Friday, December 30, 2016

The 10 Best & Worst Album Covers Of 2016

2016 has seen its fair share of stellar album covers. But, as it comes with the territory, they'll be surefire antagonizers set on ruining that art with poor execution of their own. So, I'd say, it's a 25/25 split, with the final 50 being unmemorable covers sandwiched within. These are the highlights, on both ends of the spectrum. The best covers are on the left, worst are on the right. The one rule I set for myself regarding this list is that I must have listened to the album, otherwise the artistic intent could've been lost on me. And how a cover reflects the music contained within is a big part of this. Enjoy.


Best | D.R.A.M. - Big Baby D.R.A.M. | Never underestimate the power of a cute dog. Couple that with the cute D.R.A.M., and you have the making's of an adorable cover that lovingly represents Big Baby D.R.A.M. and the happy-go-lucky sound found within. It's wholesome, earnest, and in some weird way, creative, cause it damn sure as hell takes some guts to pull that one off.

Worst | Tycho - Epoch | Tycho's style used to be so iconic. Well, maybe that word's a bit much, but the uninterrupted minimalism always captured his cleansed musical product to a tee. Plus, if you hated his music, you could still like the album art. That stopped with Epoch, as it seemed he took the easy way out, failing to provide a sense of intrigue as three monotone colors, that could've easily been executed in Microsoft Paint, sit idling by emotionless.


Best | Death Grips - Bottomless Pit | Death Grips are no strangers to abstract forms of imagery. To many, in fact, they've commanded the nonsensical arts since the Internet has turned into a malformed beast. This means their art will either look great or abysmal. Both have been applied to works this year, as Bottomless Pit was just the right kind of creepy, mysterious, and uncategorizable. The single to 'More Than A Fairy' however, was anything but, wretch with foolish quirkiness.

Worst | Animal Collective - Painting With | In general, I don't dislike Painting With's cover. The colors are nice, as are the jarring shapes and styles. My problem arises from a need for equality, and leaving Panda Bear and Geologist off the official cover, subjugated to single art, as Avey Tare gets awarded the spotlight just rubs me the wrong way. It is a group after all.


Best | Tim Hecker - Love Streams | I'm not a huge fan of Tim Hecker's awkward Ambient Glitch atmospheres, but there's no denying the man's natural tastes with arts that relate to the sound held within. Love Streams' heavily masked humanoid figures shrouded in hues of pink, purple, and blue just feels warm, yet oddly haunting.

Worst | Clams Casino - 32 Levels | Painfully basic. That's the gist of 32 Levels, a cover that screams "I didn't have any ideas." That's common with unmemorable covers, a clear lack of foresight and insight into the music held within. Let's put Clams Casino in a dark jacket with a hood, turn him around, and use some mood lightning. It doesn't tell me anything about 32 Levels, and with all the ideas present within, that's disappointing.


Best | Denzel Curry - Imperial | Honestly one of my least favorite Rap albums of the year. This goes to show that a good cover doesn't necessarily need good music behind it. Nonetheless, the mood of Imperial matched the grimy cover found above. Reminds me of Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly, had all the inner-city kids been trapped rather than escaping to the White House. Plus, the yellow font works really well too.

Worst | Blu - Open Your Optics | It makes me uncomfortable, simple as that. Blu's Open Your Optics has a cover that matches the content, that being Blu's deep thoughts about universal quandaries. However, being forced to look at a close-up of his eye, or any eye for that matter, doesn't make for a good cover. Especially given the extremities around it. Just go all out and zoom in, I don't wanna see the details of his eyebrow.


Best | Massive Attack - Ritual Spirit | Completely representative of Ritual Spirit, and really, a wonderful addition to Massive Attack's excellent catalogue of art. They've never disappointed, and with Ritual Spirit, a grimy, almost demonic man fixates on the listener and never loses eye contact. He's intimidating to say the least, and the clashing of fonts above and beneath him only help to make things uneasy.

WorstKid Cudi - Passion, Pain, & Demon Slayin | Honestly, if this was a month ago Passion, Pain, And Demon Slayin' wouldn't have been on this list. Close, but not there. Then Cudi, in classic Cudi fashion, added a superfluous layer of purple because, I'm guessing, it represents the galactic sound? Either way, Cudi's presence on the cover is entirely representative of his music, which, ironically, is why it deserves to be here.


Best | Japanese Breakfast - Psychopomp | I'm unsure of the origins behind Pyschopomp's cover, and that's why it's great. Seemingly taken from a Polaroid lost in the shuffle, Michelle Zauner's project spoke to her Asian origins, and Psychopomp's loving cover, that finds two relatives in pure joy, rides that nostalgic vision wonderfully. Oh, and the font is excellent too.

Worst | M83 - Junk | Like a majority of songs present on Junk, the cover feels lazy, unfocused, and silly. The latter would be fine, especially considering M83's last two albums played the silly card effortlessly, this one just seems fruitless. The childish font of Junk doesn't match with the gradient colors of M83, and the hamburger not-so-hidden in the back just screams 'le random.' At least it's not as bad as 'Do It, Try It's' single cover.


Best | Lil Yachty - Lil Boat | On his debut mixtape, Lil Yachty had the confident art appeal of a season veteran whose head deep in parlaying immediately impactful covers. The similarities on Summer Songs 2 lessened that iconic nature, but Lil Boat's elegant layout, following the nautical theme, adding a nice touch with the coordinates of Atlanta, made for a perfect introduction of Hip-Hop's most conflicting newcomer.

Worst | Kanye West - The Life Of Pablo | If Yeezus' cover, or lack thereof, wasn't indicative enough, Kanye's artistic statements have become less and less virtuous as he's progressed. The Life Of Pablo's was memorable, but for all the wrong reasons, being poked fun at for the immature state in which it exists. It's messy, crass, and nonsensical. And don't begin to argue that that was the point, it still makes for a bad cover regardless. The original, without the "WHICH ONE" and the ass, is infinitely better.


Best | Deakin - Sleep Cycle | What draws me to Sleep Cycle's cover is, unsurprisingly, it's mystery. Cliche for sure, but the unrelenting darkness that hides between the splotches of light invokes such strange feelings of a foreign world. The one thing in focus, barely so, seems to be that of an African tribal person, relevant considering Deakin's trip to Mali. However, the dark purples tearing across the screen feel like a flash frame destroying the photo quality with some unknown entity. It's wonderful.

Worst | Swans - The Glowing Man | Swans' latest album was alright, a certain improvement over To Be Kind for a handful of reasons. One of those was not the cover, for, despite my disdain and indifference, To Be Kind and The Seer's two covers were excellent for the albums' primal aesthetic. The Glowing Man, I guess, is a nondescript arm protruding out of...something? I really don't know what it is, and it really doesn't look well nor fits with the theme of the previous two albums. 


Best | Anderson .Paak - Malibu | Collage covers don't usually work for me. They're messy, cheap, and claustrophobic. Malibu was none of those, marring different styles, shticks, and scenes of his west coast home in perfect unison. Everything seems to mesh together flawlessly, and even .Paak's tongue-in-cheek outfit at the piano gleams over you on first view because of all the different points of attraction going on. Also, if it was extended vertically or horizontally, Malibu would make for a wonderful poster.

Worst | Travi$ Scott - Birds In The Trap | Ew. Just an all-out mess. Nothing about this cover works, like at all. And while I wasn't keen on Rodeo's cover either, at least it had some nice minimalism to boost. Birds In The Trap is just unplanned, disorderly chaos. Everything clashes, the wings, the smoke, whatever's going on with his eyes, the soft peach background color. It's just smeared in filth top to bottom. Oh, and the lighting is abysmal.


Best | Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition | There's few other covers, especially in recent memory, that replicate the sounds contained within better than Atrocity Exhibtion. Chaos contained within a box that's slowly imploding on itself. Danny Brown's face, physically being torn apart by psychedelic colors meant to imply the drugs taking over his life, incapsulates his best album yet perfectly. Beautifully stylized, and organically built as well. Bonus points for all the extra art associated with the album looking great too.

Worst | Frank Ocean - Blonde | Just awful. Nothing works, nothing makes sense. Blonde's title is different on the cover as it is in real life, to be 'deep' I suppose. The sheer bulk of monochrome grey engrossing the outside is disgusting. And the picture, my god the picture. It may very well have been taken off of an iPhone, with no attempts to make it look better. Yes, it makes it unique. No, it doesn't make it look appealing. And some bonus points personal to me. For every album I review, as you've likely noticed, I crop it to a wallpaper-esque rectangle. It's petty on my end, of course, and I don't hold this to Ocean, but turned into that rectangle nothing works as well. Just an all-around repulsive cover for an otherwise beautiful album.

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