strange.