Category Archives: Best/Worst Album Covers

Worst Album Covers of 2013

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With album art having less and less of an impact on sales due to digital media, I think many labels have gotten lazy, relying on the same tried and true approach to album covers, never taking chances like artists did in the past.  While the albums below are all horrible in their own ways, I commend these musicians for at least taking a chance and doing something different at risk of being made a fool (which they accomplished).

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The Best Album Covers of 2013

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In the age of digital media, the idea of album artwork seems a bit archaic, but if you’re anything like me, you still hold the intrinsic connection between music and  art to be sacrosanct. Below you will find what I deem the 20 best images to be seen on the cover of albums in 2013. You can go get a closer look at that place your parents used to go to called the record store.

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Worst Album Covers of 2012

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And the nominees are…

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Best Album Covers of 2012

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And the winners are…

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Worst Album Covers of 2011

20. And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead

“Taos of the Dead”

I appreciate that all of the Trail of Dead covers are drawn by front man Conrad Keely, and he's obviously a great artist, but there comes a time where you need to pull your singer aside and be frank with him. Enough with the spaceships and air balloons, the machine guns and monocles, and the idea theft of video games (“Final Fantasy” and “Star Fox”). Put the pen down, and SING.

19. Eric Church

“Chief”

It’s nice to see that the kind folks in the country music community have welcomed the Una-Bomber into their world with open arms.

18. 311

“Universal Pulse”

A glimpse of “National Geographic” in the year 3000.

17. William McDowell

“Arise”

Does anyone else see the irony in how William McDowell’s followers in the background resemble a zombie uprising?

16. William Shatner

“Seeking Major Tom”

As much as Captain Kirk tried to hide, Sulu just kept finding him.

15. Steven Tyler

“(It) Feels So Good”

Tyler opted for the Times New Penis font (of all the phallic-letters, N is the happiest to see Tyler’s mouth open).

14. Big Time Rush

“Elevate”

We all know white guys can’t jump, but are we supposed to believe that the guy on the right is actually jumping?

13. Drake

“Take Care”

Poor , sad Drake has to sit around alone with his golden goblet, his golden candle stick, and his golden owl (this cover would be an all-time favorite if instead of an owl, he was holding a golden turkey leg).

12. Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

“Rare Birds”

This cover is about as funny as Martin’s performance in “The Pink Panther”, or "Baby Mama", or "Bringing Down the House", or "Cheaper By the Dozen" or "Sgt. Bilko".... (Can someone remind me why is this man so beloved again? You can't give a guy a 30 year pass for "The Jerk".)

11. Maylee Todd

“Choose Your Own Adventure”

Remember that “Choose Your Own Adventure” book where you have the choice between going in a time traveling cave or wearing furry animal pants? Yeah, I always went with the time machine too.

10. John Lord Fonda

“Bang the Fire”

Should have worn sunscreen.

9. Kate Bush

“50 Words for Snow”

Snowballing a snowman - you see something new everyday.

 8. Dream Theater

“A Dramatic Turn of Events”

This picture is SO fake. Everyone knows that the wind would totally blow his hat off.

7. Sebastian Bach

“Kicking & Screaming”

Sebastian Bach is still releasing albums while Kip Winger sits at home. There is no justice in this world.

6. Millie Vanillie

“Green Velvet”

If you blur your eyes just enough, it looks like they both have udders.

5. Bilal

“Robots”

Our generation's "American Gothic".

4. Steve Miller Band

“Let Your Hare Down”

There's no way that rabbit is going to be able to maneuver its way down that ladder #animalcruelty

3. 31Knots

“Trump Harm”

When Joe wouldn’t commit to the shirtless cover, they came up with a genius back-up plan.

2. Lady Ga Ga

“Born this Way”

American Chopper totally missed the boat on their Lady GaGa bike. I would have gone with a meat-r-cycle.

1. Limp Bizkit

“Golden Cobra”

With “Gold Cobra”, Limp Bizkit tried going the Rick Perry route by making fun of themselves, but just like Perry, they still look like asses in the end.

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Best Album Covers of 2011

20. Hello Echo

“Hello”

I placed this cover at the bottom of my list because I’m not sure if it’s actually a great cover, or if I’m just in love with the idea of a battle between a giant tree (or ent) and a robot building pulled straight from the movie “Big” (“I don’t get it! I don’t get it!”). If only they had thought of this concept for the movie “Real Steel”; it may have actually be watchable.

19. Friendly Fires

“PALA”

Friendly Fire’s guitarist says of their 2011 release “Pala”: “Our goal is to make vibrant, wide screen songs, but they must retain spontaneity, have an energy and mysticism around them.” Add the fact that their music is often labeled “tropical disco” and you’ve got the perfect cover for “PALA.”

18. Autre Ne Veut

“Body EP”

Um, so yeah…um, this is a picture of…well, um…you know. I questioned whether this was one of the best or worst covers. Is it pornographic or scientific? Is it alluring or disgusting? I came to the conclusion that a great cover should cause this type of uncertainty, stir up these questions, and add to your listening experience. When else would you be forced to try making a connection between stripped-down R&B and…well, something that rhymes with Mulva.

17. Iron & Wine

“Kiss Each Other Clean”

The good news: Iron and Wine’s cover for “Kiss Eachother Clean” is colorful, original, and refreshing. The bad news: the same can’t be said for the stale music on the album.

16. Braid

“Native Speaker”

I’m a sucker for a cover that doubles as optical illusions (check my number one cover back in 2009), and the cover for Braids “Native Speaker” satisfies this need. What at first may seem like a blasé portrait of the view through a shower door will soon have your eyes crossing and seeing visions like you're tripping off the vapors from a Sudafed shower tablet.

15. Thee Oh Sees

“Castlemania”

So what do you think will make the monster more furious: when he realizes it's a toy phone or that it’s a rotary?

14. Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestra

“The Hills are Alive”

Flowers and mountains, and green growing pastures, Blue skies, and white clouds, and hairy goat faces, these are a few of my favorite things!

 13. BOAT
“Dress Like Your Idols”

Wearing your influences on your sleeve is so old hat. Wear them on your album cover! (I recognize seven of the nine album covers parodied here. Can someone help me and specify the albums in the top two squares of the right column? I feel like a hack for not knowing).

12.Gillian Welch

“The Harrow and the Harvest”

So you’re telling me that the guitarist from Baroness drew the cover for a country artist? BAD. ASS.

11. Young Galaxy

“Shapeshifting”

Can someone help this poor girl? Is her face glued to the floor? Are her feet excessively buoyant? Or is her bra stuffed with bricks?

10. Radiohead

“King of Limbs”

I’ll admit it – “King of Limbs” didn’t live up to expectations. It’s too short (37 minutes!), there’s none of the jaw-dropping songs we’re accustomed to, and simply put: it’s not “In Rainbows” (no one could have followed that album up; give them some slack!). Despite all its short-comings, the band still delivers with some truly haunting album artwork that is part graphiti over a photograph of trees and part demented rejects from Pac-Man (Blinky! Is that you!?)..

9. Jay-Z and Kanye West

“Watch the Throne”

If you’re going to have album called “Watch the Throne” you better bring the goods when it comes to packaging. Kanye and Jay-Z don’t disappoint with a Riccardo Tisci designed album cover that resembles a decadent engraving in gold. With its intricate embroidery and textured surface, it’s the coolest “golden” packaging since “The Legend of Zelda” (Zelda’s ‘bout to go HAM!).

8. Luke Temple

“Don’t Act Like You Don’t Care”

As a kid, if you ever imagined your drawings coming to life, this is what it might look like. I love the sheer chaos of the image coupled with the childish, messy style. This scribbly aproach gives the cover movement, and if you look at it long enough, the little fellow on the bike might just get away after all.

7. Discodiene

“S/T”

Taking advantage of primary colors, this cover shows that simple is sometimes better. Without the red lions, the blue cavern, or the yellow light of hope, this would be just another classical black and white drawing. Just think, with the help of Photobucket picture editor, YOU could make the top 20 list next year!

6. Bon Iver

“S/T”

I actually didn’t appreciate this cover when I first saw it. In fact, I found it to be a bit hack (a secluded cabin in the woods…WE GET IT JUSTIN!). Then I saw a short youtube clip showing the progress of making the cover and saw nuances I’d never noticed. Realizing this was in fact a multi-media, 3-dimensional masterpiece, I had to take all my pessimism and hide it in that pathetic little cabin in my soul.

The video clip that changed my tune:

5. Gang Gang Dance

“Eye Contact”

So much depends upon a grasshopper, glazed with morning dew, atop a green plant.

4. J. Mascis

“Several Shades of Why”

Mark Spusta, the artist who made the fantastic cover for Dinosaur Jr’s “Farm” is back, and this time he takes cool to all new territories. Yes, it’s trippy and wild and all that “Farm” had with its attack of the trees imagery, but it’s also cute in a “Hello Kitty” kinda of way. Yet, it’s still somehow a deeply depressing image. It’s rare that a color pencil drawing can conjure up so many reactions. When is this guy going to get a movie deal? Enough with Pixar; I want to explore the strange world found in Spusta’s mind.

3. Erland and the Carnival

“Nightingale”

Every year my list inevitably contains a cover that features a photograph that is either retro or that captures the energy of the music. This cover accomplishes both with a girl appearing to float amidst a room filled with 70s nostalgia (is that a poster of “Columbo”?). The cover’s greatness is furthered when the background of the photograph is revealed: this is a picture taken of Janet Hodgson, a girl supposedly possessed by the devil back in the 70s, being thrown across the room by the evil spirit. Poltergeist has never looked this fun.

2. Cut Copy

“Zonoscope”

In 2011 we saw the media try and convince us that a hurricane was going to hit New York (they also tried to get us to believe that Tracey Morgan hates gay people). As in most cases, only the crazies believed their fear mongering. Cut Copy’s “Zonscope” album cover presents an elegant view of what it may have been like if the news had been actually telling the truth. And how would New York respond? With a middle finger in the form of the Empire State Building.

1. Teebs

“Collection 01″

Almost all of the albums featured on this list are created by outside artist. Whether it be a picture taken by a polish photographer, a color pencil drawing by an artist, or a slide stolen from a gynecologists office, most bands draw inspiration from others creations. Not Teebs though (actual name Mtendere Mandowa). This hip-hop producer creates both his art and music in unison, using one to inspire the other and vice versa. As a result, his beats are glazed in nature while his paintings of flowers are influenced by modern society. It’s one of the rare cases where you can actually judge an album by its cover.

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Best Album Covers of 2010

 

20. Klaxons

“Surfing the Void”

 

This cover is funny in a "Laser Cat" kind of way, but it is also fitting for Klaxon's spacey dance beats.

 

19. Morning Benders

“Big Echo”

 

 

This summer, I wrote of Morning Bender's "Big Echo" and said, "The cover to 'Big Echo' says it all: a swimmer stands knee-deep in the forefront wearing a full body swimsuit and a swim cap, staring out into the vast expanse before him where other swimmers are already enjoying the ocean’s swell. He seems tentative, yet intrigued, just like the Morning Bender’s sound on this album. Like the flowing of the tide, the music moves fluidly between several genres. As much as I enjoy The Morning Bender’s sandy beach love songs, I always find myself awaiting that next big wave to whisk me back away to the enchanting sea of sound and hope that it won’t return me to the shoreline."

 

18. Of Montreal

“False Priest”

 

This cover brings me back to high school when I'd pass the time in class drawing a strange collection of images on the inside cover of my various notebooks. But nothing I drew ever compared to the intricacies on Of Montreal's 2010 release. Every time I look at it I find something new. Keep looking, and you might just find Waldo.

 

17. Thieves Like Us

“Again and Again”

 

 

On first glance, this may not look like much more than a girl throwing cards into the air, but the longer you look, the more questions arise: What is the silver purse-like item in her hands? Why is she giving it an elbow drop? And why are there nude women on the cards? The arrangement of the text only adds to the mystery.

 

16. Sisters

“Ghost Fits”

 

 

This cover combines my three favorite things: castles, mountains, and needle-point.

15. Mimicking Birds

“S/T”

 

I'm not sure what's going on here, but I absolutely love this cover with its strange pods spawning a creature that is literally mimicking a bird.

 

14. Ben Frost

“By the Throat”

 

 

In terms of a cover matching an album title, I don’t think it gets much better than this. The cover for “For the Throat” also contains one of my favorite album photographs for the year with the combination of snowfall, plows, and a pack of wolves caught in the headlights. Jack London could have written a novel based solely off this cover…

 

13. Erykah Badu

“New Amerykah Part Two: Return Of The Ankh”

It's common in the R&B community for the album cover to feature the artist's face, but leave it to Erykah Badu to take it another direction. Instead of going with a glamour shot, Eyrkah's 2nd album in the "New Amerykah" series features a drawing of a robotic-android-Erykah with a tree sprouting from her head, all within the confines of a mystical flowery world. Suck on that Rhianna.

12. How To Destroy Angels

“EP”

 

While Mark Weaver's artwork for the How To Destroy Angel's first release is pretty spectacular, it also sets the listener up for disappointment upon first listen to Trent Reznor's side-project (God I hope it's a side-project).

 

11. Destroyer

“Archer on the Beach”

 

Only Dan Bejar could make a water fountain look magical to the adult eye.

 

10. Kanye West

“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”

 

 

While releasing five seperate album covers may seem a bit self-serving, Kanye uses the collection of images to add to the mythology of his "Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy": the lustful indulgence, the frailty of beauty, the faces of insanity, the perils of power, and the rebirth of legends.

9. Active Child

“Curtis Lane”

 

 

This year, many bands used old photographs as their cover (Vampire Weekend, Fang Island, Dum Dum Girls), but no photo caught my interest more than Active Childs "Curtis Lane". It captures the neighborhood found within the album's title and features two of the most creepiest child Halloween masks I've ever seen, which adds even more curiosity about the face that is hidden.

 

8. Black Tusk

“Taste the Sin”

 

 

Baroness guitarist John Dyer Baizley never gets a vacation. The artwork of Baizley continued to thrive in the metal world in 2010 with his latest masterpiece for the Black Tusk.

7.  Grinderman

“Grinderman 2″

A wild beast trapped by decadence - Nick Cave defined.

6. Sufjan Stevens

“Age of ADZ”

His darkest album to date, "Age of ADZ" let Sufjan go a different angle than his traditional Rockwell-ian covers. It also doesn't hurt when your album is based on the life of a famous artist (hence the apocalyptic artwork of Royal Robertson).

5. Strand of Oaks

“Pope Killdragon”

Since seeing this cover months ago I’ve had this simple black and tan image stuck in my head. There is something about it that is so alarming, so tribal, so ghostly, that I can’t seem to shake it (this obviously is a good thing).

4. Surfer Blood

“Astro Coast”

The most surprising aspect of this cover is not the shark mouth found within the checkerboard layout, rather what's going on in the other squares?

3. Method Man, Ghost Face, & Raekwon

“Wu Massacre”

Who wouldn't read this comic book?! Wu Tang is about to raise the motha fuckin' ruckus on the streets of Gotham!

2. Gorillaz

“Plastic Beach”

Gorillaz have always been as much about their artwork as they are about their music, and the cover to “Plastic Beach” continues this tradition, providing a visual cue for the world of the Plastic Beach discussed in the music.

1. Quest For Fire

“S/T”

I think I could stare at this cover for hours at a time; actually,  I have. This oil painting of what looks to be a melting, flower-based owl is truly a work of art. The epic, psych-jam-band mentality of Quest For Fire’s music only fuels the flames of exploration within this piece.  Skip the salvia, the mushrooms, and the LCD – just stare at this cover for an afternoon while listening to Quest For Fire; it will be the best trip you’ve ever had.

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