My childhood was full of music. From a young age—3rd grade, to be exact—I started piano lessons, which continued all through grade school and high school, and then I attended college for music composition. I played in many bands starting in 7th grade, playing in a friend's basement for hours practicing music by Green Day, Nirvana and other grunge-inspired music. I really wanted to be a rock star and had a family that encouraged that path. Music is in my blood, I suppose you could say.
My dad once researched our family tree to find that on one side we were distantly related to Eric Clapton and on another side our roots came from Cape Breton, where we are connected to the MacMaster family of musicians. I have these wonderful memories of being a little girl and watching my grandmother play her honey blonde piano or my dad buying me that electric guitar I wanted for Christmas and we would just jam for hours, him on the bass and me on any instrument I could get my hands on.
Yeah, my childhood was full of the favorites. Flipping through my parents record collection, we grew up with the Cars, the Beatles, David Bowie, the Rolling Stones, Dire Straits, and the list goes on. But as I grew up, my musical taste evolved, as everyones does, and you begin to develop your own appreciation for what gets your fingers tapping, hips swaying to that perfect tune. But also, my passion for music started to expand as I dove into design and I found I loved creating mixed media, collage-style artwork. This love for design ultimately led me to start my own design agency, where we work with many types of brands but also musicians and record labels on their branding, album design, web design, etc.
I am so fortunate to be able to combine these two passions, and so, as I thought about how I would approach listing my top 10 album covers, I selected pieces that reflect an aesthetic that I am very fond of; mixed media, bold fonts, collage style, black-and-white photography coupled with illustration. Here are my top choices for the album covers I truly admire for the creativity that went into creating them.
Notes on a Conditional Form (2020)
One of my favorite bands. I had a hard time choosing which album cover I liked best from this group, but this one here, Notes on a Conditional Form, is my favorite. I love the repeating text, that simple sans serif font, and that citron yellow color in combination with the black and white is perfection. I love how it feels like layers of notes you could pull back and read, and it almost has a retro feel to the oval elements at the bottom that feel like you are looking through a kaleidoscope.
Beauty Behind the Madness (2015)
I remember when this album came out and I was obsessed with this mixed media vibe they created. It reminded me of one of those ransom notes you see in movies, where they rip out each letter and it is all wrinkled and disheveled. I played this album on repeat for weeks. It was something different, and I was in love with the sound.
So Sad So Sexy (2018)
A great example of the collage-style artwork I really enjoy, that layered look combined with a discrete font. This album was one that caught my eye at a local record store. I had never heard of Likke Li but loved what I was seeing. I kept staring at the photo of that sad eye, wondering if this was going to be a melancholy album, and boy wasn't I pleasantly surprised when I first listened to that record and loved their sound!
In Utero (1993)
Growing up, this was the band that defined who I was, from my flannel tied around my waste to the Chucks I wore every day. I love the covers of all their albums, but it was In Utero that really resonated with me the most. I really loved how bizarre it was, like what am I looking at here? Is that one of those lifestyle displays of the human body we had in science class? I loved how they mixed the photography with illustration and the font for the title, how it looks like one of those manual label maker machines.
This is such a great album design in my opinion. There are so many amazing things happening visually here, from that color, the blue of the shirt and that red cross in the middle, the layered photography and that grungy distorted aspect. I really like that vertical type as well that is layered behind in white—it does a great job of breaking up the design with a unique way to display the info.
I went to college for jazz and composition, and being a pianist, I definitely played my fair share of Thelonious Monk.And this album cover, it is just perfection in my eyes. That gritty photo with that bold font for Monk coupled with those detailed graphic elements in that black banner—it is such a nice composition that was well before its time, for sure.
This cover really captured my attention when I first saw it. I really like the use of that gold texture, but also it is bizarre, which naturally I am attracted to. It inspired me to think of ways we could play around with different textures. I love the Santogold type that is used—it has a very abstract vibe.
I mean, it's Björk, so of course it fucking rocks. Everything she does, from her music, album covers, movies and that swan dress, it's not like it is going to be ordinary or run of the mill. No, Björk is a true artist in my eyes, iconic and revolutionary. It was really hard for me to pick which album cover of hers I loved the best, but I kept coming back to this one. The costume, the HAIR, and those ethereal illustrations—it is a a piece of art. When I see her face, I wonder what she is thinking, what is going on in her mind as she creates her music. I would love to sit with her and just watch as she creates.
Oh this cover, there is so much I love about it. It is one of those pieces that leaves me wishing I was the creative mastermind behind this design. Yeah, it is simple, it is a tad on the minimalist side, but those are the designs that are the hardest to nail. I love this artist and love the composition of fonts on the cover along with the photography.
Blue Öyster Cult
Who doesn't think of more cowbell when you hear Blue Öyster Cult? For me, though, it is this album that is a classic. One of the bands I was in used to play the song "Cities on Flame With Rock and Roll," so it is a bit on the nostalgic side for me. This cover is one I spent a lot of time staring at during those practices. I used to imagine it was a scene from The Labyrinth, making my way through the maze coupled with MC Escher, who was one of my dad's favorite artists. I love the minimalist feel to this design. In a time when a lot of albums were more on the trippy side, this one stands out for me as one that remained classically simple.
Art of the Album is a weekly Muse feature looking at the craft of album-cover design. If you'd like to write about your favorite covers, or learn more about our Clio Music program, please get in touch.