From pencil drawings to bold photography, this year’s best album covers showcased a huge range of styles. It was a year where music artworks sparked debate – three album releases in the first half of the year prompted us to ask whether we had entered the era of bad graphic design and we wondered whether Selena Gomez’s Wolves single cover art was deliberately awful or not. But they also delighted – this Michael Jackson negative space album cover and Taylor Swift’s animated music video being prime examples.
It seems the way in which music artists package and present their work is more important than ever. With that in mind, take a look at our pick of the best album cover designs from the past 12 months.
01. Björk – Utopia
Björk returned with her ninth studio album this year, and as one of the most visually compelling artists around, her album cover artwork was of course breathtaking. The Icelandic songwriter teamed up with self-taught artist and musician Jesse Kanda, who has previously worked with the likes of FKA Twigs and Arca.
02. Girlpool – Powerplant
Jaxon Demme has worked with LA duo Girlpool for the past few years, producing hand-drawn, interesting designs that depict different characters in a childlike, inquisitive manner. This latest design – for their second album Powerplant – saw the band steer away from bright and bold colours in favour of a more subdued, doodle-like illustration that reveals more depth the more you look at it.
03. Thundercat – Drunk
This 70s-style album cover for Thundercat’s Drunk certainly catches the eye. The vinyl edition also features individually designed sleeves for each side with artwork created by the musician’s friend, Atlanta illustrator and comedian Zack Fox. The photograph for the main cover was taken in Flying Lotus’ pool, with Thundercat telling the Independent that the shoot “felt totally natural”.
04. Gingerlys – Gingerlys
Comic book artist and illustrator Eliza Walton created this brilliant album cover art for Brooklyn-based five-piece band Gingerlys. Depicting a city scene with bold shapes and striking characters, Walton’s choice and use of colour is perhaps the biggest thing to take away from this work. The graffiti font used for the band name and album name is also a particularly nice touch.
05. Beck – Colors
Speaking of his creation, album cover artist Jimmy Turrell said that Beck commissioned both him and Steve Stacey to create the entire visual representation of his latest album. Packed full of bold colour, Turrell says he and Stacey looked back to their youth for inspiration, considering what stimulated them visually as kids. The Deluxe Vinyl edition allows fans to remove and change pieces to create their own bespoke cover.
06. Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights
This painted cover for Julien Baker’s second album is as beautiful as they come. Using a colour palette that’s perfect for the emotional vulnerability present in Baker’s songs, it’s a design that seamlessly flows through to the vinyl sleeve design, with illustrative flowers delicately placed throughout.
07. Wolf Parade – Cry Cry Cry
Marking the Canadian’s band first album in seven years, Wolf Parade’s Cry Cry Cry is a great example of how simple linework and straightforward graphic design can produce an album cover that is not only successful but striking. The grid-based layout is a classic style but one that works especially well here – particularly when it comes to the bold colour choice.
08. Half Waif – form/a
We featured Half Waif’s 2016 release in our roundup of the best album covers 2016 and songwriter Nandi Rose Plunkett has once again produced a beautiful album cover for her 2017 EP form/a. The cover photograph was taken by band member Adan Carlo and hand-stitched by Chilean artist María Aparicio Puente, who is known for her avant-garde embroidery.
09. Little Simz – Stillness in Wonderland
This in-depth album cover illustration for UK artist Little Simz is strikingly detailed, offering an emotive look into the inspirations of the album. The design shows Little Simz’s head split open, revealing trees from the roots below her chin, and surrounded by a cityscape of her hometown of London. It was created by McKay Felt, who has previously worked with Thundercat and Flying Lotus.
10. Moses Sumney – Aromanticism
Not featuring the name of the artist or album on the cover art is always a risky move but sometimes, the image speaks for itself. This statuesque, beautiful photograph of Sumney in a blank and bare room is perhaps a metaphor for the album’s deeply moving content. The fact we are unable to see Sumney’s head in the piece also makes it much more stimulating and intriguing.
11. Brother Ali – All The Beauty In This Whole Life
Classical Islamic geometry was used throughout the packaging for rapper Brother Ali’s latest release. Adorned with arabesque ornamentation it was created by Daud Sutton.The english lettering was done by Qasim Arif, and Rhymesayers – Ali’s record label – in-house designer Alex Everson.
12. St. Vincent – Masseduction
This bold album cover art set off the beginning of St Vincent’s – aka Annie Clark’s – visual representation for the whole Masseduction campaign. The model used in the photograph was Carlotta Kohl, who also features in another campaign photo with Clark. Placing Kohl off-centre, to the right-hand side of the cover is a brilliant choice.
13. Caddywhompus – Odd Hours
Acrylic artist Max Seckel works primarily with subdued, pastel tones, and he uses his work to explore the beauty of the everyday. Weaving the outdoors with the indoors, his work juxtaposes material items against lush, natural settings. This piece for Caddywhompus is particularly striking. Placing the band name and album title in the sign is a great touch.
14. Lorde – Melodrama
Brooklyn-based artist Sam McKinniss painted this intimate, blue-lit portrait of Lorde for her second album cover. Inspiration for the piece came from the album itself, which is all about ‘nighttime attitudes’ and the before-and-after of city parties. McKinniss worked from a photograph taken of Lorde in a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn.
15. Jay Som – Everybody Works
This screenprinted, primary coloured album cover art was used for Jay Som’s debut album Everybody Works. Featuring layered imagery that combines an owl’s face and soccer balls, the fresh, unique approach is what makes this design stand out. The overlapping imagery on top of an otherwise classic layout makes for a modern approach.
16. Feist – Pleasure
The front cover of Pleasure is adorned with bougainvillea, its vibrant colours contrasting against a darkened sky that pretty much perfectly sums up the album’s shifting tone – of seeing the light despite the darkness shrouding your mind. Feist was living in Los Angeles last winter and drove past the bougainvillea building almost every night; it was two weeks before her eureka moment.
17. Alvvays – Antisocialites
Canadian band Alvvays used a National Geographic photo for the cover of its second album. The original photo was taken by B. Anthony Stewart, and enitled ‘Campers await breeze to sail fiberglass dinghies, Camp Sebago Wohelo, Sebago Lake, Maine’. The updated version features bright colours and a high contrast.
18. Jane Weaver – Modern Kosmology
It’s this album cover’s use of typography that really makes it stand out. The mirrored writing and complimentary colours mean it maintains its impact no matter which angle you view it from, while the soft font chosen for the album’s title at the bottom contrasts nicely with the rest of the design choices. It’s a brave and bold design.
19. Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before The Void)
Featuring Hand Habits – AKA Meg Duffy – sitting strong and nonchalant, in an abstracted room, this is an album cover design that’s both flat and deep. Using bright colours for the walls of the room and then black and white, blurry imagery for Duffy and her belongings makes for an emotive reckoning and a design that stays with you long after you’ve looked at it.
20. Kendrick Lamar – DAMN
Love it or hate it, the release of Kendrick Lamar’s album DAMN. was an album cover design that made waves in both the design and music communities. It sparked a huge range of ‘DAMN.’ memes that spread across Twitter and saw Lamar’s design beginning to break down the wall between himself and the audience.