To their credit, Pitchfork compiled a more-or-less well done 25 worst album covers of the year list, but they're remiss in not recognizing the power of a well done album cover. Rather than complain, we're taking matters into our own hands and making a list of our own. If RIAA doomsayers are to be believed, the great sun of the era of the tangible album is being eclipsed by filesharing, iTunes, and the menacing iPod. Art should be more important today than ever, if for no other reason than to give internet savvy fans a reason (other than goodwill) to buy your record.
In this list, there will be no countdown, instead, categories.
Destroyer – Rubies
It's the patchy sunlight, the atmospheric lamp, the stacks of books, the quaint, lived-in feeling. It's Destroyer personified. (Miles)
If there was a “Most Improved” category, Justin would take it, hands down. Justified, though a solid record was a tacky purple morass that made Timberlake look more aging teen idol than budding pop star. As a photo, Futuresex is an American Apparel ad gone classy, way to go, dude! (Kevin)
Original, sharp, and above all nostalgic: You're a little kid giving a last once-over to the house you were born in, everything is empty and the truck is waiting outside. (Kevin)
Miles gave me guff for this one. Whatever. Mars Volta put too much thought into their music: its masturbatory, trying, and self-congratulating. If their music was as good as this cover: simple, dramatic, strange, and calm, they might have found an actual working formula. (Kevin)
When your record's cover corresponds with its title, your ground gets shaky: are you making a joke? Are you trying to be clever? Unless you're Weird Al (Poodle Hat!), you're better off leaving it blank. In Six Organs' case, it's perfect: subtle, cathartic, and dark. The aesthetics stop the bad pun dead in its tracks. (Kevin)
A perfectly ghostly, surreal and captivating illustration. Nothing says “bone-crushingly depressed” quite like a dinner party with an alligator. (Miles)
Contrary to what your eyes might be telling you, this is a painting. SHOCKING! What makes this cover, though, is the bold, modern typeface. It takes the force of the glacier and lets you know that damnit, Islands are forever. (Miles)
This shows exactly why font is important. A lot of album covers fail in what they're trying to execute because the band excludes their name, the result: Boring! In this case, the text makes the cover. So nice, he wrote it twice! (Kevin)
Beirut – Gulag Orkestar
The picture reflects the same geographic mystery of the music—it could be anywhere really—but I like to imagine the car has pulled alongside the road just outside some unpronounceable town east of the Adriatic sea. It's been decades since the reactor meltdown, but there's still that tinge of magic in the air. These Baltic beauties will take you to their local bar, get you trashed, let you sing onstage with the gypsy band, and make you fall in love with them. In the morning, you'll board the train broken-hearted and missing your shoes. The perfect match of cover art with music.
Subtle – For Hero: For Fool
Subtle's striped-faced “Our Hero Yes” looks like he's about to pull off a military coup. The war medals let you know that he's accomplished. The flaming hair lets you know that he's a loose cannon. Either way: the perfect compliment to the band's abstract, psychedelic hip-hop.
Genghis Tron – Dead Mountain Mouth
If I could have an enormous poster of this on my wall, I would. The bigger the better. Note the stones in front of the hut (that's fucking ON FIRE WITH CREEPY BIRDS HOVERING ABOVE): they read GT, which means that this cover was probably made with the band in mind.
Walkmen – Pussy Cats
I honestly hope that this is how the Walkmen write their songs. If it's not, then I can assure you and them that we would all be better off if they did. Visualize the possibilities, people. If what just popped into your heads isn't the definition of pure musical synergy, then I don't know what is. (Note: Miles wrote this for Ellen because she's super sick!)
J Dilla – The Shining
We have this music package that we have to put in our year end issue. I was searching for a cool 'urban' artist photo and came across J Dilla, whom I've never heard. But I do know the Pharcyde and A Tribe Called Quest. Shows how much i know bout hip and hop. Sad that he passed, but great album cover. I love the 70's reference mixed in with a touch of bling. And the gothic portrait in the gold frame is so good! Oh and the font is…hmmm…just yummy.