One thing that’s great about the post-CD era: you’re either buying vinyl records or downloading music. Either way, you get to look at album covers on something bigger than a five-inch square. The death of the CD has meant a resurgence in album artwork, and 2011 has featured a number of truly impressive album covers. Note that we don’t necessarily endorse the actual music on these records (though some are on our “Best Albums of 2011” list), but the cover art alone makes them worth keeping around.
Havok, Time Is Up: Anyone who remembers the 1980s remembers it as a time of amazing album art in the world of metal. Time Is Up from progressive thrashers Havok recalls that tradition... though this cover doesn’t feature any Hessians in peril.
...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of the Dead, Tao of the Dead: This band has one of the most irritating names in all of rock. But who cares? You could get lost in this album cover, which combines elements of steampunk and turn-of-the-century romantic fantasy themes into something truly awe inspiring.
Gillian Welch, The Harrow & The Harvest: Remember that kid who never paid attention in class, but instead sketched intricately detailed art in his notebook? That kid grew up and designed this album cover.
Frankie & The Heartstrings, Hunger: When you think of truly great records, you probably remember the good times you had while listening to them more than the music itself. This album cover evokes that, with a bunch of young dudes just hanging out.
Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch the Throne: We’re guessing this album cover has no text to avoid the epic ego-wrestling match between Jahova and Kanye. Honest opinion? Text would ruin what is a beautifully intricate piece of artwork that’s gaudy while still being awesome.
LMFAO, Sorry for Party Rocking: To be fair, we only really care about the middle third of this cover.
The Strokes, Angles: The ultimate art and design major’s fantasy comes to life on an album cover released by the ultimate band for art and design majors. There were a lot of records with similar covers this year (i.e. “abstract” designs), but this one is by far the best.
Memory Tapes, Player Piano: We really have no idea what’s going on with this record here, but we like it. Very spooky, ghostly imagery that you won’t soon forget.
Glasvegas, Euphoric Heartbreak: This is kind of like some weird, demonic version of those school portraits where your face was projected into a side view of your face. We can’t really tell if the dude is hallucinating or watching footage of Marilyn on his wall. Either way, we like it.
Rustie, Glass Swords: One thing about album covers is that boss-looking alien worlds pretty much never go out of style. Rule of thumb: if it looks like it belongs in a Dungeons & Dragons rulebook, it probably makes a good album cover.
J. Mascis, Several Shades of Why: The man who taught indie rock how to shred like Eddie Van Halen’s solo record has some whimsically great artwork. Everyone’s looking a little bummed here, but that’s indie rock for you.