10 Great Album Covers, Chosen by Jenn D'Eugenio of Women in Vinyl

Smashing Pumpkins, Elder, Catbeats and more

Like many, one of the first things that drew me to vinyl records were the album covers. Something that you could hold and really experience. Later, ending up being a creative myself first with drawing, then expanding to dark room photography in high school, finally landing as a textile and graphic artist for Fortune 500 companies after graduating college with a degree in textile design; art and design have been a constant in my life.

The one thing I never thought I could do, but always wanted to, was work with music in some way. Now as sales and customer service director at a record pressing plant, I see so many record covers day in and day out and have the chance to actually help make them come into existence by quoting and advising on package option details for bands and record labels. It also spawned my creation of the nonprofit Women in Vinyl, to help empower, educate, demystify and diversify the industry. I'm sure a lot of us have purchased a record we had no idea about because the cover drew us in. Narrowing my choices to ten was a very difficult task, but it combines my careers and love for art and design in a really symbiotic way. Here are my choices… this week.

Black Sabbath
Master of Reality (1971)

If you know me at all you expected this, but there is no way a list I curate would ever exist without it. Sure, Black Sabbath is my favorite band, but I've been so drawn in by this cover and how all its variations were able to be made, that I have over 50 variants of it on vinyl, and an entire instagram account dedicated to researching it. I love a good typeface, I love a bold clean design, and this album combines them both. Whether it was made into rainbow colors for the NEMS release in the South American / Brazilian market, or clean white on black for Japan, or even Xeroxed and printed on various colors bootlegged for soldiers during the Vietnam war, it catches your attention. The original U.K. Vertigo version with its embossed, subtle and somewhat mysterious black title is really a thing of perfection. For an album that was short enough to be an EP, and is often skipped over in discussing the band's releases, the intrigue is clearly not lost on me.

Phenomenon (1974)

So during my stint in photography, I literally remember developing photos and learning to hand color them in high school, a time before Photoshop. And, like others who have come before me in writing these pieces, you would be hard pressed to skip over the legendary British design group Hipgnosis. This innovative design firm was responsible for pretty much every early Pink Floyd cover, and later Black Sabbath covers for Technical Ecstasy and Never Say Die! I chose this UFO cover not only because "Doctor, Doctor" is included on almost every first mix I make someone, but because the hand coloring work is a feat in and of itself. The photo makes you ask questions, like, what is going on? What have I interrupted? The answer to those questions being that it's a couple attempting to fake a UFO "phenomenon." Look closely, the UFO is actually a hubcap the husband has thrown up into the air, while the wife stands by caught in the act of snapping a photo to pass off as a UAP later.

The Sky's Gone Out (1982)

I had to approach this task by looking at some of my favorite band's albums in order to narrow it down and I couldn't talk about favorite bands without getting into goth rock. Bauhaus are not only pioneers of this genre, but work by Daniel Ash outside of the group, in particular with Love and Rockets are some of my favorite tracks in the goth/post punk genre. I initially pulled out the 12" single "Bela Lugosi's Dead" because of its tie-in to horror movies and the macabre but chose The Sky's Gone Out instead because I think the cover, a painting done by Daniel Ash, captures that same curiosity I spoke about in UFO's Phenomenon. It's dark, and feels like something of an eclipse, mixed with an eye. Then, following the ink bleed around the sphere feels like trees in a fisheye view of a landscape. The image doesn't necessarily fit with the opening track "Third Uncle" but by the time you get to the conceptual three-piece "The Three Shadows," you can completely imagine this image coming to life. In commenting on goth rock I should note that it was hard to not include a Peter Saville piece. After all, his work is iconic from Joy Division's Unknown Pleasures to New Order's infamous Blue Monday floppy disc single.

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats
The Night Creeper (2015)

Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are one of my favorite bands to come out of the '00s. They have such a unique ultra heavy sound, and are so clever with their lyrics and album concepts. The Night Creeper tells the story of a Jack the Ripper-style serial killer. While all their album art has a similar stripped back, bold effective style using minimal color and perfect typography, poster designer Jay Shaw nails it with this one. He carries that horror-esque movie poster effect into this album cover. You could pick this up and wonder if it is new, or old, and something about that embodies the band perfectly. There is a mystery about it and yet you know exactly what you're getting into. And, if you haven't seen Uncle Acid live, I can't recommend it enough. Kevin Starrs captivates by barely saying anything at all, while a stripped down stage complimented with visuals that feel like VHS cult horror clips of the 60s/70s makes you feel like you've stumbled on something you shouldn't have, but can't look away from.

Ænima (1996)

Tool's Ænima is on my list because of its personal nostalgia. If you know Tool you know that their album packaging is never boring, and being a longtime follower of Alex Grey's work, it might seem odd to choose Ænima over Lateralus or 10,000 Days. However, this is one of those albums that came at a time in my life where I was defining myself and my musical style. I didn't have Ænima on vinyl at the time (though I do have the 10" Best Buy picture disc promo), but I still have vivid memories of getting this CD and listening to it while interchangeably putting different parts of the CD folder in the lenticular jewel case to create a physical "gif." The cover art and other images in the liner notes set behind the lenticular "lens" create an animation, and it was nominated for the Best Recording Package Grammy. The album cover is the design, Ocular Orifice and Smoke Box by Cam De Leon, an artist and animator in Los Angeles. This art feels as if you're looking into a TV, but there is no explanation as to what the cover really is about. I guess you could say a constant theme for me with album art are these images that evoke mystery and let your mind wander as you listen to the music.

Innate Passage (2022)

Another one of my favorite bands to come out of '00s is Elder. Their initial albums are rooted more in stoner rock and doom metal, however they are a band that truly does know how to expand and grow within a genre. Their albums don't sound the same and I'm a fan of the way that they have changed over time. Innate Passage is their most recent album, and like their The Gold & Silver Sessions (2019) saw them move in a psych / prog rock direction. The album art though is what we're here for, and to that we can credit Adrian Dexter, a sort of legend in the stoner rock art community who has produced almost all of Elder's album art. Since 2015 the album art has encompassed imagery of what feels like a foreign word within the cover, and infinite magical landscape which can be changed out for various images and colorways on the vinyl variants. The artwork always compliments Elder's expansive space rock musical aesthetic. While the stoner rock scene isn't short on elaborate and fanciful cover art, there is something about the surreal and mature nature of Dexter's work that makes these stand out.

Smashing Pumpkins
Adore (1998)

The Smashing Pumpkins are another band that have been the soundtrack to so much of my life. I think Billy Corgan's lyrics are something of real beauty with songs like "Mayonaise" and "Drown," layered within heavy guitars and distortion, guaranteed goosebumps every time. Like Tool, the period of 1996-1998 is when I was really coming into my own. I wore my makeup similar to Adore's cover woman, wore all black, from my Docs to various band tees. The "Ava Adore" video was playing on MTV constantly, and it was a feast for young goth teens like me. While the makeup is toned down some these days, not much has changed and I credit this as one of the albums that provided a soundtrack to those formative years. While this may not be one of the Pumpkin's most notable albums due to the change in sound to something more tinged in electronic, there are some beautiful tracks to not be overlooked. Let us not forget, this was also just after the time when "Eye" was released for David Lynch's Lost Highway. The cover was a photo taken of model Amy Wesson by Corgan's then girlfriend, Ukrainian photographer, painter and film director, Yelena Yemchuk. With her earliest artistic inspirations being noted as the likes of Man Ray and Francis Bacon, the dark and moody imagery is a perfect representation of the Pumpkins at this time and once again evokes questions as to who this woman is.

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
Carnage (2021)

Did someone mention typography yet, oh yeah… I did. Well, this is one that struck me immediately. From the moment it appeared on Nick Cave's social media, I had to own it for the art alone. In fact the art is so well done in this case you don't even really need to listen to the record to understand what is enclosed. Carnage was recorded over a period of weeks during lockdown. The bold and bleak type with white space to represent emptiness was created by London based Hingston Studio and conveys that feeling beautifully. It doesn't stop there though, the inner sleeve and booklet, which was intentionally printed on Bible paper, is reminiscent of something you'd see at the MOMA, like a Jenny Holzer exhibit or the Barbara Kruger "Belief + Doubt" piece at the Hirshorn.

Migration (2017)

One of the best downtempo / electronic DJs and producers to me is Simon Green, aka Bonobo. My absolute favorite record he's put out is his fourth release, Black Sands. I actually learned about him in an odd way when during the cooldown of a pilates reformer class, my instructor (who had the best taste in music) put on the title track "Black Sands" and I was immediately, to put it mildly—obsessed. That said, I think the Black Sands cover, while it has an interesting story, wasn't as intriguing to me as Migration's brush fire in the desert. If you're still reading this, I think the theme is understood by now. I like a cover that asks, what is going on here? Like all art, I think it should make you think and in this case the photograph by Neil Krug does that. In an effort to create an image that evokes the earth splitting apart, with a fire coming out of the ground, Bonobo decided that the art should have an ambiguous and darker narrative. If you love it too, I suggest reading more on the making of this cover, as well as Bonobo's new album Fragments, which is also beautiful, on Neil's website.

Closing Hour at the Cat Cafe (2020)

I decided to end my ten albums with something less serious, and in my opinion, one of the cutest pieces of album artwork out there. Catbeats describe themselves as lo-fi, comfy, chill beats for your Nintendo dreams. Created almost entirely on a Teenage Engineering OP-1 device, then layered with a bass guitar purchased from Fugazi's Joe Lally, which was primarily used in their tour van. The artwork for these releases are by illustrator Zhenya Artemjev, who makes these records collectible for their kawaii nature alone. Their specialty is custom design in a Japanese style. This one incorporates some of my favorite things, Japan, cats and vinyl, add that to lofi-downtempo vibes and I'm sold. But really, you should snuggle up, and check them out.

Art of the Album is a regular feature looking at the craft of album-cover design. If you'd like to write for the series, or learn more about our Clio Music program, please get in touch.

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Jenn D'Eugenio
Jenn D'Eugenio is the founder of Women In Vinyl and co-host of The Women in Vinyl Podcast.

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