Record sleeves of the year: our top 10 from 2015

A look back at our 10 favourite album covers from 2015, with surreal still lifes, poignant portraits, one-of-a-kind sleeves and a subversive take on religious imagery

10. Jaga Jazzist – Starfire 

The cover art for Norwegian jazz outfit Jaga Jazzist’s fifth album Starfire uses some clever visual trickery to create the illusion of movement: slip the record out from its casing and the white circles on its front and reverse appear to pulse and spin before your eyes. The sleeve was created by Oslo-based designer and illustrator Martin Kvamme using a seven-frame animation and a grid system on the slip case.

Jaga Jazzist: Starfire. Label: Ninja Tune
Jaga Jazzist: Starfire. Label: Ninja Tune

“We wanted something that looked strong as an album cover, and that also worked as an animation,” he says. “I guess anamorphic isn’t quite the correct name for it, but I’m not sure what to use. It’s some kind of optical illusion.” Kvamme also designed some jagged custom type for the cover and an Op Art-inspired inner sleeve.

Art direction: Martin Kvamme & Martin Horntveth. Photo: Espen Høydalsvik. Label: Ninja Tune

9. Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear

Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear. Label: Sub Pop

Los Angeles-based artist Stacey Rozich drew on religious iconography and folklore to create the artwork for Josh Tillman’s latest album, I Love You, Honeybear. The cover features a surreal take on the nativity scene, while a musical diorama-style pop-up in the deluxe vinyl edition depicts a fiery bar brawl between a nightmarish cast of anthropomorphic creatures.

Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear. Label: Sub Pop
Father John Misty – I Love You, Honeybear. Label: Sub Pop

“Josh was very encouraging of me to get as weird with the visuals as I saw fit,” says Rozich. “He did say he wanted the focal point to be a his head on a baby’s body nursing on a woman’s breast [!]. I immediately associated it was classic Renaissance iconographic depictions of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus. ” Dealing with themes of love, rejection, misery and happiness, Rozich’s paintings perfectly capture the album’s weirdness and dark humour.

Art direction: Sasha Barr & Josh Tillman. Label: Sub Pop

8. Darkstar – Foam Island

Darkstar – Foam Island. Label: Warp
Darkstar – Foam Island. Label: Warp

Electronic music duo Darkstar’s third album reflects on political disenfranchisement in the north of England. Tracks are interspersed with interviews the band conducted with young people in Huddersfield while artwork,  designed by Build, features portraits of the interviewees by James Medcraft.

Medcraft visited the town five times with the band to shoot images, and says the aim was to create “an honest representation” of the place and its residents. The understated design includes some elegant typography with custom ligatures but the focus is firmly on Medcraft’s photographs.

Artwork for single releases from Darkstar’s Foam Island. Label: Warp

“The band and I were really keen from the outset that the photography was the hero in all formats. This meant as little as possible in terms of typography on the images, including the cover which just goes out with a sticker,” says Build’s Michael Place.

Label: Warp

7. Tame Impala – Currents

Tame Impala – Currents. Label: Fiction

Tame Impala’s music has been accompanied by some great artwork over the years, with photographic and abstract imagery often referencing the group’s pyschedelic sound. (2010’s Innerspeaker, for example, featured a recurring Droste effect image of a US mountain range by Australian designer Leif Podhajsky).

Single artwork by Robert Beatty. Label: Fiction

The cover for latest album Currents was created by Kentucky-based artist and designer Robert Beatty and is inspired by diagrams of fluid dynamics (the study of how liquid and air move around objects) given to him by lead vocalist Kevin Parker. Beatty also created the cover art for accompanying single releases using similar patterns combined with varying shapes and colours. The result is a striking set of images which reference moiré, Op Art and 70s graphic design without looking too retro or pastiche.

Label: Fiction

6. Olga Bell – Incitation

Special Editon Vinyl Art
Olga Bell – Incitation. Label: One Little Indian

Limited to a run of 1000, the deluxe vinyl edition of New York-based, Russian-born musician Olga Bell’s album Incitation is a beautiful thing to behold.  The grey-and-white marbled disc is packaged in a shimmering holographic sleeve with embossed type by Spanish lettering artist and designer Alex Trochut, a previous CR Annual Best in Book winner. A photographic insert shot by Noah Kalina shows the musician falling on to a concrete runway.  The embossing and metallic finish make for a wonderfully tactile product while the dreamlike imagery and abstract type create a sense of intrigue.

The Vinyl Factory Olga Bell Michael Wilkin
Olga Bell – Incitation (limited edition). Image: Michael Wilkin / The Vinyl Factory
The Vinyl Factory Olga Bell Michael Wilkin
Olga Bell – Incitation (limited edition). Image: Michael Wilkin / The Vinyl Factory

“Olga had a very clear conceptual image in her head – she had a mood board that captured dystopian landscapes, man and machine made, delicate vs harsh,” says Trochut. “The lettering is more an image than a written word, but it’s an image that can be read, creating an game with the reader to discover something hidden (incitation)…The lettering itself is trying to blur the lines between letters and abstract shapes,” he adds.

Label: One Little Indian

5. Battles – La Di Da Di 

Battles – La Di Da Di. Label: Warp

The food-themed artwork for Battles’ La Di Da Di was devised by guitarist Dave Konopka, who creates all of the band’s album covers.

Konopka says he wanted to create a visual metaphor for the group’s creative process: “Battles has a fairly ambiguous writing and recording process in terms of not exactly knowing what the finished product will be until we are actually sitting in a recording studio together,” he says.

Guitarist Dave Konopka designed the artwork for the album and says the image was inspired by New York deli signage
Food-themed still lives are combined with bold black type and neon green inner sleeves in the vinyl edition of La Di Da Di

Imagery was in part inspired by New York deli signage, with images of various foods “randomly Photoshopped together”. Konopka says it aims to convey the idea of dissonant flavours – “or to play upon a sense of taste to illustrate the idea of overindulgence or forced juxtapositions as an analogy of our disparate individual processes and the culmination of our efforts as a collective.”

Label: Warp

4. Everything Everything – Get to Heaven

Everything Everything – Get to Heaven. Label: RCA

“We wanted a cover image that is impossible to ignore, even if you think it’s ugly as hell,” says Everything Everything’s Jonathan Higgs of the artwork for the band’s third album. The cover image was created by illustrator Andrew Archer and draws on religious iconography and scenes of faith healing. Higgs says it reflects the album’s key themes of politics, religion, faith and power: “We were attracted to Andrew’s work because of its boldness and its surreal, comic book style irreverence,” he explains.

Inner artwork for Get to Heaven features lyrics printed in bold black type
“The type needed to be bold and intrusive and hard to ignore,” says art director Jonny Costello, from Adult Art Club, of the artwork for Everything Everything’s Get to Heaven

“We wanted to walk the line between ecstasy and agony, the figure as much terrified as he is euphoric, his faith dragging him down and lifting him up in a healing motion.” Inside, lyrics and song titles are printed alongside provocative phrases in bold black type. “It was always a thought from the outset that the type needed to be bold and intrusive and hard to ignore,” says art director Jonny Costello, from Adult Art Club. “Minimal heavy set letterpress style bold text was used on the bright gradients to echo high impact religious posters, with pull quotes of lyrics set like fervent call outs from Holy books.”

Label: RCA

3. Hot Chip – Why Make Sense? 

A selection of some of the thousands of covers created for Hot Chip’s Why Make Sense? using variable data printing. Label: Domino

Designers Nick Relph and Matt Cooper used variable data printing and an extensive library of visuals to create a unque cover for each copy of Hot Chip’s sixth album, Why Make Sense? The pair devised a simple design before creating hundreds of pattern variations and 501 colour swatches, resulting in hundreds of thousands of possible combinations.

Variable data printing allowed elements of the design to be adapted with each pass of the printer, enabling customisation on a mass scale. “Nick was interested in the idea that some of the variations would be quite subtle,” says Cooper. “We’ve got hundreds and hundreds of different colours, so some of the variations are very close in colour and tone, a little like the small variations you get in traditional print methods at the beginning and end of a print run, or flecks of dirt, or other vagaries of the print process,” he adds. “The graphic’s vertical lines are static, [but] the angled lines’ orientations alter. Sometimes, lines are almost vertical, while others cross the design at nearly 90 degrees.”

Label: Domino

2. Björk — Vulnicura

The vinyl edition of Vulnicura features a cover image of Bjork in a character of her own creation, shot by Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin

After almost four decades in the industry, Icelandic musician Björk continues to surprise with virtual reality films, immersive musical apps and some of the most visually striking album artwork around. Two equally strange and beautiful images were created for her latest album, Vulnicura, which was released via a surprise announcement in January after it was reportedly leaked online.

More of Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin’s imagery for Vulnicura

One was shot by photographers Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin and features the artist in a character of her own creation, while the other, by Andrew Huang, depicts her fossilised within Icelandic rock, an open wound resembling a vulva on her chest. An animated version was also created by Huang (who worked with Björk on her VR film Stonemilker) as a kind of video for the song Family.

Artwork by Andrew Huang
The deluxe vinyl edition of Vulnicura features tubular type by M/M Paris and a note of thanks in Bjork’s own handwriting

The album’s artwork was designed by M/M Paris and features tubular type and contrasting shades of lilac and yellow. A deluxe vinyl edition comes packaged in a transparent yellow slip case, with matching yellow discs and an inner sleeve bearing a note of thanks in Björk’s own handwriting. Weird and wonderfully inventive, it’s one of the most memorable and intriguing album covers of this year.

Label: One Little Indian

1. Blur – The Magic Whip

Blur – The Magic Whip. Label: Parlophone. The red obi strip on the cover translates the Chinese characters into English

Art director Tony Hung’s cover for Blur’s first album in 12 years cleverly combines imagery evoking an English summertime with the bold neon lights of Hong Kong (the album was recorded in Hong Kong and London).  Hung had the idea for the image after meeting with frontman Damon Albarn, who explained the title’s multiple meanings: an ice cream in the UK, a firework in China and a whip in the political sense.

“The idea of a neon ice cream came to me around 5am the following morning after hearing the album for the first time,” he says. “The image: A sweet, daytime, English, summer product found in pastel shades, evoking visions of blue skies and green parks … now transformed into a buzzing neon sign, rendered in hard lines and electric hues, found on any busy street in Mong Kok on a dark night. Melting ice cream provided a melancholic twist.”

Tony Hung’s poster for Blur’s gig at Hyde Park’s British Summer Time also combines British and Chinese imagery
The neon sign made for the cover of Blur’s The Magic Whip, designed by Tony Hung and photographed by Nick Wilson

His design was made into a neon sign by a company in East London and photographed by Nick Wilson, and the album comes with a red obi strip which translates the Chinese lettering into English. Rich in colour and texture, it’s an evocative image and one that captures both the story of the album’s making and the cities which inspired it.

Label: Parlophone

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