Another year of our favorites in Top Album Cover Artwork, and once again, we interview musicians and artists on the often-underappreciated work that goes into creating a product that not only tickles your ears, but speaks to your eyes and hearts. Album artwork, though often...

Album Covers of the Year 2014
In contrast to modern patterns in music consumption comes our annual Album Covers of the Year feature, where, instead of forgetting album artwork even exists, we hyperextend ourselves to assert that it is an artform that is vitally connected to the spirit of the music. This feature, which is divided at times into thematic elements and at times into artistic medium, incorporates interviews with not only musicians, but also artists involved throughout the artistic process. We pride this list in being diverse and multi-faceted, as well as philosophically exploratory. See all of our entries from previous years or get started by choosing a category below. Happy travels through the artistic universe we've crafted for you.

Phebe Schmidt Photography
In the hands of photographer Phebe Schmidt, everyday objects are set against backdrops that make one do a double take. With a refined and polished style, she highlights ideas of consumerism and stylized beauty through the recontextualization of mundane props as well as the exploration of "plasticity", or the ability of an object to shapeshift with its environment. The resulting works feel curious, having an effect similar to staring at something for so long that it begins to feel unreal by nature, its fine details becoming confusions within the mass of its existence. "My aim is to draw the viewer in with bright cheesy colours and curious props; on second glance, they realise that something is not quite right -- floating razors or a melting block of cheese often placed together with a profiled product," explains Schmidt, who gathers a number of props specific to each shoot, chosen both for their aesthetic and conceptual values.
Phebe Schmidt Photography

The origins of Craig Leon's Nommos/Visiting lie in the ancient art of the Dogon tribe from Mali, who worshipped a race of amphibious extraterrestrials, known as the “Nommos”, who were said to come from the distant star supposedly known as Sirius B. The strange thing about Sirius B is that it is invisible to the naked eye, and science only verified its existence in the 20th century, long after the Dogon tribe had already established a deep mythology around it. This intersection of science and spirituality, of the ancient and the modern, lies at the heart of this stunning collection from RVNG Intl., packaged with the usual lavish care and attention to detail, in which Craig Leon simulates a soundtrack for interstellar travel for the Nommos, using a battalion of cutting-edge-at-the-time synthesizers and drum machines. Craig Leon - Nommos/Visiting Album Review Craig Leon is not some undiscovered private press new age genius. Rather, he is best known for production duties on some of the '70s most adventurous records, from some of New York's arthouse elite, including Suicide, Television, The Ramones, and Blondie, which places "Nommos/Visiting" at the intersection of punk rock and new wave, industrial music, early hip-hop, and world music. This is no slice of musical soma; this is a transmission from the crossroads.

 

Forward-thinking and striking to behold, Danish design is known around the world for its clean lines, simple shapes, and its refined attention to experimentation. With such ideas naturally engrained into the cultural identity of the country, it seems only natural that photographers like Denmark's Torkil Gudnason, now a transplant to New York City, would extend such aesthetic qualities into his portrait and still life photography, which explores the many contours and colors of human and floral forms."America is an artistic playground for the world," says Gudnason, who relocated to the United States in 1978 and describes the Danish style as "very ascetic and minimal". In his photography, Gudnason loosens his grip on that style by turning a colorful eye away from the dark Scandinavian winters but never quite forgetting about them. "When I came here, everything was new, but somehow [I found] déjà vu through various media. My work is still quite minimal, even in the more complex images. It's more a way of reduction than addition."
From Gudnason's Body Vase Series, which is inspired by "The need to work on a form that gives birth to the continuation of mankind. A fascination of how close the feminine body is to nature."

Like a subtle play off its name, dichotomies are rich within True False, a series of photographic works by Brooklyn-based artist Brian Vu. It's a confusing series, to be sure; first glances and even repeat glances make one question why each of its individual images are indeed a part of the larger series, for the unifying thread is indistinct and absolutely evasive. While some symbols reemerge and some photographs find similar compositional articulations, the common denominator between each and every image is vague -- a shared quality that sits on the end of your tongue, eternally waiting for the right descriptors. The images in True False seem to lie in an unspoken state of being and unbeing: human subjects and body parts exist in somewhat impersonal states, often unidentifiable; and on the opposite end lie still lifes that feel so freshly composed that one can almost see the lingering human touch...
Brian Vu Artist InterviewBrian Vu Artist Interview
"I usually have some sort of idea in mind. I have needs for things I want to photograph, so I have to make it happen. The worst part of that is that it usually works like 25% of the time. It's all about the accidents that happen once you're actually shooting with a camera. It's all so exciting when you get a photo you can be proud of. It's a thrill that I'm addicted to." - Brian Vu, on his creative process

Every year, we interview a number of musicians and artists about the intimate details and philosophical underpinnings of their album cover artwork. It's an ever-massive undertaking, but we make sure to include every genre, from doom metal to disco, minimal electronic to mainstream pop, with the intention of highlighting the best visual art, regardless of why or who created it. You can see entries from previous years here, and browse 2013's entries by either scrolling down or selecting a category below. > Narrative & Mythological Album Covers > Photographic Album Covers > Illustrative Album Covers > Mixed Media & Collage-Based Album Covers

What communicative force lies behind the deliberate disfiguration of a photograph? What discourse would otherwise remain mute in original form, were it not liberated through ruin? Brazilian artist and architect Lucas Simões explores topographic aesthetics in fragmented portraiture through his papercut series desretratos ("unportraits") . Overwhelming the voices of intimate friends as they narrated their suppressed secrets, music subtly informed the ambiance of Simões' imagery, but the most significant power of influence was the character of each portrayed individual. Simões slices the temporality of scenes in a person's life, solidifying within one image a progression of time and its evolving lyricism. Within the physical evidence of a single instance, Simões nonetheless relates a series of intensely personal moments. His experiments allude to the inherent capacity of deconstruction as a medium for transcendent visualization.
"In this series of works, I invited intimate friends over to tell me a secret as I took their portrait. However, my intention was not to hear their secret, but to capture the expressions of each one at the moment they revealed their secret. I also asked each one to choose a song for me to listen to in my earphones while I photographed them. And, after the photo session, I asked each one if the secret had a color, and these are the colors the portraits carry. From this photo shooting session, I chose 10 different portraits to cut and overlap." - Lucas Simões
Elements of familiarity -- the curling of a rogue nostril, the glimmer of an irregular tooth, a pupil preserved -- reveal themselves in an otherwise unidentifiable mass of un-face. Adding an intimacy to the dynamics of photographic process, the relationships between Simões and his friends provide yet another palette of interpretations to a multidimensional portraiture. "A nice relationship is when it's full of will to know the other, knowing that you will never discover enough of the other," reflects Simões. "A good relationship keeps its mystery and that is what these portraits represent: mysteries."

This audio-visual collaboration between Portland-based avant-garde metal outfit, The Body, and NYC mixed media artist Alexander Barton has been a long time coming, a homage to an enduring friendship. Combining their mutual shared interest in intensity, abstraction, and religious themes, the music video for "To Attempt Oneness" pits The Body's guttural, distorted screams and noisy, rumbling guitars against Barton's bleeding ink painting -- an extension of his earlier performance which used real pig's blood. The final product holds a viewer's fascination with its impressively slow and minimal unfolding, the most entertaining way possible to watch paint dry. To celebrate the very recent release of The Body's Christs, Redeemers on Thrill Jockey Records, we offer you a side-by-side interview with artist Alexander Barton and The Body's drummer Lee Buford, as they speak of music, aesthetics, and the world. The Body are currently on a nation-wide tour; dates at the bottom of this post.