With the year coming to a close, it’s that time again to take a look back at some of the best that the music world had to offer in 2016. First up on the “Best of” docket is my annual “Best Album Covers” list. Throughout the year, I kept a list of album covers that I found strange, beautiful, and provocative. This list is a compilation of my favorites from this yearlong collection. Anyone who loves the album as an art form knows the importance of a powerful LP image, and the following 20 covers elevate their corresponding albums.
I’m a sucker for wizards on album covers.
19. Fatima Al Qadiri
The cover to the politically charged album Brute is a modified version of a sculpture by Josh Cline entitled Po-Po. It’s a fitting image to an album that Hyperdub says “examines the relationship between police, citizens, and protest.”
Big Baby D.R.A.M.
When your dog is more woke than you.
17. Paul Simon
Stranger to Stranger
In 2011, The Atlantic had Paul Simon sit down with artist Chuck Close to have a conversation about the creative process. The two must have really hit it off because Simon had Close paint this striking cover for his latest release, Stranger to Stranger.
This pretty much sums up 2016.
When asked about the cover art to Deftone’s 2016 release, Gore, singer Chino Moreno said,”If you look at the title and the artwork, it’s about a juxtaposition that, for me, is very beautiful. Deftones have always flirted with dynamic and that yin-and-yang of things that are provocative and things that are beautiful.”
14. Xiu Xiu
Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks
This very minimalist cover cleverly combines the two things at play with this album – Xiu Xiu and “Twin Peaks.”
13. Kool Keith
There is a lot going on in this picture, but the best little detail is the kid’s sneaky, sideways glance.
The cover art to Woman is inspired by an Instagram photo taken by chef David Zilber of an oil infused turbot roe and mulberries. We should all be drawing inspiration from our food.
11. James Blake
The Colour in Anything
Sir Quentin Blake, best known for his artwork in Roald Dahl books, did this gloomy sketch for the cover of equally morose, The Colour in Anything.
10. Okkervil River
Okkervil River front man Will Sheff has said that Away is meant to be a “hyper-sensory journey” for the listener, and this painting by Tom Uttech matches with its highly intricate composition.
10. Flatbush Zombies
3001: A Laced Odyssey
If you want a comic book inspired album cover, you’ve gotta go directly to the source – namely Marvel Comics artist David Nakayama.
8. David Bowie
This may seem like a pretty basic album cover, but just like David Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, the cover has continued to reveal secrets throughout the year. One fan discovered that if the record sleeve was exposed to the sun, it revealed a galaxy of stars. Another fan found that if the cover is held under blacklight, the star takes on a blue glow. One fan found that if you reflect light off the sleeve, it projects an image of a bird onto the wall. Even the fragmented stars on the bottom of the cover can be interpreted to say “Bowie.” As with the album’s coded lyrics, I’m sure many more secrets will be discovered over the coming years.
7. Ryley Walker
Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
Global warming has never looked more beautiful.
6. Chance the Rapper
Coloring Book is the third cover that artist Brandon Breaux has done for Chance the Rapper, and as told by him, each cover tells Chance’s story – from the dreamer on 10 Day, to the struggling artist on Acid Rap, to the content young man who has finally reached the promise land on Coloring Book.
A Moon Shaped Pool
In a truly collaborative, artistic approach to album art, artist Stanley Donwood was set up in a barn near Radiohead’s recording studio. As the band rehearsed and recorded, Donwood could hear them through speakers wired between the two buildings, allowing him to react to the music through his art.
4. Carl Broemel
4th of July
An ominous Statue of Liberty in ominous times.
3. Ritual Chamber
Obscurations (to Feast on the Seraphim)
This is what I envision a Trump presidency will look like.
2. Young Thug
47 years ago, David Bowie created controversy by wearing a dress on the cover of his album The Man Who Sold the World, so it’s fitting that one of the best covers of 2016, the same year as Bowie’s death, also plays off the idea of identity not being restricted by gender.
Schmilco is an album focused on the pains of growing up, and I can’t think of a more fitting cover than this illustration by the demented Joan Cornella (seriously, follow his Instagram).
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