The greatest album covers tell a story before you even hear a sound. And here we are employing the most widely parodied album cover of all time in honor of Storm Thorgerson, the brains behind long fabled design team Hipgnosis and the forever fitting image adorning Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. He worked exclusively on album artwork over the last four or five decades and passed away earlier this year. Many of the most iconic album covers that inform our modern opinions are from decades past, hanks to a host of talented designers like Mr. Thorgerson who paved the way. As a musician, it is difficult to be noticed now with such a heavy level of media saturation, but there are so many artists out there pushing more boundaries and arriving at designs that hit the mark, and then some. And thanks to the Internet, musicians and visual artists from many corners of the globe are able to discover each other. This year’s crop of covers features such connections as Argentina meets Japan, Australia meets Poland, and even New York meets California.
This list is here to encourage readers to hold in their bosoms another reason to support musicians and enjoy record collections. The process of marrying visuals to audio is mercurial and has infinite possibilities, but the ones that endure live in our spiritual makeup. Some readers might notice there isn’t a lot of photography featured this year, but it takes more than a good photo to make a cover resonate with the listening experience. These albums hit a chord in the universe. If you want to have the most attractive collection of vinyl or stir in others a sense of beauty or outrage when you pull out music to play, just cherry pick from this list. The art of the album cover is alive and well, continuing to transform in a new era.
1. Ricarda Cometa ~ Ricarda Cometa
Original painting: Hideyuki Katsumata
Theme and Process
Hideyuki Katsumata: The cover? That’s a spiritual explosion of Ricarda Cometa. I used acrylic, ink, marker, pencil, etc on paper. In many cases, I don’t make an image of a completed type when I start paintings, because I don’t make a general plan of it. [In this case] I listened on repeat repeat repeat to catch their sparks.
Jorge Espinal of Ricarda Cometa: We’ve been fans of Hideyuki’s work for some time now. We found that his aesthetic really matched with the music we were making. The way he works with characters (their states of mind) and colors is just truly amazing. When we contacted him, we sent him some of our music and asked him if he wanted to help us with the artwork. We explained our way of working with the music, that it’s all free improvisation with some latin, cumbia flavor. We don’t use pedals; instead we use metal sheets across the strings (prepared guitars) to get our sound.
JE: It’s important that [the label] Jardinista!recs always work in a really crafty way, doing a lot of the things needed by hand. We used metal sheets as a sort of box, with an envelope and the artwork. We cut the metal and engraved our bands name in it.
Tiago Sousa: This is a painting from the great Japanese artist Hokusai. It’s a phoenix painted on the ceiling of the Gashoin Temple in Obuse. I used this because of the symbolic character of the phoenix and way it is painted. It’s a bird that symbolizes transformation and it’s drawn in a circular form. That all matters a lot to me since I was exploring the idea of Samsara, which is the Hindi word for the cycle of life, death and rebirth. It’s a philosophical concept that crosses a lot of oriental religions and means this perpetual state of impermanence.
TS: Well, the creative process was pretty simple since it was already made. Unfortunately, Hokusai is not among us any more, so it was more a matter of what the picture told about the music rather than the opposite way. I knew Hokusai’s work and in one of my dervish browsings about him found this painting and got simply amazed. From there to using it was a small step.
Stéphane C. & Oiseaux-Tempête: We chose pictures connected to the emotions, energy and meaning which were already haunting the music. The photographs shot by Stéphane C. were collected from long trips around Greece in 2012 and 2013. Even if the pictures and the field recordings used in the album were taken in this country, our perception is based on the fact that the local situation is obviously reflecting much more global issues. The album cover is a black and white photograph of a painted building located in the center of Athens, a place which looks unfortunately like the epicenter of the current decay. This building picture with the huge painting representing some upside-down prayer hands (reproduced from a drawing by Albrecht Durer in 1508) was the perfect symbol of these global and dysfunctional systems and powers, of these wider issues that we are talking about. Like the whole thing is bugging now.
SC&OT: Regarding materials and technical stuff, Stéphane C. is working on analog B&W photography, selecting a very few pictures from his whole production, and making himself silver prints in the darkroom mostly dedicated to exhibitions. His aim is not to document situations in a traditional way or just to make beautiful images, but to raise inner feelings, involvements and questionings from the spectator. From a long time ago, it was decided to use this precise picture as the album cover.
SC&OT: This collaboration is not a single usual association; the origin of the band itself was based on this idea. The music trio is formed by Frédéric D. Oberland, Stéphane Pigneul and Ben McConnell, and they recorded this debut album in three days at Mikrokosm in Lyon, while the visual artist Stéphane C. was screening some photographs and videos in the studio. This structure planned from the beginning naturally allows and feeds these dialogues: the multi-instrumentalist Frédéric D. Oberland travelled three times in 2012, working together with Stéphane C. in Greece. This interaction is also effective on further aspects: Oiseaux-Tempête can obviously play concerts as a trio but can also perform sometimes connected to screenings. Last Summer we displayed a 3-screen video and speakers installation ‘The Didived Line’ in a French photography festival. There is also the project to work on a longer experimental movie.
SC&OT: Mountain at Sub Rosa planned with us two different lay-out artworks –one for the CD and one for the 2xLP- according to our will to make specific and beautiful packages which could reflect the meaning and the energy of the music. Stéphane C. chose some photographs, Mountain did the whole design, and Stéphane Pigneul and Frédéric worked on a logo. We tried all together to set up a fine photo editing and design in order to illustrate the deep structures of the record built as a musical, poetic and militant voyage. The team at Sub Rosa was very creative and supportive with all the aspects of the artwork making. Both CD and 2xLP were printed in black only on reverse cardboard, 8 page digipack for the CD. Sub Rosa proposed straight away for the 2xLP this stunning 350g gatefold sleeve, with black paper inner sleeve and 2x colored red/black marbled vinyl.
4. Aloonaluna / Motion Sickness of Time Travel ~ Split
Collage art by Michael Tunk
Tape design and Music by Lynn Fister and Rachel Evans
Lynn Fister (Aloonaluna): I have a friend I met when I was living in California named Michael Tunk. He’s an amazing collage artist who probably makes an intricate collage almost every day. What gets me with his work is the craftsmanship that goes into his work. He spends so much time making his pieces so seamless, the intricacy sometimes of each does not show through. When you look at the back of his collages though, the detail with which he composes his images through cut paper is pretty surprising many times. The results are always stunning. Anyway, he has told me in the past, I could use his images for works I did and eventually I took him up on that offer for the split with MSOTT. Both Rachel and I like to also make art, collage art even more specifically, but we wanted to feature someone’s else’s art for this release. I thought Michael would be great for this, so I made a J-card using all his images.
LF: The front I love because of this surreal still life. There is this beautiful semi-erotic pose with a wine bottle. I don’t know why Michael exactly paired a beautiful woman, a wine bottle, a glass, a pear, a long spoon, reading glasses, and a newspaper page together, but I can come up with a theory. To me it’s a pretty clear play on eroticism and addiction. A still life is an interesting form too, because it tries to portray a set of things in a sort of vacuum – a space unchanging, etc. A moment of time locked into a sort of document, if you will. So I think it’s wonderful some playful sexuality and notions of addiction are insinuated here. Also, addiction is also portrayed in a rather coquettish manner here. An interesting touch are the eyeglasses, as to suggest a sort of myopic reading on sexuality and addiction. I absolutely adore this still life and so happy it made it to your best covers…
On the flipside, I thought that Michael’s cut outs of anatomical diagrams and science diagrams of flowers would be a perfect pairing to the front. Like Michael, I am obsessed with anatomy and identification books. I like to find out the names of birds, animals, plants, body parts, etc. I am also very intrigued about the very Western way of displaying information – this obsession of typing, cataloguing, documenting information, publishing knowledge to possess it. I like that Michael often goes to these anatomy and identification books and deconstructs them, especially in this particular image of a skull with flowers coming out and a skeletal body.
There are definite reasons I think Rachel and I were drawn to these two images together. For me, the disarticulated skull with the flowers and skeleton indicts the gaze of the first image.. A naked woman in a still life is an object. Intentions are ambiguous of course, especially with the pairing of the larger wine bottle. I love her tenderness toward the bottle, but she is an object nonetheless. I think I was hoping that the backside when paired with frontside would conjure an expansive notion of viewing sexuality, addiction, ritual, psychology… Maybe displace the view or gaze…
LF: Rachel created the imprints on the tape. She wanted something clean, simple and classic. I think she achieved this…
5. Dan Friel ~ Total Folklore
Mural Painting, detail: Maya Hayuk
San Francisco, CA, 12 x 8′
Dan Friel: Maya has had some beautiful murals up around the neighborhood in the time I’ve lived here. I had seen her work at Secret Project Robot and Cinders Gallery, and I just associated it with all the positive aspects of the neighborhood and the DIY art/music community. My album has a loose theme of “walking music”, and included recordings from around the neighborhood, and so I was thinking about the things I love to see when walking around.
DF: There wasn’t any collaboration ahead of time. I found that image and was crazy about it, so I wrote to Maya and crossed my fingers. I’m very lucky she was into the idea. I think it looks exactly the way the album sounds: drippy, industrial, and bright.
6. Wrekmeister Harmonies ~ You’ve Always Meant So Much To Me
Illustration and Design: Simon Fowler, Cataract Press
Simon Fowler: J.R expressed some themes but ultimately left me to listen to the track and see where it took my imagination. I had never heard of Wrekmeister Harmonies previous to this so I really didn’t know what to expect. I was lulled into thinking it was a straight up classical piece on first listen; I think this is where the icy landscape idea came up. But then the second half took me by surprise, so the image for me could be taken as a perspective of someone watching the beautiful face of the glacier from afar, observing the moment the huge slabs of ice crack and slip into the sea below.
SF: I used technical pens, two thicknesses to ink after the pencil sketches were approved. Once finished I made washes of watercolour on washi (Japanese printmaking paper) and scanned them, then composed the colour layers under the line drawing digitally, similar to the processes I used for Master Musicians of Bukkake’s Far West LP, Lustmord’s The Word as Power LP and the colour tesseract in the inside gatefold of the Ensemble Pearl record. Recently I have been trying to dispel the label of a black and white artist or connotations of darkness associated with some of the bands I have worked with and pull it all into a more colourful territory.
I see this approach basically as a digitized version of full colour woodblock printing. Methodically composing the layers in the same way as Ukiyo-e prints were made.
SF: One of the best things about making artwork for music is that it always feels like a collaboration from start to finish, I’m lucky to be given a lot of freedom to conceptualize with the various people I work with, rather than churning out typical artwork in a particular style like some sort of court painter.
J.R. Robinson of WHs: I’ve always admired [Simon’s] work and was stoked when Thrill Jockey put us in touch. We basically talked a bit on what we felt about the piece, what images came to mind and we both thought about enormous glaciers. Bettina at Thrill Jockey was the brains behind the wonderful packaging.
7. Neg-Fi ~ Unmergency
Illustration: Ryan Wilson
Layout and Package Design: Bradly Head, Evelyne Buhler
Ryan Wilson: The artistic themes for the “Unmergency” record cover were an extension of the impressions of the Neg-Fi sound. I listened to the tracks before even beginning to think about the artwork. Neg-Fi’s sound is akin to being trapped under a massive rope on a sinking ship, screaming into thick water. Or, at least, that’s what I heard. The artwork is essentially the aftermath of such an event; what Jacques Cousteau finds in the deep. Bradly provided the color palette he wanted to use for the release before I started the drawing.
RW: It is my belief the music will provide the landscape for the soul of the artwork. I listened to the record whenever I was working on the cover. Linework was done in pencil. I scanned an early drawing into Photoshop to test what the final product would look like with color. I found myself cleaning this version up with a Wacom tablet for a few hours in Photoshop, only to go back to paper and pencil to redraw the final product. I don’t care how good it looks on a computer screen; if the pen/pencil/stylus doesn’t feel right in my hand, it never looks quite right in the end.
RW: The only collaboration was the music Bradly sent me and Bradly asking me to help with the artwork. I spoke with Bradly about the record beforehand, but didn’t meet the musicians until after the record was released on CD. They played The Smell; great show.
Bradly Head, Giweih Ritual Documents: Well, I created the layout for the packaging before I even decided to have a label. I made the envelope-style box once for a mix tape cover a year before just for fun, and decided that was going to be the standard packaging for the cassette releases. I’ve always hand cut and folded all of them manually (no special dye cuts). I’ve always loved records with nice packaging so when I started the label I was only able to afford to put out tapes, but I still had the intention of screen printing all the art and making stylish packaging. I was pretty influenced by Bruce Licher’s label “The Independent Project” who was in Savage Republic and Scenic; those records always looked beautiful to me and to me seemed the only way to make the records or tapes.
Evelyne Buhler of Neg-Fi: For the vinyl and CD versions, I took Bradly’s design and changed the colors. All 3 versions are silkscreened – the CDs were all done by Sire Press in Philadelphia. The layout for the vinyl is really a continuation of our last two LPs, which is a sticker placed on a plain black LP sleeve. When I was thinking about the design for this one, I thought it would be nice to keep that theme, and I had this idea of lasercutting the drawing out and making that into a sticker. I wasn’t really sure how I would actually be able to do it, but after a bit of research I ended up with a Silhouette cutting machine. So I went back to Sire Press to have the images silkscreened – my initial plan was to have them printed on label paper, but there was a problem with the sheets curling up too much when they were printed. I wanted to stick with silkscreening since I liked the silver ink – so they ended up being printed on a heavier stock paper, which I then had to apply an adhesive backing to. It added an extra step but I think it was worth it!
8. Daniel Blinkhorn ~ Terra Subfónica
Photography: Daniel Blinkhorn
Design: René Seifert
Daniel Blinkhorn: The photo on the cover is from a place called Pyramiden, located in Svalbard (Norway). I took the photo during an expedition I did there in 2011. As such, the buildings aren’t miniature (which would be very cool!) but actual photos of the place as it now looks. Sadly, being the world’s largest ghost town it’s in disrepair, so many of the buildings look that way.
René Seifert: Daniel gave me two pictures he took on sight in that abandoned village, that were pretty much just regular photographs. After listening to the soundscape he created out of the fieldsounds I knew it needed to have a different visual appearance. The sounds themselves aren’t just field recordings; they are composed, abstract patterns and i tried to reflect that. The concept was to extract the colour scheme from the two source images and give them a shift. I used vibrant delay but i wanted to maintain the reference to the “real” source.
DB: I did change the colours to reflect a more ‘monochromatic-esque’ type of landscape. However that’s the only alteration. You can see more photos I took of the place here under ‘Arctic Photos.’
RS: Because we worked with a little budget on this project I needed to create fast but powerful images from the two source pictures. I screenshot them with an old analog pentax camera and worked on these new pictures with Photoshop. In different layers I made sections and stretched and delayed them. Repetitive layers which were scaled were used specially for the image on the backside. The typework I did with my companion Sebastian Ristow who also works at Flatlab. We talked about the fitting look of the texts to make them close to the visual world but also clear and neutral enough for the usage of pleasant reading.
9. Kwaidan ~ Make All The Hell Of Dark Metal Bright
Photography: Mike Weis
Layout: Neil Jendon
Mike Weis of Kwaidan: I sent Neil and Andre a bunch of photos of my own photography work as well as some from friends and we took a vote on which ones to use. I think the one that was chosen for the cover was unanimous and the others fell in line with that lead image. I was looking for images and text (for the titles) that came close to representing the process by which we made the music rather than attempting to force some unintended meaning to the content of the music. The reason for this is because the music wasn’t written or planned, it was improvised. I nabbed the title from a Mahayana Buddhist morning bell chant which I interpret as cutting through delusions, concepts and thoughts to get to a direct nature, much like improvised music.
MW: I travel around the south side of Chicago for work and I often lug around my 1960’s medium-format film cameras with me. I’m specifically attracted to the southeast side of the city and the nearby post-industrial corner of northwest Indiana. There are so many 20th century industrial dinosaurs bones scattered around the southern shores of Lake Michigan, left behind after the companies decided to set up manufacturing plants in faraway lands during the 80’s and 90’s. The contrast of the wide natural space around these abandoned lots allow for a contemplation of the history of the landscape – what it was, what it is and what it might return to. It’s always changing, just at different speeds.
The image on the back cover as well as the insert are loose examples of this landscape. The cover image is some sort of communication tower that looms over the property of my in-laws place in northwest Indiana. Over the years, I’ve shot many rolls of film on this subject alone, not sure why. Perhaps it’s just the allure of it’s swelling light through the trees, a beacon at night to fix my attention. Or perhaps it’s more about the space around the tower and the soft glow emanating from its source, which was highlighted perfectly during one softly, foggy December evening. The camera captured a moment when the atmosphere was subtly illuminated by the pinkish glow, making the empty space slightly more visible against a neutral Winter sky. The thin layer of snow simplified the foreground, mirroring the gray tones of the sky and the bare trees provided the minimal essentials of scale and context. This balance of space and form confined to a square image made for a perfect metaphor for the way the three of us improvised our performance for these recordings. A minimum of constructed form just enough to give emptiness its own form. It’s a difficult balance to attain but one that cannot be forced, conceptualized or intellectualized.
Neil Jendon of Kwaidan: I did the layout. I’ve always liked simple and stark. The images, especially the radio tower on front, are so rich and strong that any sort of “graphic design” just isn’t going to stand up. When we made our final choices I knew as a designer I didn’t have a chance, so I did as little as possible. It was just words that had to be there in the negative space of these amazing pictures. My only job was information delivery. ECM in the 80’s and a lot of post-punk records from England and Europe had a lot of great, totally chilling cover art. I drew on my memories of those covers. I even did some sketches with tissue overlays because that’s how commercial art got done back then. I didn’t sit down at the computer until I was clear what I wanted.
10. Pausal ~ Sky Margin
Photography: Taylor Deupree
Simon Bainton of Pausal: This image was chosen quite late in the overall process of creating the album. We had already decided on a title and had begun working
with Taylor Deupree on the mastering stage when one of his photographs taken in Berlin came to our attention. It symbolized our chosen title quite nicely, with the rooftops and treetops literally forming a margin across the sky. It has been suggested that this cover represents a departure from the themes that our covers have depicted up to this point, which have largely been concerned with nature and the environment. However, nature is pretty well represented here too. The trees and fading evening sky juxtaposed with a decaying urban environment: for us this – along with the colours and it’s overall aesthetic – quite accurately represented the music which itself is mostly organic and acoustic in origin but explores technological processes and electronic manipulation as well.
Review and Purchase LinkPausal rocks
11. Ett Abigail ~ Five Tales
Collage: Charlie Floyd
Cloth Sleeve Design: Jose Acuña
Jose Acuña of Ett Abigail: I wanted a cover that could resemble a dream, but I didn’t want something too weird or radically surrealist. Dreams usually have some coherence to them; the landscape you see in your dreams are of course a bit strange, but they do have some sense. So I wanted a cover that could maintain that balance between “very weird” and “completely normal”, and Charlie did a great job with the cover. I really think it feels like a dream in some kind of wooded landscape with that sky full of stars.
Charlie Floyd: Jose filled me in on the background concepts of the album before I worked on the artwork for it. The idea is that it’s made up of five separate tales that are each supposed to take the listener to a different dream-like land, and the cover was made to represent one of these journeys.
CF: About 80% of the process was searching for suitable images to collage together. Finding images to use that were appropriate to the music and also worked well together was the big challenge. The collaging itself was comparatively simple: I physically combined the images at first to get an idea of layout before assembling, colouring and adjusting them all in photoshop.
JA: Both of us kept a constant communication, but we were working on our own things. The music was almost finished when I talked to Charlie and so I sent him the un-mastered album. From those files Charlie worked on the cover, based on what I asked him to do, and also on how the music made him feel.
CF: Jose was pretty open about what I could do with the cover besides the basic idea of this surreal collage, and so a lot of the ideas came from re-listening to the album and getting inspired. After I had something concrete there was a lot of conversation about improvements and other things to add which I think really helped the work.
JA: The packaging was an extra project, separate from the music and the artwork. I had to decide how to present the CD edition of the album. I like to do hand-crafted limited editions with the releases on my label Contradicta, and I wanted to try something new with ‘Five Tales’. I took the Arigato case design and tested to see if it could support being covered with fabric. The test turned out well so I made the 30 CD cases for this release. Each one took me approximately an hour to make from start to finish. It was exhausting but totally worth it. The cover was added as a separate print with tracklisting/info on the back. It would have been difficult to paste it to the fabric, so it went inside the CD case.
12. The Meets ~ It Happens Outside
Cover Art by Julie Mallis
Julie Mallis: Brandon and I had met many moons ago and bonded over our creative processes and artistic intentions. Both of us create art often as a meditation, ruminating over lines, sounds and compositions. We have collaborated on multiple projects together, beginning with my search for a lively electronic composition to use in a video/installation that would immerse the viewer into my own synesthestic world. Aside from that, I had created a digital painting and shared it with Brandon. He asked if he could use it for It Happens Outside. I knew it was perfect for the sound and that the way his music was created and produced was similar to my own.
JM: The particular painting used for the album art marks a very pivotal point for me as an artist. I had originally created a 4′ x 8′ acrylic painting in homage to Laura Owens, “Untitled, 2010”. Due to some sort of miscommunication or fault of the studio storage where I kept this painting, it had been destroyed. I mourned the loss of my 3-month long work by taking the only photograph I had of it and opening it in photoshop. I flipped it to landscape and it suddenly dawned on me: It followed the same composition as a recent watercolor and ink drawing “Icicle Caves” on 8.5″ x 11″ paper. I scanned that painting into photoshop too and digitally layered them together. I changed the opacity, saturation, hue, and collaged different elements from each work throughout it. I produced this work into a series with multiple color versions simply called “Spacescape”. Ever since this serendipitous match, I have continued to create artwork by hand that I then digitally manipulate and layer with other work.
JM: Brandon cropped the final image to fit the square dimensions of an album and then it was complete. Just as the album has a base in field recordings, so does the art visually record memories from time I spent exploring the frozen mountains of Pennsylvania. These visual recordings become abstracted by my own interpretation of events.
Brandon Locher of The Meets: The jackets are printed by Jeff Mueller (of Rodan, June of 44, Shipping News) for Dexterity Press using a letter-press printer. All of the liner-notes are clearly printed as the back cover, creating no need for a paper insert.
13. Ef ~ Ceremonies
Illustration: Staffan Larsson
Staffan Larsson: Since Cermonies is the third cover in a row that I’ve done for Ef (the others being Mourning Golden Morning and Delusions of Grandeur). We decided to try and tie a red knot and come up with some sort of grand finale that could implicate that these three records belong to each other visually. The feeling of abandonment and longing that was strong in previous designs are on Cermonies, blended with a sense of contradiction. I further tried to expand the landscape that I’ve been working with for these releases so that one can almost grasp a narrative. Since Ef’s music is extremely luring, often vivid and ethereal, I also wanted the imagery to have a dramatic quality.
SL: As always I worked on a big scale so the composition needed to sit 100 % before I could begin to draw. This took a while, getting all the waves to work with the stranded balloon but after that it was a pleasant journey. Apart from the clouds and some decorative elements, the cover is pretty much an original drawing and as usual it was made with the extensive use of coffee, ink, dried colour pens, acrylics and pencils. The LP version definitely benefits from this whilst a few details get lost looking at the CD. I have a thing for handwritten fonts, and so does the band it seems, so the lettering played an important role this time around too.
SL: Me and Niklas, who plays drums , always talk before and during the creative process to discuss ideas so the band knows whats going on. The starting point is obviously the band’s new songs and that the imagery needs to work with or enhance these pieces of music, but in general I’ve been given creative freedom, something I think is rewarding for both parties in the end.
14. Luke Howard ~ Sun, Cloud
Painting and Design: Jack Vanzet
Luke Howard: I pretty much left it to Jack, but there’s a fairly evident connection between the title of the record and the cover (sun and clouds!). Although the original concept was full color, we decided to go for the monochrome cover for the CD, as at the time I felt it reflected the aesthetic of the music better (the actual disc however is red/orange similar to the red cover here. We used the gray/red cover for the digital release as Jack felt it would pop out a bit more online. The vinyl pressing is actually going to use the original full color concept: I think I’ve made my peace with chromaticism (well, visually at least!). I’m hoping to release a digital album of remixes early next year and that will feature yet another variation of the cover!
LH: The first concept is pretty much exactly what will end up on the vinyl – so all that changed between concept and vinyl was the colors, and getting the text/layout sorted (I’m sure I was a complete PITA about that). A few of my friends pointed out that you can see a sort of alien face in the clouds. It was more visible in the higher contrast concepts (which we didn’t use).
LH: I had always wanted to do a textless disc so this was my opportunity, and that contrasted nicely with the B&W cover. Vinyl should be nice: it will have a B&W insert with the liner notes, and the rest is full color, 180gsm, the works.
15. Ben Fleury-Steiner ~ Clearings
Photography: Jürgen Heckel
Ben Fleury-Steiner: I’ve been quite enthralled with Jürgen’s photography for some time. He is also an incredibly meticulous sound artist. Indeed, his work as Sogar is some of my favorite ever released on the great 12K label–and I think his attention to subtle details in sound shows in his photography as well. I would resist comparing his photography to anyone else because I think there’s something extraordinary about his work. For the cover-photo I find it very close to sounds I enjoy–the hovering reverb of the mist over the partially visible landscape fit so perfectly with the sounds I had created, especially for my favorite, more foreboding and longer tracks like “Glade.” I was just ecstatic when Jürgen agreed to let me use this visual gem.
BFS: The picture really captures visually something that currently fascinates me as a sound artist–namely cross-fades–and finding the mysterious in-betweens or, if you will, “clearings,” of two very differently treated recordings–like the middle of a stereo field with heavily effected electric kalimba and synth playing in one channel and a nosiy, raw field recording in another. So, I create all kinds of sounds that I record into loopers that I can play and mix over and over again in real time. I record everything and then edit both by cutting stuff out and feeding parts of a recording back into my looper and pairing it with another section that caught my attention into another etc. I find this entire process exciting and more interesting than working only with mid controllers.
The Rural Colours label handled [the layout]. But I had seen some of their other releases–which have a lot of beautiful covers but use a fairly uniform pattern of flowers and the like on the CD and back–so against that simplicity I think the photo really pops.
16. Botany ~ Lava Diviner (Truestory)
Digital Painting: Penabranca
Spencer Stevenson: I wanted to echo some of the musical and conceptual themes of the album without being too overt as to make a gimmick out of them. My thinking in choosing the album art was that I wanted the record to feel like a lost piece of music history. I love the feeling I get when I come across a really intriguing old record that has no description of the music therein, very few liner notes, but cover art that excites the imagination so undeniably that it has to be heard. I really like the open-endedness of that type of record; my mind starts to fill in the blanks and create the story of the music when there isn’t much context provided in its packaging. I think in that way cover art, if chosen carefully with the intention of matching the music it is paired with, can provide much more context than lengthy liner notes if not just provide for a richer, more imaginative experience. So I chose the cover art for Lava Diviner with that kind of sentiment. Penabranca who designed the cover adds a lot of grain and wear to his pieces almost directly taking his aesthetic from old record covers, especially those of a more mystical and psychedelic variety, so his art became a perfect fit. To me, he creates covers for 60’s and 70’s records that never existed, and that’s sort of what the album is supposed to be. Future music from the past or past music from the future.
SS: The process was very modern and boring– just a lot of Tumblr browsing. I was working with a shoestring budget and ambitions that I couldn’t afford, so I was very lucky to find Penabranca’s art. I chose some of his pieces as potential covers before I had finished the record, so his art served as a springboard in some ways informing the music I was making. Penabranca’s born-name is Bruno and he works out of Brazil. What’s crazy is the other artist I had approached before finding Penabranca was also named Bruno and from Brazil, and had a vaguely related sci-fi/psych aesthetic, but in a much different way. When I set out looking for cover art I wanted some grand narrative depiction that looked like an old sci-fi book cover, but everything on that scale was well out of my price range, including this first Bruno guy. But what resulted in going with Penabranca was ultimately much more satisfying and less overt than what I had originally envisioned. The whole process of working with him in designing the packaging meant consistently having my imagination trumped by everything he sent back, down to the font he used for the album which is one of my favorite elements of the design. He really is an artist through and through and I found that when I relaxed my sense of control what he came up with was always better than what I asked him to do.
I really appreciate his art from a fan standpoint so once I found the few pieces that were candidates for the album cover, I vibed off of them when I was making the home-stretch, final touches to the album. The cover piece was already finished when I came across it so it was made specifically for this album, but I definitely feel that it pairs with it so perfectly that that doesn’t matter. Blue and orange have always been a strong color combination to me even when I was a young kid, and something about that color scheme and the symmetry of the design complete with the layer of grain and ring wear felt like I was seeing a visual representation of one of my songs. So it wasn’t a collaboration in the normal sense but it does feel symbiotic.
SS: I made this record for the medium of vinyl LP specifically. It is definitely meant to be experienced that way– side A, side B, full gatefold illustration on the inside implying one of those long forgotten records I talked about. The CD and digital versions were not foremost in my mind when I selected the art. The music itself is somewhat cinematic and visual and since I couldn’t foresee any affordable way of providing people with a comprehensive visual supplement to the music, they can at least have a big 24×12 printed piece of cardboard to sink into while listening. I really enjoy experiencing records in that way and I wanted to choose packaging that would encourage listeners to experience them that way as well.
17. The Shaking Sensations ~ Start Stop Worrying
Illustration: Dorthe Naomi
The Shaking Sensations: The cover is supposed to illustrate some kind of calmness, but also the unknowing vastness of an ocean. For some reason an ocean brings you some sort of certainty, that you’re only human and only a small and unimportant part of the world. However all oceans can be crossed and that’s something to think about when you’re sad, frustrated, lost or just unsure about everything. Our last album East of Youth, was about growing older, becoming an adult and looking back on childhood, actually celebrating it and looking back in a romanticized way, however with a naivety which makes you not want to grow up. SSW is actually about having accepted this, seeing the beautiful sides of a life that changes.
TSS: The cover art of Start Stop Worrying was designed and cut in linoleum by Danish illustrator and artist, Dorte Naomi. She has been a long time collaborator, designing our t-shirts, tour posters etc., which of course made her the natural choice to do the cover for Start Stop Worrying. The whole process was, to some extent, somewhat chaotic.
The first draft of the cover was a miss by a long shot, and would probably have befitted a heavy metal band a lot better. Our collaboration with Dorte has always been great, especially because she really has a talent for catching the essence of stuff and make our wishes and thought come alive through her visions and the linoleum cuts. What went wrong this time – no one knows. Maybe things were just a bit chaotic and stressful so we forgot to actually talk about what we wanted.
In the meantime we signed with Pelagic Records, and Robin, the owner of the label, is a really dedicated guy who has an opinion on every aspect of his releases – especially the artwork. These facts combined put a lot of pressure on us due to the fast approaching release date, and we had about two weeks to get a new cover done which everyone were satisfied with. Jeppe, one of the guitar players of the band, ended up visiting Dorte in her workshop almost every day and sending mock-ups to Pelagic Records every time a new line was cut. We actually never settled on the red color on the front of the album. Some of us involved still think this is pink red and not blood red… Anyway we succeeded and handed in the final illustrations at 11pm, one hour before a deadline that was extended as much as possible.
18. Crusade ~ EP
Illustration, Collage and Design: Kevin Garetz
Kevin Garetz: My intention was simple: say as much as you can with one image and just “vomit” so to speak, ideas, thoughts, fears, just whatever I wanted to get out of my head. I also thought it was funny at the time that whale vomit can be worth money as it is used in cologne products and other things. Honestly I think I was smoking a joint and I think I had taken mushrooms that night and as I was watching some Star Trek the Next Generation episodes it hit me. Be as tongue-in-cheek as possible but have a kind of dark serious atmosphere to it. Plus the whale is vomiting the universe so I figured maybe the universe is really just vomit from some 7th dimensional whale. Some time had passed and even after we had made some physical copies of our EP we slowly evolved into a different band and we eventually wanted to reinvent the EP, so to speak. We chose a creepy church in black and white to reperesent our blackish shoegaze sound that we had become. Vocals were added to later songs being written and a lineup change was in the process so the sound changing was inevitable.
KG: I am also a tattoo artist so I used japanese style waves to incorporate within the theme of the vomiting universe whale. The whale was a sketch I used with a reference of a real sperm whale. I cut out some construction paper I bought at a 99 cent store and some glitter and basically made a collage at the shop I was working at and took a picture on my phone. I used an app that I cant remember the name now to make it look a little creepier. The creepy church was a pic a friend had sent me and I just changed it one night. The current image just best describes our sound and what was going on around us at the time. That was pretty much it.
19. Various Artists ~ SEQUENCE6
Digital painting: Michael Waring
Michael Waring: There’s no real theme or concept intended as a starting point, but mountains feature heavily in my work; they seem to fit as an idea with the music we release. All the artwork for Futuresequence releases is made by myself, and I also run the label.
MW: The process is probably more in line with the music, it’s kind of ‘digital collage’ – using photos and graphics either of my own or found online, I build up layers and then begin to erode the source imagery so that something new is created. I’ll have a focal point to start with but quite often the direction of a piece will change completely as new things reveal themselves. There’s a balance then between me controlling the output and the work evolving itself.
One thought that carried through was that there was a warmth and colour to many of the pieces on the compilation, so I set out to convey this in the artwork (a lot of my other work is black and white, or very dark)
Hollow Press ~ Heads in Dust
Painting on silk: Sonia Firlej
Theme & Process
Sonia Firlej: This cover is a piece of my work on silk. Silk is a very specific fabric. When you paint on it you must learn to control every next move. If, however, you have mastered this, you can create great stories. My work is a record of emotions with the help of line. Something like a life line. Each line and stain shows flashing and boiling from the inside of the body. These images are my search for beauty in the apparent ugliness. I think the cover fits the acidic tones of Head In Dust. These sounds are as sensational and unpredictable as lines.
Shaun McNamara of Hollow Press: With the Heads in Dust album I knew I wanted something a little different to my last few releases. I knew I wanted something with a little bit of colour. I suppose the music itself is fairly abstract and experimental, so that was another reason in choosing the cover art. And while Sonia Firlej is an increbible photographer, she also works within other mediums and I decided on choosing one of her paintings. I feel as though the grey outer, a shape that is a Wood & Wire tradition, really did compliment the artwork.
SM: Luckily Sonia enjoys my music. After all, I’m not sure she would allow me to use her artwork if she didn’t. We email each other from time to time and I consider us to be good friends despite the distance and language barriers. For my next album, we have discussed something different. I will be sending her the album and she will take a cover photo for it. I hope she can be just as inspired to create something from listening to my music as I am inspired to create music from viewing her art. We are both excited about the process and I am very curious to see what she comes up with.
21. Burnt Friedman & Jaki Liebezeit ~ Secret Rhythms 5
Detail, Oil On Cardboard: Theo Altenberg
Theo Altenberg: [Burnt and I} met first during the preparation of the project “JOINED” in 1995 in the Kunstwerke Cologne. JOINED (the first of these) was mind-blowing and Burnt and I began with our friendship. We decided to produce music together in the late 90s. Most intensive work was done on the album “First night forever” in 2006. At the same time painting became more and more important for me.
In 2007 a friend offered a huge rooftop studio for nearly no rent to me. Burnt changed step by step to Berlin. He began producing the Secret Rhythm Series with Jaki Liebezeit and I worked “oil on canvas”. As close neighbors in our illuminated palace we had a furious time. Burnt, who had an education in visual art before he turned to music, brought up the idea of using details of my paintings as covers for the nonplace records which had been happening since 2010. Burnt came to my studio to study the recent works. We searched together for paintings that indicated “music behavior” the most. Burnt later chose the detail for the final cover.
TA: Since 2008 my life brought another change. Djuna, my wife and I caught a beautiful garden with house at the Baltic German beach. There the paintings developed more and more to “liquify colour grooves”. I changed from canvas to “Oil on preprinted Cardboard” so the colors could slip and slide better.
Julia Kent ~ Character
Illustration and design: Luke Drozd
Luke Drozd: Working on Character was a genuine pleasure. Firstly it’s a wonderful and complex record, and secondly it was another opportunity to work with Tony and The Leaf Label. Tony is incredibly focused when it comes to art directing the label’s releases, and I think the overall feel and look of the work was a real collaboration.
LD: Tony sent me the tracks and mentioned wanting something that was bold and had contrast to it. My design process always starts with sitting down and listening to the record whilst sketching ideas. After a few false starts the idea of visual scores and artists like Cornelius Cardew came up and that is what the final design is based around. On the CD digipack the ‘score’ reads from bottom to top slowly disintegrating and abstracting as it goes. The inner artwork follows this theme but with three circular, linked designs that I imagine as either bursts of music within a single piece or three complementary scores to be played together.
In terms of how the artwork is constructed, I start with sketches which are built up and developed with the recording artist and label. These are then hand inked in before scanning and colouring in photoshop. I tend to try and do as much as possible in the real, human world and use the computer as a kind of finishing tool. I think it helps the work retain a certain quality.
23. Forest Swords ~ Engravings
Design and Layout: Matthew Barne
Matthew Barne: The entire record was mixed outdoors where I live, near Liverpool. A lot of the record was influenced by the outside environment so I was keen to feed that back into the artwork. While I was making it I was collecting imagery, and there was a lot of gold and bronze that found its way into my collection. So it was all about mixing these things together in a way that resonated with me.
MB: The entire thing was done digitally so there were a lot of rough drafts and cover ideas that didn’t quite make the cut. I work as a designer so it wasn’t too much different from the work I do day to day, but it was a little harder as it was my own record. The artwork and packaging probably took about 1 month overall to finish, and came together in a way that felt natural.
MB: The cover is so striking that I was keen to make the back cover as sparse as possible, so there’s just very simple typography on it. The interior of the packaging has an illustration by Gustave Doré that is powerful and fits with some of the themes around this record. There are small differences between the vinyl and CD format – slightly different layout, etc – that is always fun to do.
24. Shoganai ~ ショウガナイ
Collage: Bas van Huizen
Art history buffs will recognize this appropriated image as the 1811 painting Zeus and Thetis by French painter Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.
Bas van Huizen: I made the cover myself. I wanted to use a powerful image with an absurd twist to emphasize the surreal elements in the music. I wanted to avoid a too dark and serious cover.
Bas van Huizen: The rectangle is obviously a Hitler moustache! (kidding!) It’s an absurd visual joke. It’s a very simple graphic element, but it works really well in the composition and hopefully makes the picture more than just a weird face swap. I was thinking more of that infamous moustache and censorship when I got the idea. It’s supposed to be enigmatic though. My creative process is more intuitive than conceptual. The cow head is from the painting I used for the other picture that’s included with the download: The Rape of Europa by Simon Vouet. Apart from the black rectangle and bull’s head I also changed the whole composition of the original painting and added extra layers of texture.
Nayt Keane: Thank you to all the artists, label folk and contributors from around the world for helping to make this series so insightful.
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