(Check out yesterday’s post for the Best Album Art of 2012)
Once again we return with our unbiased and definitive (just ask us) music review of 2012: The Year in Packaging. Like your friends, we have batched them into best and worst, and many of you will have confused the two. You know the drill cats and kittens – several sites provide some half-ass version of this and then we layeth the smacketh downeth like our step-sister’s life depended on it for the fifth year and counting. (Which is to say that we care waaaaay more than they do, but let’s not get carried away like it’s a blood relative or anything.)
This will run much like the usual best and worst listings (and terribly similar to the last five years) but first we need a few ground rules. I will be judging covers based on expectations and possibilities as much as – if not more than – basic aesthetics. This means if you are a pop songstress and you produced a cover with your big ol’ airbrushed yap on the cover with scripty type and filigrees or you are a Top 40 rapper with a tough looking photo of you with your shirt off and bling to the gills draped all over the place – well, of course you did – and Merry Christmas, as I have left a pass under the tree for you.
If it universally sucks then I won’t waste my time mentioning it here either (this especially applies to fading stars this year with hokey covers – always rife with poor life decisions… or Taylor Swift – who earns our undying devotion for acting like a male cockrocker from the 70’s by bedding every movie star she wants, as well as American royalty via the Kennedys, and just strutting backstage and having any boy (band) toy that she pleases, writing smash pop hits about it all the while. Who cares about the cover of your record when you have a massive penis like that. And if your name includes the word “Killer,” I will just leave well enough alone, no matter how bad your sleeves are. Unless you are “The” Killers, because those guys are leather pants wearing pussies.
If you are a dead serious indie rock band – you might not fare as well… This is for items worthy of discussion only and to shame those that should know better and praise the proud few.
We are splitting this holiday fun into a two posts to spread the joy so the Besties were the red hot, just back from the club, 24 hour romp in the sack (and kitchen and hallway and your roommate’s bed and…) while this list reveals the harsh reality that all of the painkillers from your knee surgery are missing from the medicine cabinet and your couch smells like urine and you think that girl that just left your group house in your roommate’s Volvo might be your third cousin.
So yeah – without further ado, bring out the WORSTies:
Overlooking the overwhelming “blah” of so many covers this year, that we grumbled about yesterday, we continued to see folks commit some photoshop atrocities, as well as find a way to make terrible graphics from the 1980’s even worse on their second pass. Somehow, an irony free use of ugly cheese for the very sake of it took hold with today’s kids. Perhaps the ironic part is that they think it is being used ironically, as opposed to just being shit. I stand here before you admitting that I just don’t know. But I do know shit when I smell it.
With that in mind, let’s take a big whiff and hand out the hankies to wipe up the tears and cover our noses.
Has any band managed to reach such great musical heights while disappointing on such a grand scale visually as Animal Collective? If I put every ounce of my being into making a cover as terrible as is physically possible, I would still be miles away from this. It’s almost incomprehensible, yet we would all be shocked if they produced anything less. This is the only band that demands that I buy their records digitally.
The only thing saving Animal Collective from taking the crown this year is the one two punch delivered by WHY? Not one, but two mind-blowingly bad record covers, adorned by two of the worst paintings ever created. One can only hope both punches left your eyes so swollen that you can no longer see this nonsense.
People are split on the St.Vincent and David Byrne artwork, but I think a lot of that comes from Byrne’s years of excellence in this regard, a lot of it in tandem with uber talent Stefan Sagmeister. This time, he is left with art director Noah Wall and six other people to assemble the art, and this is instantly the visual low point in his illustrious catalog. I can confirm that it is on this list with good reason, so don’t let a Grammy fool you if they win one based on past reputation.
There was also a movement towards really horrible juvenile pencil drawings of fantasy creatures this year. Just edging out Thee Oh Sees in this regard is the Screaming Females, which instantly makes me not want to hear this record, which we all know is a shame from their live appearances here in DC.
Public Image Limited returned and did no harm to their musical legacy. Well, no more so than the rap portions of those 90’s records. As for their visual legacy, well…
Black Moth Super Rainbow managed to make an ugly visual that is neither jarring, nor disturbing, or even funny, in any way whatsoever. It’s just crap. Not as easy as it looks.
This Frank Ocean record should be a landmark release, yet it has the most generic sleeve possible, with hokey references to the name and poor font choices. Let me tell all of you aspiring designers one thing, when your entire cover is basically two fonts and a flat color, you had better get the two fonts right. Biggest missed opportunity of the year.
The only sleeve to do less with fewer elements is the one for the new Spiritualized. Sometimes these things write themselves.
Winner for weakest use of clip art (a hotly contested category) this year goes hands down Allo Darlin’ and their windmills. A band known for their weak sleeves, they managed to stay graphic and reach new lows. Well done.
Worse use of art, color, design and just plain everything goes to the everlasting weakness that is the Window Twins cover. Horrible in any era.
And the most disappointing cover of the year may be a bit of a surprise, as I think it is actually well designed in part BUT it couldn’t be further off in promoting or connecting to the music within. The sleeve for Grimes could have been a badass new Sacred Bones record, but as a wrapping for the glitchwave dancepop inside, it is a mess. Plus that giant italic “V” in Visions makes me nuts. Kern that shit yo. And if you think I am off base or being a dick, well, you may be right, but check out the back cover and the stretched justified type and you will see how right I am.
A few more awards to dish out. That 80’s cheese that permeates far too many covers was everywhere, but it particularly soured perfectly good records just a little for me from Mac DeMarco and Tops, and made me scratch my head at Iamsu. Alabama Shakes managed to look nothing like they sound, except for being a bland sleeve. Cat Power disappointed on all ends and Japandroids continued their insistence on sticking to the worst graphic system ever devised by a band that thinks it is the most awesome graphic system ever devised by a band. You should also assume that if Dinosaur Jr. released a record this year (they did!) that I hated the cover illustration. J. and Lou and Murph are clearly gunning for our Worstie Hall of Fame.
Special attention should be given to The Darkness for going so ridiculously over the top with their bad sleeve that it borders on good. Referencing decades of questionably sticky sleeves earns you a bonus point in these quarters as well.
I would also like to take a moment to mourn the passing of the record label Absolutely Kosher. They gave us a ton of amazing music, and their insistence that their artists have free reign over their designs ensured a steady number of participants in this column. It’s the loss of the music that I will miss the most.
Stay horrible until next year y’all. xoxo
John Foster owns his very own design firm, Bad People Good Things, and he writes lots of books – you should own a pile! “New Masters of Poster Design: Volume Two” is out now for holiday gift giving, just in time to show your loved ones how highbrow you are. You can also feel free to pop over to his site or faceplace and make fun of his music packaging design. He deserves it.