Much like a cover of a book draws a reader to discover a new story they might not have otherwise read, I believe album artwork holds the same kind of magic by drawing listeners in to discover new music. I also believe that album art can enhance the listener's experience by giving a visual representation of the music it encases and a snapshot glance of what to expect before they press play.
As an avid listener to music in both my personal and professional life and a self-proclaimed art connoisseur, I have a deep appreciation of album artwork. Though I have an endless list of album artwork I love, here are some of my top favorites.
The first time I saw the cover art for this album, I think my jaw dropped. I find this photo to be so stunning—a trail of red orbs leading you across the desert at golden hour, it really transports you into the Sahara where the photo was taken, and is complemented nicely by the elegant and subtle typography in the upper right-hand corner. As this was The Nice's last studio album and consisted of only live versions from previously released tracks, the trail into the desert feels almost symbolic of the band's headspace at the time and their journey into the unknown after disbanding in the late '60s. Elegy was created by Hipgnosis, who created some of the most iconic album art of the '60s, '70s, and '80s, including most of Pink Floyd's discography, which to me makes the artwork even more special.
I think to fully appreciate the magic of the artwork of this album, you need a bit of background on Michelle Zauner, the frontrunner of the band. Zauner released Crying in H Mart early in 2021, a few months before the release of Jubilee, which was a memoir of her life growing up as a Korean-American, detailing a strained relationship with her mother, her struggle with depression, grief and her journey into music, amongst other things. As this book was emotionally heavy for Zauner to write, she wanted to create an album about joy to bring some balance to her work. The cover art for this album emulates this dichotomy well with the yellow hues of the backdrop to match her dress and the persimmons, which to me symbolizes the joy she's been able to experience even through all of the darkness of the five years she was writing her book. Knowing this gives the listening experience of the album an added depth underlying the cheerful-sounding tracks.
Sharon Van Etten
Remind Me Tomorrow (2019)
Sharon Van Etten's voice has such a powerful and all-encompassing way of bending and shaping my emotional state to fit whatever emotion she's trying to convey in every single song she's created. Her song "Seventeen," off the album Remind Me Tomorrow, is no exception. I remember putting this on in the car with my mother the last time I was in town visiting for the holidays, and both of us got emotional while listening to the lyrics together. The overall theme of the album of remembering and celebrating your youth is perfectly executed in the cover art of this album, showing how carefree and chaotic and bright and innocent the past can be. As a mother-to-be when creating this album, I'm sure newfound motherhood played a large role in the apparent beautiful nostalgia she portrays in both the lyrics and the art of the album.
The cover art for this album, as previously mentioned, was also created by the creative powerhouse Hipgnosis. This album was immensely meaningful to me during the pandemic. Living in Los Angeles in April of 2020, there wasn't much to do on the weekends as it was at the height of social distancing and all of the parks and beaches were closed. I lived alone at the time, and to pass the time would hop in my car and drive around aimlessly in the Glendale hills with my windows rolled down, almost always with this album on in the background. And for some reason, I really resonated with the album art during that time period, though my view was much more picturesque.
The Party (2016)
The Party is extremely easy to listen to all the way through, over and over again, and might be one of my most listened-to albums of all time. For those unfamiliar with Andy Shauf and The Party, it is a concept album where Andy Shauf takes you through different settings and scenarios within the same party. Each song narration describes a very distinct story, and allows you to easily picture the scene and feel the emotion in each track—the excitement, the embarrassment, the despair. The album art itself is a nice visualization of some of the stories that are told throughout the album. You can almost feel the dizziness of the tipsy partygoers on the cover by the illusion of movement portrayed—like the woman sitting alone at the table, the man dropping a playing card, the same man featured again, farther in the distance, seen laying down and seemingly either getting up to leave or having an out of body experience. It's fun to guess which character on the cover might match one of the characters in the songs.
SIM SIM SIM (2022)
I think that SIM SIM SIM might be the perfect album for the summer. The Brazilian '60s Tropicália, a '70s psychedelia-inspired band takes you on a musical journey through the 14-track album. Each track is entrancing, and transports me to humid summer afternoons, lounging in the sun with my best mates, sharing food, stories and cold wine, and getting up to dance occasionally when the mood strikes. The cover art of this album I think perfectly encapsulates this feeling in a beautifully simple way, with a band of warm sun lying against the linen-draped leg of an unseen person, emitting a sense of warmth and relaxation.
I was first drawn into this album by Iliona's song "Une Autre Vie" and its hauntingly beautiful melody, and was further intrigued when I saw the album art. The lyrics throughout the whole album, including the album name which translates from French to mean "sadness," are dripping with despair and heartbreak (the previously mentioned song had actually gotten me through my own bout of heartbreak in the past.) I love how this is portrayed through the artwork. The black and white spliced and pieced-together portrait of the artist, solemnly looking off into the distance. I feel like this is a beautiful and accurate visual depiction of how it feels to be heartbroken. It also reminds me of another favorite album cover of mine, the iconic Peter Gabriel album cover Peter Gabriel 3: Melt.
Heaven and Earth (2018)
I was at Desert Daze, a music festival on Lake Moreno in Perris, CA, at the end of 2021, the year that Kamasi Washington performed. During the day before the festival began, my friends and I, who were camping, decided to go for a swim to cool down in the heat. Coincidentally, at the same time we went swimming, Kamasi Washington went onto the stage nearest the lake to do a full set soundcheck, and so my friends and I got an almost private Washington set while swimming in the lake, and it made us feel as close to heaven on Earth as you can possibly get. The album artwork for Washington's Heaven and Earth looks incredibly similar to the landscape of Lake Moreno, so every time I listen to this album and look at the album art it transports me back to one of my all-time favorite memories.
Power, Corruption, & Lies (1983)
Back when I lived in Austin, Texas, a few years ago, there was one thing my friends could be absolutely certain of, which was if it was a Friday night and I had the night off from the restaurant I worked at in town, you would undoubtedly find me on the dance floor at Barbarella's for their weekly '80s night. I grew up listening to The Cure, and as I've gotten older, my deep appreciation for New Wave music has grown exponentially. Not only is Power, Corruption, & Lies one of my favorite albums, but also I find the album artwork to be breathtakingly beautiful. I've read the story behind the artwork, which is that it was a reproduction of "A Basket of Roses" by Henri Fantin-Latour. Peter Saville, who designed the cover, picked the painting of the flowers because he believed that they represented "the means by which power, corruption, and lies infiltrate our lives. They're seductive." I also find it refreshing and intriguing that Saville used a color-based code in the top left-hand corner to depict the band name and title of the album, in lieu of writing it out on the sleeve itself which wasn't at all common practice at the time.
Floating Into the Night (1989)
David Lynch is one of my all-time favorite film directors, and Angelo Badalamenti is one of my all-time favorite film composers, and the two of them have worked together on many of Lynch's projects. There's a video of Badalamenti describing his process of how he and Lynch collaborated to come up with Laura Palmer's theme song in the Twin Peaks series that makes me emotional every time I watch it. Needless to say, music is such an integral part of Lynch's films. Floating into the Night was the debut album of singer Julee Cruise and features compositions and production by both Lynch and Badalamenti, and many of the songs from the album were featured in Lynch's films Blue Velvet, Industrial Symphony No. 1 and Twin Peaks. The album artwork feels to me like an extension of David Lynch, the strange and odd imagery of a doll floating in total darkness is somehow beautiful, eerie and haunting all at the same time, much like the aforementioned films.