The physical CD is dying out, going the way of other defunct formats like vinyl and cassettes. Sales are declining, and high street music retailers, like Zavvi and HMV, are going bust, closing stores, or focusing on headphones and gig tickets. A bright spot in an otherwise gloomy landscape is the digital album.
The growth of digital sales is easily understood, with the iTunes Music Store and similar services more convenient and offering more variety; no HMV can be expected to similarly accommodate, for example, Bob Dylan’s entire discography (thirty-four albums, not counting live recordings and compilations). But many people have argued that you lose something with digital albums – sound quality, and album artwork.
Yes, album covers are increasingly relegated to a thumbnail on an iPod screen, but that does not mean musicians have given up on the album cover. The album cover is arguably, alongside the music video, still the best way of defining a sound and identity.
The following are ten beautifully designed, photographed or illustrated album covers from 2011. The selected covers have appeared on top tens and curated lists by influential music sites, such as Art Vinyl and Complex.
There are two broad trends with entries one to five. 1. A minimal aesthetic, the image cropped into a shape and set against a plain background, and 2. nostalgic images (washed-out pastel colours, an old snapshot). Entries six to ten are an electic mix of painted covers, erotica, and illustrations.
1. Cut/Copy – Zonoscope
Zonoscope is the third studio album by Australian electronic band Cut/Copy. The cover art, showing New York City engulfed in a waterfall, was created by the Japanese photomontage artist Tsunehisa Kimura, who died in 2008. Zonoscope won the Artisan Award for Best Cover Art.
The cover for electro-pop outfit Metronomy’s The English Reviera borrows the former logo of the English Riviera Tourist Board. Direction and layout by Aaron Larney and Joseph Mount (founder of the band).
4. The Drums – Portamento
The second studio album by American indie pop band The Drums. The cover image is a photo of singer Jonathon Pierce as a child. He explained to ClickMusic.com that it is ‘a photo I had in a photo album that I stole from my parents’ house when I ran away from home … We painted my eyes red in the photograph. I felt that was why my parents always feared me – like a demonic child’.
5. Real Estate – Days
The second album by psychedelic surf-pop band Real Estate. I love the retro typeface and the washed out, pastel colours.
6. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Bon Iver’s self-titled second album. The cover was created by Minnesota artist Gregory Euclide. He used melted ice and snow ‘for all the water needed‘, whatever that means.
7. Washed Out – Within and Without
Washed Out’s debut album. The stock photo of a lovers clinch had first appeared in an issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, accompanying an article titled ‘Is This the Most Satisfying Sex Position?’
8. Butcher the Bar – For Each A Future Tethered
Beautiful illustration for Butcher the Bar’s second album.
9. Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
A square pixel design for the Beastie Boy’s Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (funnily enough, there was no ‘Hot Sauce Committee Part One’).
10. Bright Eyes – The People’s Key
Fiery cover art for Bright Eye’s The People’s Key designed by artist Zack Nipper.
By Mark Wright (Assistant Editor)
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