Album artwork represents a wondrous collision of personal branding, artistic integrity, and money-grabbing merchandising. For branding fanatics, they are ripe for artsy analysis and practical assessment. Check out our top 17 album covers of 2017 (so far).
Many of these albums haven’t been released yet, but in the interest of marketing, their covers are posted on Amazon and other online music retailers. Megan viewed more than 7,000 covers and pulled the ones that stood out. Then, Josh channeled his art student days to assess the strengths of the top contenders. To keep our evaluation focused, we asked ourselves three questions:
1. Does the album artwork tell a compelling design story?
2. Which elements of design are best exemplified in the album cover?
3. Is the design memorable?
Disclaimer: Kettle Fire Creative does not take credit for any of the following album artwork nor do we endorse any of the albums or artists mentioned. We haven’t heard most of the music or bands mentioned. We just liked the album covers.
The XX, released January 13, 2017
The album cover uses superimposed paper and scratch texture as well as light and shadow to push the surrealism of the semi-ambiguous scene of figures that are further distorted by the postmodernist X. It’s memorable by nature of its elegant simplicity through the limited palette and symmetry of the symbol. There’s no mention of the title or the band’s full name on the front cover.
Deadmau5, released February 24, 2017
First, the bright color of the uniquely illustrated mouse captures attention. The album’s title is supported by the weathered surface it overlays as well as the infantile bowtie worn by the mouse character. This combination suggests the album content might be a throwback. The overall look of the album art is pleasantly reminiscent of notorious street artist Banksy.
Migos, released January 27, 2017
Though I’m generally not a fan of the disorder of collages, this is well executed. A less common approach to album cover design, the collage incorporates symbols from architecture, pop culture, nature, and media. With the aid of the text, we can begin to speculate about the interaction of hip hop and modern cultures.
Fabrizio Rat, to be released June 30, 2017
There is an immediate left-brain reaction to the mathematical approach of this album cover. Combined with the use of a single color, a strong grid, and obvious rhythm through the incremental relationship of the illustrated piano keys, it creates a surprisingly unique impression. It did take some effort on our part to realize those are the track titles written under the graphics, however.
Various Artists, to be released June 30, 2017
The whimsical elements of this album cover clearly correlate with its title. Simple coordinated colors, a top view, and graphic rendering of sparse toy bricks express the intended minimalism of the artwork. Though the cover story seems simplistic, perhaps it represents some refreshing quality of the music.
Eric Kauffmann and JK West, to be released July 7, 2017
What’s not to love about a wild, sriracha-throwing bear? Bold colors, playful illustration, and the appropriate pairing of a handwritten font, Permanent Marker, imprint this incredibly fun, not-taking-itself-too-seriously album cover in your brain. Possibly our favorite of the whole list.
J.J. Wright, to be released August 4, 2017
Though we may have a hard time reading a deep story into this cover, the intellectual title brings humanity to this beautiful abstract album artwork. Delicate colors, forms, and texture in stunning combination elevate this cover to a level of sophistication and imagination that burn into your brain.
Twisted Pine, to be released July 14
The deep background tones of this album art create almost a cinematic mood with the contrasting neon-sign-esque typography and its imperfect curves. We imagined a small-town pub and inn where secret things take place, maybe the setting of daytime melodrama. The possible connotations alone are strong enough to create a lasting impression.
Anthony Snape, to be released July 28, 2017
It’s hard to forget the aggressive contrast of color on this album cover. With a sort of heat map photo effect, a distorted subway image, strong vertical lines integrated with type, and even a graphic skyline, there’s a lot to process. Though the message could go in several directions, we think its audacity is worth the mention.
オムニバス, released June 7, 2017
Demonstrating a light-hearted embodiment of “fusion,” we see skillful cultural appropriation in this album artwork, brought to life through an expressive, illustrated character, effortlessly paired with the vertically oriented type. (Note the blue eyes and blonde hair.) Pattern and stroke, as well as harmonious colors, develop the authenticity of the artwork that classifies this album cover as a win.
Naos Bacchus, to be released July 28, 2017
Evocative photography and classic design elements create a brave declaration of intention. Intense and contrasting color, hot pink and red, creates a deep, burning mood. The composition decision to obscure the subject’s face and the text US strengthens the impact of the moment being experienced. We kind of want to take a step into this album cover and look around.
Coasts, to be released August 18, 2017
The high texture, classic color scheme, and content of this album cover contribute to a sentimental mood. The ample whitespace leaves a minimalist impression but not a small one. A strong, geometric typeface with integrated dots and the intense accent color mark the memory.
Phoenix, released June 9, 2017
Drawing upon intense texture, a subtle color scheme, and handwritten type, this artwork appears effortless. Additionally, the imperfections of the writing and being slightly off center contribute to its success. Don’t be deceived by the easy look; someone put a lot of thought into this album art.
OMD, to be released September 1, 2017
Color contrast and strong linear form are the first elements to strike you in this album cover. Movement through the interrupted patterns upsets the predictable human forms, yet overall there’s a brilliant visual balance to this album artwork. For these reasons, we give this album art our seal of approval, even though we can’t speak to the connection to the music.
Fall Out Boy, to be released September 15, 2017
Purple! In more words, the limited color palette of this album cover is striking for its vibrance as well as its contrast with darker shades and white. This contrast added to the reflection generates the intensity suggested by the title. As we experience the forced focal point, we feel a sense of hyperactivity and insufficient context.
Steve Earle & The Dukes, released June 16, 2017
This bedazzled album cover may be busy, but that just means there’s a lot to talk about. The retro album artwork features repeated shapes, a grid for order, western-themed illustrations, original type, and one of the most deluxe borders we’ve ever seen. (Is that decoupage?) There’s an interesting juxtaposition of fierceness within the circle and charm outside it. The overall complexity of this album cover will stick with us. Plus, the title is just great.
Sparks, to be released September 8,2017
What kind of music will you find beneath this album art? We don’t know either. But the glaring hippo, partially submerged in a domestic pool should engage you pretty quickly. Purely photographic, this album cover uses photo manipulation or composite form, segmented color, simple composition, and the element of surprise.
Did we miss any of your favorite designs? What album covers have caught your attention this year? Let us know in the comments.