Albums You Should Definitely Judge By Their Covers
Great art calls attention to great music. Or at least, that’s how the saying goes.
Originally created as a protective casing for the crackly vinyl within, record sleeves have evolved to become a form of artistic expression in and of themselves, often becoming equally as significant as the music itself. The following is a selection of some of my favourite album covers across various genres, which I think accurately reflect the sublime sonic creations that they accompany.
Amber by Autechre
I first came across this album about eight years ago, during the unfortunate pop-punk music phase of my life, only to wince in disgust and close the YouTube tab as hurriedly as my fingers would allow. How anyone could find its strange, mechanical loops even remotely enjoyable was beyond me. Fast forward to present day, and I’m now being whisked away by the album’s dark industrial timbres and delicate synth layers, fully immersed in the ghostly, glitchy madness that is Autechre.
Amber’s album art is a photograph of Honey Valley in Cappadocia, Turkey, a range of high hills created from volcanic ash that has been washed by rain and shaped by wind for thousands of years. A beautiful landscape in soft, dreamy colours, it sets the mood perfectly for Amber’s echoing sounds.
Jar of Flies by Alice in Chains
Back when CD players were still a thing, I used to jam to my uncle’s copy of Jar of Flies on repeat during the bleak grey months of hulhan’gu season. Disregarding the fact that the album was written and recorded in only a week, Jar of Flies holds its own quite effortlessly. With an introspective tone that is harrowingly sorrowful yet bathed in silken warmth, it is a reflection of human loss at its most profound.
According to vocalist Layne Staley, both the title and artwork for this album were inspired by a science experiment conducted by guitarist Jerry Cantrell in third grade. “He was given two jars full of flies,” said Staley. “One was overfed and the other underfed. The jar that was overfed flourished for a while, but then all the flies died from overpopulation. The jar that was underfed had most of their flies survive all year. I guess there’s a message in there somewhere.”
Live-Evil by Miles Davis
Let me just say one thing right off the bat. Jazz albums are second to none when it comes to their knockout cover designs. Hell, I could do five more of these lists based solely on this genre. And as one of my favourite Miles Davis albums of all time, Live-Evil is no exception to the rule. This album is a jazz-funk fusion of electronic influences and psychedelic rock riffs, a fat and groovy barrage of sounds growing in intensity with every passing second.
Live-Evil’s artwork comes from the god-gifted hands of Mati Klarwein, who was personally instructed by Davis to incorporate the forces of ‘life and evil’ into both sides of the cover. Klarwein also created the iconic artwork for Live-Evil’s spiritual predecessor, Bitches Brew.
Crossings by Herbie Hancock
In an effort to balance out this list, having to pick only one album by the piano legend himself was probably the hardest thing I’ve had to do all week. Crossings is the last album from Hancock’s Mwandishi period, which saw him experimenting in avant-garde electronica. This is the kind of album that smacks you in the face immediately after its start, the juxtaposition of off-beat African drums and spacey Moog synths being a welcome surprise.
Hancock’s albums often have powerful themes spanning across their artwork. This particular piece is the first of many covers designed for him by artist Robert Springett. The image he’s captured in Crossings is only a glimpse of the rarefied atmosphere you can expect from the album, and for me, it truly hits home.
A Moon Shaped Pool by Radiohead
Last, but very far from the least, Radiohead's ninth studio album deserves an honorary mention because, well, how could it not? Defined by its orchestral arrangements, A Moon Shaped Pool is one of the band's most elusive, emotionally transfixing albums. The music purls and shimmers against Yorke's delicate croons, moving beyond the typical machine-driven angst and crawling towards something more human.
The artwork for A Moon Shaped Pool was created in collaboration with artist Stanley Donwood. Donwood was apparently set up in a barn near the recording studio, with speakers wired between the two buildings so he could hear the process. He then reacted "in acrylic" to what he heard, and experimented with the weather, leaving canvases outdoors to allow the elements to affect the paint. The final result you see here is a product of Photoshop manipulation by Donwood and Yorke after the weathering process.