Another year of our favorites in Top Album Cover Artwork, and once again, we interview musicians and artists on the often-underappreciated work that goes into creating a product that not only tickles your ears, but speaks to your eyes and hearts. Album artwork, though often only viewed on tiny screens in this day and age, is indeed a long and laborious process that we love to give its due credit.

So read on, and choose your own artistic adventure:

> Digital & 3D Album Covers
> Fine Art & Illustration Album Covers
> Mixed Media & Collage Album Covers
> Photography & Digitally-Manipulated Album Covers


Fine Art & Illustration Album Covers of the Year 2015

Action Bronson – Mr. Wonderful (Atlantic Records)

Art Direction & Illustration by Richard “FRKO” Montgomery

“Action Bronson had me watch Jon Claude Van Damme’s movie, Bloodsport and reference the scene where he is doing a split looking over the city. Its literally the same, except for the golden platform and white background with loose script font.
– Richard “FRKO” Montgomery, Artist

 

Adult Mom – Momentary Lapse of Happily (Tiny Engines)

 

Alix Perez & EPROM – Shades (Alpha Pup Records)

 

Ancient Sky – Mosaic (Wharf Cat Records)

Artwork by Ryan McClennan
Photography by Jaime Boddorff

Brian Markham (Ancient Sky):
The cover is a painting by our good friend, Ryan McClennan. He also painted the band name and album title. I’ve been a long-time fan of Ryan’s work, meeting in Richmond over 15 years ago at VCU.

We mixed the album in Greenpoint at Kutch 1 studios on the 3rd floor of the Pencil Factory. Ryan [McClennan] had a painting studio on the 4th floor, and I would visit him during breaks to check out some of his new work. The vibe of the new paintings just seemed to match well with our new songs, so we decided to collaborate. Themes of isolation and terror come through in both! We also shared a common interest in Kobe Abe’s novel, Woman in the Dunes, where the title of the album Mosaic came from. Our drummer Pat Broderick’s girlfriend Jaime Boddorff photographed Ryan’s piece keeping it in the family!

 

Air Waves – Parting Glances (Western Vinyl)

Artwork by Strauss Borque-LaFrance

Strauss Borque-LaFrance (Artist):
The album features two portraits of the same character – meant to be conceptually direct, but emotionally ambiguous. She looks away from you, succumbing to her fictitious, painted self. The process involved serially painting the same face until the expression was perfectly, sad, funny, and contemplative.
Nicole Shneit (Air Waves):
I went to Strauss’s show at Rachel Uffner gallery and was blown away by his work. There was something simple but also complex with his color choices and lines. When the album was coming out, I thought his artistic ideas would fit well with my songs. My songs are simple in their structure, but to me, they have deep meanings that go beyond what’s in the 3-4 chord structure. I found a correlation with the accessibility of both Strauss’s work and my music.
He sent me a series of faces with different “parting glances”, and those are the two that I picked. I was interested in the primary colors and the gender ambiguity of the characters. A few people have asked if it’s me, actually. Which is interesting because I think sometimes I come off as androgynous. My friend described the character as an avatar of me, haha! But I don’t think Strauss had my face in mind for the painting.

 

The Atom Age – Hot Shame (Asian Man Records)

Artwork by Jake Yerger


Peter Niven (The Atom Age):
After a night of drinking with our organ player Fred and some other friends, I found a text that I sent to myself that just said “album title – hot shame”, which seemed kinda weird, but cool. The girl on the cover is from a 1960s Korean pop record, which I randomly came across. When I saw it, “Hot Shame” instantly popped into my head. A lot of the songs on the album just came straight from the gut without too much time spent analyzing it, and in that way, the title and cover seemed to fit what we made just right.

 

AWA – All We Are (Domino Recording Co.)

Artwork by Leif Podhajsky

For us, music and visuals go very hand in hand. When we write tunes, we often use movies as inspiration to express our feelings and to get the right ‘colour’ of our moods. And more often than not, we watch a movie together to get on the same page, so we know exactly what we want to say when we are jamming. And for us, it was important to get all those colours/emotions across on the cover. Each track on the album is a specific colour that forms the girl.

We have always loved Leif Podhajsky’s work, and were pretty over the moon when he said he would like to meet up and chat about the tunes and our ideas on the artistic direction. Our first meeting was bang on. He just got it all. We chatted loosely about how we saw the music: bold but withdrawn, direct but spacious, sad but hopeful and confident but vulnerable. We talked about how we wanted colours to represent each track and left everything else up to Leif. We wanted him to have free artistic range and for him to make the tunes come to life. And so he did! He came back with the cover of the girl and we just looked at each other and smiled, yeah, that’s it!” – AWA

 

Baroness – Purple (Rostrum Records)

Artwork by John Dyer Baizley of Baroness

 

Ben Browning – Turns (Yellow Year)

Artwork by Mitchell Dickie

Mitchell Dickie (Artist):
Ben and I initially spoke and exchanged our ideas and vibes, and were very much on the same wavelength from the start, which made it really great to work on.

Interpreting the title, Turns, led to my idea of illustrating something of a ‘turn of events’ – through which I wanted to reflect the themes in Ben’s songwriting in a loose way.

Through chatting with Ben, the song title and vibe of the track “Life Dude” influenced this strongly also, and so the characters themselves kind of inherently became “Life Dudes”.
Throughout both the idea development and refining of the concept, I was listening to the record a lot while drawing and working, so I think the vibe of the record informed the playful aesthetic of the final work in a pretty big way.

Ben Browning (Musician):
I’d worked with Mitchell’s brothers in the past on music videos and the graphic design for my previous EP, and I knew Mitchell had been developing these cool illustrations and I thought his graphic style would be perfect for the album cover. We both shared a fascination with Japanese graphic design and bands like Yellow Magic Orchestra, who were an inspiration for the album. As soon I saw some of the early drafts Mitch created, I knew he was on track to produce something pretty interesting and something that would match the theme of the record.

 

The Bird And The Bee – Recreational Love (Rostrum Records)

Artwork by Geoff McFetridge

Inara George (The Bird And The Bee):
We’ve known Geoff for many years. We’re close friends but also huge fans. So when we asked him to do the album artwork and he said yes, we were very excited. Geoff is the kind of artist that really doesn’t need very much direction. He used the title of the record and some of our press photos and took it from there. What he came up with is far beyond what anything Greg or I could have imagined.
Geoff McFetridge (Artist)
I wanted to do something that had the lightheartedness that is intrinsic to the project but that also gives it context.

I see Greg and Inara as parents and neighbors. As individuals and as artists, they are indigenous to this place. Where we live in Los Angeles is deep with golf, tennis, and long healthy lunches. I wanted the art to fictionalize the reality of their lives – a resort vibe, or a daytime concert live in Griffith Park. Conversely, it could be a club invaded by coyotes, hawks and ringtail Foxes, who are also indigenous to our neighborhood.

I wanted the art to feel decorative in a way that it feels pulled from their world, not necessarily designed specifically or as a portrait of what I heard on the album. A bit like it was found.

NOTE: I had just come back from New York and had seen the Matisse cutouts show… so they are cutouts, in a way. I actually used a thin masking material and cut away the images like stencils then painted in each figure. So it is not a collage, but composed on the page. Exactly as it appears in the album art.

 

Brothertiger – Out of Touch

Painting by John Jagos, Sr.
Design & Layout by Kenny Phillips
Cover Painting Photography by Jimmy Noyes

The artwork was created back in the early ‘80s by my dad, who’s an artist. I’m not too sure what his drive for the creation of the piece was, but to me, it fit so perfectly with the overall message of the album I made. It emphasizes the feeling of uncertainty in a young person’s life, the feeling that one finds when they aren’t sure where they’re supposed to be headed in life. The image of a hand reaching out from the jungle described my music so well on this record, so I had to use it.” – John Jagos, Brothertiger

 

Clap! Clap! – Simple EP (Black Acre)

Artwork by Loup Blaster
Vinyl label by Patch D Keyes

Cristiano Cristi (Clap! Clap!):
The EP artwork is based on the concept of “simplicity”. I recorded those tracks during my girlfriend’s pregnancy and I’d been struck by the simplicity of life creation – so I produced the tracks, giving them the mood of what inspires simplicity to me.
To represent this concept, Iasked to Loup Blaster to concentrate her work on plants’ photogenesis. I asked her this because I think that it is more stylistic to represent that concept orienting on gree,n natural elements more than on human life genesis… I started the idea with “plants concept” and she changed that to “mandalas”. There is so much liberty for the creation process as for the inspiration process, from both parts!

 

DRINKS – Hermits on Holiday (Heavenly Recordings)

Artwork by Tim Presley of White Fence, 1/2 of the group with Cate Le Bon

“[Album artwork]’s really important. Plus, I live in fear I’ll ask someone to do something, and I’ll hate it and then won’t know how to tell them. I love doing it, though; you get to create the visual universe the album lives in. When it works, it’s the greatest thing ever. A perfect example is CRASS. The art for those records sounds more like CRASS than the music.”
– Tim Presley of White Fence and DRINKS, via Noisey Interview

 

EMEFE – Self-Titled (Self-Released)

Artwork by The Collected Works

The Collected Works (Artist):
One of the main conceptual themes of the record is the idea of tension and release, the breaking through static towards clarity, the duality between darkness and light. This led us in a direction where we also wanted to incorporate something that resonated with us from our early talks with Miles, how the band uses a mix of digital and analog techniques to hide and reveal musical patterns. We thought that this was just another extension of the duality of the themes explored in the record, and started exploring ways to bring all of these themes together. It all started to come together as we built a custom piece of software using the mathematical equations of ‘reaction-diffusion’ models, based on natural reactions found in geological, chemical and biological processes. This started to generate digital images that looked and felt organic, patterns that evolved and grew in front of our very eyes, with EMEFE at the center of it all.
EMEFE (Musician):
The music on the album is about ‘breaking through the static of everyday life’. The songs wade through anxieties and fears in an effort to find some clarity. Working together with Justin Colt and Jose Fresneda at The Collected Works, we had the idea to have the album cover to be an abstract representation of the craziness of static, with the name EMEFE breaking through the madness. When you open the CD or Vinyl, the inside panels have a splash of digitized color bits over black, relieving the black-and-white front & back covers with color and light…
We didn’t want the traditional layout for the album artwork, where the tracklisting dominates the back cover. Instead, there is a continuous pattern front and back, where the back is the inverse of the front, offering a different perspective on their wonderful cover design. Musically, it is the equivalent of letting a groove simmer for a little while before moving on to the next section. Then, when you open the album, the inside features a splash of color and the tracklisting/credits. Each art panel (front and back, inside panels, on the album) is totally different – there isn’t any recycled or repeated material. Each panel builds on the overall theme, and there is an evolution to the art as the listener explores the album. This was our approach to the music on the album – EMEFE is more of a through-composed “journey” as opposed to a batch of songs – so the artwork aligned perfectly.

 

Eternal Tapestry – Wild Strawberries (Thrill Jockey Records)

Artwork by Natalie Anne Howard

 

Everything Everything – Get To Heaven (RCA Victor)

Artwork by Andrew Archer

“We wanted something bright, because of that sense of desensitisation, and where everything is in bold letters these days, pummelled with info, which is what we talk about a lot with the album. It’s based on a faith healer — it may not be obvious — but the man in the image is being faith-healed, his face a kind of agony/ecstasy expression. It’s going back to those themes of power, extremism and desperation. I don’t know if anyone gets this from it but when I look at it I think there is a sense of hopefulness in his eyes; he’s looking to heaven, looking for something better.”
– Jonathan Higgs of Everything Everything, via Brighton’s Finest

 

Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop Records)

Artwork by Stacey Rozich
Stacey Rozich (Artist), via Creative Review:
The album itself is full of so much potent imagery, it was easy for me to pick out certain scenarios to bring into the whole piece, but it was sometimes hard to make a cut-off point because I could have made a billboard-sized LP cover with every idea Josh [Tillman] and I had based off of the lyrics.

[The final artwork] does relate to the songs, but it’s not so literal – I went with the feelings I got listening to the demo over and over again. I could see certain figures evolving in my mind’s eye that I had to incorporate in the scene. Josh was fairly hands off with the directions but he did say he wanted the focal point to be his head on a baby’s body nursing on a beautiful woman’s breast. I immediately associated it was classic Renaissance iconographic depictions of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus – the religious icon aesthetic was something we both really liked, so it was a great fit to channel his idea through that lens.

 

Geographer – Ghost Modern (Roll Call Records)

Artwork by Amos Goldbaum

Amos Goldbaum (Artist):
Geographer came to me with the basic idea: a sea of objects and scenes from around the world and throughout history, with a face-shaped piece missing in the middle.
We came up with a list of things to draw together, but quickly ran out and had to add more. We wanted a mix of objects, people, and places, some ordinary and some more emotionally charged. I drew the whole thing freehand in pen.
Mike Deni (Geographer)
I wanted to convey the experience of living in our kinetic and overflowing times, to display the feeling of being surrounded by so much information that supposedly defines us, but really just creates an outline around us, a wall that defines only our borders, and obscures our interiors from others and even ourselves.

It was more about the cacophony of elements than any one element. The juxtapostions were very important to me. That there would be a violent image near a sexual act, a household item near a blue whale, a religious icon near a mundane household item.

 

Giovanni di Domenico / Jim O’Rourke – Arco (Die Schatel)

Artwork & Design by Bruno Stucchi

“Each cover – even within the strict design frame of the series and the rigorous choice of a stark black and silver print – has been conceived with the intention to build an “aural topography” of the featured music, in order to reflect and visually expand the meaning and emotional charge of it. In this perspective (no pun intended) the melancholic meridians of “Shama” were born, or the recursive dolmens of “Repeat!” by Manuel Zurria, or the suspended alchemy of Coluccino’s “Neuma Q”, the infinite dams of Valerio Tricoli, up to the frozen Zepelin of the recent DiDomenico/O’Rourke Arco LP, the first edition on vinyl of the series. In particular, this one was born out of a series of sketches and explorations around the idea of the Zeppelin, and my fascination with the work of the Belgian painter Leon Spilliaert.”
– Bruno Stucchi, Artist

“It all comes from hand drawing. As simple as that. All my covers (or my designs) are conceived on a piece of paper – sometimes a very humble one, using a pencil, or a feltpen, or a ballpen. plus some additional colors, usually limited to red, grey, silver or gold. And a lot of white space.

I use my Mac as a classic drawing tool, as well. No 3D software of any sort: no filters, no digital programming. I have constructed all of the featured designs starting from the basic rules of classic drawing: perspective, horizon, lines, my eyes. A pure analogical process. This also reflects the aesthetics of the majority of the music I love and produce as Die Schachtel, especially when it comes to archive releases…

Die Schachtel is (with very few exceptions) fully dedicated to the Italian avant-garde/experimental music scene, from the Fifties/Sixties up to our days. In some cases, we literally dig out treasures buried in archives that have been hidden and forgotten for years…

I want to recover and give back a little bit of that lost intelligence and bravery, by taking inspiration (apart from the music itself) from the ideas of the Italian artists and the designers who produced some of the most impressive work of the last century: clearly De Chirico (the Magic Architecture or Imaginary Landscapes for the new composers’ series – and yes, Borges too, in the sense of being stranded in some arcane landscape, feeling a sense of nostalgia for some lost myth); but also the Italian “informal” art of the fifties (MAC, Capogrossi, Burri); Fausto Melotti’s light sculptures and Lucio Fontana, Bruno Munari, Piero Manzoni and his conceptual approach to white or nothingness. There’s more more: the protest design of the seventies (Gianni Sassi of Cramps records who was one of my teachers many years ago); 50s’ Italian graphic design (Carboni, Pintori), concrete poetry (Magdalo Mussio), and many other references and names less known yet worth discovering.

– Bruno Stacchi, Artist, via HardFormat


 

Gyasi Ross – Isskootsik (K Records)

 

JAILL – Brain Cream (Burger Records)

Artwork by Helen Groom Poser
Design, Layout & Additional Artwork by Josh Evert of Jaill


Vincent Kircher (Jaill):
The album cover was drawn by Milwaukee artist Helen Groom Poser. Brains on ice cream cones was her idea from the stop motion video for “Change Reaction”, in which a boy pulls out a unicorn horn and brains, and the horn form an ice cream cone. I really loved that imagery and thought it represented the album and music well, so so I asked her to incorporate it into a cover. I wanted a colorful album cover. All the rest of the ideas were hers. Josh Evert, Jaill’s drummer, helped with layout of the title and markered on the words, “Brain Cream”.

My favorite part of the imagery is how saccharine it appears but how nicely it belittles our most important asset, brains, into a delectable treat for others to gobble up while surrounded by the ghosts of all that came before. And the bubblegum-ish Jaill title is covered in ants cause swarms of pests will always find the sweetness.