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Judging Albums by Their Covers

It’s that time of the end of year where I return with my totally unbiased (honestly) review of the best of what was covering Australian music releases this year. My choices are purely based on the criteria of ‘I wish I had done that’, so judge it as you will. If the count seems down this year, well, blame it on a plethora of musicians forgetting the number of their local graphic designer – there was some really horrible cover artwork representing what was a pretty decent year as far as music released goes, maybe the kids just don’t care anymore and they’re being ironic. I don’t want to point the finger in any general direction, the state of the art is probably not looking all that healthy when what was probably the ‘break-out’ album of the year, Lorde’s ‘Pure Heroine’ was graced with a cover that looked like it mistakenly got through as a ‘For Placement Only’ cover note. Anyway, this year is redeemed once again by some spectacular covers. If I had to suggest any particular trends for the year, I would say black and white photography (and black and white artwork in general) Covers with no typography (perhaps a trend towards accommodating the small size of image associated with digital downloads), and lots and lots of painterly. paint stroke artwork

0001269032_10-1Jen Cloher: In Blood Memory
Artwork: Celeste Potter

9332727027055Olan Mill: Hiraeth
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esign: Mark Gowing

a0075366445_10Swimming: Yes, Tonight
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rtwork: Madison Bycroft

a3225547543_10Waywardbreed: Gathering For The Feast
Artwork: Unknown

a3562461834_10Day Ravies: Tussle
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rtwork: Nicky Minus

brinkThe Jezabels: The Brink
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esign: Christopher Doyle
Artwork: Jarek Paczel

CH108-BushwalkingBushwalking: No Enter
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rtwork: Jesse Lucas
Layout: John Vineiguerra

Poor+VirginiaBrooke Russell and the Mean Reds: Poor Virginia
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rtwork: Claire Foxton

push-the-sky-awayNick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away
Design: Tom Hingston
Photography: Dominique Issermann

PVT+-+HOMOSAPIEN+-+Cover+copyPVT: Homosapien
Design: Jack Ladder
Artwork: c/o Winston Chimielinksi

yourashadow-coverHungry Kids of Hungary: You’re a Shadow
Artwork: We Buy Your Kids

a3433174855_10The Darling Downs: In The Days When The World Was Wide
Artwork: Hoof
Photography: James Pipino

7100-CD-stories-of-ghosts-itunes-medDeborah Conway & Willy Zygier: Stories of Ghosts
Design: Sweet Creative

Melody-PoolMelody Pool: The Hurting Scene
Artwork: Andrew Allingham

Kirin_CoverKirin J Callinan: Embracism
Art Direction: Jack Ladder
Photography: McLean Stephenson

 

artworks-000059632315-air0l4-originalMick Turner: Don’t Tell The Driver
Artwork: Mick Turner

 

TraicosCatherine Traicos and the Starry Night: Night, The Earth, The Sea, The Moon, The Sky
Artwork: Unknown

 

Melodie+FrancaiseMelodie Francaise
Artwork: Unknown

As we are well established into the new year, it’s time for another of my annual rundowns of my favourite Australian album covers of the previous 12 months. 2012 didn’t feel as vibrant cover design wise as perhaps 2011 did, there were fortunately a select few gems covering some very interesting music and as to be expected, a lot of it was for  independent and under-the -radar releases rather than the more chart friendly fodder. I’ve tried where possible to credit the creators of the artwork, feel free to leave a comment if you can fill in any of the gaps.

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Lake Air: Dappled Cities

That’s a very unusual photo – this cover is saved by a beautiful colour combination between the light blue and magenta red and some nice typography.

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Provenance – Collected Works: The Lovetones

Artwork: WBYK

Love, love the very 70’s-ish illustration employed, complimented by some very beautifully complimenting typography – unfortunately, the rest of the package doesn’t quite live up to the promise  presented by that wonderful cover.

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Having a Beard is the New Not Having a Beard: The Beards

Artwork: Chris Edser

I featured this cover earlier this year on my blog, extensively and lovingly rendered, the cover folds out to this fantastic poster. There is also a film clip that comes to life straight off of this poster.

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Sights and Sounds: Made In Japan

Artwork: Patrick Meehan

Nice handrawn type which I am a sucker for – not much more to add.

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Coveleski: Coveleski

Artwork: Simon Christou

Stick a fox on it, works everytime!

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The Late Blue: Gypsy & The Cat

Artwork: Mark Alsweiler

This almost ‘Dylan-esque’ rendering (refer to his painting on the cover of his album ‘Self Portrait’ to see what I mean) seems perfectly appropriate for the music of Gypsy & The Cat. Quite spectacular on a 12 inch format I would imagine.

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Pacifica: The Presets

Art Direction, Design: Jonathan Zawada

While I’m not a big fan of the 3D rendering employed to portray the artists on the cover, I can certainly appreciate the thought and direction that has been put behind this cohesive package for the Presets.
The two covers below are for singles from the album which I actually prefer.

alpine

A is for Alpine: A is for Alpine

Artwork: Tim Royall

I’m not sure what it all means, but it was certainly a cover that stood out on the racks, and a beautifully designed package as a whole.

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Broken Brights: Angus Stone

There seems to be at least two separate cover designs for this album, this being my favourite of the two. The deluxe package that came in the (above) bag was spectacular and very thoughtfully put together. No idea who designed the package as a whole, maybe he did it himself?

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The Touch Of You: Barry Morgan

Lovely Kitsch-ey cover, perfectly appropriate for Mr Morgan, who a little of goes a long way!

Black-Rabbits

Black Rabbits: Grinspoon

Artwork: WBYK

Another beautiful cover by the wonderful WBYK – not looking quite as WBYK-ish as that piece for The Lovetones, but carried very effectively over the whole package and marketing material I have seen.

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Anastasis: Dead Can Dance

Sleeve Design: Berendan Perry
Photography: Zsolt Sigmond

Lovely and approriate cover photo by the awesomely named photographer Zsolt Sigmond

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Slay Me In My Sleep: Grand Salvo

Design: Mark Gowing

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Night Sky: Sophie Hutchings

Design: Mark Gowing

Where would I be in these end of year reviews without the wonderful work that Mark Gowing produces for Preservation? If only more music labels took such a considered approach to the design of their releases. Two more beautiful examples this year, Night Sky being one of my favourite releases of the year. I do miss those big poster cover foldouts they did though!

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The Moment: Mia Dyson

Great photo – overall, nicely handled.

The Maple Trail_Cable Mount Warning

Cable Mount Warning: The Maple Trail

This one was a real surprise to me, perhaps the most underrated release of the year, you’ve got to listen to this if you have the means an absolutely beautiful collection of understated tunes. That said, what a gorgeous and unusual cover! Absolutely like nothing else I’ve seen this year, no idea who was responsible, but well done to everyone involved.

Thinking-In-Textures1

Thinking In Textures: Chet Faker

Art Direction & Design: Christopher Doyle
Photography: Jefton Sungkar

Once again, designer Christopher Doyle doesn’t disappoint, he’s getting rather good at these things.

tiger

The Drifter’s Dawn: The Tiger & Me

Artwork: Tim Allan @ Made Visual

When I first saw this online I excitedly thought that maybe that little booklet thing on the front, was actually attached to the cover – unfortunately that’s not the case, still an effective piece of artwork though.

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Toward The Low Sun: The Dirty Three

Artwork: Mick Turner

Mick Turner, may you never put down your paintbrush. Another beautiful selection of tunes from The Dirty Three once again complimented by the artists deft touch for their cover graphics.

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Bless This Mess: Lisa Mitchell

Graphic Design & Cover Artwork: Grace West
Drawings + Scribblings: Lisa Mitchell

Oh Lisa! You never let me down with you cover designs! Another very beautiful cohesive package design from the lovely songstress together with another batch of wonderful music.

 

So there you have it, feel free to suggest any covers that you may have seen that you think deserve to be on the list. Also, any updates on missing design credits would also be greatly appreciated!

It’s the end of the year again and another opportunity for me to look at my favourite Australian album covers from the past 12 months. All in all it was a fairly good year cover design wise – maybe the art of the album cover isn’t dead after all. While the rest of the world produced some pretty lacklustre results, Australia seemed to up it’s game with some fantastic imagery for some very interesting music produced during the year. It took some searching and as usual. most of the really inspiring stuff came from independent and under-the -radar releases rather than the more chart friendly releases, with some notable exceptions. I’ve tried where possible to credit the creators of the artwork, feel free to leave a comment if you can fill in any of the gaps.

Deeper Into Dream: Ben Lee

Artwork Photography: Lizzy Waronker
Design, Layout: Rory Wilson

My thoughts on Ben Lee are pretty well documented on this blog, and this was a particularly awful release music wise, even by his recent standards. That said, I’ve got to admit he does commission some pretty cool covers for his albums, this being no exception. Maybe he should consider a change of career?

Singularity: Sounds of Sirus

Artwork: Glenn Thomas

Quite a beautiful, sedate cover for a band with such a guitar heavy sound, you can’t always tell an album by it’s cover.

Night Owls: Ryan Meeking And The Few

Design & Artwork: Motherbird

A beautiful illustration on an album cover is always going to catch my eye, but those birds aren’t really owls are they?

RRakala: Gurrumul

Artwork: Carlo Santone

Musically, just a beautiful album. Visually, it avoids all the usual clichés to produce a sublime and effortless cover image perfectly matched to the music.

The Cat: Ben Salter

I know it’s just an illustration of a cat, and maybe not a very good one, but it somehow seems to work in the context of this release.

Carried In Mind: Jeff Lang

Cover Illustration: Amanda Upton
Album Design: Myf Walker

This album cover really jumped out at me visually when I first happened upon it at the local JB hi-fi. Beautifully and playfully illustrated with sympathetic hand drawn type, this is a winner all around. Why can’t more album covers be this much fun?

The Great Impression: Sparkadia

Artwork: Kareena Zerefos

The cover feels like I’ve walked into some kind of art installation and does an amazing job of bring both imagery and typography to the forefront rather than leaving either as an after thought.

Matchsticks: City Riots

Loving the half-tone dots, colour and glam of this release from Adelaide’s City Riots, would love to know who did the artwork.

Odds Or Evens: The Bowers

Design: Mick Stylianou
Photography: Steve Harris
Hand Lettering: Rhys Lee

While I’m not particularly blown away by the photography on the cover, I’m a sucker for big chunky hand painted type and it works effectively with the image on this bright red cover. I imagine this looks amazing on the extra size afforded on their vinyl 12″ release, loving that Coke Bottle Green Transparent Vinyl for the disk as well. Thanks to Phil Gionfriddo from The Bowers for updating me on who produced the artwork, I’m assuming the hand-lettering was produced by the Rhys Lee who is a quite well known visual artist in his own right, impressive!

Zonoscope: Cut Copy

Design & Artwork: Alter

Winner of this years Aria Award for best album cover artwork, the tasteful yet powerful imagery of this release propels the album art into the realms of ‘iconic’. Well played Alter.

Great Barrier Grief: Oh Mercy

Artwork: Ken Done

If there is one thing you can be certain of from the band Oh Mercy, it’s that they have never met a pun they didn’t like, as album title ‘Great Barrier Grief’ attests to. It’s still quite a coup to get renowned Australian artist Ken Done to paint their cover image though, striking and colourful, it goes some way to forgive all those koala and Sydney Harbour Bridge tea towels he did during the 80s. Effective as the cover is, it’s a pity they were so timid with the type, maybe they should have left it off altogether.

Dunks: Ghoul

Design & Artwork: Mitchell Cumming

There’s something intrinsically beautiful about the mixture of pattern and texture on this cover, like a loud whisper it beautifully compliments this dark and alluring album.

Routine and War: Singing Skies

Design: Mark Gowing

It wouldn’t be one of my end of year best album covers lists without featuring a design by Mark Gowing and The Preservation label. Everything they released this year had a fantastic cover of course, this being a particular standout.

Making Mirrors: Gotye

Artwork: Frank De Becker

Design: Wally De Becker

Gotye certainly stepped up his game this year with the release of ‘Making Mirrors’, and while his album covers have always been good, he took it to another level with this fantastic piece of artwork taken from a painting by his father. Even better was the artwork used for the single ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’.

Hurtsville: Jack Ladder & The Dreamlanders

Tip of the hat to fellow designer Heath Killen for suggesting this one, there’s something about the bw photo with the unusual combination of mint green type that really works for this.

In The Company Of Wolves: The Ivys

A striking cover image can sometimes say it all for an album without the need of type to accompany it.

Six Petits Hilboux: Inuette

Design & Artwork by Spencer Harrison

Beautifully imagined and photographed album cover by ex-Adelaidian Spencer Harrison, one of the best cover designs of the year in my humble opinion. I can’t say I have heard the music, but if the cover is any indication it must be fantastic.

Only Sparrows: Josh Pyke

Illustration: James Gulliver Hancock

Design: Ben Shackleton

The beautiful illustrative stylings of James Gulliver Hancock once again grace a Josh Pyke album cover, how can you go wrong?

Prisoner: The Jezabels

Design: Christopher Doyle

Designer Christopher Doyle has realised the identity of the Jezabels across all their visual media with beautifully conceptual photography and a restrained typographic approach, this album cover being no exception.

Single Twin: Marcus Teague

Dancing skeletons make this cool, who doesn’t like dancing skeletons?

Secret Rituals: The Grates

Design & Artwork: The Grates

Lovely illustration done by the band themselves, but it’s a cover that you really need to hold in your hand to appreciate it’s use of paper stock and transparency effect. I like the use of typography in the left hand circle as well.

Tambourine: Teeth & Tongue

If you’re going to stick your portraits on the cover of your album, this is the way to do it. Beautiful and arresting photography and technique with a refined use of typography.

A Trophy: Tobias Cummings

Sometimes the most obvious ideas can work a treat if done properly.

I Want That You Are Always Happy: The Middle East

Artwork: The Middle East

Hands down, my favourite Australian album cover of the year An already exquisite record complimented by this beautifully weird, funny and still somehow haunting cover picture with some nice handwritten type to sweeten it even further. I advise you purchase it in the larger 12″ vinyl format to truly appreciate it!

So there you have it, another year wrapped up – Agree? Disagree? Any glaring omissions? Leave a comment and let me know.

Stobie Sounds

I’ve been really impressed by the output of local record label Stobie Sounds, they combine three of my favourite things, roots music, Adelaide and importantly (as far as this blog is concerned anyway) some great DIY handmade design. Their website states their mission pretty well:

“Stobie Sounds is a small not-for-profit community record label that was set up to help support the local roots music scene in our fair city of Adelaide, South Australia. The label is run by a committee of three volunteers with the support of artists, musicians, studios and promoters who share a passion for roots music in Adelaide. Our mode of producing albums is built around a simple, small scale DIY philosophy. The typical Stobie Sounds release is 50-100 copies. Album sleeves are made from recycled cardboard and hand-printed using traditional techniques. This system allows us to create small batches of delightfully hand-made albums at low cost. We put a premium on simple design and interesting liner notes. Artists retain control over their artistic vision and retain all ownership of copyright in their recordings and compositions. Stobie Sounds takes some income from sales to cover costs and fund new projects.”

It’s great that someone is trying to do something different and interesting in a very difficult environment for local roots musicians, it seems to be a pretty sustainable plan, already reaping some remarkable results (both musically and aesthetically). I love the little pieces on how they made the artwork  for various releases up on the site, the use of hand-stitching, letterpress and screen print ensures that each piece is a one of a kind, a nice little keepsake is this world of digital download. While I’m knocked out by the artwork, the music is actually pretty good as well 🙂 if roots music is your thing. You can buy their releases at their online store, being limited to 50-100 copies you need to be quick though as they usually sell out.

As 2010 draws to a close, time to take a look at some of my favourite album covers of the year. Pickings seemed slim again once more, though this wasn’t necessarily limited to the local output , with very little exciting  amongst the international offerings as well, maybe album cover design really is dead? Anyway, there are always standouts, and as usual, these are pretty much found amongst independent releases rather than the mainstream charts (with a few exceptions).

Sally Seltmann: Heart That’s Pounding
I’m not usually a big fan of the artist portrait used on the album cover, or the cop-out of not placing the title and artists name on the front – in this case, it shows a great photograph can go a long way in expressing the feel and tone of an album, even sans typography.

Jamie Oehlers & Paul Gabrowsky: On a Clear Day
Jazz label Jazzhead seldom disappoint with the design of their covers, this abstract collage is a perfect example.

PVT: Church With No Magic
A challenging album with an equally challenging and ephemeral cover.

Angus & Julia Stone: Down The Way
Challenging the theory that chart success equals average album cover design, this beautiful evocative cover was I believe, designed by the artists themselves, and also took out this years ARIA Award for best cover art.

Basement Birds
Avian motifs seemed a common theme on album covers this year, Basement Birds have carried it off the best.

Robyn Loau: Only Human
Fulfills the requirement of having the attractive artist on the cover in an interesting mesh of image and incorporated typography.

Gareth Liddiard: Strange Tourist
Great photograph, understated typography. As friend Heath Killen said: ‘The cover art perfectly illustrates what the album sounds like. One man strumming and singing in front of a fire in a dilapidated rural mansion’. What more could you ask for?

The Vasco Era: Lucille
The Vasco Era always have great album covers, this bold black and white example is no exception.

Puta Madre Brothers: Queso Y Cojones
This cover is just a perfect complement to the music, my personal favourite of the year.

Verses: Seasons
Just beautiful in every aspect.

The Transatlantics
Nice to see an Adelaide band make the list, that type just merges perfectly with a fantastic photo, I wonder who designed this?

So there you have it, I’m sure there are plenty of great covers I have missed, please feel free to add any of your own personal favourites into the comments section, maybe I’ll do another post on the suggestions if I receive enough 🙂

It hasn’t been a great year either musically or for standout album cover designs. As the year draws to a close, lots of sites are beginning to list their best designs for 2009, here are some local releases whose designs really stood out to me over the last 12 months.

An Horse: Not Really Scared – Artwork Laith McGregor,
Design Celeste Potter

Leader Cheetah: The Sunspot Letters – Artwork Jeremy Piert

Little Birdy: Confetti – Cover Simon Ozolins

Mum Smokes: House Music – Artwork Mark Rodda

Phrase: Clockwork – Artwork The Fad Experiment

Lost Valentinos: Serio – Artwork Jonathan Zawada

Shady Lane: Here We Go Down The Black Hole
Artwork We Buy Your Kids

Crayon Fields: All The Pleasures Of The World – Artwork ?

Lisa Mitchell: Here Wonder – Artwork Mathematics

Fabulous Diamonds: 7 Songs – Cover Karl Scullin

Radio Retaliation: Thievery Corporation

I confess that when it comes to buying music that sometimes I spend more time looking at the package than I do listening to the actual album. Mark me guilty as charged when it comes to the Thievery Corporation. The Washington DC duo have been serving up their particular style of ‘polite grooves’ for a number of years – inoffensive, perfectly produced sounds with all the rough edges sanded off, to burble away in the background. So what makes me keep returning to pick up their albums again and again? Nothing less than the fantastic album packaging they keep delivering with their releases from the brilliant talents of Neal Ashby. Radio Retaliation is no exception, and surprisingly, these time around, the Thievery Corporation also deliver something musically with a bit more bite.

I’m always on the look out for some handsome and different looking ways of presenting album covers. Not so much in those ‘special edition’ packaging sets for die-hard fans, but just your general consumer release. Radio Retaliation really stood out to me when I first saw it on the shelves at Borders – and it taps into what I think may be the future of physical album packaging. The CD is packaged in a jewel case or digipak. It comes bound in a cardboard folder – real industrial stength cardboard box cardboard. Folded within this is a giant sized poster designed with a really nice ‘cut and paste aesthetic on recycled stock, that contains all the lyrics and details. The CD is nestled within this, no foam nub to hold it or anything – outside of the actual CD it’s all paper, no plastic whatsoever. Plus, it has a ninja on the cover and everybody loves ninjas.

The package aesthetic all relates perfectly to the (subtle) political messages that The Thievery Corporation are delivering on the album, a swirling world music mixture that leaves you mostly unaware of the social contexts upon a first casual listen. A plethora of world music greats guest on the album including daughter of sitar master Ravi Shankar, and sitar virtuoso in her own right Anoushka Shankar, as well as Nigerian afro-beat star Femi Kuti, respected Brazilian vocalist Seu Jorge, Slovakian singer and violinist Jana Andevska, and DC-based “Godfather of Go-Go” Chuck Brown. There’s a reason for the prominence of these artists, mostly of ‘Third World’ heritage. The mission statement seems to be to deliver humanitarian and politcal messages through these global voices, emphasised beautifully by the packaging as a direct response to the often vapid irepetitive pop music so often delivered over the airwaves, Radio Retaliation indeed