This month’s round-up of beautiful, unusual and intriguing album art includes some hypnotic work for Sbtrkt, controversial packaging for Kaiser Chiefs and a colourful design for Liars album, Mess on a Mission.
Revere – My Mirror/Your Target
First up, though, is Revere‘s album My Mirror/Your Target, which comes with a heliograph and signalling instruction leaflet. The artwork was designed by Kat Flint and is inspired by the album’s title and lead singer Stephen Ellis’ collection of vintage mirrors.
“Stephen phoned me one day and said, ‘I have a challenge for you.’ Over coffee, he handed me the top half of a dusty, WW2 tripod heliograph [a mirror that sends signals using sunlight]…and a little signalling mirror used by hikers, saying “you’re good at making stuff, can you make our album into one of these?’ The mirror-CD connection was too good an opportunity to miss,” she explains.
The album is packaged in a canvas slipcase that resembles traditional heliograph casing. Inside is a leaflet explaining morse code and semaphores and a double-sided poster which, on one side, features a transcription of a track on the album using maritime alphabet flags.
“The packaging had to be robust enough to offer protection and intriguing enough to grab attention… I was also determined that the finished article should work just like a real heliograph,” says Flint.
“I played with the same ideas [in the packaging] as the songs on the album itself: codes, miscommunications, the idea that revealing yourself can make you a target. I wanted the packaging to join the songs in being a tool for communication and obfuscation with layered meanings and hidden messages that only the determined might find,” she adds.
Kelis – Food
Australian designer Leif Podhajsky created the artwork for Kelis’ forthcoming album, Food, which he says is inspired by “soul music and visuals of the past…with modern overtones”.
The vinyl edition comes with an illustrated picture disk, which Podhajsky says takes inspiration from prints by fashion designer Emilio Pucci. “It ties into the cover design, exploring a modern take on old jazz and soul records,” he adds.
Artwork for the single releases use a similar combination of retro type and contemporary photography. View more of Podhajsky’s work, including some excellent designs for Bonobo, here.
Label: Ninja Tune
Coldplay – Ghost Stories
The intricate illustration on the cover of Coldplay album Ghost Stories was created by Czech etching artist Mila Furstova, who also designed the cover for the band’s track, Magic and a limited edition print, Other Skies.
To create the artwork, Furstova used a needle to draw on to a wax-covered zinc plate that had been blacked by candle smoke. “All lines that emerged were silver on black,” she says, “as if I was uncovering some traces of stories directly from the dark depths of the psyche – a stream of consciousness.” The plates were then submerged in acid and the lines engrained on the metal’s surface.
Furstova doesn’t usually take on commissions and prefers to work without client restrictions, but says she was given complete freedom when working with Coldplay. “There were no strict or pre-conceived ideas from the band and the art director [Phil Harvey] – they had seen a range of my work before approaching me and I think it must have resonated with them on some level,” she adds.
“I would listen to the album in making, over and over again whilst drawing on my etching plate. I didn’t know what was going to come out, I felt a bit like being blindfolded and navigating a dark space, being led by Chris’s voice. This made the whole thing interesting to me, I feel that if I had to do sketches beforehand the result may not somehow feel so honest,” she says.
Kaiser Chiefs – Education, Education, Education & War
The vintage artwork for Kaiser Chiefs’ fifth album, Education, Education, Education & War presents a timeline of British heritage through packaging: the cover has a worn and aged feel and inside, a lyric booklet features photographs of several objects representing various periods in modern history.
Tins, foil packets and plastic packages each bear the band’s name and the title of a different song on the album. Each item pictured was handmade by art director Cally, who says it pokes fun at the notion of bands as brands, and toys with the idea of Kaiser Chiefs’ music being timeless.
“I wanted to reflect not 10 years of their making music, but 100 years, as if they had been around for a century,” he explains. “The album seemed to reflect this…and when Ricky sent me ‘The Occupation’, I felt I was swimming in the world of ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ Roy Harper and TS Eliot.”
Keen cycling fans might have noted the similarities between the mock Kaiser Chiefs logo and that of bike parts brand, Sturmey Archer. When the artwork was first released online, the brand claimed its logo had been used without consent and were unimpressed by the similarities between the album’s sleeve and packaging for one of its gear sets from 110 years ago (see a report in Cycling Weekly here).
Kaiser Chiefs promptly issued a statement to NME, claiming: “The lyrics of our new album ‘Education, Education, Education & War’ look into Britain’s past and our designer has deliberately created artwork that references Britain’s Heritage. We hoped to pay homage to the legacy of Sturmey-Archer and by using this design we did not expect, nor did we intend to upset them.”
The band’s management says the issue has now been resolved and Cally, who has a collection of over 100 antique bicycles and parts, insists the packaging was intended as a loving homage rather than an act of plagiarism.
Liars – Mess on a Mission
The special edition of Liars’ latest album Mess on a Mission comes with a transparent disc embedded with strands of brightly coloured string. Band member Julian Gross also used string to create artwork for both the album and title single, and says the idea was to create something bright and visceral “to show how the music is playful, yet still conveys the idea of a controlled mess.”
“From the beginning I knew I wanted the image to be a real object. Something that had to be photographed, not something made on the computer,” he says. “It was a bit unknown, whether [putting string inside the records] would work. But it does! Someone is sitting by the press and putting string into every record before they put both halts together.”
Creating the cover artwork was a long and monotonous task, says Gross, as each strand of string had to be applied by hand. “But it is a repetitive task that I enjoy,” he adds. “The sorta OCD-like compulsion can sometimes be an enjoyable mental place – you get in this mode and time sort of stops.”
My Sad Captains – Best of Times
The striking cover image for My Sad Captains’ album Best of Times was created by Phil Goss, a freelance illustrator who graduated from the Royal College of Art last year.
The packaging was designed by London studio Fraser Muggeridge. Inside, an 18-page booklet features a striking set of artworks by nine different artists, each representing a different track on the album.
Images range from colourful oil pastel and gouache pieces to sombre watercolours and a relief print from Henna Vainio, providing a beautiful and intriguing visual accompaniment to the band’s music.
Label: Bella Union
Sbtrkt – Transitions
We end with a hypnotic set of record sleeves and an interactive website for Sbtrkt’s new EP collection, Transitions.
Six tracks charting the artist’s musical development will be released on three 12” records and each features a 2D moire animation, giving the effect of movement when the disc and inner case is removed from its sleeve, as demonstrated in the GIF above.
The effect is also used on the Transitions website, where lines shift in response to the music and mouse movements. The artwork was created by art director A Hidden Place, who also designed Sbtrkt’s mask:
“Aaron [James, Sbtrkt] told me last year that he wanted to put out a new set of tracks to represent where he was at musically. He had already come up with the name Transitions, so I started to think about what that meant,” says AHP.
“I played around with combining two or more images, but it felt too gimmicky and didn’t represent how layered and textural his music is – it needed to be more abstract. Then I remembered the idea of animating a 2D image by scanning acetate with a printed grid over the top. It’s quite a crude idea, but I felt it had something in it,” she adds.
As an instrumental project, there is no clear theme in Transitions and AHP says it was important to provide an equally interpretative visual accompaniment. “It might remind you of fish swimming, or water moving – it’s a subjective experience, like listening to the music,” she says.
It’s a simple but effective technique and one that works particularly well online, producing a mesmerising visual effect. “We wanted to translate the experience of seeing something animate before you online – we could have just overlaid two images and made a GIF, but that would have been too boring,” explains AHP.
“The site kind of blurs the boundaries between a website and an app, and it’s designed to work on various devices and browsers,” she adds.
If you’ve designed album art recently and would like to submit your work, contact email@example.com.