2013: Favorite 30 Album Covers of 2013 Stop reading about music and start listening to some covers

We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music and films that helped define the year. More from this series

Oneohtrix Point Never - R Plus Seven
Artist: Robert Beatty


Despite a growing reputation as a musician in his own right, Hair Police and Burning Star Core member Robert Beatty might also be justifiably recognized as one of the distinctive visual voices of his age. Working across several media, his frequently exquisite designs — a lot of which can be seen on his Flickr page — blend mystery and kitsch in a way that recalls both the intellectually playful sensibility of 60s underground psychedelia and the black humor of the Surrealists. This image is based on a still from George Schwizgebel’s short film The Rapture of Frank N. Stein (watch it here). It depicts a melancholic encounter between two cuboids, in a way that is both touching and absurd. If the use of shadow signifies distance and solitude, a third cuboid, opening onto a corridor of partially obscured geometrical presences, carries with it a vague sense of threat. Whereas the melting telephone of Beatty’s Three Legged Race cover alluded to the work of Salvador Dalí, the dreamlike poignancy of his R Plus Seven cover is surely reminiscent of de Chirico’s Metaphysical Painting.

Nite Lite - Megrez
Artist: Myste French

[Desire Path]

This beautifully organized collage has been assembled with great care. The image wonderfully evokes the biomorphic cacophony that dwells beneath the surface of the earth and the sea. The attention to detail in many of the figures suggests material sourced from scientific illustration has been variously doubled, embellished, or defaced. This collagist’s eye for the strange and the beautiful in nature resonates with the music within — a patchwork of field recordings (animal calls and weather phenomena) and scintillating tonal improvisations that emphasize the sense-bending properties of the edit. Starting out in Long Beach but later relocating to Portland, Myste French used to run Stunned Records with husband-collaborator Phil. Comparing the cover of Megrez to the art on Stunned releases like the Foundation Stones box set, it’s obvious that French’s dense visual works express a coherent aesthetic that archly alludes to the mutant plenitude of the underground.

Salvia Plath - The Bardo Story
Artist: Robert Beatty

[Weird World]

Distorted, phantasmagoric imagery glows with lysergic optimism on the second Robert Beatty cover of our list. Smokeforms hover in an airbrushed orange chamber that opens on to a bright, nearly cloudless sky. The features of a heart-shaped head, situated to the right of the chamber, mirror the appearance of a polychromatic dove-form by its side. Decoratively flanked by orange-and-black zig-zags that flash illusorily, this sleeve is intended to resemble the cover of a paperback novel. Earlier this year, Michael Collins a.k.a. Salvia Plath told Ad Hoc: “The cover is based on an experience that I had on salvia, and goes behind the scenes of everything that I saw… It’s beautiful how true [tripping] can be, and also similarly how hilarious it is, and I think it’s kind of one of those things where your perception of reality is changed and afterwards you realize that you can think of everything you look at as being the cover and everything else you can’t see is the book.”

Le1f - Tree House
Artist: Nick Widmer


Ta-da! You were expecting… Batman? This photoshoot with Nick Widmer recasts Le1f as a mutant superhero in spandex and fur. The subject matter of hip-hop portraiture strives to be larger than life, realer than real, and this uplifting image is no different. The Tree House cover harks back to Rap’s Age of Flamboyance, with Le1f participating in the same tradition of dressing out as Afrika Bambaataa, the Furious Five, and Rammellzee.

Miles - Unsecured
Artist: Shlom Sviri

[Modern Love]

This stretch of sea, bathed in eerie luminosity, glistens with dots and curves. Rainfall prickles so precisely and crisply that the picture appears cold to the touch. The viewer encounters this scene from the perspective of the gods: the forms of natural objects are transformed into abstract representations. The dimensions of the boat, relative to the sea, emphasize the dominance of nature over man. The image evokes feelings for the beauty of nature and the freedom of solitude. Boomkat founder and Modern Love label head Shlom Sviri has unearthed some archival gems in recent years, sourcing celebrated cover images for Andy Stott (Passed Me By, Luxury Problems), Miles Whittaker (Unsecured) and Suum Cuique (Ascetic Ideals) from the NGS library.

Colleen - The Weighing Of The Heart
Artist: Iker Spozio

[Second Language]

This gorgeous cover art creates a mood of intimacy and wonder. The subtly-ordered geometrical rhythms of its fragmented surfaces, seemingly arranged in no logical configuration, rely on a private symbolism of organic forms. The giraffe represents the fragile, awkward character of beauty. The constellations in the night sky suggest the value of inner experience, of staring at the void. The open book implies a love of study and the importance of practice. Charming, delicate, and full of poetry, this is a cover for daydreamers and romantics. Donostia-based artist Iker Spozio’s work will already be familiar to psych/space heads the world over thanks to his design and illustration work for legendary cosmic music zine Ptolemaic Terrascope. He has collaborated with his partner Cécile Schott a.k.a. Colleen on a number of projects, including Morning, a zine devoted to unearthing psych historiana. Spozio’s designs display a love for history without being either straightforwardly retro or revisionist.

Plankton Wat - Drifter’s Temple
Artist: Phil French

[Thrill Jockey]

A totemic core of skull and flower at the center of this bustling collage implies a regenerative cycle of bloom and decay. A huntsman stands before a sumptuous curtain of emerald leaves. A pair of antlers protrude from his forehead, symbolizing the potency of his relationship to nature. However, the spectacular arrangement of fronds and plumage that surrounds this drab figure makes him appear shabby and ridiculous by comparison, a hobo shouting at the sky. The designer, Phil French, came to prominence in the latter half of the 00s as a member of Magic Lantern and Super Minerals. He used to run Stunned Records alongside his wife and collaborator Myste, an audio-visual artist herself (see above). The Frenches’ cover designs treat nature as a source of retreat from the dreariness of anthropoid bias. Their collages are full of optimism about all that is weird and extraordinary in life.

Cream Juice - Man Feelings
Artists: Keith Rankin/Seth Graham

[Orange Milk]

An extraterrestrial is on the phone. Can he speak human? The expression on his face, a ball of anxiety and confusion, suggests not — and yet he continues to speak. This image of thwarted communication exaggerates the comic aspect of the conflict between humanity’s raw emotionalism and stereotypically masculine communicative behavior. Forced to deny their need for emotional security or else to translate it into a surrogate desire, the male stereotype is an alien to his emotions. If that reading is too phallogocentric for your tastes (although it is guided by the title), then perhaps the image simply refers to the universal anxieties that arise in infancy when humans are called upon to set their jouissance aside in order to access the linguistic dimension of communication. Uptown Keith Rankin and Seth Graham run Orange Milk out of Brooklyn, and their effervescent designs have played a significant role in establishing the label’s unique reputation. Glitzy, brash, and throwaway, this cover seems to explode from the J-card in a triumph of the absurd.

Andrew Pekler - Cover Versions
Artist: Andrew Pekler

[Senufo Editions]

Exhibited at Berlin’s Laura Mars gallery prior to album launch, the 300 covers of Cover Versions all enjoyed past lives on the sleeves of other, less Pekler, releases. By obliterating any sign of former artistic credit with a vocabulary of brightly colored geometric forms, Pekler unites a series of superficially discrete images whose only other common ground is non-visual. This act of appropriation and recycling doesn’t merely dramatize the relationship of music to the materials of its transmission: it also brings the arbitrariness of audio-visual associations into question. Perhaps these strange constellations of decorative erasure are the real visual component of Pekler’s work with samplers. Perhaps one day these covers will be re-versioned once more.

Lil B - Pink Flame
Artist: Uncle Grumpy Inc. a.k.a. Young Van Gogh


You are what you love.

What you love is beautiful.

You are beautiful.


We celebrate the end of the year the only way we know how: through lists, essays, and mixes. Join us as we explore the music and films that helped define the year. More from this series

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