Ten Favorite Album Covers of 2009

In alphabetical order by artist or group, my ten favorite album covers of 2009.

…And You Will Know Us by the Trail Of Dead
The Century of Self (Super Ball Records)

Credit: Conrad Keely (artwork)

Notes: Trail of Dead vocalist/guitarist Conrad Keely illustrated the album cover entirely in blue ballpoint pen. Stunning.

Ambivalence Avenue

Credit: David Foldvari (illustrations)

Notes: This album cover wins the favorite “pen-and-ink/black-and-white illustration” award for the year, just slightly beating out Fever Ray and The Whitest Boy Alive. Illustrator David Foldvari‘s excellent work can be seen in the Observer and the Guardian.


Credits: Julian Alexander (art direction/design/photography); Karin Catt (photography)

Notes: Reminiscent of last year‘s Ten Favorite pick of T.I.’s Paper Trail; past Grammy-winner designer Julian Alexander adapts the mosaic portrait theme and adds the familiar medicine bottle information label.

Kid Cudi
Man on the Moon: The End of Day
(Dream On/GOOD Music/Universal Motown)

Credit: Bill Sienkiewicz (illustrations), Scott Sandler (art direction, design)

Notes: I knew I liked this album cover for a reason! When researching this album cover, I learned that Sienkiewicz did the cover illustration (for the CD and the DVD deluxe editions), and frankly, it should have been obvious from the jump. One of the true pioneering greats in comics, Sienkiewicz’s long and decorated career spans various media. This album cover is just beautifully illustrated, like other favorites of mine (RZA’s Bobby Digital in Stereo album cover and The Venture Brothers Season 3 DVD/Blu-Ray).

Mos Def
The Ecstatic
(Downtown Records)

Credit: Uncredited, see below

Notes: The source of the cover image is Charles Burnett’s 1977 film Killer of Sheep. I wouldn’t describe the image as “ecstasy” but I liked the added red tint and the dynamic of the jump captured in the still. It almost had a “Blue Note Records”-ish feel to it also, which elevated it on my list.

Pet Shop Boys
Yes (Parlophone/Astralwerks)

Credit: Mark Farrow (artwork)

Notes: I liked this album cover for its use of color (11 colors = 11 songs) arranged simply as a “yes” check mark…or tick mark for you Brits. Longtime Pet Shop Boys collaborator Mark Farrow works in his familiar PSB territory, with minimal but effective imagery and color.

The Rakes

Credit: Work Associates (artwork)

Notes: I liked the use of the sans serif stencil/Futura Black typography here, evoking the vibrations after a “klang”ing of a bell. Creative Review has a more detailed account of the creation of the sleeve artwork here. This is the Rakes’ final album, having broken up in October this year. With the breakup, the album cover provides a visual, final fade out for the band.

Swan Lake
Enemy Mine

Credit: Reg Lech (Cover art)

Notes: The band, a Canadian supergroup, claims that this “court painting” is the first time in popular music that such an illustration has been used as an album cover. I liked it right away, it was different and well executed. (And who am I to argue with a Canadian supergroup? And aren’t most Canadian groups super?)

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
The Live Anthology
(Warner Bros.)

Credits: Shepard Fairey (art direction, design, cover art); Neil Preston (cover photo)

Notes: Like the Sienkiewicz work for Kid Cudi, the Fairey work here is familiar yet effective. The choice of Fairey reflects the allure of Tom Petty’s music: familiar, classic, straightforward, distinct, and powerful. Petty and Fairey are sort of kindred spirits, both working in the area between homage and innovation, classic yet current, retro yet modern.

(Play It Again Sam/Different)

Credit:(Video: DIY/Brillantine, co-directors; Art.10, DP)

Notes: I wasn’t able to locate much specific information on the album cover creation, but I liked the coloration of the smoke trails and the “V” shape for Vitalic. More information was found for the video for the opening track “See The Sea (Red)”, which uses the same fluid dynamics imagery. Vitalic (Pascal Arbez-Nicolas) explains the concept as a homage to French scientist Étienne-Jules Marey. Any homage to fluid dynamic science is a winner in my book.

Honorable Mentions:

The Resistance
(Warner Bros.)

Credits: La Boca (artwork), Danny Clinch (photography)
Notes: Really liked the illustration and the rainbow color palette.

Richmond Fontaine
We Used to Think the Freeway Sounded Like a River
(Arena Rock Recording Company)

Credits: Draplin Design Co. (art direction, design)
Notes: I’m a big fan of Aaron Draplin and his Draplin Design Company, and I love the look of his simple and direct work in general, and on the Richmond Fontaine album.

The Leisure Society
The Sleeper

Credit: The Matt Lloyd Project (sleeve art)
Notes: The art for The Sleeper has a “Venture Brothers”-feel to it (along with A Product of the Ego Drain), so it was an instant like.

Dishonorable Mentions:

Let’s Wrestle
In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s
(Stolen Recordings)

Credit: Uncredited
Notes: Least Favorite of the Year. I don’t like anything in this cover: the name, the title, the illustration. Sorry, lads. But I did like “In Dreams”, that’s a nice song.

Mike Jones
Swagg Through Da Roof
(single) (Asylum)

Credits: (The Voice album) Florian Schneider (photography); Carolyn Tracey (package production)
Notes: Technically not an album, but this was bad enough to rate a dishonorable mention. Over to you, PhotoshopDisasters!

Wild Beasts
Two Dancers

Credit: Uncredited
Notes: I don’t get it. I don’t know what it’s supposed to be, but I just don’t get it.

Final thoughts:

My non-Living Colour album of the year was Neko Case’s Middle Cyclone (Anti). I wasn’t sure if I could call it my favorite or even an honorable mention album cover, but I found it very compelling. She described it as something an eight-year old boy would put on an album cover: a muscle car and a sword. I didn’t put it on my Ten Favorite list because I couldn’t quite reconcile this concept with the contents of the album. But it got me thinking about it over and over, which is more than I could say for some album covers this year.

Human anatomy was a common theme in album covers this year. Witness: Alice in Chains Black Gives Way to Blue; Bat For Lashes Two Suns; Dalek, Gutter Tactics; Emmy the Great, First Love; Florence and the Machine, Lungs; and The Veils, Sun Gangs all play on the heart/chest theme. AIC and the Veils use anatomically-close hearts directly.

Lots of good album covers this year. Don’t sleep on Espers, Behemoth, Regina Spektor, Mumford & Sons, Mika, Mastodon, Isis, the Decemberists, Grant-Lee Phillips, Every Time I Die, Diablo Swing Orchestra, The Clientele (nice classical music/retro touch), Anti-Pop Consortium, Adrian Younge, The Boy Least Likely To and Soulsavers.

And then there’s the Flaming Lips album cover for Embryonic. Weirdest Album Cover of the Year! (Second place: Moderat’s self-titled album)

Ten Favorite Album Covers of 2008 and 2007 (still my most popular post ever).


2 Responses to “Ten Favorite Album Covers of 2009”

  1. 1 jaime leah December 30, 2009 at 11:31 am

    this is as an awesome list! i love covers for neko, kid cudi, pet shop boys, and trail of dead always have amazing covers. can’t believe that’s all blue ink. also, like the new banner you go there, too.

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