Judging A Cover By Its Cover: March’s best record sleeves

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Welcome to Judging A Cover By Its Cover, a sideways glance at the month’s most striking vinyl visuals.

Each month we will be hailing the joys of music packaging as we celebrate innovative and awe-inspiring sleeve design. Walking with you will be designer and author John Foster as he discusses imagery, typography, layout and finishing techniques of the finest artistic talents in the music industry. Occasional forays into classic albums and general pop culture nonsense come at no additional charge. Now, get those eyeballs at the ready as we cue up the opening number…


U.S. Girls
In A Poem, Unlimited
(4AD)

Cover: Robert Beatty

This is without a doubt my favourite record cover of the year so far, and it connects in such a deep way that it stands a good chance of being my favourite cover of the year altogether. (I hope the remaining 9 months of 2018 take that as a challenge). It is hard for me to comprehend having Robert Beatty on hand to design your sleeve and then choose to fill up the front side with a huge image, and not take advantage of his insane illustration skills – but, in this case it makes total sense. U.S. Girls Meg Remy’s hand-coloured portrait is so raw, emotional and filled with detail and texture. It is only enhanced by the crop and Beatty’s assured use of mildly roughed up type and classic bare bones product design layout. The end result is something that bridges time periods and I simply can’t take my eyes off of it. It is a sleeve that would be as much at home on the wall in the MoMA as it is in the record racks at your local shop.


Los Lobos vs The Shins
The Fear
(Third Man records)

Cover: Jacob Escobedo

Record Store Day is fast approaching, it is easy to become overwhelmed with all of the bells and whistles and production tricks on display (is the Flaming Lips release really a 7” you can drink? Anyhew…) However, the title of “Record I Have To Own Because The Cover Is Just Damn Amazing” definitely belongs to Los Lobos vs The Shins’ The Fear. Designer/Illustrator Jacob Escobedo builds on the delightfully detailed style he established earlier with The Shins’ Heartworms album and carried through to the re-working of those tunes via The Worms Heart. Adding that desert flower psychedelic vibe to a wolf headed skeleton keeps the visual joy overflowing as he continues to amaze with this series of unique and beautiful sleeves.


Young Fathers
Cocoa Sugar
(Ninja Tune)

Cover: Julia Noni / Tom Hingston

Important visual lineage of the month goes to Young Fathers’ Cocoa Sugar album cover. Their jittery R&B falls squarely in the TV on the Radio and Algiers category, while being thinner on the production side and thicker on the pop playfulness side. Julia Noni’s photograph that fills up the cover is a direct interpretation of Waldemar Swierzy’s breath-taking poster design for the movie Midnight Cowboy, which has grown to be perhaps one of the most iconic Polish movie posters of all-time. Designed by Tom Hingston, the overall packaging is in keeping with his studio’s mix of high-end fashion and commercial music.


The Breeders
All Nerve
(4AD)

Cover: Chris Bigg / Martin Andersen

The Breeders’ All Nerve is a welcome return on so many fronts. Musically challenging, while also comfortably familiar, the album is everything fans could have hoped for from the revitalized band. Much the same can be said for having designer Chris Bigg man the packaging. Lovely typographic touches abound, as Bigg frames and integrates Martin Andersen’s photographs to perfection. Using their past collaborations as a base, Bigg, Andersen and Kim Deal manage to combine in such a way as to bring us something fresh and exciting, while never losing touch with what made the intermingling of their talents so special in the first place.


Dabrye
Three/Three
(Ghostly)

Cover: Michael Cina

Michael Cina is one of those designers that never stops surprising me. As soon as I feel like I know what to expect from him, he turns it all on its head, and does so with jaw-dropping sophistication. Celebrated for his experimental paintings that have been bridging his fine art to his design work, Cina eschews all of that, and even leaves colour behind, as he tackles the packaging design for Dabrye’s Three/Three album by creating a zine entirely by hand.

Every page is filled with gritty interactions with the materials at hand, showing cut lines, crumples and the kind of magic that only an old Xerox machine can provide. These are just a few highlights, but trust me when I say that each and every page is absolutely incredible. His style of working also closely relates to the intricate, yet organic process that electronic hip-hop producer Tadd Mullinix used to finally complete his trilogy of albums.


John Foster is the author of Album Art: New Music Graphics (Thames & Hudson), New Masters of Poster Design (Rockport) and numerous other books. As principal of his design firm Bad People Good Things he has designed hundreds of record sleeves for everyone from Teenbeat to Warner Bros.