Our third-annual album cover art feature uses interviews with artists and musicians to highlight the philosophical, thematic, and conceptual significance of great album cover artwork.

THE BREAKDOWN

   12 Collage
+ 14 Digital Illustration, Drawing, Design
+ 19 Illustration, Painting, Drawing
+ 8 Black And White Photography
+ 22 Color Photography
+ 6 Deluxe Packaging
+ 10 Fashion, Sculpture, Installation
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   91 Album Covers For 2011

Best Of 2011 Album Cover Art

Absu – Abzu
Absu’s latest album, Abzu, is the second in a trilogy consisting of their last record, Absu, Abzu, and the upcoming Apsu.

Though the artwork for Absu used the artwork of Belgium’s Kris Verwimp, Absu announced early on that their latest cover enlists the help of Polish artists Zbigniew Bielak and Costin Chioreanu for a change in style. Nonetheless, the exact artists are a mystery, as Chioreanu replied to us in an email saying, “This album has a great cover indeed. But [it] is not made by me and I had zero work on that cover/booklet/etc, even [though] Absu announced my name officially on the first descriptions of the new album. They simply forgot to explain officially that I, without knowing the reason, even [when] I asked, was kicked off this project. And I didn’t even show them a sketch for this project.”

Thelema, a spiritual philosophy initially developed by British occultist, mystic, and writer Aleister Crowley, influences this new record even more than the last. “We’re aesthetically detouring into more mystifying, Thelemic realms: musically and lyrically,” explains drummer and vocalist Proscriptor.

He elaborates more on Abzu‘s themes and the symbolism in the cover art in an interview with Eternal Terror:

Abzu is not a concept album – it is a collection of theorems, which ties into both pieces of artwork which represent the album. The CD cover is basically a continuation from the last, self-titled album. The Abzu is Enki’s shrine and the temple in Eridu; a mythical place where life influencing powers reside and the results are incomprehensible, unfathomable and secretive; a place producing raw materials. The Elder Sigil produces such ambiguities placed in the center of the main pillar. The vinyl cover contains an interpretation of the Emerald Tablet of Hermes because it stimulates right brain responses and arouses intuition, imagination and insight. At this point, my verbal explanation is inadequate, but it gives me a starting point to somewhat explain the Enochian cuneiform implication of ‘V.I.T.R.I.O.L.’ sealed within the rim. There are seven Latin words in the statement. In alchemy, the Below, there are seven metals. In astrology, the Above, there are seven planets. In each of us, there are seven chakras. Taken together, they point to seven levels of action internalized by a concocted philosophy classified as the “Anzu Ceremony.” In Sumerian mythology, the Anzu Bird is a divine storm-bird and the personification of the southern wind/thunder clouds. This demon, thirty-three percent man/thirty-three percent eagle/thirty-three percent lion, stole the ‘Tablets of Destiny’ from Enlil and hid them on an apex. In conclusion, this is why the tornado appears to lift the seal of vitriolistic nous.”

Record Label
Candlelight Records


“Passageway”

Benoit & Sergio – Let Me Count The Ways
Ghostly International collaborator Michael Cina takes a moment to explain how his album artwork for Benoit & Sergio’s recent releases offer a loose narrative, though they’re presented in the form of vastly different visual manifestations.

QUOTES FROM:
MICHAEL CINA, ART DIRECTOR AND DESIGNER

THEMES & CONCEPTS
“It was originally set up through Will Calcutt, and we had been wanting to work together. He originally worked with Benoit & Sergio [on Midnight People] to develop some ideas that were based around Egyptian folklore. The photo shoot started off with [Benoit & Sergio] in suits acting quite normal and progressed into them in their underwear barking at each other. We knew that some sort of ‘conjuring’ was going to take place through post-production, and that is where I came in. I created a whirling form that was held in one of the members hands.”

INTERVIEW CONTINUED BELOW

“The last cover is what set the tone for this record. I wanted to do something otherworldly. A passage into another world. I felt that this was a good analogy for the next stage of the process. If the first cover was a key, this was the gate… I needed a sequel to the first cover but something that was still open-ended enough to make people want to look in and be curious about. The main question that I wanted the viewer to think was, ‘How do these two photos relate?’ It’s not philosophy or a deep story, but it does have intent.”

CREATIVE PROCESS
“I knew I wanted to use an image, so I teamed up with the photographer, John Klukas, and we had a photoshoot. I did a lot of post-production on the work and decided to remove all the literal information and to use the female form to make her the symbol. I did three paintings (acrylic, pigments) and merged them how I saw the final work looking.”

Record Label
Ghostly International

The Artists
Art Direction & DesignMichael Cina
PhotographyJohn Klukas


“Spiritual vibes”

Bon Iver – Self-Titled
To convey themes of “memory loss, birth, death, growth, [and] decay” for Bon Iver’s self-titled album, Minneosta painter Gregory Euclide literally constructed and deconstructed his art with painting, drawing, and an array of natural materials.
Listen to “Holocene”DOWNLOAD MP3

QUOTES FROM:
GREGORY EUCLIDE, PAINTER

CREATIVE PROCESS
“I received an email with track titles and descriptions of songs. I listened to [Bon Iver] non-stop as I was making the work… allowing myself to only listen to that album. I knew what Justin [Vernon] was interested in getting because we spoke several times over email and on the phone before I started anything.

“Melting the snow from the Midwestern winter to get the water to create the work was a powerful part of the process. It felt like parts of the work were undergoing transformations that were being depicted in the images as well as the music.”

THE EXTRAS
“I created a second painting for the inside that was also used as the cover for the single ‘Calgary’.”

Record Label
JagJaguwar

The Artists
Design & Layout – Daniel Murphy
PaintingGregory Euclide

Mediums & Materials
Painting (acrylics), Drawing (pencil), Natural Materials (leaves, paper, snow, dirt, mylar, pine cones, flowers, moss)


Casiokids – Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen
Petri Henriksson and Jaakko Pallasvuo take cues from NEU! and Casiokids’ music to create an album cover that conceptually pays homage to dualities of simplicity and complexity, major labels and independent labels, naïveté and knowledge.

QUOTES FROM:
PETRI HENRIKSSON, DESIGNER
JAAKKO PALLASVUO, ILLUSTRATOR

THEMES & CONCEPTS
“As a starting point, I was looking for something iconic and absurd. The title, Aabenbaringen Over Aaskammen (roughly translated as The Revelation Over The Mountain) worked as a loose framework for the ideas. Contrast between the magical or fairytale-like content and the naive aesthetic of the word gave a direction. And since the record was going to be released on major label (the Norwegian version was released on Universal), I felt like it would be nice to make cover that did not have aesthetics of a mainstream release but more like in a DIY direction.” – Petri Henriksson (PH)

“The use of color was debated and thought of a lot. The inspiration for the neon orange version of the covers came from the iconic Neu! album cover. To me, the reference was amusing and good since the drawing style on the cover is so rich and baroque and in opposition to the concept of the Neu! cover. The ability to use a similar strategy with the colors and presentation of the drawing but ending up somewhere completely different because of the inherent differences in the content was interesting.” – Jaakko Pallasvuo (JP)

CREATIVE PROCESS
“The ideas were developed while drawing. I already knew in the beginning of the process that I wanted to collaborate with another artist/illustrator on this cover. I’d met Jaakko Pallasvuo in Berlin and seen quite a lot of his work, so I asked him to join the project. He liked the the idea, and we decided to meet up in my Berlin office in Kreuzberg to draw, paint and brainstorm. We spent a couple of afternoons to develop the idea. Jaakko painted and drew a big bunch of images while I scanned and tried out different colour combinations and compositions. He drew a lot; I selected material and scanned it, and I worked with typographic manipulations. I worked quite a lot with “destroying” or mishandling fonts by scanning the text wrongly. The logo is also manipulated this way.” – PH

“I think this tension between rich, tense, almost chaotic drawings and the fairly minimal setting they’ve been placed in is the core of it. The album has perhaps a more lush, eclectic, generously layered vibe than the covers, but I think they make sense together. Maybe the cover art can be thought of as another layer on the music, just the keyboards or snare drums.” – JP

THE EXTRAS
“The cover was printed in one colour offset, four different versions of the release. Each region has its own colour: USA: red-orange; Norway: dark blue; Japan: violet; UK: green.” – PH

Record Label
Polyvinyl Records

The Artists
DesignPetri Henriksson & Blank Blank
IllustrationJaakko Pallasvuo

Mediums & Materials
Drawing (marker), Scanner (customized mistakes), Printing (1-color offset)


City And Colour – Little Hell

Record Label
Vagrant Records / Dine Alone Records

The Artists
DesignJason Darbyson & Garnet Armstrong
PaintingPaul Jackson
Photography – Scott Remila

 


Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

Record Label
Sub Pop Records

The Artists
ArtworkToby Leibowitz

 


Gillian Welch – The Harrow & The Harvest
John Dyer Baizley precisely and methodically uses symbolism, ornamentation, and thoughtful compositions to tell big stories within the confines of small spaces. He has seen wide recognition for his full-color illustrations — most recently with album covers for his own band, Baroness, and Norway’s Kvelertak — but his collaboration with Gillian Welch is attracting attention from new crowds. For The Harrow & The Harvest, Baizley was given the opportunity to step out of his usual musical world into a more muted but equally artistically rich one.

QUOTES FROM:
JOHN DYER BAIZLEY, ARTIST AND ILLUSTRATOR

THEMES & CONCEPTS
“First off, any project without a direction is immediately suspect to me. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are nothing if not thorough in the conception and development of their ideas. They have spent years developing and refining an thematic arc and a narrative to work within. At the beginning of my involvement with them for The Harrow & The Harvest‘s design, almost all of the music and lyrics had been written; there was a pretty clear direction in which the artwork and design was to move. While such a fully-developed record can sometimes limit my input, with this record it was a real treat. Gillian is great at building narratives within her songs and in finding an implied storyline across the course of her records. Clearly, any complimentary artwork would include elements of the pastoral and Gothic allegories for which Gillian is so renowned. I try not to be too literal when I interpret music, and I try to keep to a visually poetic representation of the music I hear.

“The most challenging part of my projects tends to be the concept phase. We spent a good bit of time going over ideas and directions, until we all agreed on a direction and general layout.”

CREATIVE PROCESS
“The genesis of the artwork was based on some loose ideas and imagery which Gillian and Dave and I talked over. After I began sketching and rendering, things had a tendency to evolve and adapt in real-time as I was in the process of making the artwork. Generally, I don’t like to share much of my process with the artists I work with, but they seemed to understand and articulate visual ideas in much the same way that I do. They received work-in-progress updates very frequently, and the art itself would shift and alter based on subtle changes in our discussions on theme and concept. It was really fluid and exciting to feel things change as we went along, even if it lengthened things a bit.

“When I make album art, it’s very important that I immerse myself in the music I am creating for. This can be a bit tricky, as advance copies of records are very delicate things. Sharing unreleased records is how leaks happen. I was fortunate enough to get a chance to listen to the record long before the release date, and besides that, I had all their prior records, which were on unceasing rotation in my studio. I always work to music. When I was a young, one of my favorite episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was the episode where he has you paint and draw along with music. The idea made sense to me then and has been a vital tool ever since.

“I started the artwork with a full pencil rendering, then transformed that into and ink drawing, with paintbrushes and pens (my tools of choice). Then we put the pen and ink version through a very intensive and painstaking process letterpressing. It was a real task to get a 14″ x 14″ piece of artwork compressed down to CD size, without losing critical bits of detail. Some loss was inevitable, but I think the final print was beautifully accurate. If it ever comes out on LP format, the artwork should look even better. I am a vinyl fanatic and design everything to be presented as such.”

COLLABORATION

“I am a musician as well as a visual artist. Gillian and I work with some of the same people through our music, some of whom must have shown Gillian some of my work. We both come from opposite ends of the music spectrum; and I think the cross-genre appeal of the collaboration was exciting for all of us. We got to break out of familiar molds and work in foreign waters, which had a pretty exhilarating effect on the project. The music industry has a way of insulating itself and shuffling everyone into genre-specific bubbles. It becomes easy for artists to operate based on the strictures of those bubbles, and we can become blissfully ignorant of the scope of music. Gillian, David and I are not the type of people who thrive in orthodoxy, and we were able to come up with something both fresh and familiar with this record.”

THE EXTRAS
“Let me preface by saying that Gillian and Dave are willing to dive down some deep rabbit holes in order to see their concepts realized. The letterpress idea was the result of an off-hand comment that I made about keeping the artwork black and white. Trust me, it’s easier and cheaper to use a more traditional print process like offset, screen-printing or even a regular full-color process. The letterpress has to be run manually; and I think they printed something like 100,000 covers. When that was done and we were looking at some test prints, I mentioned how you can add an aged-patina look to cotton-rag paper by simply dipping it in coffee. Gillian was apparently drinking coffee at the time. The first remark she made when she saw the result (I heard her her in the background on a phone call I was having with David) was, ‘Who can we get to dip 100,000 CDs in coffee, and where can wwe get all that coffee?’ This wasn’t even half a joke; she was pretty serious. Obviously, in the end it wasn’t feasible, but it almost happened.”

Record Label
Acony Records

The Artists
Illustration – John Dyer Baizley

Mediums & Materials
Drawing (pencil and ink), Painting, Letterpress


Discodeine – Self-Titled

Record Label
DIRTY / Pschent

 


Iron And Wine – Kiss Each Other Clean 7″

Record Label
4AD / Warner Brothers Records

 


“the most beautiful album cover in the whole world!”

Katharine Whalen – Madly Love
Listen to “Madly Love”DOWNLOAD MP3

QUOTES FROM:
MATT PFAHLERT, DESIGNER
KATHERINE WHALEN, KATHERINE WHALEN AND HER FASCINATORS

THEMES & CONCEPTS
“Conceptually, [Madly Love has] a very comfortable feel; [it’s] a well-weathered old friend, as it were. The album has these very sweet moments, this comfy familiarity that I wanted to capture. The challenge was really getting all the elements the artist wanted to see as part of the package to feel like they belonged together, to have a sense of balance. We had been given original artwork, photographs and a few other personal pieces that spoke to Katharine in one way or another, so we needed to create a canvas where all these things made sense and spoke to the album’s Madly Love title. Katharine fell in love with a particular woven tablecloth she found. We all agreed the color palette was absolutely perfect for the album’s feel, so once the rights were cleared with the weaver, that really began the project for us.” – Matt Pfahlert (MP)

“I am also a textile artist and knew I wanted to involve vintage fabric, and perhaps have the finished product appear almost to be something other than a CD. I had some slide photographs I had taken of tiny animals on a riverbank that went well with the band images we included, too. Matt and I had conversations about a consistent palette also; I think a lot of creative information is being conveyed in such a small space… because we kept to our plan of using warm 1960s textile-like hues.” – Katharine Whalen (KW)

CREATIVE PROCESS
“Part of the ‘and her Fascinators’ band name comes from the fact that Katharine makes and sells her own line of ‘Fascinator hats.’ Very stylistic and colorful in design. When I saw a photo of one, I immediately knew what I wanted as the CD imprint: a shot of one of the circular hats photographed from above… it worked perfect, and she loved it.” – MF

“The Pink Hat on the actual disk is part of a series of hats I embroidered last summer as a homage to the vacation lifestyle photography of Slim Aarons. Mostly people’s hats said ‘Bermuda’ or ‘Nassau’ etc. so I made some that said ‘Madly Love’ for a lark!” – KW

“When it came time to design the back cover, I hate dealing with the unsightly UPC code (especially in this case). We have this nice artwork going along, and now I gotta stick this black and white bar code in there and ruin it… so instead, I tried embraced the thing and made it grow barcode ‘branches’ coming out of the top portion right into the image and band name typography.” – MF

Record Label
Five Head Entertainment

The Artists
Art DirectionKatharine Whalen
Art & DesignMatt Pfahlert & The Silent P
PhotographyEckard Photographic

Mediums & Materials
Photography, Typography (hand-lettering), Digital (manipulation), Hats


Mike Simonetti – Capricorn Rising EP

Record Label
Italians Do It Better

The Artists
Artwork – Branko Vranic

 


Oneohtrix Point Never – Replica

Record Label
Mexican Summer

 


“In another world.”

Pallers – Sea Of Memories
By taking design into their own hands, Pallers are able to once again use imagery to convey musical themes that capture the whimsical beauty of imaginary places.
Listen to “Come Rain, Come Sunshine”DOWNLOAD MP3

QUOTES FROM:
HENRIK MÅRTENSSON, PALLERS

THEMES & CONCEPTS
“In Pallers, we like to impose the idea of other worlds, parallel worlds, or made-up places, both visually and audibly. This theme [is one] we’ve had for our previous releases and also this time.”

CREATIVE PROCESS
“The first idea for the album artwork was soon scrapped, and we had to come up with a new concept. Since I like to buy really old books with pictures of animals and nature in them, I started to play around with these in Photoshop… I just went bananas with filters, coloring and layering. That’s how we ended up putting birds on things.

THE EXTRAS
“The inlay for the vinyl is the part that I´m most proud of, mostly because the pictures are bigger on 12″. Looks so good! There is also a hidden text in the pictures of the CD version (but not on the vinyl).”

Record Label
Labrador Records

The Artists
Layout & ArtworkHenrik Mårtensson
Typography & DesignLukas Möllersten

Mediums & Materials
Illustration, Photoshop


“4”

Parenthetical Girls – Privilege Series
Jenny Mörtsell was commissioned by Portland’s Parenthetical Girls to create a series of four illustrations for four different EPs — what she describes as a somewhat nerve-wracking ordeal when “your client is also the person you are drawing.”

QUOTES FROM:
JENNY MÖRTSELL, ILLUSTRATOR

CREATIVE PROCESS
“The band came up with the idea, and for each sleeve, I was sent about four photos of one of the band members to choose from (I usually chose the photo with something a little odd going on, to add something of interest) and a logo and text that I then hand-drew as well.”

THE EXTRAS
Parenthetical Girls are a damn good looking band… I’m so happy I finally got a commission to create album art similar to one of my favourite album covers of all time: Françoise Hardy’s Comment Te Dire Adieu”.

Record Label
Slender Means Society

The Artists
IllustrationJenny Mörtsell

Mediums & Materials
Drawing (mechanical 0.5mm pencil), Paper (smooth bristol), Scanner, Photoshop

RELATED ARTICLES: PRIVILEGE, PT. 2: THE PAST, IMPERFECT ALBUM REVIEW + “THE PORNOGRAPHER” MUSIC VIDEO + LIVE SHOW REVIEW
BELOW: FRANCOISE HARDY’S COMMENT TE DIRE ADIEU ALBUM COVER


“Wave”

Peter Wolf Crier – Garden Of Arms
After an extremely simple exchange, Michael Cina soon found one of his paintings adorning the cover of Peter Wolf Crier’s Garden Of Arms.

QUOTES FROM:
MICHAEL CINA, ARTIST AND PAINTER

COLLABORATION
“I got an email one morning from their manager asking if they could use one of my paintings for their cover. After three or so emails back and forth, we came to an agreement. Peter swung by my office an hour later and picked up the piece. Done!”

THE EXTRAS
“The painting was a sketch for a larger painting. I really liked it and thought I would post it. I have tons of sketches laying around so I was lucky to upload this one and see the route it took.”

Record Label
JagJaguwar

The Artists
ArtworkMichael Cina
DesignPeter Wolf Crier

Mediums & Materials
Painting (acrylics), Ink


Protest The Hero – Scurrilous

Record Label
Vagrant Records

 


The Sandwitches – Mrs. Jones’ Cookies

Record Label
Empty Cellar

The Artists
Artwork – Shannon Shaw

 


Sepalcure – Self-Titled
Listen to “I’m Alright”DOWNLOAD MP3

Record Label
Hotflush Recordings

 


Speculator – Nice

Record Label
Underwater Peoples

The Artists
Art Direction & Concept – Nick Ray
Design – Robert Beatty

 

BELOW: A CLIP FROM TWIN PEAKS: FIRE WALK WITH ME THAT INSPIRED THE ALBUM COVER’S BLUE ROSE


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