Tuesday, December 2, 2008

2008 End-of-Year Celebrations: Album Covers

To kick off my end-of-year celebrations (of which there'll be quite a few so watch this space) I thought I'd start with the best and worst album artwork released in 2008.

Now this might seem like filler, but album artwork is something i find particularly special and important, especially at a time when digital downloads are being privileged over physical releases. With that in mind here's to the bands and artists who still care about the tangibility and potential of the congruous art package that the album format offers... oh and those that don't.

THE BEST In no particular order:

One surefire way to have a great album cover is to steal some classical art and slap your own typography over the top, it worked for Fleet Foxes (above) and Coldplay (below) who used Bruegel's Netherlandish Proverbs and Delacroix's Liberty leading the people respectively.
A trick they both pulled again for EP's:


Who would have thought that stodgy working class rockers Oasis would be capable of such a deliciously psychedelic cover? Not I, that's for sure. It perfectly suits the blissed out drones of their latest album also.
Selected at the last minute by the band from Ryan McGinley's photography. The nudie run, combined with the child like scrawl, is innocent as opposed to crass, while the figures caught in motion and the slight tilt of the camera suggest energy and momentum. Qualities which the band's new poppier moments have in spades. As well as all that, it ties nicely into the Gobbledigook video.

Here's what this image says to me: "Ladies and Gentleman! Boys and Girls! Hipsters and Scenesters! Roll up! Roll up! For the Oracular Spectacular! Witness Andrew VanWyngarden and Benjamin Goldwasser summon shamanic rhythms and weave cosmic pop like your ears have never before heard! Line up for the Oracular Spectacular courtesy of MGMT!"


This image enabled Alison Goldfrapp's musical transformation from dancefloor chanteuse dominatrix to folk pirate in one fell swoop. The breaking sun, like the album, has an organic and sensuous feel without sacrificing her kookiness, as well as emphasising her vulnerability (her back turned) as well as her determination (that powerful look).
Like the above image, an album cover can say a lot about the artist creating the music therein. So it is with Ladyhawke's debut. Seemingly distracted from her music-making (the discarded keyboard) by playing some Super Nintendo, while some laconic laze around her, an obvious sign of her craziness. Her hippyish get-up is at once casual and fashionable; and to top it all off it's a drawing - not a photograph - which adds to the playfullness.

Like a poster for some equally kick-ass and strange movie from the 80's (and clearly a homage to legendary poster artist Drew Struzan it certainly got indie blog Gorilla Vs. Bear excited.


I have no idea who Je Suis Animal are, or what they sound like, but i'm keen to investigate after this cover. The illustration is both nostalgic and clearly post-modern interpretation of the album title.
This is another band completely anonymous to me, but i just couldn't pass up this creepy skull totem. The simple but intriguing typography, combined with it's flat and colourful composition undercuts the scariness, but piercing eyes are always captivating. I'll be seeing this one in my dreams...
Never underestimate the power of a good collage. Emphasising a simple colour palette, while using arrangements of shapes and sizes to create texturing where there is only a two dimensional surface. It's strikingly different for Death Cab For Cutie and more reminiscent of electronic album artwork, but very eye-catching none the less.

Oh sure, it's clearly a result of some Photoshop trickery, but that doesn't make the image any less powerful, or enigmatic. Where, or even when, is this? Is the man at ease or terrified? or has he long since given up the ghost to become a nest for the birds? In a word: Provocative.
Much like the band themselves, this is edging the borders of excess and bombast, but it works. Perhaps it just appeals to the uber-nerd in me, but a mecha chick with a gun/guitar for an arm is clearly video-game inspired and the whole cgi-fest just seems to work despite its disparate, not to mention ridiculous, elements.


THE WORST
Actually The Sword's Gods of the Earth should be under its own category of 'so bad it's good.' The painted artwork is a lazy interpretation of the band name and is exactly the kind of thing you'd expect to see on a sludgy, stoner rock metal album... or a fantasy novel in the bargain bin section of Angus & Robertson.
No Madonna, you're not that sexy anymore, sorry. You may have gotten away with this bold-faced sexual imagery and eclecticism in the 80's but now that you're 50, it's a little embarrassing for all involved.
Yeah, yeah i get it. It's meant to be ironic. It's meant to lampoon 70's style. You could also call it 'tongue in cheek' or 'witty'. I'd prefer to call it 'pretentious' and 'just plain bad'
If the title was taken literally, N*E*R*D would have us believe that their music sounds like a large, red, badly photo-shopped King Kong... which it doesn't.
...No he isn't

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