MJC's Favorite Album Covers

  • Post Author
    by Music director
  • Post Date
    Mon Sep 26 2022

Music is intrinsically connected to sound, and due to the auditory nature of the medium it's easy to overlook some of the beautiful visual elements that come packaged in with your favorite tunes. From absurdist art to beautifully crafted oil canvases, for this article, WSUM's Music Journalism Club picked some of their favorite album covers and discussed what made them so special:

Hozier, Wasteland, Baby! (2019) 

- Hozier: Wasteland, Baby! [CD] - Music

The cover for Hozier's second album Wasteland, Baby! is actually an oil painting by his mother Raine Hozier-Byrne. His mother has also created artwork for his singles and his first album. Hozier created a video to explain the cover art on his Youtube channel, but it captures the gloominess of the album's content and has an “end of times” feel to it.  Hozier's work tends to cover difficult topics in gorgeous ways and this cover art perfectly reflects that: a beautiful image that was difficult to capture. It depicts a world submerged in dark water with all of his belongings scattered about and floating by while he continues to stay in place. I could honestly look at this cover for hours. 

— Jillian Turner

HAIM, Women in Music Pt. III (2021)

HAIM's Women in Music Pt. III album cover was taken behind the counter at Canter's Deli in Los Angeles. This was actually one of the places where the sisters did one of their first gigs EVER. Paul Thomas Anderson took this picture of the sisters, and he's also the director of many of their music videos. Aside from the fact that I absolutely LOVE this album, I feel oddly connected to the album cover because I grew up going to this deli. It's cool to see them incorporate a piece of their childhood/LA into this album cover. It's not often that you have the chance to be photographed with a backdrop of hanging sausages…

—Caitlyn Halfon

Bon Iver, Bon Iver (2011)

Commissioned by native Wisconsinite Gregory Euclide, the cover of Bon Iver's self-titled album is a beautiful piece of art representative of the musical works included in the album. Depicting similar themes to that of the album it graces, Euclide's artwork shows transformation through both the use of lush and dying landscapes in the painting, and his process of creation, in which he exclusively used melting snow in place of regular water. Just like Iver's work, the piece is centered in nature, with its inspiration in the  Midwestern outdoors, and its incorporation of real pieces of nature. Unbeknownst to casual viewers, this art is 3-dimensional, incorporating tiny styrofoam balls, ripped and peeling paper, tree branches, and pine cones found in Bon Iver's area of Wisconsin. All of these factors contribute to a cover that's just as natural as its inspiration. A final ode to Iver comes in the form of the small cabin in the center, which is not a reference to the legend of Bon Iver writing his debut album in a Wisconsin cabin, but rather a representation of themes of remoteness and isolation which appear throughout Bon Iver. Standalone the cover acts as a beautiful piece of artwork; my vinyl copy of Bon Iver doubles as statement decor in my hometown bedroom. 

Lily Spanbauer 

Steal This Double Album by The Coup (1998)

I like this album cover because I think it demonstrates the creativity and cleverness of The Coup. Their music is not only catchy, but deeply descriptive of issues within our society like racism, corruption, poverty, and police brutality. Boots Riley (the man on the cover) reaching through the barcode makes it look like he is behind bars, which is symbolic of the various kinds of imprisonment discussed in this album and their music in general. The Coup is a fantastic group.

Emma Rose Sonnenburg

Hope Tala, Girl Eats Sun (2020) 

The art was made by Stephen Gibb. Famously known for his attention to detail, he conjured up a conglomeration of images that each of the album's songs sparked in his head. The psychedelic, pop-art style includes a portrait of Hope Tala herself, as she is the girl eating the sun. This album cover is surrealist and Gibb provides no explanation of any symbolism, leaving this to the audience's interpretation. It depicts the title of the album where a girl eats the sun but goes beyond that to create a little world in which objects and animals are distorted beyond their reality. The color scheme creates a psychologically reviving feeling, yet there is a juxtaposition with the distortion and sadness of other objects. It is very scenic and detailed with every object having differing expressions. From a distance, it is a beautiful album cover but it can be picked apart at a microscopic level. It's so out of context yet cohesive, making it a remarkable album cover.

— Karla Ponce

Cage the Elephant, Unpeeled (2017)

Cage the Elephant's second live album Unpeeled is graced by some of my favorite cover art. It depicts a woman, whose tongue is reaching down towards a sliced blood orange that askewed on the top of a knife. Above her, a blue translucent hand, dripping in metallic liquid reaches down towards the same sliced fruit. The image saturation, contrast and shadows are enhanced, drawing attention to the orange and the woman's eyes. Yet, the image is offset, skewed to the bottom left corner of the album and bordered by lighter beige. The dark, borderline seductive, image is packaged and cornered, creating a contrast that forces you to examine it even closer. Upon doing so, you notice that the woman's hair grazes just past her bare shoulders and that the orange slice has a delicate hole that's perfectly centered. It's the perfect picture to pin onto bedroom walls and print onto overpriced tee shirts. It's edgy and indie and intimate—almost dangerously so, all at once. The point is, it's a perfect album cover. Especially for a live Cage the Elephant record. It captures how, when performed live, the songs are vulnerable, raw and alluring. The vocals, like the cover art, like the bare shoulder, the sliced orange and the sharp contrast of light and dark are: Unpeeled. 

Ria Dhingra

Plastic Ono Band, Self-Titled

Shot casually with a consumer-grade Instamatic camera on Lennon's Tittenhurst estate, the artwork for Plastic Ono Band is perfectly understated. This album came out in 1970, only months after the breakup of the Beatles, a time when the whole world was eagerly awaiting the solo releases of the members. However, Lennon never let the pressure get to him, instead releasing the most stripped-back and raw album of his entire solo career. The serene blend of green leaves and golden sunlight combined with zen John and Yoko serves as a perfect contrast to the gritty and revealing nature of this album, showing us just how cathartic this album was for John.

—Ian Johnson

So!YoON!, So!YoON! (2019)

The debut album cover of So!YoON! by artist Hwang So-yoon, better known as So!YoON!, perfectly encompasses the vibe of the album- weird, experimental and one-of-a-kind. Based on Australian artist Patricia Piccinini's sculpture “The Rookie.”, the cover art is immediately recognizable and memorable. Before I was even familiar with So!YoON!'s work, I remember returning to the album countless times for the uncanny, roly poly-like creature on the cover. As a whole, So!YoON! Is an artist that defies genres and bends the boundaries of music, and I believe that this cover art perfectly encapsulates that. 

Saffron Mears

Elyse Weinberg, Elyse (1969) 

You can find practically nothing online about the art for Elyse Weinberg's album, Elyse. Its meaning is a mystery, which is partially what makes this one of my favorite album covers of all time. I find myself often returning to this psychedelic folk album and not just for the music. Every time I look at the cover I find a new element that captures my attention. The enigmatic characters the album cover features are the perfect blend of being both disarming and distressing (all depending on your interpretation), perfectly encapsulating the sad yet hopeful tone of this album. 

— Rory Sterling

Justice, Cross (2007) 

Justice - Cross (2007).jpg

When designing the art behind Justice prior to their first release, Ed Banger Records art director So Me wanted to design the band's logo around the ‘T' in their name. After lots of consideration, So Me and bandmates Gaspard Augé and Xavier de Rosnay, both of whom had graphic design backgrounds, settled on a cross. The iconography was first used on their debut ep Waters of Nazareth, but the symbol didn't hit its stride until the band decided to use a massive white light-up cross as the background for one of their DJ sets. It was a massive hit. Appearing on every one of their releases following that fateful set, the motif has become analogous with Justice. On their debut album, the band's iconography is at its peak. Originally released as a self-titled debut, the cross on the cover became so synonymous with the album, that the album's name was officially changed to Cross. Simple, yet effective, the symbol tells listeners exactly what to expect when listening to their music. Throughout the album, Cross is littered with religious symbolism throughout its tracklist. “Genesis,” “Let there be Light,” and “Waters of Nazareth” all reference various phrases and books taken from the Bible. Beyond track names, the production throughout Cross is littered with sounds you might hear in a church, drawing upon a very unique patchwork of disco, funk, electronic, and classical music. On the opening track, “Genesis,” deep, booming organs clash with the otherwise blunt electronic sound of the track. With a motif as universal as a cross, it would be hard to successfully change what someone thinks of when they see the icon. Cross successfully did so. 

— Quentin Holle