In an age in which physical copies of music and record shops continue to fall by the wayside, album art is not only sustaining, but evolving on all fronts creative, collaborative, and interactive. Since the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with its cut-out inserts and iconic imagery in 1967, album art has remained an indelible part of an artist’s identity and music as a culture.
Our picks for the top twenty album covers this year range from classics in the making—see Kendrick Lamar‘s family photo cover with ScHoolboy Q‘s scrawled message, “A Short Film By Kendrick Lamar”—to lavish daydream-inducing artwork like that of Captain Murphy‘s, which perfectly depicts Fly Lo’s alter ego in all of its titanic glory.
Much of the album art on this list serves as an extension of the artists themselves. The stylized shards of broken glass that form the image of a bird on El-P‘s Cancer 4 Cure album cover serve as an archetypal symbol of the artist and also as a companion piece to the artwork for El-P’s sophomore album I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, whose central theme was the phoenix on fire. Both covers were designed by kinetic sculptor Alexander Calder and are based on a drawing that Calder gave to El-P as a child.
The list includes two covers designed by Stones Throw artists including Charles Munka (Oh No) and the label’s art + web director Jeff Jank (Jonwayne), the illustrator behind Quasimoto and designer for nearly all of Madlib’s work. There’s also new art from Australian art director Leif Podhajsky (Young Magic), a favorite of Tame Impala, Lykke Li, and Shabazz Palaces. Adult Swim’s influence on the list is unmistakable, with work from Atlanta-based Adult Swim designer Trey Wadsworth (Killer Mike) and Adult Swim’s own creative director Jacob Escobedo (The Shins), who quite possibly also had a hand in the incredible artwork created for the deluxe edition of Duality. Enjoy.
Click below to begin viewing the best album art of the year.