Most people will probably know Manuel Sepulveda for his work as Optigram, the name under which he designed pretty much every record sleeve put out by Hyperdub. That body of work clearly overshadowed his other operations, including co-founding and running the Citinite label for more than a decade. Today marks the 10th anniversary of their first release and yet it’s a sad day, since they decided to pull the plug and call it “goodnite”.
There’s a new website that let’s you revisit (or discover)twenty releases from the last decade, not all of them actually realised. Some of the unreleased music can be listened to on this special mixtape.
Jimmy Edgar – Hot Raw Sex (Complexxion remix)
Jesse Saunders – On & On (unreleased 1984 remix)
Lil’ Kenny – Straight to Your Head
Mynk Rychardz – Human Robots (Gosubs night dub)
Lil’ Kenny – Cyberlove
Robert O’Dell – Love Me… Can You Hear Me?
Gosub – Slave to You
Robert O’Dell – Miles & Miles
Gosub – Black Nova (AUX 88 remix)
Mynk Rychardz – Blastin
Complexxion – Intro 7
JLin – 808
JLin – Downtown
Rozzi Daime – Dirty Illusions
Mynk Rychardz – Hang Glyde
And if that ain’t enough, make sure to check Manuel’s radio show from last year, in which he played some more lost music from the label.
Farewell, Citinite. You will be missed!
Last week, we posted Optigram’s selection for the best record covers of 2012, which was a great way to discover some sleeves unknown to me (and maybe you.) Naturally, there were some overlaps, most notably Jam City or Andy Stott (the latter which I included anyway), but fortunately I have collected enough over the year to come up with a full article.
Old Apparatus – Derren (Sullen Tone)
Old Apparatus released four EPs in 2012, all of them following a similar style in their artwork. My favourite is pictured above, a menacing image of some kind of man machine. One of the qualities that makes it so appealing to me is the golden metallic texture you will only get to see on the physical release.
In Aeternam Vale – D.U.B. (Minimal Wave)
In recent years, we’ve seen artists hiding behind masks to try and avoid the cult of personality, preferring their audience to be interested in their art, not the artist. But beyond mystification, masks also carry a visual quality, as exemplified by the tribal looks of last couple of SBTRKT sleeves. Pictured above is the cover for Dust Under Brightness (D.U.B.), one a collections of remastered songs by French In Aeternam Vale. Painting by Eamon Ore-Giron.
Jacques Green – Ready (3024)
Redshape – Throw In Dirt / The Land (3024)
Jon Convex – Lied To Be Loved (3024)
Jeroen Erosie has been in my book for some time now. I love his approach to street art, the flow of his lines, the use of colour. He’s been responsible all the sleeves for Martyn’s 3024 label, so I’m confident his artwork will make it in my list for years to come.
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love)
Despite it’s classic look, I didn’t expect the picture above to be an old photograph. You have to look closer at the imperfections, like the ripples around the head of the diver, to reveal traces of its age. Photographer Otto Bettmann has been responsible for one of the most iconic shots in the history of the medium, sold on postcards and at IKEA stores around the world, yet his name is relatively unknown. Being a fan the aesthetics in Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, this cover is an easy favourite.
fLako – Eclosure (Five Easy Pieces)
Pictures of nature, forests in particular, or the colour green alone easily win my sympathy, as you can see in the following series of three. The cover for fLako‘s most recent EP is one of my favourites of the year. Beside the visual beauty, it makes you think about the motif and the mysticism for some time. Artwork by Clemens Fantur.
Slugabed – Time Team (Ninja Tune)
I remember seeing the sleeve for Slugabed’s debut album on some worst-artwork-of-the-year lists. I can understand that people are growing tired of the triangle in general, it has been one of the most used geometric shapes in recent years, but that doesn’t mean they make bad covers per se. I’ve been thinking about this one for quite some time, trying to figure out if this was done digitally or if it’s simply a mirror put up on a meadow. Also, it looks like the gateway to the Black Lodge to me, and that speaks to the Twin Peaks fan in me. Artwork by Francisco Infante-Arana.
Gerry Read – Jummy (Fourth Wave)
Thanks to Google Earth and the likes, it’s seems so everyday to look at the earth from space. I don’t even like the typography too much, yet there’s something about this that made me include the record.
DVA – Fly Juice (Hyperdub)
Record sleeves designed by Optigram‘s have impressed me for some time now, especially his work for DVA’s last couple of records.
Nick Edwards – Plekzationz (Editions Mego)
Artwork by Hollis
Jimmy Edgar – Sex Drive (Hotflush)
It’s funny, while Jimmy Edgars’ album would’ve easily made it on my list for the worst covers of the year (if I made one), I’m quite fond of the sleeves of his recent EPs. I like the eighties-inspired use of gradients and the (possible) hommage to that Grace Jones Citroën ad and some of her own record covers. Airbrush by Jimmy Edgar.
Greeen Linez – Things that fade (Diskotopia)
Same as above: the use of gradients and the typography appeal to me. Artwork by Shaw (Neithercorp)
How about a little bonus round? I buy a lot of records and not all of them are new, actually it’s quite the opposite. Here are two more records I bought last year that I also love for their looks:
Soft Machine – Bundles (Harvest, 1975)
This is an unusual cover to say the least, but it got me thinking about it for some time: what makes a band put that in its record? The somewhat comforting, peaceful motif, the soft style of painting have probably to be seen in a Cold War context. There’s clearly something that made me remember Raymond Brigg’s When the Wind Blows, a comic book about an elderly couple living on the verge of nuclear war. Artwork by Reg Cartwright.
Liquid Liquid – Slip in and out of Phenomenon (Domino, 2008)
The cover for this greatest hits compilation seems to capture the spirit of the post-punk, no-wave hey-days of New York, which is exactly what you’ll find on this record. Artwork by Richard McGuire.
Feel invited to (re)visit last year’s selection by Give Up Art and Colectivo Futuro or go back even further in time!
In the last couple of years, we asked friends and designers we admire to put together a selection of their favourite record sleeves. Previous editions were curated by Stuart Hammersley (Give Up Art), Nitzan Hermon (Edit, Fineart) or Colectivo Futuro, but this year we were a bit hesitant seeking out a curator. We are most honoured that Manuel Sepulveda (aka Optigram) was interested and availaible on such short notice. Known for his countless designs for Hyperdub and more recently Planet Mu and Bleep, Manuel build up an impressive body of work in the last couple of years, regularly ending up in many best-of selections himself. But let’s hear (and see) it from the man himself.
I’m glad I was asked to make this list as it made me do a bit of extra research into what had been produced this year – I found about half a dozen great sleeves that I’d never seen before. Once I’d finished putting this list together it was nice to see that good covers were coming from a variety of different media still, be it photography (straight, manipulated and collage), illustration (traditional media and computer-assisted), 3D computer renders (realistic and surrealistic), or just straight-up graphics.
I’ve seen a few “best sleeves of the year” lists recently on some music sites and they seem to be focused around albums that have gotten good reviews; there seems to have been an inability to separate good music from the sleeve it comes in, with some terrible sleeves being lauded just because the album was great, and conversely some great sleeves getting overlooked because the album got a poor review. With the exception of seven of the albums I actually have no idea what the music even sounds like from the following list, and of those seven I only like four of them. These are simply covers that I thought were interesting and well executed.
One other thing, I’m not particularly interested in packaging, so even though there were some albums which had great packaging design (like Cave Painting’s Votive Life) they haven’t made this list. I believe that a strong image is by far the most important thing. Clever printing and fancy folding bits of paper just don’t move me.
Sakanaction – Yoru no Odoriko (Victor Music)
Anyone interested in cover design should remember to look beyond European and American releases. It’s obviously much harder to come across great design from Japan or Brazil or wherever if the albums aren’t getting reviewed by the English-speaking press, but it can be worth it.
Madegg – Tempera (flau)
The triangle, which was all pervasive as a motif in the previous couple of years, seemed to have pretty much disappeared in 2012. You can still count on the circle though. Artwork by Hiroshi Sato.
Ital – Hive Mind (Planet Mu)
Artwork by Sam Chirnside
CFCF – Exercises (Paper Bag)
Photography by Ken Schwarz
The XX – Coexist (Young Turks)
It says someting about the strength of The XX brand that a cover with just a solitary X can be recognised as a release by them. Artwork by Phil Lee.
Robert Glasper Experiment – Black Radio (Blue Note)
The headshot is a common staple of the album cover, but they can be really uninteresting, so I think it’s important (if possible) to try and do something unusual with it. Artwork by Giuliyani.
Young Magic – Melt (Carpark Records)
Artwork by Leif Podhajsky
Lorn – Ask the Dust (Ninja Tune)
Artwork by Jesse Auersalo
DVA – Pretty Ugly (Hyperdub)
I did a few album sleeves this year, and even though I’m pleased with most of them, particularly the albums by LV and Traxman, and Lion by Harmonic 313, I think the best cover I did was probably released at the start of the year. Artwork by Optigram.
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city (Aftermath Entertainment)
Sometimes an uncrafted image just works perfectly.
Andy Stott – Luxury Problems (Modern Love)
If I didn’t know any better I’d have said this was a cover for an indie band from the 80s, like The Smiths. Photography by Otto Bettmann.
Django Django – Django Django (Because Music)
Artwork possibly by Dave Maclean
Horseback – Half Blood (Relapse Records)
I find it hard to specifically make out what this is a drawing of, and maybe that’s why it appeals to me so much – the mystery of the macabre. Artwork by Denis Forkas Kostromitin.
Lone – Galaxy Garden (R&S)
Artwork by Konx-Om-Pax
Jam City – Classical Curves (Night Slugs)
If I had to select the best cover of the year it would probably be this one for Jam City by Sina Taherkhani. It matched the music perfectly.
The Darkness – Hot Cakes (Wind-Up)
I know it’s cheesy and a bit sexist but that’s obviously the point, and the painter did it well. It’s also worth pointing out how serious most cover design is (and has been for several years) so it’s good to occasionally see humour in album design. It’s just a shame that humour seems to only be seen on rock albums these days – I can’t remember the last electronic/dance cover that made me laugh. Painting by Diego Gravinese.
Laurel Halo – Quarantine (Hyperdub)
What am I saying, this one was funny too. I’m not being immodest and putting a second sleeve of mine in this list – although I put this together, it was a painting by Makoto Aida that Laurel herself chose. I was just the hired help.
Spoek Mathambo – Father Creeper (Sub Pop)
I love that this evokes some of those classic paintings that adorned the covers of Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis albums in the early 70s. Artwork by Daniel Anum Jasper.
Robot Koch – Cosmic Waves (Project: Mooncircle)
Artwork by Fefe Talavera
The Rolling Stones – GRRR! (ABKCO)
What I liked most about this was the idea that after more than 40 years the owner of those famous lips (designed by John Pasche in 1970) was finally revealed. Painting by Walton Ford.
If you want to find out a bit more about Optigram, make sure to visit the website or browse the discography. Manuel’s personal work recently got its own website, Werk (Not Work), and a Twitter account.
Unlike last year, I kept some of my favourite artworks of last year in a special folder. I will present my selection in a post coming next week.
Following the first part curated by Colectivo Futuro, it’s Stuart Hammersley of GiveUpArt taken over the second. The London-based graphic design studio was founded in 2006 and since then helped shaping the face of dubstep – from the logos and identities of Rinse and Tempa, including cover artworks including both debuts from Skream and Benga, or my favourite – the entire Apple Pips catalogue. Further examples of GiveUpArt’s work can be found here, here and here.
Below you can find ten of Stuart’s favourite artworks from 2011, and I’m sure many of you will agree on his selection. Let me point out that it’s worth clicking the images, as they sometimes reveal a different view!
Rustie – Glass Swords (Warp)
Reminds me of a Roger Dean prog cover – crossed with an eighties Athena art – in a ‘good’ way… Designed by the very talented Australian Jonathan Zawanda
Toddla T – Cherry Picking (Ninja Tune)
I think is a limited editon 12″ released on record store day this year. A lovely idea – a screenprinted clear plastic sleeve combined with some gorgeous red vinyl makes a sexy cherry. Designed by Peter & Paul in Sheffield… Clever sods. : )
Julio Bashmore – Batty Knee Dance (3024)
Addison Groove – It’s Got Me / Minutes Of Funk (3024)
Jon Convex – Convexations EP (3024)
Really liked the last few 3024 12″ house sleeves from Erosie – a great colourful mess of pattern and texture – that manages to look individual yet easily recognisable at the same time as a 3024 release.
Balam Acab – Wander / Wonder (Tri Angle)
I just love the simplicity and mystery of this cover shot… [photo by Emmette Murkett]
Blues Control & Laraaji – FRKYS Vol. 8 (Rvng Intl.)
Borden, Ferraro, Godin, Halo, Lopatin – Frkwys Vol. 07 (Rvng Intl.)
FRKWYS is a sister lable to RVNG records out of New York. This series started before last year, but they put out a couple of lovely sleeves in 2011. Tipped on single colour print on coloured paper stock, containing the track list and cover imagery – onto a leatherette’ style cover stock.. It has the feel of a private pressing, or a fanzine – and reminds me of single-colour photocopied flyers that I used to make for parties we put onwhen I was at college. By Will Work For Good from NY. Superb…
Jamie xx – Far Nearer / Beat For (Numbers)
You’ve just got to love a pink and red gradient… Nice play on the original minimalist artwork for his Gil Scott-Heron remix album. Well done Numbers… and hello to the Remote Location boys!
Massimiliano Pagliara – Focus For Infinity (Live At Robert Johnson)
Love the type-free cover photography of rocks and minerals – feels like a shot from an old encyclopaedia. [artwork by Michael Satter & Sandra Doeller]
Matthewdavid – International EP (Brainfeeder)
Cover image looks like it’s some VHS video feedback shot from a tv screen… That analogue lo-fi oddness matches perfectly the woozy, hazy sounds that Matthew makes… This EP and the album he realeased as well was one of my highlights of 2011. Matthew’s a really great guy.. (Check his label Leaving Records, too)
Scratcha DVA – Madness (Hyperdub)
Not sure who’s designed this cover for Scratcha‘s latest EP on Hyperdub. But I love the Weird, disorientating, psyche-y colours… [artwork by Optigram]
“Bleep:100 Tracks 2011 (Bleep)
A bit of a shameless plug I’m afraid (sorry!) – and not technically a sleeve design as such… Bleep approached us to design the packaging for their digital compilation of the 100 best tracks of the year. Instead of just purchasing a download code for a Zip file – we made a package that you would receive or could buy as a gift. It comprised of a fold out poster with a unique download code on it, that came in a recycled card wallet stamped with clear foil text details. The poster contained loads of data that Bleep had collected from their site over the year – best seeling tunes, most searched for artists, most popular labels and so on.. so the design derived from all of this data that was presented in a (to my mind at least!) beautiful way.
I hope you enjoyed this feature! For more of this, feel invited to (re)visit last year‘s features, the Cover Culture blog, and for vintage records Project Thirty-Three is always worth a visit. See you next year!
Back in 2010, I posted some of my favourite covers of that year (well, it was only for the first half) and intended to do the same for each year. When it comes to 2011, I haven’t really made up my mind. What I noticed though is that triangles were still strong and baby photos became a new thing (2562, Samiyam or Lil Wayne etc.)
Also like last year I wanted to ask some people whose opinion I respect for their selection. The first part this year comes from Colectivo Futuro, a Spanish blog about arts and culture.
Kode9 & The Spaceape – Black Sun (Hyperdub)
We really love all of Optigram‘s work for Hyperdub, we actually made a feature on his work recently. we chose this particular cover because it’s so different compared to his usual geometric patterns, it fits the music on the album nicely and the LP version is just a beautiful looking item.
Bon Iver – Bon Iver, Bon Iver (Jagjaguwar)
This is a beautiful looking record with paintings by Gregory Euclide. There’s a pretty good interview with the artist on Pitchfork.
SBTRKT – SBTRKT (Young Turks)
the mask design for this cover was done by A Hidden Place. Also, we really love how SBTRKT has tied in their artwork to their live shows giving them a very recognizable image.
Various – SMM: Context (Ghostly)
Michael Cina never fails to impress us, his range of works is absolutely impressive. His cover for Ghostly‘s experimental compilation series is a perfect companion for the music found inside. we also recommend checking out his blog for features on graphic design and other artforms.
Kuedo – Severant (Planet Mu)
Machinedrum – Room(s) (Planet Mu)
We are suckers for good illustration and this year Planet Mu delivered some really cool ones, our two favorites were the Severant cover by fashion illustrator Anna Higgie and the Room(s) cover by LuckyMe.
Virgo Four – Resurrection (Rush Hour)
Morphosis – What Have We Learned (Delsin)
Dutch labels Rush Hour and Delsin provided two of our favorite covers this year by taking a very simple, typographic approach on the Virgo Four Resurrection box set by Marco Sterk, and Morphosis’ What Have We Learned by Tankboys.
Ezekiel Honig – Folding In On Itself (Type)
We usually love most of Type‘s artworks, but this one in particular was a very special one given that it was done by Ezekiel Honig himself. The hazy photograph chosen is a perfect fit for the laid back, abstract music found inside.
Roman Flügel – Fatty Folders (Dial)
Dial‘s artwork is usually very austere and cold, but for Roman Flügel’s album Fatty Folders they went with a different approach by using a colorful photograph instead, while keeping their minimal design spirit intact.
The second part will be curated by GiveUpArt and should be online in the next couple of days, keep an eye out for that one!
Always interested in the artwork that packages the music, I have collected some record covers I particularly liked in the first half of 2010. These are not necessarily records I listen to or write about, in fact I’ve included some I’m not even familiar with, stuff I came across through newsletters and some other websites. Most of them came out this year, with some exceptions from 2009.
As you can see, I’m fully backing current trends like triangles, pattern-based designs or symmetric compositions.
Some of the artists responsible for the artwork shown above: Andy Gilmore (Warp), Erosie (3024), GiveUpArt (Tempa, Rinse, Apple Pips), Optigram (Hyperdub), Donal Thornton (Onra), Future Classic Design (Future Classic), James Joyce and of course The Designers Republic. If you can help with those I missed, please leave a comment.
Watch out for the second part of this post, in which Dynooo (Mac Fly) and Nitzan Hermon (Fine Art Recordings) pick their favourites.