Like many that come from both a visual and audio background, it's nearly impossible to separate an album cover from the music itself, especially the first time you hear a given record. The artwork presented is the musician's brand and holds more weight than some might like. I'll admit that I skipped past many amazing albums initially purely based on artwork that I didn't like.
On the flipside, artwork has pulled me in to listen to an album that might otherwise never be in my rotation. The first time I listened to Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell I had to make sure that the record wasn't swapped out and a metal album was laying sleeveless somewhere in the record store. No knocks on Meat Loaf, of course, but that was a confusing day at the shop.
While the albums below vary in style both in genre as well as aesthetics, they act more like a time capsule for me and I'm sure you can relate.
I can't listen to Dookie by Green Day without remembering scanning the cover for all of the little weird shit on it like a punk rock, bizarro world "Where’s Waldo?" I can't hear "The Hunter" by Björk without floating back to the darkroom in college where I put Homogenic in my CD player for the first time, barely able to make out the cover with the glow of the amber safe light.
Anyway, here's "Wonderwall."
Jane Doe (2001)
The artwork for Jane Doe is what first drew me in to listen to Converge and they are now one of my favorite bands. Their aesthetic direction and execution, helmed by their vocalist Jacob Bannon, has helped establish Converge on almost a cult level of a fanbase. This is coming from someone who has a hand tattoo of artwork by Jacob Bannon. Sorry, mom.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues (2014)
Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a near perfect album, in my opinion, and focuses on topics mostly revolving around gender dysphoria following Laura Jane Grace coming out as trans in 2012, and this album cover is a perfect fit. I own several different copies of this album on vinyl because of the artwork. Plus the album rips. (Illustration, typography, design by Steak Mtn/Chris Norris)
All Things Must Pass (1970)
When I was in high school and college, I worked at an amazing indie record store in Batavia, IL called Kiss The Sky (it's still there—go check it out and tell Steve I said hey). This is one of the albums that I would always see on the wall on display or just laying around the store. Being a kid who primarily listened to punk rock, I suppose I never gave it much of a spin back then. Perhaps it's because it's a triple album and came in a box, but whatever the reason, despite the cover being one of the most iconic and memorable album covers of all time for me—it took me way too long to actually play it whenever it was my turn to pick the in-store music. Once I did… I was mad at myself and everyone I worked with for not playing it sooner. (Photography: Barry Feinstein. Packaging: Tom Wilkes)
Rage Against the Machine
Rage Against the Machine (1992)
This is a cover that needs no introduction, and its raw, bold and focused presence perfectly sets the stage for the 10 incendiary tracks that they unleashed in '92. (Art Direction: Zack de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, Brad Wilk)
The Guess Who
Best Of (1971)
This cover brings back my first memory of experiencing an album as a young child. My brother and I referred to The Guess Who as "The Five Guys" due to… wait for it… there being five guys on the cover. Real prodigies, eh? Warm and welcoming smiles in a candid, backlit shot beneath the docks, and I can't help but smile myself whenever I see the album cover or hear any of the songs in this collection.
Sunny Day Real Estate
Representation of a perfect, story-book life gone wrong, which is the perfect visual for this album that has become iconic and timeless in the emo/indie genre.(Artwork: Chris Thompson)
The Satellite Years (2002)
This album is one of the mile markers for me in terms of the hardcore/post-hardcore music scene in the early 2000s, and the visual direction for this record embodies the blend of progressive hardcore through a beautiful, atmospheric lens, which was pretty atypical for the time. Hopesfall just recently released a re-mastered version of The Satellite Years and it has even more richness, depth and clarity—both visually as well as sonically. (Design: Chandler Owen)
Blue Record (2009)
Another band that I highly respect that also does the vast majority (if not all) of their artwork in-house. John Baizley, lead vocalist/frontman for Baroness, also happens to be one of the most talented artists making both visual and musical art today. He's done album artwork for a number of bands that I love (Darkest Hour, Torche, Kvelertak, etc.) but Baroness' Blue Record is my personal favorite. I'm a sucker for a modern take on Art Nouveau style, and this nails it and works to elevate the band into a new tier of artistry.
The Shape of Punk to Come (1998)
I was looking at this album cover when I first heard their vocalist Dennis Lyxzén (who also provided the art direction) start the track "New Noise" with the now legendary "CAN I SCREAM?!" and just about dropped the record. This album cover is both a glimpse into the past as well as the future—true to the title. Setting the stage for so many artists in this genre while simultaneously lighting that stage on fire.