2018: Favorite Cover Art Humanist visions in intimate close-ups, candid portraits, and encrypted headshots

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 that helped define the year. More from this series

Last year, I felt disillusioned with the steely transhumanism that much of my favorite music wallowed in. I’ll always appreciate the clattering, warped sounds that emerge from labels like PC Music and Hyperdub, but I felt hesitant to fully embrace their graphic design. Artwork entrenched in artificial intelligence and the uncanny valley is prescient and necessary, but curating an aesthetic that may one day be corporatized, spliced from my personal data and usurping my place in the workforce, felt somewhat masochistic. I wanted my selections to instead act as pixel windows through which to peek out from a mundane, digital routine and into a world that’s just as fleshy as our own (though maybe a little more fantastical).

In some ways, this year’s list furthers that humanist vision. Most noticeably, 36% of my picks are close-up portraits. Whether they feature a marionette replica of Brooklyn emcee Medhane, a black-and-white candid of Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker, or a sinister re-imagining of The Grinch, faces are displayed prominently in the foreground of many selections here. While artists are extending their mugs as a gesture of vulnerability/intimacy with their audiences, portraiture also acts as a vehicle to muscle one’s way into an attention economy that favors neon hair dye and Instagram hijinks. These covers achieve both ends with taste and originality. I think Earl Sweatshirt’s Some Rap Songs does this especially well: it feels as personal as a crazed picture a friend might drunkenly snap of you on a late Saturday night, but it maintains the tongue-in-cheek mystery of an Aphex Twin cover. The front-facing camera’s motion blur separates subject and observer, not unlike Earl’s stoic cadence and esoteric sense of humor.

2018’s list is nestled snugly in this divide: it’s a more personal crop, but it’s not shy about encrypting that closeness with humor or smatterings of maximalist color. For every headshot, there’s an anime-inspired cityscape or a striking work of abstract design. But even those selections imply a playful kinship between their creator and the viewing public. The cover of Woozles’ kidz bopz vol. 666 recalls the cluttered arrangements of an I Spy puzzle book. Inspecting the sleeve of Aphex Twin’s Collapse feels like dropping into Richard D. James’ private Minecraft server. If last year’s offerings are windows, consider these the artistic equivalent of the profile picture, the firm handshake, the salesman’s smile.

First impressions are everything.


Bush Tetras - Take the Fall

Artist: Lisa Genet

[Wharf Cat]


Mary Jane Leach - Flute Songs

Artist: Myron Davis

[Modern Love]


Aphex Twin - Collapse EP

Artist: Richard D. James



Keith Ape - Born Again

Artist: Santa Inoue

[88Rising Music]


Thought Gang - Modern Music

Artist: David Lynch & Pieter the Elder Bruegel

[Sacred Bones]


Goat Girl - Goat Girl

Artist: Miguel Casarrubios

[Rough Trade]


Father - Thotnite

Artist: JJ Villard



GRÜN WASSER - Predator/Prey

Artist: Anthora Guarderas

[Always Lovers]


Woozles - kidz bopz vol. 666

Artist: Vivi Marcel

[Z Tapes]


Mac Miller - Swimming

Artist: Christian Weber

[Warner Bros.]


Tyler, The Creator - Music Inspired by Illumination & Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch

Artist: Tyler, The Creator



Daniel Blumberg - Minus

Artist: Daniel Blumberg



Mazut - Atlas

Artist: Pan Nowak



Yves Tumor - Safe in the Hands of Love

Artist: Yves Tumor



Louis Minus II - Je voudrais juste dormir pour toujours

Artist: Pawel Klatt



Doon Kanda - Luna

Artist: Jesse Kanda



Action Bronson - White Bronco

Artist: Action Bronson




Artist: Mary Ellen Mark

[Mass Appeal]


John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, Daniel Davies - Halloween

Artist: Sophie Gransard

[Sacred Bones]


IGITUR - Constellation of Doubt

Artist: Gigglefactory



Quavo - Quavo Huncho

Artist: Mihailo Andic

[Quality Control]


Medhane - Ba Suba, Ak Jamm

Artist: Killauren

[Grand Closing]


Adrianne Lenker - abysskiss

Artist: Zoë Lenker

[Saddle Creek]


Spellling - Mazy Fly

Artist: Catalina Xavlena

[Sacred Bones]


Earl Sweatshirt - Some Rap Songs

Artist: Earl Sweatshirt

[Tan Cressida]


Meishi Smile, LLLL, U-Pistol - Always

Artist: Fangrrlz



David Byrne - American Utopia

Artist: Purvis Young



Tropical Fuck Storm - A Laughing Death in Meatspace

Artist: Joe Becker

[Joyful Noise]


Travis Scott - Astroworld

Artist: David LaChapelle

[Cactus Jack]


Parquet Courts - Wide Awaaaaake!

Artist: Andrew Savage

[Rough Trade]

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 that helped define the year. More from this series

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