Last week, we posted Optigram’s selection for the best record covers of 2012, which was a great way to discover some sleeves unknown to me (and maybe you.) Naturally, there were some overlaps, most notably Jam City or Andy Stott (the latter which I included anyway), but fortunately I have collected enough over the year to come up with a full article.
Old Apparatus – Derren (Sullen Tone)
Old Apparatus released four EPs in 2012, all of them following a similar style in their artwork. My favourite is pictured above, a menacing image of some kind of man machine. One of the qualities that makes it so appealing to me is the golden metallic texture you will only get to see on the physical release.
In Aeternam Vale – D.U.B. (Minimal Wave)
In recent years, we’ve seen artists hiding behind masks to try and avoid the cult of personality, preferring their audience to be interested in their art, not the artist. But beyond mystification, masks also carry a visual quality, as exemplified by the tribal looks of last couple of SBTRKT sleeves. Pictured above is the cover for Dust Under Brightness (D.U.B.), one a collections of remastered songs by French In Aeternam Vale. Painting by Eamon Ore-Giron.
Jacques Green – Ready (3024)
Redshape – Throw In Dirt / The Land (3024)
Jon Convex – Lied To Be Loved (3024)
Jeroen Erosie has been in my book for some time now. I love his approach to street art, the flow of his lines, the use of colour. He’s been responsible all the sleeves for Martyn’s 3024 label, so I’m confident his artwork will make it in my list for years to come.
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love)
Despite it’s classic look, I didn’t expect the picture above to be an old photograph. You have to look closer at the imperfections, like the ripples around the head of the diver, to reveal traces of its age. Photographer Otto Bettmann has been responsible for one of the most iconic shots in the history of the medium, sold on postcards and at IKEA stores around the world, yet his name is relatively unknown. Being a fan the aesthetics in Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, this cover is an easy favourite.
fLako – Eclosure (Five Easy Pieces)
Pictures of nature, forests in particular, or the colour green alone easily win my sympathy, as you can see in the following series of three. The cover for fLako‘s most recent EP is one of my favourites of the year. Beside the visual beauty, it makes you think about the motif and the mysticism for some time. Artwork by Clemens Fantur.
Slugabed – Time Team (Ninja Tune)
I remember seeing the sleeve for Slugabed’s debut album on some worst-artwork-of-the-year lists. I can understand that people are growing tired of the triangle in general, it has been one of the most used geometric shapes in recent years, but that doesn’t mean they make bad covers per se. I’ve been thinking about this one for quite some time, trying to figure out if this was done digitally or if it’s simply a mirror put up on a meadow. Also, it looks like the gateway to the Black Lodge to me, and that speaks to the Twin Peaks fan in me. Artwork by Francisco Infante-Arana.
Gerry Read – Jummy (Fourth Wave)
Thanks to Google Earth and the likes, it’s seems so everyday to look at the earth from space. I don’t even like the typography too much, yet there’s something about this that made me include the record.
DVA – Fly Juice (Hyperdub)
Record sleeves designed by Optigram‘s have impressed me for some time now, especially his work for DVA’s last couple of records.
Nick Edwards – Plekzationz (Editions Mego)
Artwork by Hollis
Jimmy Edgar – Sex Drive (Hotflush)
It’s funny, while Jimmy Edgars’ album would’ve easily made it on my list for the worst covers of the year (if I made one), I’m quite fond of the sleeves of his recent EPs. I like the eighties-inspired use of gradients and the (possible) hommage to that Grace Jones Citroën ad and some of her own record covers. Airbrush by Jimmy Edgar.
Greeen Linez – Things that fade (Diskotopia)
Same as above: the use of gradients and the typography appeal to me. Artwork by Shaw (Neithercorp)
How about a little bonus round? I buy a lot of records and not all of them are new, actually it’s quite the opposite. Here are two more records I bought last year that I also love for their looks:
Soft Machine – Bundles (Harvest, 1975)
This is an unusual cover to say the least, but it got me thinking about it for some time: what makes a band put that in its record? The somewhat comforting, peaceful motif, the soft style of painting have probably to be seen in a Cold War context. There’s clearly something that made me remember Raymond Brigg’s When the Wind Blows, a comic book about an elderly couple living on the verge of nuclear war. Artwork by Reg Cartwright.
Liquid Liquid – Slip in and out of Phenomenon (Domino, 2008)
The cover for this greatest hits compilation seems to capture the spirit of the post-punk, no-wave hey-days of New York, which is exactly what you’ll find on this record. Artwork by Richard McGuire.
Feel invited to (re)visit last year’s selection by Give Up Art and Colectivo Futuro or go back even further in time!
In the last couple of years, we asked friends and designers we admire to put together a selection of their favourite record sleeves. Previous editions were curated by Stuart Hammersley (Give Up Art), Nitzan Hermon (Edit, Fineart) or Colectivo Futuro, but this year we were a bit hesitant seeking out a curator. We are most honoured that Manuel Sepulveda (aka Optigram) was interested and availaible on such short notice. Known for his countless designs for Hyperdub and more recently Planet Mu and Bleep, Manuel build up an impressive body of work in the last couple of years, regularly ending up in many best-of selections himself. But let’s hear (and see) it from the man himself.
I’m glad I was asked to make this list as it made me do a bit of extra research into what had been produced this year – I found about half a dozen great sleeves that I’d never seen before. Once I’d finished putting this list together it was nice to see that good covers were coming from a variety of different media still, be it photography (straight, manipulated and collage), illustration (traditional media and computer-assisted), 3D computer renders (realistic and surrealistic), or just straight-up graphics.
I’ve seen a few “best sleeves of the year” lists recently on some music sites and they seem to be focused around albums that have gotten good reviews; there seems to have been an inability to separate good music from the sleeve it comes in, with some terrible sleeves being lauded just because the album was great, and conversely some great sleeves getting overlooked because the album got a poor review. With the exception of seven of the albums I actually have no idea what the music even sounds like from the following list, and of those seven I only like four of them. These are simply covers that I thought were interesting and well executed.
One other thing, I’m not particularly interested in packaging, so even though there were some albums which had great packaging design (like Cave Painting’s Votive Life) they haven’t made this list. I believe that a strong image is by far the most important thing. Clever printing and fancy folding bits of paper just don’t move me.
Sakanaction – Yoru no Odoriko (Victor Music)
Anyone interested in cover design should remember to look beyond European and American releases. It’s obviously much harder to come across great design from Japan or Brazil or wherever if the albums aren’t getting reviewed by the English-speaking press, but it can be worth it.
Madegg – Tempera (flau)
The triangle, which was all pervasive as a motif in the previous couple of years, seemed to have pretty much disappeared in 2012. You can still count on the circle though. Artwork by Hiroshi Sato.
Ital – Hive Mind (Planet Mu)
Artwork by Sam Chirnside
CFCF – Exercises (Paper Bag)
Photography by Ken Schwarz
The XX – Coexist (Young Turks)
It says someting about the strength of The XX brand that a cover with just a solitary X can be recognised as a release by them. Artwork by Phil Lee.
Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio (Blue Note)
The headshot is a common staple of the album cover, but they can be really uninteresting, so I think it’s important (if possible) to try and do something unusual with it. Artwork by Giuliyani.
Young Magic – Melt (Carpark Records)
Artwork by Leif Podhajsky
Lorn – Ask the Dust (Ninja Tune)
Artwork by Jesse Auersalo
DVA – Pretty Ugly (Hyperdub)
I did a few album sleeves this year, and even though I’m pleased with most of them, particularly the albums by LV and Traxman, and Lion by Harmonic 313, I think the best cover I did was probably released at the start of the year. Artwork by Optigram.
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city (Aftermath Entertainment)
Sometimes an uncrafted image just works perfectly.
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love)
If I didn’t know any better I’d have said this was a cover for an indie band from the 80s, like The Smiths. Photography by Otto Bettmann.
Django Django – Django Django (Because Music)
Artwork possibly by Dave Maclean
Horseback – Half Blood (Relapse Records)
I find it hard to specifically make out what this is a drawing of, and maybe that’s why it appeals to me so much – the mystery of the macabre. Artwork by Denis Forkas Kostromitin.
Lone – Galaxy Garden (R&S)
Artwork by Konx-Om-Pax
Jam City – Classical Curves (Night Slugs)
If I had to select the best cover of the year it would probably be this one for Jam City by Sina Taherkhani. It matched the music perfectly.
The Darkness – Hot Cakes (Wind-Up)
I know it’s cheesy and a bit sexist but that’s obviously the point, and the painter did it well. It’s also worth pointing out how serious most cover design is (and has been for several years) so it’s good to occasionally see humour in album design. It’s just a shame that humour seems to only be seen on rock albums these days – I can’t remember the last electronic/dance cover that made me laugh. Painting by Diego Gravinese.
Laurel Halo – Quarantine (Hyperdub)
What am I saying, this one was funny too. I’m not being immodest and putting a second sleeve of mine in this list – although I put this together, it was a painting by Makoto Aida that Laurel herself chose. I was just the hired help.
Spoek Mathambo – Father Creeper (Sub Pop)
I love that this evokes some of those classic paintings that adorned the covers of Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis albums in the early 70s. Artwork by Daniel Anum Jasper.
Robot Koch – Cosmic Waves (Project: Mooncircle)
Artwork by Fefe Talavera
The Rolling Stones – GRRR! (ABKCO)
What I liked most about this was the idea that after more than 40 years the owner of those famous lips (designed by John Pasche in 1970) was finally revealed. Painting by Walton Ford.
If you want to find out a bit more about Optigram, make sure to visit the website or browse the discography. Manuel’s personal work recently got its own website, Werk (Not Work), and a Twitter account.
Unlike last year, I kept some of my favourite artworks of last year in a special folder. I will present my selection in a post coming next week.