A good record cover will stop you dead in your tracks, and make you curious not only about the music it accompanies, but about the artist who created it. Album art is often our first introduction to a band’s latest collection of songs, giving a visual aspect to the sonic creations inside the sleeve. Some acts take on the daunting task themselves, many with fantastic results, while other musicians enlist painters, photographers, crafters, and illustrators for the project. Even in this time of digital downloads, we’re not immune to the effects of a great album cover, and we find it unfortunate that the people behind these pieces rarely get the credit they deserve — so we’ve rounded-up ten that you should know, after the jump. Keep the list going by adding your suggestions in the comments.
Julian Gross, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Show Your Bones, 2006
Not only is he the drummer for experimental art-punk trio Liars, but Julian Gross also dabbles in visual arts. He studied at CalArts, along with his future bandmates, and is the mastermind behind the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ killer Show Your Bones cover, which incorporates three abstract Y’s sewn together to create a red, purple, and yellow ribcage. Along with exploring textile art, Gross has also created woodsy ink illustrations for his band’s Sisterworld album, and Photoshopped the controversial cover art for their It Fit When I Was A Kid EP. Last January, the multi-faceted artist’s work was featured at New Zealand’s Starkwhite Gallery, along with the art of fellow musicians from Les Savy Fav, the Pixies, and Devendra Banhart.
David Barnes, of Montreal’s Satanic Panic In The Attic, 2004
If you’ve ever wondered about the creative genius is behind of Montreal’s vibrantly colored album covers, then look no further than frontman Kevin Barnes’ own family. As the art director for the flamboyant psychedelic indie-pop band, Kevin’s brother David Barnes has been whipping up striking ink, watercolor, and marker illustrations that offer a great visual companion to of Montreal’s off-beat sound. He has also tried his hand at making music videos — he choreographed the band’s bloody, barbaric beach fight in “Coquet Coquette” and created the mind-bending “Gronlandic Edit.”
This past April, Barnes released his first book, What’s Weird? , which takes its reader on an 182-page kaleidoscopic journey through 20 years of illustrations, paintings, and commentary from his career. His work can also be found in a new of Montreal box set, to be released on October 25, which includes all of the band’s records in cassette form, along with the original album art.
Samuel Beam, Iron & Wine’s Kiss Each Other Clean, 2011
The poetic lyricist and guitarist behind Iron & Wine has harbored a love of drawing since childhood, which explains why he has created the artwork for most of his albums. Featuring self-portraits, animal illustrations, tribal typography, and quirky photos, Beam’s art is mostly done in a dark color scheme, with neon accents and swirly geometric patterns peppering the covers of Kiss Each Other Clean, Walking Far From Home, and Our Endless Numbered Days, to name a few.
Stanley Donwood, Thom Yorke’s The Eraser, 2006
Collaborating with Radiohead over the last few decades, English artist Stanley Donwood has created many an album cover for the lauded, experimental rock band. Donwood kicked off his artistic relationship with Thom Yorke back in 1995, when he made the bizarre cover of The Bends. Since then, the pair has gone on to collaborate on Grammy award-winning album packaging and continue to mystify fans with their unique visions.
The graphic designer, illustrator, and painter has also authored short-story collections and has made a name for himself outside of his work with Radiohead and the members’ solo efforts, through his own original art exhibits and record company, Six Inch Records.
Nate Duval, various album covers
Along with designing album covers for bands such as Spoon and record label compilations for Fat Cat, Nate Duval also constructs colorful band posters and merchandise for the likes of The Black Keys, Andrew Bird, Wilco, and The Decemberists — an impressive roster that makes a lot of sense once you see his work. Duval’s art is created through a multi-step printing process, in which he diligently pulls each color of the design through a screen, resulting in whimsical, layered art that is reflective of each band’s vibe.
Zack Nipper, Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, 2005
Specializing in countless media, Saddle Creek graphic designer Zack Nipper has constructed a slew of imaginative album art over the years. With a client list including Cursive, Neva Dinova, and The Myna Birds, his most notable work has been with Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst. The Omaha-stationed artist was awarded a Grammy in 2008 for the intricate packaging featured on Cassadaga, and even had his celestial drawings for the record exhibited at Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum. Nipper has continuously brought Oberst’s visions to life with the cut-paper collage plastered across Every Day And Every Night, the embroidered, brownstone-decorated cover of I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning, and the leaping, soft-sculpture creatures photographed in grayscale for the band’s EP, There Is No Beginning To This Story, among other designs.
Nipper’s most recent cover, for this year’s Bright Eyes album, The People’s Key , required him to cut out paper flames and piece them together in order to give off a wall-of-fire aesthetic.
William O’Brien, Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest, 2009
William O’Brien has kept in touch with Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste since the frontman’s days at NYU. When the band was recording the 2009 album Veckatimest, O’Brien was illustrating a slew of abstract drawings, and the pair decided to collaborate. The Chicago-stationed artist sent over a bunch of samples to Droste, who fell for the first drawing in the collection, and the rest is history. Since the album’s release, the painter, illustrator, and installation artist has garnered a great deal of attention for his intricate, hand-drawn album art, so we can only hope that he’ll join forces with Grizzly Bear in the future.
O’Brien lives and work in Chicago, where he wrapped a solo ceramics exhibit this past July at The Renaissance Society. His artwork raises questions concerning gender, sexuality, and media, and spans over a myriad of mediums, including art dolls, drawings, installations, apparel, and sculpture.
Toby Liebowtiz, Fleet Foxes’ Helplessness Blues, 2011
Based out of Seattle, Toby Liebowitz is just getting her feet wet in the realm of album cover art, but she’s one to look out for. In her illustration for the latest Fleet Foxes album, Helplnessness Blues, Liebowitz’s style of overlapping imagery lends the cover a fascinating, mind-bending effect. Although the image was painted by Christopher Alderson, Liebowitz laid the groundwork, executing a multi-faceted image that features people’s faces, a house, a cat, and open palms, among lunar spheres that delicately float over mountains. She’s also the artist behind the black-and-white album cover for Born Away On A Black Barge, the solo effort of Fleet Foxes drummer J. Tilman.
Liebowitz’s medley of illustrations, each of which incorporates intricately drawn linear patterns and geometric effects, can be found at her website.
Nan Na Hvass, Efterklang’s Under Giant Trees, 2007
Nan Na Hvass
With a background in photography, Nan Na Hvass, one half of the Denmark-based design team Hvass & Hannibal and the artist behind some of Efterklang’s gorgeous album covers, quickly found her niche in illustration. Her album sleeves are embellished with lush, vibrantly hued landscapes that take on a mystical feel, and Hvass’ collaboration with Efterklang has led to a best-artwork Grammy win for their record, Parades. She’s also received commissions from such acts as Clogs, Taxi Taxi!, and Yelle.
Hvass has also produced art for record labels, private parties, and magazines, as part of her Hvass & Hannibal work. Her pieces have been featured in galleries, on posters, in music videos, and on T-shirts, and she even created the imaginative set design and costumes for an Efterklang concert.
Graham Samuels, Peter Bjorn and John’s “Young Folks” single, 2006
Graham Samuels’ graphic novel-evoking artwork can be seen painted across album covers for Peter Bjorn and John. Samuels collaborated with the Swedish indie-pop trio for their “Young Folks” single and is the illustrator behind the infectious, whistle-tinged tune’s music video. He drew up the building-adorned cover art for Writer’s Block, and a few singles, including “Objects Of My Affection” and “Let’s Call It Off.” In addition to his work with Peter Bjorn and John, he has also collaborated with Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian, creating illustrations for his book of diaries, The Celestial Café , and a tote bag for his side project, God Help The Girl .
Along with illustrating artwork for musical groups, the Swedish artist also dabbles in editorial work, animation, and has a line of graphic novels and comic books, some of which feature Andy Warhol and his Superstars.