Despite the fact that modern records are primarily digital products, album covers are still steeped in the old, square format that emerged in the 1930s. 2013 has seen some attempts at innovation; some have done so beautifully while others have struggled.
Some trends were easy to pinpoint, including the partly obscured face (Justin Timberlake
, The National
, David Bowie
), the face slashed in half (ASAP Rocky
, Daft Punk
), and the epic antique style (Jay Z
, Arcade Fire
BEST ALBUM COVERS OF 2013
5. The Strokes - Comedown Machine
The latest album by The Strokes is packaged in what looks like the sleeve of a reel-to-reel tape. The huge RCA logo on top could be taken as an sarcastic remark on the band's five-record contract with RCA, which was fulfilled with the release of this album. The minimalist art goes well with The Strokes' trademark apathetic outlook.
4. CHVRCHES - The Bones of What You Believe
CHVRCHES is a band of our time—its name only makes sense in writing, and its whole live set-up could fit in the overhead luggage compartment of an airplane—and so it is fitting that their debut album has a beautiful, minimalist cover. It is made up of three blue arrowheads in the center of three circles against a red background. Not only the strong red color, but also the nuclear warning sign that is created where the arrows meet in the middle, strikes an alarming note. The album art work, as well as that of all of CHVRCHES's previous singles and EPs, were designed by the art director Amy Burrow.
3. King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath the Moon
King Krule, the London singer-songwriter, hired his brother, Jack Marshall of the art collective Thirst, to design the cover of his debut album. It is a black and white, modernist drawing with the album artist's likeness featured in the middle among triangles, circles, and abstract shapes.
2. Kurt Vile - Wakin on a Pretty Daze
The cover for Kurt Vile's new album was shot in Philly, Vile's hometown, where the artist Steve Powers painted a large mural for the occasion. Blue skies, long shadows, post-industrial romanticism...What more could one ask for?
1. Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus
The cover of Slow Focus
is just so beautiful: it's symmetric, golden, orange, against a black background. Some grandma-style jewelry, lit and shot, quite simply, with no band name or album title. Sometimes the simplest is the best.
WORST ALBUM COVERS OF 2013
5. Kanye West - Yeezus
Okay, we get that this artwork is not supposed to be pretty; it's supposed to arouse emotions, such as, "WTF?" and "I got ripped off, gimme some real art." But does that mean that it gets to be exempt from our list of uglies? No! We could have cut it some slack if the CD-R look were an innovative idea, but it's been done before, by both System of a Down
, and the makers of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
DVD. We expect more from a pioneer like Kanye.
4. The Knife - Shaking the Habitual
The Knife did escape their habit of choosing pretty album covers with this one. This cover is the definition of the Swedish term that translates to "ugly-pretty," i.e., something that is sort of hot despite, or because of, its ugliness. Contemporary fans of the Sex Pistols must have had a similar reaction to the cover of Never Mind the Bollocks
3. My Bloody Valentine - MBV
Pink on blue, superimposed pictures of rehearsal spaces and trash, and hidden pretentious messages allows this comeback album by My Bloody Valentine to soar high on the ugly list.
2. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Mosquito
The logo is actually really nice. But the 90s computer animation of a mosquito attacking a baby is a bit much. Its doubtful whether this would have been seen as good looking even at the dawn of computer-generated imagery.
1. Eric Clapton - Old Sock
Eric Clapton wins this one. He also wins the list for worst album title. For the rest of our list of ugly album covers, we have refrained from mocking the elderly, because they often don't know any better. But none of the youngsters of today even come close to the ugliness of Clapton's new album. It just screams "bargain bin." Congratulations, Eric Clapton!