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Wednesday, 19 December 2012 15:25

Best of 2012: The 10 most excellent and apt album covers of the year

Best of 2012: The 10 most excellent and apt album covers of the year
Written by Brian Benton
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My mom is a graphic designer, so whenever I buy a new album and I share what I'm listening to with her, she pays just as much attention to how it looks as she does how it sounds.

Her focus has led me to notice details I never would have before, and also helps me when deciding which of the dozens of new releases each week I should take a stab at.

I put together a list of 10 pieces of artwork that stood out for me in 2012, picked based upon how much I like the image, but also how well it serves its purpose as a cover that represents the music inside.

What album covers did you love this year? Let me know in the comments!

1. Sleigh Bells - "Reign of Terror"

This cover is nothing spectacular at first glance, but the story behind it explains why it's really special. The bloodied Keds actually belong to frontwoman Alexis Krauss, and the blood spot came from guitarist Derek Miller accidentally hitting her in the head with his guitar. In the most indirect way, the artwork previews the loud, powerful sound of the music it encases.

2. Teen Daze - "All of Us, Together"

I really just like this cover as a piece of art. I hadn’t heard this album prior to writing this, but the artwork made me assume the music would be spacey and trippy, and make you feel like you're floating. I was right.

3. The Flaming Lips - "The Flaming Lips and Heady Fwends"

The success in this artwork is simply that the band was able to make every album cover different; something that has been attempted before but hardly ever is accomplished with success. Using a computer program to randomly generate art, every copy of the limited edition vinyl truly is unique.

4. Saint Etienne - "Words and Music"

I've tried my best to read the names of all the streets on the cover of "Words and Music" but keep noticing new ones every time I look at it. "Thunder Road," "Topanga Canyon Road" and "Yellow Brick Road" are a few of my favorites.

5. Clock Opera - "Ways to Forget"

This cover kept coming up when I was researching album artwork. Since it has no text, it actually looks like a watercolor painting you could see framed in a museum.

6. Best Coast - "The Only Place"

A cute drawing of a bear hugging a map of California was all Best Coast needed to summarize the West Coast adoration inside their album. Frontwoman Bethany Cosentino cited homesickness as a key inspiration for the lyrics, and that's just what the bear evokes.

7. Diego's Umbrella - "Proper Cowboy"

A tiger-peacock hybrid of sorts, this artwork stands out because of the complexity and detail. Every time I look at it, new patterns pop out. I haven't seen the full album booklet, but it apparently contains a handful more similar illustrations.

8. The xx - "Coexist"

Despite being very similar to the artwork for its first album, the xx made a departure for "Coexist" by changing to a white background, making the "X" bigger, and using that oily, psychedelic pattern. They could have done something redundant and dull, but instead it seems fresh.

9. Field Music - "Plumb"

Any album cover that reminds me of Ed Ruscha's painting "Standard Station" deserves to be on this list. It perfectly morphs together illustration and photography in a way that is just simple enough.

10. The Temper Trap - "The Temper Trap"

A perfect example of listening to music online leading to overlooking album art. I've played this album all the way through on Spotify maybe 10 times, but just now noticed the billowing, cloudy, tissue-like cover art. I'm not sure what it is, but it’s intriguing to look at (if you stare long enough, you might start to see faces hidden in the clouds) and the typography is right for the desired minimalist feel.

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