Album Covers of the Year 2021: 3D & Digital
96 Back – 9696 Dream (Local Action)
Via The Dig:
While rooted in dance music’s past, his music isn’t fixed to any particular subgenre or structure, though designer Oliver Van Der Lugt’s artwork recalls the heyday of early ’90s rave culture. Sharing a similar vision to 96 Back, the Melbourne-based artist also makes music and DJs, under the fittingly throwback alias Air Max ’97.
Absolutely Free – Aftertouch (Boiled Records)
Matt King (Absolutely Free):
Aftertouch is an album about the discomfort, grief, and exploitation experienced as a result of personal and cultural shifts into an increasingly digital existence. It explores the limits of personal expression and autonomy in a world mediated by invisible systems, algorithms, and artificial intelligence, whilst maintaining hope for a post-capitalist, post-digital future.
The album artwork features a graphic that consists of every possible colour (16,777,216 total) in the RGB colour model. Each pixel is a unique colour, created from a different combination of red, blue, and green light. The artwork is about the limitations of human perception and the seemingly infinite possibilities of the digital world.
Because the colours of the image are digitally produced with light, it’s an album cover that’s impossible to print because the colours don’t exist in the physical world. A true version of the artwork exists on our website, but the physical printed album is an inaccurate replica of the original.
AJA – SLUG (Opal Tapes)
Through this collaboration, we connected on expressing and exploring parts of identities and our inner landscapes. With a mutual love of warped beauty, liquifying, the body, flesh, nature, sea creatures, oozing translucency and distortions, we create intuitively from our subconscious. We try to open perceptions of the self by endorsing and investing in it fully in order to come as we truly are. We don’t compromise, or narrow ourselves down to what should be beautiful or what norms dictate on what should be shown or not. With our marks, panel of emotions, our past, our present, failures, deconstruction of the norms and pressure, in order to unravel and meet ourselves fearlessly.
We use the digital realm and avatars in order to see imagination as a real confrontational space, a place where space can be created for the multidimensional persons. The avatar used in SLUG is embracing and embodying many dimensions of ourselves that in reality society would tend to censor or neglect because it holds true power, and is limitless.
AJA created the soundscape, Lu La Loop designed and formed the extraordinary costume for the Slug avatar (editor’s note: see below) and Bora imagined and then constructed an avatar and music video / visuals for the live set from AJA that pulsates the energy of the music into a visual spectacle that makes each three elements – audio, visual and costume – indivisible from each other in intent and effect.
Arca – KICK ii / KicK iii / kick iiii / kiCK iiiii (XL Recordings)
Four album covers for Arca’s KICK series. The first installment, KiCK i, was released in 2020; the remainder were released in 2021. The cover art for KicK ii (pictured above), as well as the artworks for all of the following Kick projects were created by the artist Frederik Heyman, who previously worked with Arca on her 2020 single “@@@@@” and for the music video of her single “Nonbinary,” from KiCk i. There is much to unpack in all related media, and not enough room to contain them here.
Frederik Heyman (Visual Artist) via Kanon:
Creating visuals is my main practice. I think and breathe in visuals. Rarely do I find the unique synergy as the one I have with Alejandra. Working with her allows me to go out of my comfort zone and explore new artistic territories. It’s a new language we’ve developed: we supplement, expand, don’t limit, merge worlds. I love to work with extended mood and storyboards in general. With Alejandra we bring it to another level, taking the time to develop a new narrative in the visuals through detailed research and sketches as a base. We consider each minor and major visual element as of equal importance and narrative necessity, revisiting the past by recycling symbolism, reshaping them into an alternative present.
Astrid Sonne – outside of your lifetime (Escho)
outside of your lifetime is released with 3 Playable rooms made by game designer Aske Zidore. Visit www.astridsonne.com to explore.
Sounds: Astrid Sonne
Sculpture Artwork is Based On: Aia Sofia Coverley Turan
3D Model: Ioana Floris Ispas
Insert animation: Aske Zidore
Graphic design: Nis Bysted
Auragraph – Opacity Field (Hiraeth Records)
Artwork: Hector Carlos Ramirez II aka Auragraph
Layout & Design: Jeremy Raskin
Typography Design: Clare Byrne
Bastian Void – Topia (Oxtail Recordings)
From the press release:
Developed throughout years rife with joy, fear, excitement, insecurity, growth, loss and love, the album title references an ambiguous sense of place. Conceptually, [Jose] Bastardo investigates the mixed messages and contradictions of modern life, our place in it, and what kind of futures lie beyond it. Aesthetically, Topia is a treasure trove of simulated landscapes, endless skyboxes, and impossible architecture, reflecting on reality as a foil to the digital expanse.
Joe Bastardo (Bastian Void):
In my music, I try to fuse vintage technology with digital production techniques. This album was cleaner-sounding than my previous releases, and I wanted that to be reflected in the color scheme and crisp typography. However, the dichotomy between new and old is still important. The illustrative elements were culled from vintage PC manuals and manipulated to form the scene featured on the cover. The album is about spaces (real and virtual) and the emptiness between them. I imagine the cover as a stage where the music would be enveloping the listener.
Sounds & Artwork: Joe Bastardo at Moss Archive
Body Meπa – The Work is Slow (Hausu Mountain)
Birch Cooper (Visual Artist):
I was really happy when Greg reached out to me about doing this album art. At the time I was deep in work on a video piece for MIRA festival with my group MSHR, so my process was dripping wax out of both ends and flowing along quickly. Here’s an image of the piece that we ended up making…
Often when I’m working like this, each piece informs the approach that I’ll take for the next. Here’s a rendering of the piece that I made right before starting work on the album art — sort of a procedural ancestor to the Body Metta piece.
I was thinking about forms that could function simultaneously as a kind of recursive architecture and as a human scale sculpture, and how they could embody a graphic sensibility as an object and as an image.
CRYSTAL – Reflection Overdrive (FLAU)
Shinya Sato (Album Artwork):
Back then, we were obsessed with dolphins. It all started when I found a copy of “Ecco the Dolphin” for the Mega Drive at Super Potato (a vintage game shop) in Ikebukuro. I bought this game because of the illustration on the package, but when I went home and played it, the graphics and music were fantastic. However, the controls were so difficult that I gave up trying to progress through the game.
Ryota Miyake (CRYSTAL):
In addition to that, we were looking for a creature that would symbolise our music in some way. We saw a band called Omega Tribe playing on YouTube, and they had a big picture of a swordfish tuna behind them (*1). It was a big influence on us.
Album Artwork: Shinya Sato & Ryuto Miyake
d’Eon – Rhododendron (Hausu Mountain)
Maxwell Allison (Visual Artist):
I’m drawn to art from Super Nintendo especially because I consider it to be a perfect middle ground between a bright, gaudy, psychedelic that carries the spirit of trippy art in the ’60s and ’70s, for example, with the “cutting edge” (for the time) technology of the ’90s, when I grew up and was playing a lot of video games. My goal is to make a tripped-out anachronistic, often apocalyptic sci-fi type album cover that looks like something you could step into in real space, but that also serves as a throwback, with a wink, to that formative era of visual art for me.
For the d’Eon cover specifically, I wanted to create a scene that was thematically in line with a lot of the imagery that has appeared on Chris’s album covers in the past, specifically a kind of austere, liturgical feel, with the stained glass and the church-like structures — down to the “biblically accurate” angel-esque figure that serves as the focal point of the scene. That “angel” was created by overlaying various pixel art elements onto a base image of a rhododendron flower, which of course ties into the album’s title / general vibe. This cover was special to me because I feel like I leveled up in terms of portraying a sense of depth and 3D space in the scene, partially due to my more direct focus on the presentation of shadows within the space, which might have otherwise been more dry and less light-conscious in early album covers.
Dok-S Project – Under a Cloudy Sky (Crash Symbols)
Csenge Csató & Márton Tóth (Visual Artists):
We usually work on intuition, so as we listen to the music, we immediately imagine a fitting color palette and a visual mood for the artwork. This cover is rather an attempt to visualize the music than anything very conceptual. Colorful, vivid, soft, fluid, and full of movement. Since we work remotely (Csenge is Budapest-based, Márton lives in Lisbon), we naturally started to work like we’d put a puzzle together. One of us starts with the background for example, the other with some other elements, and we pass the .psd file back and forth, placing new elements and visually organizing them until we feel like the artwork is finished. It’s mostly digital (Photoshop, Illustrator) but we also used some scanned images from an old book about houseplants and distorted them.
koeosaeme – Annulus (Orange Milk Records)
Koeosaeme is Ryu Yoshizawa’s solo project which pursues the fusion of programming and sound art.
Loraine James – Reflection (Hyperdub)
Optigram (Visual Artist):
[The artwork] was a response to the title, Reflection, and ideas of introspective contemplation and reevaluation, with thoughts going in different directions, and hopefully finding illumination. So those ideas manifested physically with the contorted heads that were lit both externally and from within. I wanted them to feel like a series of head sculptures, frozen moments of deep thought, but not that just showed quiet contemplation but that also had a sense of anguish, or even agony, as they went through all those thoughts.
As the work was created using 3D software, I was able to expand on the imagery and do some short animated sequences which were used to promote the album. I made it look as if the sculptures were self-generating but it was actually a cheat; I just passed a luminous wall through them so that they are gradually revealed as the wall recedes. I’m not an especially skilled animator so being able to find that kind of short cut to make something still look interesting was a good result!
Machinedrum – Psychonia (Ninja Tune)
From the press release:
The title – Psyconia – is a play on words, combining “psychic” and “syconia” (which is the plural form of syconium). In botany, syconium is a fleshy hollow receptacle, containing numerous flowers which develop together into a multiple fruit, as in the fig. Fig trees historically represent creation and abundance in various religions and cultures. It is the fruit from the tree of enlightenment. It represents a new understanding and a new beginning.
“We have a few fig trees growing on our property and they tend to withstand the harshest climates southern California throws at them, so I found that inspiring,” explains Travis. “There’s also an area near where I live known as Figueroa which is a Spanish translation of Figueira, aka the Portuguese name for a fig tree. I found these synchronicities intriguing and so I went with it for the theme of this EP. It’s especially relevant to this time in my life in which my daughter has become a symbol of creation and abundance in my life.”
The EP artwork is by celebrated artist Kushagra Gupta, who took Travis’ inspirations and created a fictional musical instrument that looks both organic (fig-like) and alien.
Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World (Luminelle Recordings)
[Magdalena Bay’s] debut album, Mercurial World, is their most fully realized and ambitious effort yet, accompanied by a Y2K-style website filled with old-school GIFs, cryptic messages, and scientific illustrations. But the album’s stunning cover artwork, by Ram Han, manages to encapsulate their aesthetic by offering a portal to that world in the form of a single image: two hands inside what looks like a crystal ball holding another spherical shape.
Priori – Your Own Power (NAFF Recordings)
Matt Cangiano’s intricate renderings of nature and technology provide the perfect visual backdrops for Priori’s multi-layered electronic music.
Salamanda – Sphere (Métron Records)
The album, Sphere, is about all kinds of spheres and round-shaped objects we can find or imagine, from the planet Earth to dancing bubbles, boiled tomatoes or even ideas floating around. We wanted the album artwork to reflect our own concept of sphere while keeping it fun and playful, so we thought of a grand descent of a tomato, which is also related to the fifth track, “Boiled Tomato.”
We’ve always been drawing the artworks for our singles in pixels ever since we started this project. It’s not just because we’re great pixel art fans, but we thought they would (and did!) get along with our minimal tunes. It’s always nice to see how people find them familiar and nostalgic.
Visual Artist: Sala of Salamanda
Sharkula x Mukqs – Take Caution on the Beach (Hausu Mountain)
Maxwell Allison (Visual Artist):
For this cover, I followed my usual pattern… of laying out a scene in Photoshop with the goal of creating a little 3D tableau / landscape seen from an a distant isometric viewpoint, and then layering every part of my initial template scene with little elements of pixel art sourced from my massive folder of screenshots from Super Nintendo games. The final products of the album covers that I make in this style usually contains somewhere between 500-1,000 individual elements / layers…
This cover was different from most of my work in this style because it incorporates the art of Brian, aka Sharkula — the rapper who I worked with to make the album (I produced the beats on this one under my solo moniker Mukqs). Brian is an amazing visual artist who paints and draws in a style that I would describe as a kind of mutated and exaggerated graffiti / tagging type style, which he had plenty of time to develop growing up in the 80s and 90s in hip-hop culture as a rapper, b-boy, breakdancer, visual artist, etc., In that era. Brian’s art typically features some central text as the focal point and then he embellishes it with all kinds of little details, dollops of color, and attendant drawings that surround the central text.
I think positioning one of his pieces that specifically said “SHARKULA” as the central text on a billboard within my SNES pixel art spread created a nice contrast between our visual styles that captured the vibe of the collaborative album that we made together.