ACL 2016: The Year’s Best Album Covers

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A great album cover makes us want to hear the music; a poor album cover pushes us away.  A great album cover we share with friends; a poor album cover we keep to ourselves.  We’ve reviewed music because of covers.  We’ve avoided music for the same reason.  Great album covers are memorable, even iconic.  They serve as entry point, invitation, and summary.  The best covers have an edge, and we celebrate them here.  We hope that you enjoy this year’s selection of The Best Album Covers!

A special thanks to Nayt Keane for our amazing cover collage ~ if this were an album cover, we would have included it in our list!

amonism-the-revenant-seaAmonism + The Revenant Sea ~ The Hidden (J&C Tapes)
Cover artwork:  ‘Naturephant’ by Craig Earp and Matt Bower
Inner photographs by Simon McCorry
Layout by Matt Bower

The bittersweet nature of The Hidden is revealed in the artists’ responses, as they write of labels that no longer exist, including J&C, which closed its doors after this excellent release.  But their responses also highlight the enduring nature of art, as the legacies of these labels continue.  The cover of The Hidden whispers of ritual and sacrifice without giving away all of its secrets.  The viewer wants to see and hear more: to discover what is hidden within its folds.  (Richard Allen)

Craig, Simon and I knew each other from our days with First Fold Records, which sadly is no more, and Craig had created artwork for a number of artists on the label. They were these beautiful digital ‘collages’ built from photos he’d taken of feathers, eyes, roots, pieces of wood etc. Our ‘Naturephant’ was definitely motivated by those pieces and, shortly after Simon and I began working on the music for the album, I wanted to use the ‘Naturephant’ as the cover. When a few tracks were completed, we started passing the phrase ‘the hidden’ between us and that soon became the title of the project. We both had our own conceptual frame work and, to me, the music we produced, when partnered with the image and the title, all pointed to apophenia (“the human tendency to perceive meaningful patterns within random data”) and it all weaved together as a whole, albeit completely by accident. The inner part of the JCard features photographs Simon had taken of objects a shaman had given to him and these pictures reinforced the ideas of ‘The Hidden’, imposing an alternative viewpoint onto the album. Steve at J&C Tapes was happy for us to do what we wanted musically and visually and was really encouraging and supportive. J&C Tapes was a great label, so many incredible and influential releases and Steve was fantastic to work with.  (Matt Bower)

cassetteAs the narrative of each track condensed and clarified from the creative fog giving indication to how they should be named a play of norse mythic symbols became a common theme.

The wolf hair and other objects are sacred totemic objects associated with dreams, gifts given by strangers in numinous encounters and travels, laid out as if anthropological artefacts discovered in one of the many drawers of The Pitt Rivers Museum collection. There is meaning here, an indication of a sense, a purpose, intention and ritual, scratching at the edge of consciousness and recognition though remaining secret and eternally hidden.  (Simon McCorry)

I was a familiar with Matt’s sound as Wizards Tells Lies as I am in a band which was releasing sounds via the same label we were both involved in – First Fold Records, a Birmingham based label which is unfortunately no more.

We struck up a creative relationship and collaborated on some visual works. The artwork was formed by an online collaboration between myself and Matt; sharing and montaging images we had either illustrated or photographed. This led to Matt asking if I’d be up for him using one of our images for his and Simon’s Amonism + The Revenant Sea release.

I find Matt’s sounds both in WTL and The Revenant Sea both organic and challenging at times which is the perfect soundtrack for when I’m creating artwork.  (Craig Earp)

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Bicephalic Records ~ Monster Series 
Artwork & design by August Traeger

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I adore the Monster Series, perhaps even more after learning that I may have given it its name!  These covers are so endearing that they seem like little monsters themselves, begging to be taken home.  I’d love to see them turned into finger puppets or figurines.  A set attracts completists; if one cassette is appealing, the others get attention as well.  But the best part of these covers is that they say, “Hi!  We’re here, we’re happy, come listen to us!”  Ugly Dolls, watch your backs.  (Richard Allen)

This series of split cassette tapes features 8 tapes in editions of 50 each. Each copy has unique hand-painted and numbered artwork and painted cassette labels resulting in a total of 400 individual paintings for the series as a whole.

carl-krugerTheme
The underlying themes sort of manifest during the process of creation. I like to work with the natural four “solar” stations or cycles (relating to seasons, directions, and stages of life). While choosing the final drawings and arranging them into pairs, I realized they fell somewhat abstractly into these groupings.

The first 2 represent naivety and childhood. They are the twins of creation, dressed in their celestial architecture. The second pair are the elders of the tribe. They are the enigmatic faces of the initiates upon reaching the pinnacle. Next come the personifications of death and decay, shining darkly in a bright room. The final pair are astral entities from beyond. They are astral twins of the oracles, galaxy-eyed and prophetic.

Another thematic aspect that runs through many releases of my label is one of binary pairs. Bicephalic means two-headed, so I often release split tapes with artists of a complementary nature. As part of the process, I asked each of the 16 artists to provide me with 2 words they enjoyed (or made up). One word from each artist on the tape was used to come up with the titles. That’s how they ended up having names like “Immediate Shred”, “Quantum Ouch”, and “Infrared Dynamo”.

coversProcess
The finished artwork emerged from an (ultimately failed) attempt to minimize the amount of time I spent working on album art for my label’s releases. I had planned on printing each release in black ink on colored paper to simplify the design process. I began by creating drawings using black marker on cardstock paper. I created one or two drawings a day for a couple of months. The figures themselves are in a style that I often draw (it is about the only style in which I can draw). They are essentially large, improvised doodles.

It was around this time that I decided that while they looked good in black and white, they would look even better if colored using watercolors. Plus I felt this would ultimately create more unique and interesting finished pieces.

Eventually I set about selecting the final groupings. The pairings themselves sort of emerged organically according to the theme described above. These were then scanned into the computer and incorporated into the final layout for the tape artwork. Once the tape inserts were printed I began hand-painting and numbering each of the 400 pieces of artwork! The cassette labels were also printed first then hand-painted in a similar manner.

So in the end I subverted my own attempt to minimize the amount of work I would need to do. I feel it was definitely the right direction to go however since there has been an overwhelmingly positive response. My weird little children are starting to make friends!  (August Traeger)

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out-of-the-blueBruno Bavota ~ Out of the Blue (Sono Luminus)
Artwork by Marzia Figliolia
Photograph and Retouch by Linda Russomanno

The colors are sublime: magenta, pastel purple, pink, turquoise.  The papers seem lovingly ripped, like waves.  The overall impression is that of a children’s storybook, promising to take the reader on a fanciful journey.  This is the impression of the music as well: nostalgic, imaginative and free.  (Richard Allen)

For this powerful yet deeply emotional fifth work by Bruno Bavota, Linda Russomanno and I wanted to create something that resembled both the feelings and the history behind every single piano piece. In order to do so, we thought about the main themes touched by the album: the dusk, the mountains and, of course, the sea. Out of all that came to my mind, I chose not to paint any clear image, but rather to create a concept: a hint of the emotions that trickle from Bruno’s fingers each time I listen to his music. Just like that, I made colors trickle down overlaid pieces of cardboard, as I wanted to give the painting a tactile, tridimensional-like sense. I started with a rich red and darkened it until I reached a deep blue. Linda than photographed it and added the right lighting, underlining the texture of the painting and making it somehow pop out of the cover itself, like a sunset over… something… maybe mountains, maybe water, you could say, looking at the shapes… but in the end it doesn’t really matter: what this artwork is really trying to suggest is the power of the flowing, the movement, the waves building inside this stream of passion we call music, crashing on our ears and, finally, gently rocking our hearts.  (Marzia Figliolia)

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no-perfect-waveC. Diab ~ No Perfect Wave (Injazero Records)
Cover art by Mark Bakema
Design by Pelin Morris
Art direction by Siné Buyuka

The stark black-and-white art lends itself to various interpretations.  Viewed at a natural distance, the cover looks like an eye; close-up, like overlapping cross-sections of tree trunks or vinyl records; far away, like a solar eclipse.  Any and all of these interpretations can be applied to the music, which is layered and dense, suffused with darkness and light.  The answer lies in the eye ~ and the ear ~ of the beholder.  (Richard Allen)

Recording an album for me is a way of creating a sort of sonic beacon, acting as a connector between selves over time, and No Perfect Wave is no exception. It was amazing fun to create, and the end result is probably the most purposeful thing I could have hoped for. I’m really overjoyed that it resonates with people.  (Caton Diab)

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climbChris Abrahams ~ Climb (Vegetable Records)
Illustration:  Steve Heather

At first, we were intrigued by the positioning of the cover image, a gorgeous butterfly (or so we thought) content to be slightly out of the spotlight.  But then we saw the gatefold, and a fuller illustration was revealed.  In the digital age, few people will see this image, as it requires the physical copy to be fully enjoyed.  But we love the implication of hidden treasures, which is also the implication of the album, a solo piano work from a member of The Necks.  (Richard Allen)

The art work I made specifically for “Climb” is a collage of dismembered natural history.  Not unlike the music, a beautifully mutated creature navigating its way.  (Steve Heather)

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daghravenDaghraven ~ #1 (Consouling Sounds)
Concept:  Kevin Imbrechts
Execution and Photography:  Stefaan Temmerman
Layout by Dehn Sora

The second I saw this cover, I thought of the book Haunted Air, and for good reason: as the artist writes below, the photo is an homage to that classic collection.  The shadows are exquisitely dramatic, the mood foreboding, just what one would want as an introduction to an album that also made our 2016 Music for Haunted Houses feature.  (Richard Allen)

While writing the music for Daghraven #1, I deliberately wanted to externalize, musically speaking, the tension between life and death, present life and the afterlife. Creating new contemporary ambient pieces originating from old gramophone records I collected over the years, and vice versa.
Basically, the idea for the artwork originates from the same idea or concept. Mixing old and new together in a pleasant eerie atmosphere. That period I accidentally discovered Ossian Brown’s photo book ‘Haunted Air’, a collection of old anonymous Halloween photographs, dating from 1875 until 1955. These pictures perfectly represent the atmosphere I had in mind. Especially one picture was ’spot on’, two children in a white eerie dress, holding each other’s hands, right in front of their derelict family home. I wanted to make a contemporary re-make of this old photograph.  (Kevin Imbrechts)

As the label of Daghraven, we try to be as involved as much as we can be. One of my dearest friends is Stefaan Temmerman, who is of course an amazing photographer. We decided to take Kevin’s idea and run with it. I collected some of my children’s fancy dresses, and they were eager to play along. Together with Stefaan we decided to head out for an afternoon, and see where the mood would take us. I dressed up the children, and Stefaan found the perfect location and worked his magic. His eye for (eerie) detail is remarkable, and in no time we had the picture we felt perfectly captured what we were after. It’s clear to the trained eye this picture was made in Belgium. That type of house, with the power lines in the back, is a very distinctive sight in our area. So it was nice to highlight the horror of it. To wrap this all perfectly together, I asked Dehn Sora to take the source material, and design the packaging of the album. Dehn Sora is known for his work with Treha Sektori and Sembler Deah — just to name a few. He was the perfect guy to ask for the design, as his own musical path aligns perfectly with what we had envisioned. So the process of the making of the artwork felt very natural and comfortable. Quite the opposite of the end result actually. (Mike Keirsbilck)

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mutogibitoDalot ~ Mutogibito (n5MD)
Design: Violetta Testacalda

The concept is simple yet beautiful: to illustrate generations of motherhood as a series of interlocking figures, interlocked by cradling hands.  Dalot recorded the album as a new mother, and we published our review on Mother’s Day.  The music is well-designed for playdates and lullabies.  To see the cover is to know what’s inside: comfort and warmth.  (Richard Allen)

The project is related to the concept of life cycle and how it is reflected in the process of the pregnancy and the moment of birth (and after). The music is driven by the device of repetition as in lullabies for example. Repetition is also key to all the different stages of parenthood, from giving birth to raising a newborn and beyond. The album functions through various repetitive melodic forms and subtle harmonic changes. The title is somewhat cryptic: Mutogibito

.  In my initial concept for the artwork, I thought of looking into Japanese kimono stencil art of the Edo Period, cells, childbirth contractions and most of all, the circular process of giving life.

  (Dalot)

mutogibito_inlay1Process: 
I worked on an essential figure (sketches, pencil illustrations and after that photoshop processing) to represent the big concept of maternity and repetition. I wanted it to be sweet, strong and female. This character appeared very clear on my mind and she’s a Japanese, Indian, Chinese, Russian, Inuit blend of Mutogibito, in a way, a baboushka russian doll (with roots-lungs branches in the inner side of the artwork).  (Violetta Testacalda)

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EF_TF_Split_CD_Gatefold.inddEf/Tiny Fingers ~ Vaya (Pelagic)
Artwork:  Max Löffler

The artwork imitates the excitement of a comic book panel, with illustrated woodwork, three-dimensional circles and elegant script, simultaneously organic and futuristic.  The three-dimensional effect is akin to that of thrown confetti or molecules in motion.  Two styles, two bands, one wonderful mesh.  (Richard Allen)

It is quite a task to bring two bands of such a different style together on one image, meaning EF’s melancholic post-rock grandeur and Tiny Fingers’ “atomic rock from outer space and beyond”.  I had a lot of artistic freedom in the process, so I decided to let the cover image take shape quite naturally. The only thing I had in mind before was to portray wind or air (Vāyu is the Hindu deity of the winds) in a pattern-like, warm but also vibrant and intense way. The rest is the result of listening to the songs and diving into their radiant world.  (Max Löffler)

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eluviumEluvium ~ False Readings On (Temporary Residence)
Cover Art:  Obsolete World (Jeanne Lynne Paske)

The cover figure suggests two things at once: the human impression left after a nuclear blast, and a person made of sand slowly blowing away.  Each interpretation is relevant to the music, which comes across as a requiem, yet takes the form of sonic abrasion.  Somehow the figure still remains strong, nearly defiant, in the midst of the final stand.  (Richard Allen)

Theme: False Readings On is linked to ideas relating to cognitive dissonance and takes on a darker mood than many of Eluvium’s previous albums. I’ve been gradually moving in a different direction with my art and the idea of a minimal humanlike focal point appealed to me. I feel as though it compliments the music on the album as, much like this fractured silhouette, one who suffers from the mental stresses of cognitive dissonance can often feel torn between contrasting ideas and slowly ripped apart by the views of these colliding theories.

Process: The artwork itself was derived from an idea that Matthew had come up with. He wanted something a bit less complex for this album, so I sketched out a few different concepts and we settled on the one we felt would be the best fit. Matthew and I live together and I have had the privilege of hearing him craft many pieces as I draw and paint. I believe he was in the final stages of the album when I illustrated this. The music had a haunting and profound effect on me.  (Jeanne Lynne Paske)

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coverFlorian von Ameln ~ Rvvr (Eilean Records)
Photograph:  Rebecca Cairns

The photograph begs for a story.  Who is this woman?  How did she get in the gulch?  How long has the riverbed been dry, and is it about to flood again?  She huddles back, as if for safety, her feet angled as if she is afraid she will fall in.  All this generates curiosity for the album; seeing this image, we had to hear the music.  (Richard Allen)

This photograph was taken three years ago during summer while I was in the company of two people who are dear to me.  We drove for seven hours back to my hometown. I brought them further into the country so that I could show them one of the most beautiful places I know–these red hills.  (Rebecca Cairns)

I found several aspects of how RVVR came together are reflected in that very picture. The mix – and antithesis – of acoustic and synthetic instruments was an important aspect. I was looking for a picture that carried the idea of two somewhat contradictory aspects. In that photo, I felt this is represented by being primarily bicolored, as well as by showing mostly some nature, but then, still, some human.

Another point is that a well structured, tidy picture wouldn’t have worked for me. Some of the recordings were done in rather turbulent times for me, and at some point I thought I would not be able to finish in time. In this spirit the music has grown, and the result is certainly not a concept album. I’m glad that the final artwork reflects this – for me at least it does.  (Florian Von Ameln)

I loved this photo as soon as I discovered the works from Rebecca Cairns. I propose some various choices to Florian for the artworks and it was one of the most coherent and relevant for his release. the fact is that we don’t know from where it is, who it is, why, and it fit really well with his out of time work. the old textured colors bring the same feelings than the album.  (Mathias Van Eecloo/Eilean Records)

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lulinGidge ~ Lulin (Atomnation/TYPE)
Cover photo by Ludvig Stolterman
Cover layout and title text by Vilma Larsson

One of the most original releases of the year, Lulin is a 24-minute film with a 43-minute score, or the other way around.  The intrigue begins with the cover image, which boasts a rare and otherworldly shade of green.  Like the image, the film hides its mysteries even after the closing credits; Gidge’s haunting score is its own beast, dancing just beyond the edge of comprehension.  (Richard Allen)

The photograph for the cover of Lulin is one that I took probably seven or eight years ago. It’s a 120mm film photo, shot with a very old Yashica-Mat medium format camera. It was dusk, and the fog was slowly rolling in on the field. I didn’t have a light meter and assumed it would probably be too dark, but took one picture anyway. Later, when I got the roll developed, this photo was indeed way too dark, but I managed to make it lighter after scanning it, which also brought out all these little dust particles which I thought added something to the atmosphere of the picture. The concept of Lulin, an album made entirely around the idea of a mystical creature living in the woods, was an idea we had had for a long time, and I always pictured this photo being its cover.

Vilma Larsson later did the title text and layout for the cover. We didn’t want to use a pre made font, as we wanted a unique feel to it. We also wanted it to feel natural and organic. We were talking about how we wanted the word to feel like maybe it was written by someone who had once seen Lulin, like in a diary or something, so Vilma did a bunch of different handwritten versions. We decided to go with this one, and when placing it on the cover she also added a soft glow around the text, making it play off the glow of the fog in the photo.  (Gidge)

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cisternJherek Bischoff ~ Cistern (Leaf)
Artwork:  Alex Stoddard

The cover implies isolation and immersion, themes relevant to the album’s conception.  But it also establishes gold as the artist’s color in the same way that Purple Rain did so for Prince.  At first glance, the artist seems to be yearning to breathe; after closer examination, the viewer realizes that he is comfortable where he is.  The artist has been around for a while, so this image is a great way to introduce his newest and best incarnation.  (Richard Allen)

Theme
Jherek approached me with some very specific ideas in mind for visuals he wanted to represent the music. As an artist working with a client, being given such a clear brief is a dream. Given the grand, echoing instrumentals and darker themes present on Cistern, we sought to create an image that had a lot of ‘space’ and darkness to it. We wanted the subject to be isolated in this vast darkness, suspended in a moment, the only source of light or substance in an otherwise black hole. This decision was informed by Jherek’s own process for creating the album, which involved him recording in a 2 million gallon underground water tank or ‘cistern’ in Washington state.

Process
We decided early on to do the shoot entirely underwater, but it took a few attempts working in different environments to really achieve the effect we were after. Initially, Jherek and I took a dip into the ocean off the coast of one of Southern California’s busiest beaches, he fully clothed in a glittering gold suit and shoes, and myself armed with an underwater digital camera. We swam along the kelp beds and mussel-covered rocks, shooting whenever the waves allowed us and created some interesting pieces. After regrouping and reviewing what we had captured, Jherek and I thought it best to spend an additional day shooting in a more controlled setting where we wouldn’t be bothered by inconsistencies in light or the temperament of the tide. The next afternoon, we sunk an enormous black bed sheet in a residential swimming pool and repeated the process of the day before, eventually coming away with the cover image.  (Alex Stoddard)

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byrdsJim Perkins & Tom Gaisford ~ Byrds (Bigo & Twigetti)
Design:  Lucille Clerc

This is my favorite album cover of the year, but it’s also the most frustrating, because it only exists in the digital world.  It looks like a picture disc, or at the very least a flexi disc, boasting amazingly realistic depth and lively photographic color.  To quote my initial review, “we like the art so much that we’re reviewing this single, even though we usually don’t review singles, and it has vocals, even though we usually don’t review vocals. There’s no better way to alert labels and artists that art is important!”  Great art -> reviews -> sales -> happiness!  This impact provides the raison d’être for this article.  (Richard Allen)

Musically, Byrds is an intuitive reflection on the Kyrie from William Byrd’s mass for 3 voices. Cantus Firmish is an arrangement of the original piece and Kyrie is a fairly instinctive response to it, which includes some strong departures from the original whilst retaining choral and vocal elements as the dominant sound.

I first came across Lucille’s artwork at the East London Comic Arts festival and I immediately connected with it. Her work combines intricate detail with structured form but retains an instinctive and informal feel and those elements all resonated strongly with me as they are important aspects in my compositional process.

My approach to the artwork was very hands off. I briefly explained the concept behind the EP and sent Lucille some of the music and then left her to it. I think both with the artwork and with the label in general, I favour an approach which involves inviting people whose work I admire to collaborate and then giving them a lot of freedom to explore their ideas.  (Jim Perkins)

This cover came after two others I did for Jim.  He usually sends me samples or/and explains me the concept behind the sound.  I listen to the samples again and again, and write the images that come to mind while listening. This part is very nice, It’s very instinctive. I don’t think about the result of the final image but only about a shape or concept that could be a visual translation of his music.

I’ve been developing an aesthetic that is quite abstract and consistant, and it’s very nice for me to see this visual world unfold like a panorama from one album to the next. Jim’s music feels quite dreamy and ethereal to me and I wanted to keep this sensation in my images, something quite light, airy, and open that encourages the mind to travel a little. For Byrds the idea was to reflect a sort of echo like ripples on water. All my images are hand drawn and/or screen printed to keep as much texture as possible. The music is very crafted with several levels of sounds and overlapping and I wanted to reflect this too.  (Lucille Clerc)

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ultimate-care-iiMatmos ~ Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey)
Design:  Ted Mineo

When one constructs an album out of washing machine sounds, one needs an image to match, and Ted Mineo’s cover has the makings of a classic.  Matmos took chunks of sound from the machine; Mineo took chunks of material.  We’ve never heard an album like this, and we’ve never seen an album like this.  As an extra bonus, concert attendees can purchase a bar of Matmos-stamped soap.  (Richard Allen)

Our album is made entirely out of the Whirlpool Ultimate Care II washing machine in our basement; all the sounds on the record, however mangled or distorted or tweeked, originally come from this object. We wanted to somehow reflect that purity of source in the cover art, but also to suggest all the ways that we transform and mutate and alter the bare bones reality of that source. It’s a record that risks seeming merely “silly” but there’s a kind of mystery and perversity to it and we wanted the cover to telegraph that. M.C. was looking online and found these glistening, hyperreal collages of photography by Ted Mineo that had a quasi-pornographic dimension, just these odd melting machinic-fleshscapes that reminded us a bit of the golden age of Hipgnosis. M.C. wrote to Ted and described the project and it turned out that Ted knew our music and was quite keen to get involved. Ted came down to Baltimore and did a photoshoot with our washing machine in our basement and then went to town, creating many variations and manipulations and impossible transformations of the source. We loved the strange marble/flesh feeling of the cover image, how it makes the washing machine at once vulnerable and wounded-looking but also like stone. I picked a group of additional images by Ted to use as a fullcolor booklet inside with no words or explanatory text, just an encounter with Ted’s response to the machine. M.C. had the idea to layout all the text in a direct imitation of the explanatory warning text inside the lid of the machine, and to get a French translation too, so that the whole interior would resemble the inside of the actual washing machine. The result is artwork which feels to us like a direct visual analogue to the recording / sampling / manipulation / assemblage sequence that created the music. We’re really happy with how this turned out.  (Drew Daniel of Matmos)

ucii-2I was delighted when Drew and M.C. invited me to create artwork for Ultimate Care II. I was already a big fan of their music and their various approaches to making albums. Their idea to use the washing machine as visual raw material for the album cover meant that my working process could parallel theirs. They generously made their Ultimate Care II available to me as a photographic subject, so I packed up my camera and lights and took the Bolt Bus to Baltimore. When M.C. brought me in to their basement studio, i was struck when I saw the Ultimate Care II. At that point, I had been doing my research, which meant spending many hours ogling it online and reading about it on Whirlpool repair message boards.

M.C. did a load of laundry for me as I photographed, showing me his techniques for keeping white fabrics white (rinse twice). This tour into the specifics of the machine, its environs and routines was a gift; he and Drew wanted to give me a chance to see the Ultimate Care II as they experienced it. Listening to the album in their studio further animated the possibilities for me: its frenzied joyful violence and steely, sweaty ambience guided my way.

ucii-3They had joked with me about making “glamour shots” of the Ultimate Care II; that phrase resonated and led me to the cover image. It’s a photo of the Ultimate Care II removed from the warm weathered textures of its basement home and then reinserted into a space (built from a panel of the machine) meant to evoke a fashion photographer’s seamless backdrop. I created the voids on the body of the machine by making a small clay model of it, cutting away at the clay, photographing the results and then compositing the voids into my photo of the machine. There were several iterations of this image which got goofier and more baroque each time. Those alternate versions featured chunkier, rawer incisions, with the machine billowing smoke and sparks. They wisely chose the image that seemed to be about the structure of the machine’s body rather than the ones that were designed to create a specific smoke-and-mirrors moment in time. The layout and organization of the whole package came together beautifully; I’m extremely proud to be a part of it.  (Ted Mineo)

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lindMikael Lind ~ Intentions and Variations (Morr Music)
Design:  Julia Guther

This “remixed art” still blows me away ~ I want a poster!  The color contrast is the highlight; the prismatic shades of these falling stars pop as they swirl.  The cursive writing is perfectly integrated into the overall presentation.  Even the water flows in the same direction as the hot light.  In the distance, one star lands, its impact only beginning to be seen.  Together, these instinctive combinations create a lasting impact.  (Richard Allen)

The work on Mikael Lind’s cover was what i call a perfect collaboration. He came up with lots of beautiful footage that he asked me to use and transform into something new. The picture of the »meteor storm« was the one that caught my attention the most and that, to me, went best with the atmosphere in the weightless sound of his tracks. I immediately saw the letters of his name and the album title glowingly flying downwards alongside the other stars… the rest was easy – Mikael liked it right away. An album artwork fallen from the sky so to say.  (Julia Guther)

When writing the music that ended up on Intentions and Variations, I had often pretty vivid images in my mind that somehow guided me while making certain compositional choices. During my year in Edinburgh 2013-2014, studying digital music and composition, I got fascinated with questions about music and imagery. How can certain musical intervals and/or frequencies best be represented in visual form? This is nothing new – people have been battling with these questions for ages – but at a personal level, studying music and harmony alongside elementary geometry, biology and physics helped me develop my musical style. A piece of music can never faithfully represent an image – there is too much subjectivity involved here – but what an image can do is to trigger the musical imagination of the composer.

Therefore, when trying to come up with ideas for an artwork for Intentions and Variations, I tried to find ways to let my mental images be turned into an album cover. Julia Guther sent me her thoughts on the music, and I bombarded her with imagery in order to try to share as much of my inner vision with her as I could. She did an amazing job processing all the footage, and came up with some very beautiful collages and edits that worked perfectly with the music. I feel that the enjoyment of the music increases if you have the album artwork in front of you while you listen, and that is exactly what the function of any album cover should be! So, needless to say, I was very happy with how the artwork turned out.  (Mikael Lind)

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resina-1Resina ~ Resina (Fatcat/130701)
Cover Art:  Hanna Cieślak
Press Photo:  Kamila Chomicz

We start with the year’s best press photo, for many the introduction to avant-garde cellist Resina.  The contrast between the bright red hair and the green landscape is stunning, the mystery preserved by the angle of the shot.  Now enter the cover artist, who creates what may become the artist’s iconic image: a slightly disturbing image reminiscent of The Ring, hinting at the darkness of the album’s tracks.  The truth of Resina’s sound is caught midway between these points, light and darkness, and both images were needed to represent the fullness of her work.  (Richard Allen)

The photograph was taken at the lake in the small Polish town Kolbudy (near the seaside). The light green colour of the cane contrasted with Caroline’s hair, which seemed to be like fire on that background. The hair and the plants were arranged in one rhythm, yet her face, turned, made the impression of being uncertain. She wanted the figure be well visible, but also she wanted the surroundings to be well perceived.  (Kamila Chomicz)

resinaI’ve known Karolina’s work from the many music projects she has been involved in over the years, and I have always admired her taste, imagination, and craft. So I was really excited when she asked me if she could use one of my pencil drawings of long female hair on her debut album cover.

Hair can be very expressive and also very symbolic. It can be seen as a symbol of submission to social expectations to look feminine, but it also evokes a sense of wildness and strength. Its complex texture and character make it something very interesting to draw. I personally find it more interesting than faces.

The idea behind this drawing was to suggest that there’s a body underneath, but not to show any potentially protruding parts such as hands or legs. The hair was supposed to take on a life of its own, become less human, more abstract, more a part of nature. I wanted to make it recognizable but at the same a separate entity, with a weird and different shape, a form of life that doesn’t actually exist. I also wanted to make its feminity an armour.

I aimed for simplicity, with an uneasy and disturbing visual effect.

The process of drawing simply involved layering strokes of pencil on paper, differentiating them with hand pressure and graphite hardness. Although the original piece is quite small, it was a pretty painstaking work, but this is the kind of work I enjoy; there’s a somewhat meditative flow to it.

I like how this drawing works with the music on the album. There is a lot of nature in Karolina’s work, and my illustration relates to it in an indirect way. (Hanna Cieślak)

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third-lawRoly Porter ~ Third Law (Tri Angle)
Photograph:  Suren Manbelyan

Armenian photographer Suren Manbelyan specializes in macro eyes, and his galleries are mesmerizing.  That’s where we learned that the cover image of Third Eye is that of a British short hair cat.  The color, depth and angle of his images suggests craters, geysers, volcanos, marbles, galaxies, black holes … the familiar made unfamiliar, the average made astonishing.  Third Law suggests a new way of looking at composition, while Manbelyan suggests a new way of looking at photography.  Each artist holds a mirror to the other.  (Richard Allen)

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shimmer-crushShimmer Crush ~ These Four Walls (Crime League)
Photography by Laurel Saoirse
Design by Stephen Seto

The colors are sublime, the textures three-dimensional; Dave McKean would be proud of this mysterious mixed-media presentation, which escapes onto the borders of the black for a final statement.  The cover is a faithful representation of the music, which is similarly colorful yet shaded, hiding nuance in every pore.  When we look, we ask, “What are these images?”  When we listen, we ask, “What are these sounds?”  (Richard Allen)

These Four Walls is an album which examines confined space, its limitations and the transformation and insight that can come from that environment. It acts as a reflection on experience as a means to accept, learn and grow from it. I chose images I photographed on my travels through East Asia, layering a statue of Buddha and an image of trees and water shot in Jiuzhaigou National Park in Southwest China. that journey was undertaken with my then husband Stephen Seto who used my image to layout and design the album artwork. His choice of graphic elements stemmed from the following idea, “Thin lines are used as containers in the design of the album artwork. A thin white rectangular border challenges the viewer to focus on what is inside this border; but really, is what is on the inside that different from what is on the outside?”. The result is a thoughtful and meaningful collaboration that describes the nuances and complexities of the music and of life in all of its variables.  (Laurel Saoirse)

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leafStefano Guzzetti – Leaf (Stella Recordings / Brooklyn Bridge Records)
Design: Vaughan Oliver
Illustrations: Claudia Pomowski

Stefano Guzzetti is the rare composer whose attention to presentation is so consistent that it becomes part of his reputation.  Every physical release has something going for it ~ enclosures, booklets, hand-stitching and more.  The inside of Leaf (seen below) is just as alluring as the outside.  But the cover draws us in.  A seemingly-ancient photo is inverted; layers of flora are visible throughout; and bold typography displays the title, along with the artist’s name in humbler font.  (Richard Allen)

It’s a lovely marriage of image and music. That’s it. (Vaughan Oliver)

the-inside-of-the-leafFor me the album Leaf is like a sweeping, epic novel written in three languages (Italian, English, German). It is like a book providing its readers with the intimacy, in which you can discover the sensitivity and romantic emotions in the individual scenes of an allegorical narrative. You are taken by the depth of the melancholia created by the power and passion of the music. ‘Images and sounds say more than a thousand words’ – this is how I would like to expand the frequently cited, well-known saying ‘An image says more than a thousand words’ and I would like to illustrate by this, that the album Leaf provides a novel that encompasses more than a thousand pages full of melancholia and intimate magical moods. Vaughan Oliver was the visionary, the inventor and the executor – so to speak the ‘pastor’ marrying the couple of picture and music, linking Art with Art. Thanks a lot. Listening to the inspiring music I immediately found myself in a creative process and felt a great joy when transposing the compositions by Stefano Guzzetti into images applying collage and drawing techniques. (Claudia Pomowski)

The theme for Leaf, while I was in the writing process, was to describe life, as something very sad was unexpectedly happening in that period. Metaphorically, I took the inner ramifications of the surface of a leaf as an example of a given design, in this case given to us by nature. A design that can be very severe and dark, struggling and in the meantime of immense beauty. In my opinion Vaughan Oliver and Claudia Pomowski, with their great talents, perfectly succeeded to portray the essence of this album. (Stefano Guzzetti)

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decadenceTomonari Nozaki ~ Triptych Series (Forwind)
Artwork:  Jakob Brondum
Design:  Hannes Jentsch

This stunning EP series is tied together thematically by the art of Jakob Brondum.  His swirling paints produce a sense of synaesthesia that is reflected in the music.  We asked for a physical release, and lo! late in the year, one appeared.  The new cover art combines elements of all three preceding EPs, another artistic triumph.  (Richard Allen)

When I was approached by the art director from Forwind Publishing about a collaboration involving my work, I became intrigued as I set about trying to understand the music of Tomonari Nozaki.

To me his music is very cinematic and I kept imagining scenes and situations. The music itself creates images. It is story telling, and I feel that that is what I do with my paintings also.

triptychMy paintings are huge canvasses which tend to be of people and human related situations. With the lengthy sequences of the music and the tones, the album became a more abstract form of story telling than what I normally paint. I collaborated with Forwind’s Hannes and Shane as we selected paintings and began to dissect each individual painting by photographing the large canvases up close.

During this process my personal story telling became less about actual motifs but more about the use of colours and different medias.

I feel that the final result reflects that our story telling hit a common abstract ground where it is explorative, new and vibrant.

We used three snippets from different paintings for each of Tomonari’s EPs, and for the final compilation Hannes digitally layered all three on top of each other, and thereby created a whole new story line to go with the album. It is a very powerful image and hopefully conveys the intensity and perfect cinematic mood that the album oozes.  (Jakob Brondum)

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New Words - Album Cover (Square) RGBWilliam Ryan Fritch – New Words For Old Wounds (Lost Tribe Sound)
Painting by Sail (Uselessarm)

Look carefully at the image on your right.  Carefully.  As explained below, you are not looking at a photograph.  This alone is an amazement.  The power of the image can be found in the stark contrast between the all-black background and the figure in the foreground, whose headdress coveys a gothic sensibility.  One would not want to meet such a person in battle.  And yet, there is great beauty, even sensuality, in the image as well.  Fritch’s music draws from each angle, making this the ideal image to highlight his year-long subscription series.  (Richard Allen)

The cover painting “Sagari” was inspired by the Yokai of the same name. Sagari come from the spirits of horses which die on the road and are discarded and left to rot where they fall. The horses’ souls sometimes get caught in the trees as they rise from the bodies. I read that humans have the ability to free the souls, but it didn’t state how. I went toward the Native American idea of honoring the animal by using all of it. In this case, turning the skull into a beautiful headdress to honor it in life and death. That felt at peace with the title ‘New Words for Old Wounds,’ so I was happy to allow William and Ryan to use it for the cover art.  (Sail/Uselessarm)

This cover holds a special place in our heart. We knew it had to be something big to close out the 12 album subscription series from Fritch. Much of the series featured artwork from illustrator João Ruas and finding an artist with a similar vibe and high level of intricacy was no easy task. That’s when came across the work of Sail and we were sold. The crazy thing about Sail’s art that he rarely mentions is that everything you see is created by hand using pen and ink. It blew us away when we realized this, since most would think it was some sort of photoshopped creation.

We felt Sail’s “Sagari” contained the perfect amount of drama to hold its own against the music of ‘New Words For Old Wounds.’ His piece brings a certain sadness and mystery with it that melded very naturally with the themes of the album. We wanted this cover to be a surprise for Mr. Fritch, to serve as a gift for his beautiful work on the series. We didn’t even show the cover art to him until the final packaging arrived at his doorstep. Thank goodness he trusts us.  (Ryan Keane/Lost Tribe Sound)

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Richard Allen

3 comments

  1. Pingback: - Odd Person

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  3. Pingback: Album Cover Hall of Fame’s Year-End Summary of Best and Worst Album Cover Art listings 2016 | Album Cover Hall of Fame.com

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