No matter where I am searching for new music, be it at a record store, thumbing through a friend's collection, or scrolling through the unholy but useful/addictive streaming services, a tragic reality is that the process of discovering new music is typically not musical whatsoever. The cover art is nearly always the spark to get me to check out something or someone I have never heard before. This completely non-musical component of a collection of musical recordings has been the gateway to such a massive proportion of my musical identity.
Once I've listened to an album and I've fallen in love with the music, the cover art becomes this everlasting altar for the music. Like a medium between me to the fabric of the music, my guide between the physical world and the intangible realm that is sound. It's a magical interplay, and with the best pairings, it's a relationship that develops over time as my appreciation of the music grows a patina of comforting familiarity while always offering gradients of newness as I've too changed with each subsequent listen.
All that pseudo-poetic bullshit aside: sick cover art rules, and these are some covers that I think are pretty awesome.
The understated design does a great job of subtly letting you know this album is going to be weird without revealing too much about the treasures inside.
Raul Lovisoni / Francesco Messina
Prati Bagnati Del Monte Analogo (1979)
The illustration of a sprawling cityscape on the water at night perfectly sets the tone for this album's relaxed, strolling ambient pieces.
Bjørn Torske / Prins Thomas
Square One (2017)
The cover is a black-and-white collection of various clay-like faces. I normally associate these artists with sounds more immediately synthetic, but this album has a great deal of precision with acoustic origins. I think the cover art reflects the musical approach of working with organic/physical materials to make something new.
Blob On A Grid (2017)
Perhaps the best, truest, weirdo music being made today, the cassette and digital release packaging is just the perfect visual accompaniment to this music.
Beyond The Horizon (1988)
The new age harp music album is blessed with a cover of two whales swimming in space with a blue planet behind them. I love listening to this album, thinking about those whales cruising through space and time, blissed out to these harp jams. It also reminds me of a time when the idea of two whales swimming in space wasn't already co-opted into the trapper-keeper aesthetic.
I bought this album because of the cover, and it did not disappoint. The composer poses with his keyboard, looking off into the distance while orbs float around, standing on a fading green and magenta grid. The music sounds exactly like that, and I love it.
Trio Da Kali / Kronos Quartet
The artwork does an amazing job of centering the larger-than-life vocalist similarly to the arrangements of these recordings. The three-color photo and illustration collage shows how much can be done with a limited pallet, similar to this merging of ensembles.
The typography with the deadpan silver (or gold) painted Grosskopf is just the perfect cover for this forward-thinking album of synth and drum music.
George Crumb / Kronos Quartet
Black Angels (1990)
The cover for this album could easily be for a hardcore band—the painting, the typography, everything about it. I find the music to be the most terrifying and beautiful ever written. The album artwork shows the listener what awaits them, but nothing could prepare you for the first blast at full volume.
New York City 1976-80 (1999)
I remember buying this CD while in college on a trip to Kim's in NYC in 2000. I bought it because of the cover, a black and white press photo of five nerds in matching white shirts with Helvetica typography. This is an amazing golden age of CBGBs era, NYC weirdo, angular rock music that I could see sharing the stage with Talking Heads, Devo, etc., but for whatever reason, they never found their breakthrough single. The cover is so upfront, but it still has mystique and intrigue.