Brain Fizz :: Best album art of 2011

Words: Gabriel Jasmin

I’m one of those (like you, I’d guess) who enjoy physical releases, LPs and tapes and CDs and stuff. So, I wanted to take some time to look back on the past 12 months and appoint myself an expert on the matter to pick out the 15 best album covers out of many tens of thousands. As with any list, of course, it is entirely subjective and for sure I’ve missed out on some amazing and beautiful 2011 releases. That said, here’s what caught my eye this year, ordered alphabetically. Enjoy!

Air Sign – “In Search of…”

A bizarre ode to Leonard Nimoy’s mystery TV doc, this cover enumerates some subjects scrutinized by the former USS Enterprise’s science officer. Strange aviators? Psychic detectives? The man who would not die? I know what I’m watching. Artwork letter-pressed with love by No Kings’ head imperial, Mr. Lee Noble.

Paul Ballance – World Wide Gas

It’s not every day that we get the pleasure of a lime green doodle depiction of a hairy ass and scrotum on a tape cover. More distressing yet, what’s with the phone number? And why does it read “24 hour passenger & delivery service, we accept Visa”? Do they deliver dirty neon green buttocks? Art by Corey Lunn, music by Paul Ballance, both are nicely raw and offbeat.

Dirty Beaches – Badlands

An elusive and obscure portrait of the man clouded in cigarette smoke, this shot brilliantly captures the essence of Dirty Beaches as lone journeyman. It’s a fleeting moment, very mysterious, eager to disappear in the blink of an eye. Gnarly and light, enigmatic black and white.

The Dreams – Morbido

This is such a cool statue. Strangely, at first I didn’t notice the baby she’s giving birth to, literally sliding out hands in the air. And I was blown away the moment I did, its petrified texture and her aching expression bridging ancient mythologies to The Dreams’ no wave tropicalia. I don’t really know why, but there’s something about this image and I always stare at it for the longest time.

Driphouse – Root 91

OK, so I’m quite bummed at how this scan turned out, and how I’m three years into a graphic design B.A. yet absolutely unable to make it look fine. Shouldn’t I be a Photoshop wizard by now? This tape looks awesome (not that you could tell), and the artwork is stamped onto nice, thick cover paper. No ink whatsoever. To my defense the rest of the Internet didn’t do much better scan-wise.

Duchess Says – In a Fung Day T

This cover depicts what I guess are meteors floating in the space-time continuum alongside some weird acronyms like “US ICC” and Russian text on the back, but no mention about the band’s name to be found anywhere (except inside the gatefold). A cryptic sleeve, screen-printed with extravagant fluorescent orange ink.

Inez Lightfoot / Je Suis le Petit Chevalier – Offering / Pannacotta

Picked this one out of the wild assortment of tapes released this year by the almighty Stunned Records (R.I.P.), with most of their 2011 catalog featuring intricate color pencil drawings of totally original psychedelic eye candy. This one resonated the most with my penchant for Matisse, but all could’ve made the list.

Julian Lynch – Buffalo Songs

Goaty Tapes went 110% special effects on this one, using textured paper, stamping and a fancy die-cut, yet manage to gracefully walk a tightrope and not fall into the traps of being overdone or cheesy. Dear Goaty, this is true J-card craftsmanship mastery. Also: This is a mighty nice collection of laid back bedroom instrumentals.

Sean McCann – Open Resolve

Yes, this is one blew me away at first sight. Keith Rankin is a collage cover art wizard, and this one is his best yet. But I expect major mindfuckery from his label Orange Milk Records over the next year. Stay tuned!

Bill Orcutt – How the Thing Sings

Wait, what to grasp from this rigidly aligned collection of multicoloured Stevie Ray Vaughn guitar picks? Perhaps a comment about what Bill Orcutt isn’t? An anti-portrait?

Peaking Lights – 936

Bright flashy psychedelia, vivid and vibrant, this record looks like a ’60s acid trip colliding with the insides of an analog TV set. Very different from anything else I’ve ever seen, and that’s too rare of a good thing.

Seziki Tetrasheaf / Quiet Evenings – Let’s Do Carpet Beach / Gold Coast

Trippy collab artwork made by all four members of the two duos featured on this split LP, and most of these folks are the masterminds behind tape labels who regularly produce some of the best artwork out there: David Toro and Jeffry Astin (Housecraft Records), and Grant and Rachel Evans (Hooker Vision). This record is the bomb and it’s no wonder, really.

Spare Death Icon – Survival

I’m no computer graphics fanatic, and CGI usually gives me the chills, but here’s a top-notch exception by Brenna Murphy of something innovative and beautifully unconventional produced with a shitty format. Better yet, check this bad trip of a video.

Thee Oh Sees – Castlemania

William Khein is the best and basically everything he touches makes my brain fizz with joy. See for yourself. Mixing comics and offbeat psychedelia, Castlemania is probably my favourite album cover of 2011.

Nate Young – Stay Asleep (Regression Vol. 2)

The big white border makes it so much better, like an art print instead of an album cover. Beautiful colors and strong imagery that brings to mind Dali’s skull.