I'm no music critic, let alone a music theory expert. But I've always been a fan. This compilation is the vision of a designer, about the music that has influenced me since the beginning of my career 12 years ago. Like many, I started with British music when I was 14 years old (Radiohead, Coldplay, U2, Snow Patrol, Keane ... ). But it was in 2010, the year I began my degree in design, that I started researching music of different styles and opening my horizons to new sounds. Hip-hop, rap, electronic, post-dubstep, experimental, jazz, soul, R&B, indie rock, pop. It was from this collection of genres that I was shaping both my musical and aesthetic tastes.
For me, music and design have always gone hand in hand. We can start from this principle: The two begin from an empty place. On one side a blank canvas, and on the other side silence. The idea and the action (or work) come to fill and make everything more concrete. And even if all the empty spaces feel the need to be filled, these are important or even necessary for understanding the whole.
In my creative process I always seek to bring pauses and spaces in my design. These breathing moments allow people to better assimilate the hierarchy of a page, for example. In music, I understand that silence serves to change from one passage to another or to introduce new ideas within a song.
I believe that design elements and music elements are completely related. Rhythm, harmony, spaces, repetition, collage and hierarchy are just some of the elements where these two universes intersect. The rhythm between different elements that can provide a better reading; the harmony of typographies; the silence of negative spaces that are necessary for understanding visual hierarchies. Repetition is a very common attribute in both design and music, especially in my most favorite genre, electronic. Collages in design are the same as samples in music, as it introduces and recreates past ideas, giving a new meaning to that piece of material. The cycle closes and both are interconnected.
You may notice a pattern around the artworks I chose, as I'm a big follower of minimalism and design systems in general. I'm also a photographer myself, so you are going to find photography-centric album covers as well.
Here are my top 11:
I remember back in 2010, when I first started digging through new sounds, album artwork was always something that heavily influenced me in my decision to listen to an album. Swim couldn't be skipped.
Album artworks were very small back in the day, as I listened on my iPod. I never saw what was behind all those circular movements until recent years when I discovered they were flowers all this time. The timeless typography, the circles (which for me is the perfect geometric shape), the empty space, the organic movement of the flowers, everything coexisting perfectly—leaning toward and guiding everyone to the center of this deep dive.
When I spoke about silence as the negative space of music, here I present James Blake, the master of silence. From the mysterious album artwork, you can't understand who the artist is until you start listening to digest the sound.
The double exposure present on the artwork conveys the duality of this project: minimalistic sound yet powerful.
Luxury Problems (2012)
This was the first artist I started listening to who had a cohesive design system throughout his discography. Andy Stott is very well known for his black-and-white photos and exquisite album artworks. I could highlight his entire discography here since all the photos for each album are very impactful, yet so minimalistic.
Luxury Problems' album artwork freezes the movement of the person forever, and that's why I chose this disc. The timeless design that everyone always talks about relates so much to this photo: magnificent and clean with a clear focal point.
An album cover that shines in the dark? I'm all for it. Beach House nailed on the execution for the physical release and it even has texture! You can actually feel all of the white lights on the LP cover. And talking about texture, Beach House's sound is all about it. The shoegaze leaders bring music to all our five senses going beyond the listening experience—also present on the LP cover.
In Colour (2015)
As the title says, we are all here inside this colorful world. The splash of rainbow colors and the smart usage of the crop of the full X representing "a shared piece" from the full band makes this artwork so inclusive and yet very unique. Jamie xx, from the xx, puts himself out there with big bold sounds like "Gosh," the very hypnotic "Girl," and the playful, colorful and tropical "I Know There's Gonna Be (Good Times)." And when I look at that cover, I really know there's gonna be a wonderful time.
All of his singles/albums have this system where the angled rectangle is also present on the same place where the colors between the background and the rectangle change between each other. (I may have a thing for design systems throughout a discography haha.)
The Avalanches were quiet for 16 years until the rumors around a comeback in 2016. Wildflower arrived not only with the excessive amount of samples that the Avalanches are well known for, but with a lot of artist collaborations—something they didn't have on their album debut.
The flag represents the unification of past, present and future: the samples from old songs (past), the inclusion of great, current artists (present); and how the Avalanches catapult themselves into the creators of their own style (future).
I can't forget about their selection of colors. A very harmonic, subtle palette that resembles the open, welcoming, soft and gentle sounds of the Avalanches. I wish I had that flag! And lastly, the butterfly reminds us to keep growing as an icon of transformation and hope.
Sirens is one of those album artworks that was created beyond the digital space. I remember when I bought this LP and it was all white. At first I thought I received the wrong one but there was something magical about it. Once I opened it there was a coin for you to scratch the album to reveal the artwork behind the white layer.
I will never forget that experience and what the artist intended with it: interacting and creating your own artwork. The user experience was very clear and so simple in a way that turned into a fun experience—something I always try to bring when I'm working on a feature that people will use or interact with. Simple/minimalist, fun and unique are the three pillars of my design aesthetic (which also falls under my personality as well).
I See You (2017)
Another great example of artwork that lives beyond the digital space. I See You plays with the idea that the band is looking at you and you are part of the music because the LP cover feels like a blurred mirror. I simply love it.
I remember I spent a lot of hours trying to take photos holding the LP and getting a lot of blurred portraits. If there were a way we could upload the artwork to streaming services and make our own, that would be amazing.
Against All Logic
Nicolas Jaar again (under his Against All Logic alias) creates a house record that brings a sound I wouldn't expect on Jaar's discography. This is one of those albums that as soon as I hit play on the first track, I was like: What?
The typographic cover connected with me because when it was released I was really focused on creating digital typographic posters—my Instagram was full of them. Since the album and album art were released early in the year, it basically became the soundtrack of my career for 2018.
As typography compliments a lot of our design work, knowing the balance and hierarchy of it makes every piece of design stand out.
When I Get Home (2019)
Solange's subtleness of sound is heavily mirrored on the artwork. The power of a Black queen who uses her eyes to be as loud as her messages inside the album. Her exposed body as a way of showing her roots and that she is nothing but human with very tactile sounds. The production is impeccable; it feels like you are with her in the same room.
Another great example of timeless photography that once again is part of a system which started on the previous album (A Seat at the Table). The portrait of the Black queen who keeps evolving, but stays true to her roots.
I close this article with Cenizas, which is one of my favorite artworks of all time, if not my favorite ever. Minimal, straight to the point and directly related to the lyrics of looking at our inner self. How a simple shape can communicate a lot of things. As simple as it is, the message behind it is so powerful that you dive straight into Nicolas Jaar's mind as soon as you hit play.
But at the same time, you keep thinking about yourself through this hypnotic trip. It's a marvelous experience.