As a self-proclaimed "visual person," I struggle to remember the name of a song if I haven't seen the corresponding album artwork. When a tune gets stuck in my head, it's often accompanied by the visuals, even if it's just a hazy recollection of the colors or textures used. Unfortunately, my memory fails me when it comes to the title, which has resulted in countless hours spent frantically scrolling through my ever-growing list of liked songs on Spotify, trying to find that one shade of blue that I associate with the album cover. Given the sheer volume of fantastic music available, I am grateful for artists who go the extra mile to create unique, memorable and fitting album artwork that sticks in my mind's eye and helps me find their music amidst the sea of other albums.
Here are some albums that will forever be engraved in my memory, thanks to their beauty, color, textures, vibes and one-of-a-kind qualities.
Fading Frontier (2015)
At first glance, the top album on my list could be mistaken for an abstract painting. Truthfully, I'm writing from personal experience because it took me several listens of this gorgeous and moody album by Deerhunter to recognize that the cover is a photograph, not a painting. Photographer John Divola is renowned for his captivating images of decaying and abandoned buildings, often shot from within. I admire how Divola masterfully contrasts the beauty of water and sky with the decay of these spaces by placing them front and center in the window. This specific photo is particularly striking with its vivid blues and rich textures. The longer you gaze, the more you discover. Given the album's title, "Fading Frontier," I couldn't think of a better visual representation of letting go of the past while looking ahead to a new beginning.
Kaytranda's sophomore album BUBBA is a magnificent fusion of various musical genres, from hip-hop to house. The album features a diverse range of songs, each unified by a shared sonic thread but with its own identity. The production is sharp and dialed in, and its beats are impossible to resist. The album cover features a close-up portrait of Haitian-Canadian DJ Louis Kevin Celestin (best known as Kaytranada) creating a sense of intimacy. With their doubled pupils, the piercing blue eyes give the photo a sense of introspection and unease, adding tension to the otherwise pristine image. The eyes gaze unblinkingly at an unknown horizon, inviting you to join him on a journey of introspection.
Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (2015)
Panda Bear's fifth studio album, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, explores lyrical subject matter that is quite heavy and emotional. The album art is designed by Marco Papiro and uses vibrancy and energy, an unexpected choice considering the album's songs. This is the only album artwork on this list that doesn't lean on photography in some way. I enjoy the graphic playfulness brought by the bright poppy colors, vertical and horizontal forms and the intrinsic calligraphy of the album's initials. The repeating bands of color describe the album's sonic
qualities, which feature heavy use of loops and repetition. As a work of typography alone, I find the bold and abstract letterforms exciting to stare at.
Ebb Vibe (2017)
Garret David's album, Ebb Vibe, is an electrifying deep house album that transports listeners to an immersive and vibrant world. The limited use of a single circle that takes up the entire frame features a few elements that I find particularly captivating. Circular album art is a prevalent trend in the electronic dance music genre. It helps to visually categorize the album as a musical journey likely to inspire movement and joy. Another aspect of the album art I appreciate is the rich colors and their depth, as it curates a mysterious salve for the eyes. Subtle textures and brilliant light create an abstract vivid summer setting that perfectly complements the bright and energetic sound of the album. The album's artistry makes it one you'd want to keep spinning on repeat.
Boards of Canada
Boards of Canada's second studio album, Geogaddi, is considered one of the duo's most complex and atmospheric works to date. The Scottish-based band has become legendary in electronic music through its signature nostalgic electronic ambient sound. Through a rich sonic landscape characterized by samples from the field, the album's music creates a dreamlike quality that is charming and warm for listeners. Sometimes haunting and other times extraordinary, the album's art perfectly captures the eerie sound through its abstract kaleidoscope effect and hazy figures that repeat in a circle, creating a world unto themselves. Viewers can make out a person with their arms stretched out, surrounded by a forest. The off-center arrangement of forms and limited red color palette create a minimal but abstract image that is both enchanting and somewhat devilish. The album's sixty-six minutes and six seconds run time only adds to the mysterious lore surrounding this classic ambient electronic album.
99 Cents (2016)
Santigold's 99 Cents is a captivating mix of musical genres overflowing with energetic tracks that delve into the complexities of consumerism and self-expression in today's society. The album artwork perfectly complements these themes with its eye-catching design. The art's focal point is Santigold herself, lying amidst a vibrant array of objects, creating a sense of scale and presence. The bright, contrasting colors set against the pink background evoke a playful, whimsical feel reminiscent of an I Spy book. As you gaze into the artwork, each element reveals its unique story, blending to form a mesmerizing narrative. This piece of quirky and expressive art perfectly captures the spirit of Santigold's brilliant and innovative album.
It Should Be Us (2019)
Andy Stott takes listeners on a mesmerizing sonic adventure in his album, It Should Be Us. The album showcases Stott's signature sound—a captivating blend of gritty, sharp electronic textures woven together to create a dynamic and expressive soundscape. The album's experimental nature pushes the boundaries of electronic music and challenges listeners with its innovative approach. The accompanying album artwork only adds to the surreal, dreamlike quality of the music by featuring a photo of a zebra which is both intriguing and perplexing. Upon closer inspection, what initially appears to be a photo manipulation reveals itself as a unique moment captured in time, resulting in an animal with an impossible number of legs. The weird and wonderful artwork perfectly complements the haunting electronic beats of Andy Stott's magnificent album.
Cash Romantic (2022)
I was immediately drawn to Overmono's Cash Romantic album simply because of the Doberman Pinscher pup. The image of the Doberman crouching pensively on a vivid blue background, its sleek and contrasting brown and black fur standing out in stark relief, is striking. The tight framing of the dog highlights its expressive eye, making it the focal point of the image. The placement of the dog's paws creates the illusion of them resting on the bottom edge of the record, adding depth to the picture. Overmono has a tradition of featuring Dobermans in their album art, but this particular album remains my favorite. The standout track, "Gunk," only adds to my admiration for Cash Romantic and is a must-listen for breakbeat, ambient and techno music fans.
Bibio's eighth studio album, Ribbons, is a symphony of lush soundscapes that takes listeners on a tranquil escape to the countryside. The album is a fusion of folk, ambient, electronic, jazz, and hip-hop influences masterfully woven into a rich, immersive musical experience. The album's artwork sets the tone with its intricate collage of a lush forest and vibrant flowers, all woven together to create a portrait of the artist. The foreground features Bibio, his fair flowing forward in a dramatic yet natural way as if he's been caught by a summer breeze. The white background provides a crisp, modern touch to the overall design. The result is a gorgeous and lush album cover with a sonic experience that makes you feel like you're frolicking through a field of lilacs. Ribbons is not just an album, it's a masterpiece.
Sixteen Oceans (2020)
Four Tet's twelfth studio album, Sixteen Oceans, is a mesmerizing collection of 16 tracks that take listeners on an ambient electronic journey. The album's soundscapes are a fusion of bright tones, piercing textures, chirping birds, driving beats and synth soundscapes, providing a true auditory feast. The album artwork, an abstract arrangement of colors and textures, perfectly captures the music's mood. It evokes the same hope and positivity as the music, and looking at it brings a sense of refreshment and comfort. The rainbow pop in the center of the art turns the album into a precious gemstone held up to the light. Four Tet's Sixteen Oceans is a musical masterpiece and a visual delight, creating a truly immersive experience. It is one of my all-time favorite albums, captivating my senses and taking me on a journey every time I listen.