20 Inspiring Album Cover Designs
Audio and visual narratives inevitably go hand in hand. When you press the play button, your sonic adventure begins, and off you go to wherever the music will take you. As you immerse yourself in the melodies, the sounds begin to evoke a series of meaningful emotions and images within you.
But there is one thing that can set the tone of your journey into the visual realm even before the music kicks in. And that’s the accompanying album art.
Album covers are an essential part of the music listening experience. They are the first thing that sets the tone for the album and gives listeners a hint of the musician’s intent behind the record. While we may have moved on from listening to CDs to playing songs on streaming services, the cohesive cover art has remained a vital element that extends the connection between the artist and the listener.
Album artwork is especially important for musicians who decide not to release their albums physically, but rather create online presentations for their music. Some of them combine different styles and disciplines to make proper multidisciplinary projects to promote their art to worldwide audiences. And nowadays, this’s not so hard to do, what with the sharing power of the internet and a great music WordPress theme on your side.
While there may be a myriad of captivating album presentations online, we’ve decided to look back on analogue recordings and their enthralling artwork that’s unquestionably left its mark on design. In this article, we’ll salute and talk about beautiful album covers, some of which have become equally or even more recognizable than the albums they illustrate. These covers demonstrate the stunning usage of surreal photography, mesmerizing typography, impressive illustrations, and other elements that make for an aesthetic album cover.
Though the selection process was pretty tough, here is the list of 20 inspiring album cover designs that have left a long-lasting impression on me:
Did you ever get so hungover that you imagined you had a golden head? But your head wasn’t connected to your shoulders. Instead, it was served on a plate, on an operating table in what seems a morgue. And you were screaming so loudly and intensely that light beams started to come out of your mouth. A distant symphony was buzzing through your ears, becoming louder and louder with each passing second. You could hear a mild tenor voice singing things you could barely understand. But then, the words became clearer. The voice was getting louder, and all of sudden, a rumble of chaos and dissonance took over and cracked your head wide open. You couldn’t even begin to think about what was going on as you were already caught up in The Mars Volta’s mesmerizing whirlwind. This trippy experience is exactly what their stunning De-Loused in the Comatorium album sleeve looks like.
The impressive artwork for their debut album was done by none other than Storm Thorgerson, the man behind numerous legendary album covers (some of which are featured on our list). De-Loused in the Comatorium is a concept album about a guy called Cerpin Taxt who overdosed on a mixture of rat poison and morphine, and then entered a week-long coma. This kind of cover art perfectly illustrates that experience.
Wouldn’t it be great to be this dreamy piano player? Picture this. You’re sipping on a fruity cocktail, rehearsing a super cool nu-disco track you came up with last night after your meditation session. You’re bundled up in your warm, cozy house, deep in the forest, somewhere far off north. Just look at him. He looks so satisfied, elbowed on his piano, thinking about the groovy future-disco track he’s about to create.
This beautiful album cover features the wonderful artwork of the Norwegian illustrator Bendik Kaltenborn. It’s done in his unique and recognizable style, accompanied by amazing handwritten typography. It’s Album Time is one of the most refreshing electro-disco albums of the past 10 years with an album cover that matches its grandeur.
Two polar opposites intertwined in a loving embrace, always and forever. Like day and night. Hope and despair. Dark and light. The future and the past. A yes and a no. Something and nothing. One defines the other. One would cease to exist without the other.
The artwork for this album was done by the magnificent Mati Klarwein and it faithfully replicates the psychedelic nature of Miles Davis’ music. The gatefold sleeve features a painting of contradictions. There’s day and there’s night. Pinkish-white and black hands, entwined in an inseparable union. They’re completely different, but pointless one without the other.
If you haven’t listened to this masterpiece, there’s always time to do it. You won’t regret it, that’s for sure. Starting with In the Silent Way, Miles Davis took experimenting to a whole other level with his double album Bitches Brew, which is widely considered to be the cornerstone of the jazz-rock and jazz fusion genres.
Riding the razor’s edge, dressed in leather, wearing spike-studded jewelry, a priest has come to wreak havoc on the British ‘80s rock scene. He’s on a half fire-breathing horse – half steaming-motorcycle hybrid, headbanging his way through the crowd, approaching his throne. And no one is brave enough to confront him. The time has come for him to write the history of the new wave of British heavy metal.
This is exactly what Judas Priest did with their legendary British Steel album. The macabre cover photo, designed by Rosław Szaybo, is nothing short of iconic. It depicts the hard rock and heavy metal iconography of the ‘70s and ‘80s with razor-sharp precision.
It’s a humid summer evening. You can hear an insect-like car noise. You’re walking slowly through the city. The concrete is slightly pulsating with the distant vibration of some catchy bass line. The building walls are sweating. The air smells like perfume and skin. Garbage bags are left outside of the building and are waiting to be taken away. You picture what kind of lives people live inside the buildings you pass by. Your mind transports you into their homes. You see them dancing, laughing, grieving, throwing stuff around the house in violent tantrums. Then you walk through some narrow alley. You’re a bit tense and afraid, but much more excited about all that the night has in store for you. This is the visual depiction of what Mezzanine sounds like.
The simple, yet effective graphic solution on the album sleeve is such an iconic symbol of the ‘90s era. This is the picture that pops into my mind every time I get hit by ‘90s nostalgia. The cover was created by three artists – Robert Del Naja, Tom Hingston, and Nick Knight OBE. The way the stag beetle is framed, its placement on the cover, the terrific typography choice, and everything else about this cover just screams cool, which is the perfect synonym for Massive Attack and their music.
It’s 5 pm and you’re 17 years old. You told your parents you’ll be back home by 1 am, but you couldn’t bring yourself to leave. You were at a party, on a river island. One drink led to another. You ended up all on your own, with no boats to get you across the river. Luckily for you, you live just across the island. But you hope your parents won’t see you. You’re so hungover. You start to swim away, with your head slightly above the water, resembling a crocodile. You’re sneaking up slowly, hoping your parents’ prying eyes won’t notice you. You’re swimming in the waters of Thundercat’s hypnotic album Drunk. The dizzying cover was designed by Adam Stover.
Thundercat is one of the most interesting young musicians out there in terms of sheer virtuosity, whimsicalness, and originality. This album sounds like honey in your ears. There are more than 20 short songs on it, with features from Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell Williams, Kenny Loggins, and others.
Picture yourself standing on an invisible escalator, with orange handrails made of sofa fabric. You’re surrounded with elements resembling the recognizable PowerPoint aesthetic. Occasionally, you notice puffy, gravity-defying guitars sliding down the handrails. They’re not there to hurt you. They simply bring back the mellow nostalgia of school breaks, the smell of cold water and scorching-hot concrete. They bring you joy.
This great photo was masterfully shot by the photographer Alan Lear. Steve Lacy is a rising star on the neo-soul and lo-fi indie scene, and Apollo XXI is his first full-length album. He’s also a part of an incredible band called The Internet. If you haven’t discovered them already, now would be a great time to do it.
Simple yet gorgeous, vintage yet modern.
I personally like this cover art because of its simplicity. Tyler’s black and white portrait is roughly cut and placed onto the soft-pink background. The puzzled, hilarious, Lurch-like expression on his face looks as if he wants to ask – How did I get here? There’s almost no typography on it at all. Everything about this album artwork reflects Tyler’s whimsical nature perfectly. It’s a killer album with a matching killer album cover created by Tyler’s long-term collaborator Luis “Pancho” Perez.
Blunt. Uncompromising. Harsh. Brutal. Relentless. Determined. Unbending. Tough like a brick wall.
Merciless. Rude. Savage. Vicious. Ruthless. Ferocious. Inhuman. Hip. Hop. Run. The. Jewels.
This is what the 2nd album from the Run the Jewels duo, comprised of the phenomenal EL-P and Killer Mike, sounds like. It’s hip-hop at its finest, like you’ve never heard it before, filled with gritty, hyper-produced electronic beats. The striking cover art perfectly suits its vibe. The eye-catching logo was created by Nick Gazin.
It’s a perfect, late spring morning. You’re lying comfortably on your couch, barely awake. You slowly open your eyelids. You still can’t see clearly. Everything looks blurry. You feel like you’re watching the magical play of the morning flickering lights that carry the warmth and peace your body needs to face the day. It’s pure bliss.
The kaleidoscopic album cover wonderfully matches the music of the Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada. It consists of images recorded by the band members themselves. The calmness this artwork evokes, combined with the beautifully sampled voices and an overall organic approach to electronic music, takes you places you and your mind simply have to wander through.
While there’s far more legendary artwork related to the graphic identity of Pink Floyd, I adore this photo. The mood of the Animals cover is stunning. The lightning is perfect, with beautiful skies contrasting the foul industrial complex. A helium pig is flying into the sky, symbolizing the departure of capitalist oppressors and letting everyone know that better days are coming. The album cover was designed by Storm Thorgeson and Aubrey Powell.
When I look at this photo, I can hear the Twin Peaks theme song playing in my head. This tune goes along great with the idyllic atmosphere of the photo, but that could just be me.
You’re preparing for a photoshoot, the long-awaited family portrait. And your family is huge. You’re on the umptieth take and you had to redo the shot countless times already. It seems like your family is growing larger by the minute. There’s your mother’s second cousin Marilyn in a stunning golden dress, uncle P, cousins Darwin and Dylan whom you haven’t seen in ages. They’re waving back at you and you’re thinking you could have an interesting conversation with them once the photo shoot is over. Everybody’s in their positions. Here it comes, once again – Say cheese, everyone! *click* You hear the camera shutter sound once more.
This iconic album cover was designed by Jann Haworth and Peter Blake. It’s an amazing collage with incredible typographic solutions. It features prominent figures from pop culture and history. The members of the Beatles are on it two times – in one version they’re wearing their regular attire and in the second they have military uniforms on. Everything about this piece of art is amazing.
Imagine being stuck in the strangest dream. You’re in a barren land, wandering around, with no signs to point the way. You look at the ground and you notice a gas mask. “But I can breathe without it! Why is it lying on the ground?”, you think to yourself. Just as you’re about to pick it up, you see shadows on the ground. Those are the shadows of people falling from the sky. You look up incredulous to find out what’s going on. And what do you see? I surely wouldn’t know, as that’s your dream after all.
This dream sums up the arcane Absolution cover created by Storm Thorgerson. The album reached number one on the UK charts, and it stands as one of the best Muse albums with hits such as Time is running out, Hysteria, Sing for Absolution, etc.
School’s almost over and you and your mates are preparing for the last summer together. You’re going out of town for good, even though you never thought that would happen. You want to make your last break together worthwhile. That’s what looking at the Pearl Jam’s Ten cover feels like. The interesting photo was directed by their bass player Jeff Ament.
Something about the color of this artwork, the brick wall in the background, and the band high-fiving each other takes me back to summers when I was a kid and my older brother was on summer break, hanging around with his friends. They started a band and I was one of their very few fans. That was also the time when I first saw the video for Jeremy, one of the most popular songs from this terrific album, which modelled my music taste later in life.
There’s a comet heading towards the Earth. It’s a shining, glossy fireball, moving in the beat of a captivating bass line. All of a sudden, a loud rumble comes through, awakening every freedom-starved mind once and for all. It’s a holy flame of insubordination, a glowing spirit of enlightenment, the thing we never knew we needed. Seasoned with the high-pitched, painful screams of deliverance, we await for it to purge the political corruption and give power back to the people.
The artwork for Audislave’s self-titled debut album is another example of Storm Thorgerson’s masterfulness. It features an image of a tall flame, placed on a desolate land, while a tiny human observes it. This flame is actually the band’s logo and it symbolizes the eternal flame.
Change is an everlasting process. It’s everywhere around us and within ourselves, too. But, it’s particularly evident in the evolution of all living creatures and in the way they grow from microscopic to significantly larger lifeforms. Many of those changes are the result of the long adaptation to the currents of life. Sometimes though, the best changes are made when we completely ignore the lifestream. Then we feel no pain of the harsh obstacles that may come our way. Instead, we become the flow, the stream, the river of life itself.
The songs on Currents are all about change, and this is the album on which the band experimented with electronic sounds. The terrific 3D artwork created by the designer Robert Beatty depicts an oscillating flow that perfectly matches the album’s main theme.
One of the first music videos that got stuck inside my head was Daft Punk’s Around the World, from their majestic Homework record. The simplicity of the set, lovely costumes, fantastic choreography, all of that looked perfect in my young mind, and to this day, my impression hasn’t changed.
The Homework cover, photographed by Nicolas Hidiroglou is not any different, except that it carries a bit of a vintage vibe. The image consists of what seems to be a rock’n’roll jacket with the Daft Punk logo on it. Overall, this is a glorious example of a simple yet effective piece of album artwork.
For me, this album cover screams New York just as much as Spike Lee’s 1989 drama, Do the Right Thing. The artist behind it is Jean Kelly, a.k.a. ZombArt JK. The image makes you think of the streets of Brooklyn, boom boxes, chilling outside, of things typical of the late 80’s – early ‘90s. A Tribe Called Quest simply personifies coolness – it’s in the way they rap, their laid back approach to writing puns, and their overall aesthetic.
This album cover is the work of the art director Laura LiPuma and photographers Ed Thrasher and Stuart Douglas Watson. The whole thing looks just the right amount of cheesy and a little bit over the top. There’s Prince on a motorcycle, while the smoke is coming out of the New York sewers and his darling is reluctantly telling him goodbye. The lights from her room are engulfing the left side of the photograph, while the front of the image resembles an ‘80s action flick. Flowers are a cute touch to the image, even though they seem kind of offbeat compared to all the other elements of the cover. The authors probably had to think of something to get the square image format, without having to redo everything.
This surreal artwork was made by the London based artist, animator, and musician Jesse Kanda. It finally showed us Björk in her true form. Deep down, we always knew she wasn’t entirely from our planet, and now we got the confirmation for it. She comes ready to conquer everything and everyone. Just like the Pied Piper of Hamelin with her extraterrestrial flute, Björk, too, brings us harmonies and beats unlike anything we’ve heard before. She’s always been authentic, and a bit strange. Long may she reign!
As the albums covers from our list demonstrate, a compelling piece of artwork can take on a life of its own and capture the attention of those even outside your fan base. When creating cover art, what matters most is to take your time while doing it. Plan out the design and make sure all the parts are working together to convey the overall emotion of your record. The proper artwork can add flavor to your music, deepen the emotional connection with your crowd, and make your creativity shine even brighter.