2013 may have seen record sales continue to crash, with this year set to become the first since 1984 that no album has sold more than a million copies in the UK, but at least album artwork is still going strong. As these
sleeves go to show, 2013 saw some of the best covers in memory. Kicking off our countdown is Babyshambles, who enlisted Damien Hirst for their ‘Sequel To The Prequel’ cover.
Matthew Barnes, the English producer behind trip-hop agitators Forest Swords, has a sideline in graphic design and has created installations for the Static Gallery in Liverpool. Which explains the striking power of his artwork for August’s ‘Engravings’, available with a 20-page booklet of Barnes’ photography.
A painting of rap joker Danny Brown decked in sea admiral clothing in a gold frame on a sleek black backdrop – what’s not to like? For an album that saw Brown assert himself as the new price of hip-hop, he looks suitably regal on the cover of ‘Old’. Created by painter Leila D’Amato, with design and layout by Sam Chirnside, it’s an image that captures the emcee’s leftfield humour.
Replicating the album’s crisp colour, vibrant hues and slick cool, South Carolina-born producer Chazwick Bundick – aka Toro Y Moi – opted for a painted design on his third album, dance floor favourite ‘Anything In Return’.
Massachusetts artist Paul Laffoley created a menacing, minimal cover for Crystal Fighters’ second album, ‘Rave Cave’, released in May. Fans compared the sleeve to New Age and illuminati symbology – fitting for the cult devotion the record won, despite a damning NME review: “about as cosmic as a hairdresser who’s just read in Grazia that hippies are ‘in’ this summer,” wrote Barry Nicholson.
Australian artist Leif Podhajsky’s scene of horses wandering around a sun-kissed bay is one of 2013’s most iconic images, helping Oxford art-rockers Foals’ third album, ‘Holy Fire’, to a Mercury Prize nod. Podhajsky also created the sleeve to another of 2013’s most celebrated British albums, Mount Kimbie’s ‘Cold Spring Faultless Youth’.
Australian gloom-monger Nick Cave reunited with the Bad Seeds this year for the triumphant ‘Push The Sky Away’, which featured a stark, chrome cover. An incidental photo taken by Dominique Issermann, it shows Cave pushing open the Georgian shutters of his seafront home to expose his wife Susie Bick, her hair clouding her face.
Katie Crutchfield named her solo project after an Alabama creek, whose watery connotations seep into the artwork for ‘Cerulean Salt’ – a shot of the US songwriter naked and submerged.
Hip-hop’s next superstar, Chance the Rapper, released his breakthrough mixtape ‘Acid Rap’ this summer to rave reviews. Its cartoon sleeve features psychedelic purples and reds fitting of its trippy sounds and effervescent vibe.
The African typeface and Saul Bass colours on Chilean-German electronic innovator Matias Aguayo’s ‘The Visitor’, sleeve complimented the record’s vast pop diaspora perfectly, helping him elevate to cult status in 2013.
Rusty charcoals, menacing masks and pirate attire make Tilo Baumgärtel’s cover for Berlin producer Apparat’s ‘Krieg und Frieden (Music for Theatre)’ one of 2013 indie’s most beguiling images.
Southend-on-Sea experimenters These New Puritans’ artwork for third album ‘Field of Reeds’ was as immaculately crafted as its boundary-pushing sonic sprawl, incorporating orchestral bassoons and creepy experimental rumbles. The album itself divided fans, but few would argue its minimal sleeve is anything but elegantly beautiful.
Enlisting longtime Radiohead collaborator Stanley Donwood on sleeve duties once more, Thom Yorke and Flea’s side project super group’s debut album, was finely received upon release in February. Imagining a “scene of armageddon in modern Los Angeles,” Donwood’s cover was as memorable as the music within.
Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros’s new album saw them turn their back on their usual warm, twinkly orchestral sound for dark, industrial doom. In turn, ‘Kveikur”s sleeve featured none of the pastel paintings of previous records, instead depicting a gas masked individual mid-Wilhelm Scream. Haunting.
Ezra Koenig and co of Vampire Weekend returned in 2013, as did their preppy aesthetic. Clear and strong, with echoes of Woody Allen early classics’ cinematography, the album sleeve to ‘Modern Vampires of the City’ was simple and charming – much like the record itself.
It’s official – Jay Z is now so famous he barely even needs to put his name on his album sleeves for it to sell. ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’ shifted 528,000 copies in its first week, despite his name being obscured with a black rectangle. The classy cover tied into the title track’s religious connotations, and was displayed in Salisbury Cathedral next to the actual Magna Carta.
A futuristic dance-rock clash, Noel Gallagher’s favourite new band Jagwar Ma delivered a gem of an album in summer release ‘Howlin’, featuring a dark cover colliding childhood photos with an image of a monstrous demon dog, blood dripping from its teeth.
Young garage revivalists Disclosure’s ‘Settle’ album sleeve was so popular among fans a photo app was launched in June allowing you to replicate it, drawing white outlines over your face.
Alex Turner and co let the music do the talking on their all-conquering fifth studio album, Arctic Monkeys’ ‘AM’, choosing a minimal design for the sleeve. A bold image for a brave new chapter in the Sheffield group’s career, it’s an image with the potential to become as iconic as Joy Division’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’ waves.
Lady Gaga’s 2013 comeback may have been a disappointment, failing to replicate the giddy pop thrill of old and selling 75% less copies than 2011’s ‘Born This Way’, but at least the cover to ‘Artpop’ was satisfyingly bombastic: a pop art-riffing collage evoking a candyfloss porn wonderland.
Worcester quintet Peace posed in bed together for their zesty debut ‘In Love’, capping a rip-roaring release with a memorable sleeve. Did they get the idea from NME’s cover feature last year, in which they posed with Haim under a Union Jack duvet? If you’re reading guys, pop the royalties cheque in the post, won’t you?
The physical packaging of Arcade Fire’s ‘Reflektor’ featured a special holographic album cover, designed by creative director Caroline Robert, who handled the entire ‘Reflektor’ visual promotional campaign, including the cryptic graffiti clues spotted on walls in cities in the run up to the album.
Can you call this artwork? It’s debatable. What’s beyond question is how the ‘Yeezus’ artwork became one of the most iconic images of 2013 pop culture. A stripped back design to match its bare-bones sonics, like everything else Kanye West did this year, it got people talking.
Standing tall in front of an American flag through the greyscale flicker of a broken CCTV camera, Harlem rapper A$AP Rocky’s debut came with a haunting cover, overseen by Rakim himself.
One of the albums of the year, Daft Punk’s ‘Random Access Memories” cover bears a classy, clinical, sci-fi feel fitting of its brilliant cosmic disco sound, but with a ’80s Miami Vice font spelling out the album title.
A stern, steely sleeve, with a hint of retro, ‘Silence Yourself’ features a photograph of acclaimed London post-punkers Savages in moody black and white. It’s no easy feat looking at once both vintage and futuristic but somehow Savages manage it.
Art-rock duo No Age defied their label Sub Pop’s wishes and insisted on handcrafting the artwork to their latest collection of fuzzy riffs and punk drums, giving a personal feel to an album that comments on the gap between art and commerce. Its DIY feel suits the pair’s music to a tee.
Produced by Four Tet, Syrian moustached musician Omar Souleyman’s ‘Wenu Wenu’ was one of 2013’s most weird and wonderful releases: in the words of NME’s Louis Pattison, a “Syrian folk techno banger”. Its cover depicts Omar in crude cartoon fashion as a heroic revolutionary, because why not?
If the cover to Odd Future man Tyler The Creator’s 2013 effort doesn’t raise a smirk in you, it’s perhaps time to consult a doctor. ‘Wolf’ captures Tyler’s tongue-in-cheek snark while reflecting the rapper’s dual personalities – one sweet and vulnerable, the other vacuous, despondent and dangerous.
Collaborating with composer Adrian Younge, Ghostface Killah’s ‘Twelve Reasons…’ was written as the score to an imagined vintage Italian horror film, set in 1968. Inspired by Ghostface’s Wu-Tang peer RZA and legendary Italian movie composer Ennio Morricone, its artwork was a fantastically schlocky B movie pastiche.
Brooklyn artist Nick Gazin created the cover to Run the Jewels’ free download album. Gazin says: “I initially wanted to draw Killer Mike and El-P in a Double Dragon-type battle, or a face with jewels for eyes and a gold chain for a mouth. El really wanted hands in the Run The Jewels positions and I suggested we make them dismembered demonic hands, which he was into.”
The cover to ‘Praxis Makes Perfect’ by SFA offshoot Neon Neon came from London designer Milly Wright. Wright says: “It’s a mix of the abstract graphic typography that originated from [Neon Neon’s 2008] ‘Stainless Style’ album and modernist Italian book design… We always wanted it to look bookish, like something you would pick up at the back of a public library, if you ever walk into one again…”
Palma Violets’ ‘180’ cover is a photo taken by Rough Trade co-owner Jeannette Lee, who had this to say: “The cover is a bunch snotty-nosed kids sitting on some steps outside a rundown house. They looked like a gang that was surely going to cause trouble, which seemed like a spot-on idea to me.”
“Well, the title of the album ‘…Like Clockwork’ is ironic, as the recording went anything but,” Liverpool artist Boneface told NME of his design for Queens of the Stone Age’s ‘Like Clockwork’. “So the idea behind the artwork is an extension of this. The journey from beautiful blueprint to prodigious palpability is often littered with bad shit.”
‘Trouble Will Find Me’ by The National took its cover from a scene from Korean artist Bohyun Yoon’s 2003 art installation Fragmentation. Yoon says: “When I checked The National’s concept of the new album, many of the songs on the new record explore the idea of ‘passage’. Passage from one state of being into another.”
An illustration by London-based Tatiana Kartomten made up the sleeve to Fuzz’s eponymous debut album. Kartomten says: “I went to their first show, got really high and was psyched on them, so I went straight home with their 45, put it on repeat and drew… My favourite bits are the horns and the sun over the wing.”
British designer Jonathan Barnbrook obscured Bowie’s ‘“Heroes”’ cover with a white square for ‘The Next Day’. “It’s about the spirit of great pop or rock music which is ‘of the moment’, obliterating the past,” Barnbrook says. “The new album is very contemplative and the ‘Heroes’ cover matched this mood… Often the most simple ideas can be the most radical.”
A drawing of Monae plus her alter ego Cindi Merriweather and sisters, New York artist Sam Spratt’s brief designing Janelle Monae’s ‘Electric Lady’ cover was to blend “her and my own many influences: Donna Summers, Michael Jackson, Ancient Egypt, Afro-futurism, Futurist art, Art Deco, feminism, mod fashion, ’70s sci-fi, Prince, classic diners, Blade Runner, electricity, Hendrix to name a few.”
‘Mosquito’ by Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ cover was designed by South Korean animator Beomsik Shimbe Shim. Shim says: “I imagined a giant, hairy, female mosquito dragging up a helpless boy into the night sky. Karen wanted the mosquito to be a sexy and beautifully gross female. I considered the mosquito as Karen O herself – the warrior-like female rock star.”
The artwork to ‘You’re Nothing’ by Iceage tops our list of best sleeves of 2013. The man responsible, Danish photographer Kristian Emdal, explains: “The band agreed that the bird resembled elements in the music: proud and bold yet fragile and easily broken.”