An integral part of listening to an album is to admire the artwork. It sets the mood and expectations before anything else, and if crafted well shows the true nature of the record you are about to hear.
Some covers are simply incredible art, some have a deeper meaning behind their compositions, and others are just really fun and goofy. Every album artwork has its charm, and I keep finding it really fun to explore different variations that artists choose to represent their work. This blog post is dedicated to my all-time favourite album covers – a topic I wanted to explore for quite some time.
Creating a music album is an art in many ways. It’s not just about making a bunch of songs. There are a lot of elements that need to work in coherence to distribute a well-working final result – writing the songs, clearing out the concept, arranging the tracks, and finally – choosing the right way to represent the album.
The cover art is an important aspect of the whole listening experience. It is the first thing that listeners encounter when they play a record. Before hearing the first note, we see the cover illustrating the record – this is the chance for the artist to construct an initial expectation. It eventually plays a crucial role in the overall result – did the album showcase its concept clearly and did the artwork give us the right context for the songs?
One good representation setting the right mood before you even press play on the record
Of course, not every album is a conceptually refined piece with every element working together to create a consistent experience. Some albums are goofier than others, some are just collections of really good songs without a bigger idea unifying them. But regardless of the case, album art is still an important aspect – it sets the mood in advance.
With so many ways to represent a musical journey, it is not an easy thing to choose a “favourite” when it comes to album art. There have been numerous occasions where I saw an album cover, and I instantly thought I love it. I took some time to think about the covers that made the biggest impression on me and collected the nine pieces I think are the best.
FKA Twigs – M3L155X
FKA Twigs’ incredible artistry is depicted in every single aspect of her work. She twists and turns genres to create a whole new musical universe which is strictly her realm –there is no way to confuse her work with anyone else’s.
Twigs brings her art to the next level stunning video directing and dance choreography
The refined artistry is reflected on the album covers as well. They fit her image and the sound environment of her music exquisitely well.
The one in charge is Matthew Stone. His unique but diverse way of artistic expression reflects Twigs’ persona well. The two artists’ views match on a high level – Matthew has been assisting Twigs for over eight years during different projects. His signature style is also manifested on Twigs’ latest album Magdalene, where Matthew Stone made use of his stunning technique of painting on glass and finishing with digital retouches.
M3L155X is beauty in simplicity. There are absolutely no complications, or any unnecessary elements – the fusion of the physical is well-expressed, and the twisted musical arrangement that Twigs’ would be associated with is embroidered on the cover. It’s a clean, sharp design looking ordinary on the first glance, unveiling interesting elements the closer you look. Just like most of FKA Twigs’ covers you can sit and admire the sharpness for hours.
More from the photoshoot and more insights from Matthew Stone
Apashe – The Good, The Bad, And The Fake
Apashe is another ground-breaking artist in my eyes. His exquisite production, sampling, and bass-infused drops are hard to resist. The Montreal-based producer is one of those musicians pushing boundaries with each new release, unafraid to step away from his comfort zone.
From his early work to his refined recent releases, each track features sharp changes of mood and vibe going from a suspenseful build-up to explosive drops and a very distinctive overall atmosphere.
The blend of different genres and revolutionary re-introduction of classical music mixed in with modern beats is truly a delight for the ear.
When it comes to music with such an overwhelming presence, having the right imagery is essential. Apashe has wisely chosen an artist with equally effective expression to represent his work in several consecutive projects, and it has worked flawlessly every time.
The artist behind The Good, The Bad, And The Fake, as well as newest album Renaissance and earlier singles and EP art (Feeling Good, Do It, Supernova, Requiem, etc.), is 3D illustrator, art director, and photographer Billelis.
Look. At. That. Detail
Billelis has a very distinctive style uniting dark elegance with meticulously refined details. His specialities are skulls and macabre art which is also what usually appears on Apashe’s covers – a concept representing the mood and feel of his music very successfully.
Billelis’ art is a pure delight to observe. The artist has proved himself in other projects where his hyperrealism and powerful concepts represent ideas to perfection. You can spot his work in the art of John Wick 3, Doom Eternal, Gotham Knights, Mortal Combat, Total War, Gear Tactics, and Magic: The Gathering. He has also visually represented the music of Bliss N Eso (Off The Grid) and Ozzy Osbourne (for Planet Rock cover story).
I wholeheartedly recommend following his work – from personal projects to client showcases, there is always something to admire.
Ghost – Meliora
Ghost’s outstanding theatrics and storytelling are always supported by the right artwork creating the feeling of grandiosity. The band’s four full-lengths represent a well-developed concept telling a story of occult, gods, humanity, and the band’s mission to deliver salvation to our doomed, confused souls. Each album is a new chapter in the story, and it is told by a new leading figure played with extreme dedication by frontman Tobias Forge.
I am fascinated with the majority of Ghost artwork – be it album covers or supporting illustrations. Meliora is one of the pieces I adore due to its great depiction of the album concept, connection to the overall coherence of the band’s work, fascinating details, and grotesque atmosphere perfectly fitting the narrative.
Artwork belongs to Zbigniew M. Bielak, part of Meliora illustration series. Seriously, look at those details
Opus Eponymous (Latin for “self-titled”) unveiled the coming of the Antichrist in the Ghost mythos, Infestissumam (Latin for “most hostile”) expanded on the presence of the Antichrist on Earth, and the third-album Meliora (Latin for “the pursuit of something better”) got into “the absence of a God” – lyrically dealing with the void that opens when people have no one to believe in. As you might expect, during the development of this album Ghost are the entity appearing to save humanity by offering a helping hand.
The concept is well illustrated by Polish artist, illustrator, and architect Zbigniew M. Bielak. His eye for detail and architecture background is exactly what a band like Ghost needs. It provides the supplementing artwork for the magnificent world the band paints with their music and theatrics.
Zbigniew’s work represents the album well – from the gothic setting that matches the sound of the album, the emptiness and hidden chaos explained in the songs, to the incorporation of Ghost as an integral part and a saving entity. Every detail is in place, including the meticulous little ornaments added to the structures.
Zbigniew is also behind Ghost‘s latest record Prequelle, as well as their early work album art and supporting illustrations
Of Mice And Men – Restoring Force
Restoring Force was a shift from hardcore to more nu-metal, hard-rock oriented sound. It is also the first album showcasing the great dynamics between Austin Carlile’s aggressive screams and Aaron Pauley’s balanced softer vocals. The sound is way more structured and organized compared to their previous work – the band preserved the in-your-face straightforwardness but delivered it in a way more comprehensible way.
The artwork of the album heavily reflects the concept. The seashell is a visual representation of the balance and equilibrium that follows after the devastation of The Flood (both albums are metaphors), which is what the album is all about.
The balance is also visible in the positioning of the elements on the cover – it is incredibly clean. What makes it one of my favourite album covers, however, is the hidden symbolism in the shell itself – if you look closer you can spot the human faces incorporated as parts of the shell.
The Full Circle Deluxe Edition of the album features a colour change from pitch black to pure white which is also aesthetically pleasing – the strong contrast of colours makes it all pop-up so well.
Nothing But Thieves – Broken Machine
Nothing But Thieves are a band that not only makes stunning music but also has a great sense of aesthetics when it comes to artwork.
One of my all-time favourites to this day remains the Broken Machine cover. Once again, it is an incredibly simple work that says so much with so little elements. Both black and white versions showcase the extreme emotional value of the record and hint about the personal struggle, growth, and sincere stories told with the songs.
The subtle meaning of showing that sometimes a piece is more beautiful after being broken is also worth the attention. The gold strings used to put back the “broken machines” hints about the importance of growth after a breakdown and coming back on your feet stronger, more beautiful than before. It’s a true work of art perfectly fitting the equally well-done record.
The mastermind behind it is Stefan Bertin.
Michael Kiwanuka – Love and Hate
Love and Hate is Michael Kiwanuka’s sophomore album and one of the most beautiful full-lengths I have heard in a long time. It is not an easy thing to reach such refinement and artistic coherence after just one album. Michael Kiwanuka managed to deliver an exceptional collection of songs delicately unveiling the true nature of duality in the human mind and heart. His tender vocals and emotion-soaked instrumentals, the build-up, and the thoughtful arrangement of tracks are impressive.
The artist behind the perfectly illustrated album cover is only 20 years old. Yousef Thami submitted only one concept after being given the design brief since he felt such a strong connection to the piece. And it makes total sense – the cover presents the album perfectly. The simple, but detailed illustration screams duality and puts forth the idea that both love and hate are part of the same heart.
I am specifically drawn to this piece because of the play with textures and little extra-mile details within the main element of the illustration. It also encompasses the energy of the entire album which is the most important aspect of an album cover for me.
Read an interview with Yousef in regards to the desing of the cover here.
Mac Miller – Swimming
Ever since I got a proper deep-dive into Mac Miller’s music, I haven’t been able to shake off my obsession.
Swimming is still one of my all-time favourite records, and I consider it a highlight of Mac’s artistic and personal development. The contempt and acceptance with which he presents such delicate and overwhelming matters still fascinates me.
The cover of Swimming is really interesting to look into. It captures the nature of the record well and, as expected of an artist of Mac Miller’s calibre, is filled with subtle references with greater meaning. The coffin and airplane window hint about the artist’s self-destructive habits which are thoroughly explored in songs like Perfecto, Small Worlds, and Jet Fuel.
Mac being half-way in the coffin with his dirty feet showing off and his devastated expression indicate the emotional heaviness of the record. However, the fact that the “death” has not yet happened is another important part of Swimming –the self-care and healing the artist was working on, the will to overcome this challenge.
Swimming exposes vices and pain, but it also highlights healing and well-being
A Reddit post I read some time ago also pointed out the composition of the album. It features elements from some of the artist’s previous releases – the white colour domination reminding of Good AM, Mac’s suit in the exact colour of the Divine Feminine, Mac’s very similar posture and position to Watching Movies With The Sound Off, the vertical line created by the coffin reminding of Blue Slide Park.
It’s a well-thought cover concept which also pleases the eye and represents the content of the album.
PVRIS – All We Know Of Heaven All We Need Of Hell
I have been bewitched by PVRIS since the very first time I saw them perform live. Their music keeps getting progressively better and bolder, and I can’t get over how much they have evolved since I discovered them in 2015.
Their second full-length has a hard to resist aesthetic I still think is exceptionally well done. All We Know Of Heaven All We Need Of Hell is a very dark-sounding album. The typical for the band brooding environment is present 100%, and their distorted imagery is included as part of the album concept.
The songs in the album were selected from a total of 45 initial possibilities recorded in a supposedly haunted church turned into a recording studio. This whole “haunting” vibe is fundamental for the record and the band itself.
The tracks go over heavy emotional content, real stories from the life of frontwoman Lynn Gunn, and haunting contemplations about life and human relationships. It’s a great album uniting vulnerable, open lyricism and praiseworthy sound construction – a unity of alternative rock, specific PVRIS riffs, and modern electronics.
The album art reflects the image of the band and the nature of the record well. It is stylish and mysterious, and it also gives away a creepy vibe which I think fits the content of the record well.
Red Hot Chili Peppers – The Red Hot Chili Peppers
I have recently dived into the early stages of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ development. I hadn’t realized how long this band has been around and how much they have changed since the start of their journey in the 80s.
Starting as a group of wild teenagers who had no musical abilities but knew how to entertain a crowd and express the true spirit of funk, the band gradually became one of the most iconic formations in the world. They improved their sound and lyrics managing to keep their funky style intact.
The cover of The Red Hot Chili Peppers album is another one of my favourites even though it is completely different from my other picks. And I think this is the reason I am so attracted to it – it is totally random, incredibly fun, and artistically liberating. The explosion of colours and many small elements making up the chaotic representation of the band fits their image at the time and the raw, untamed spirit they possessed.
Created by Anthony Kiedis himself, the artwork shows him as a one-eyed monster and Hillel Slovak being is his natural state of crazy euphoria on the stage. We can also see parts of the bass and drums as well as random objects flying around – a true representation of a Red Hot Chili Peppers live show.
Looking through my memory to identify the album covers that made the strongest impression on me was a very self-reflective process. It seems I am mostly attracted to very clean and minimalistic designs, ones that have a small (or big) twist if you look closer. It also feels like most of my choices are mostly dark and dramatic, which I find kinda funny.
Of course, there are many more pieces that I love but didn’t cut (Linkin Park’s Reanimation, Kanye West’s 808s and Heartbreak, Two Doors Cinema Club’s Beacon). I tried to keep the list as short as possible and pick an artwork representing the mood and elements I usually find appealing without repeating the same thing over and over again.
I would love to hear your choices or the best album covers, it’s always a good thing to find new great art to admire.
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