Editor's Picks: James Cartwright on this year's best record sleeve designs

19 December 2014

Unlike most music-based list features this selection of the best records of 2014 has nothing at all to do with the tunes. It’s simply a list of some of my favourite sleeves to appear on the site, based purely on their aesthetics. In some cases the music etched into the vinyl is straight-up terrible, but cast your acoustic prejudices to one side for the time being and get ready to appreciate some seriously slick sleeve design.

Three words: Marbled, psychedelic, vinyl. Tells you all you really need to know about this little number from Husbandmen. The die-cut triangles are a nice touch too but who wouldn’t want this soupy sea of colour spinning like a centrifugal lava lamp on their turntable?

Rob Hunter’s an It’s Nice That favourite and we’ve commissioned him in Printed Pages this year too, but his work on Babe’s debut album Vollery Flighty is perhaps my favourite thing he’s produced this year (and he’s produced some AWESOME stuff). Rob took over the art direction of the entire album launch, from the painterly album art to a series of surreal music videos for each single. I’ve looked at this red and yellow torso probably hundreds of times this year and I’m still enjoying its simple beauty.

Sleeve design for a band as well-known and respected as The XX must be a bit of a dream commission, albeit you’re guaranteed to have the strict parameters of a huge die-cut X to work around. Davy Evans’ organic. abstract patterns work perfectly within this typographic framework, turning that giant X into a portal to a chromatic world that’s engaging and arresting. Even though I’m bored to tears of hearing The XX played in every cafe or club across the world, I think I’d probably pick this release up for the artwork alone.

I can’t read Non-Format’s custom type treatment for Amy Kohn’s PlexiLusso to the point that I initially thought Amy’s name was just an ambiguous symbol decorating the right-hand side of the sleeve. But the combination of that illegible type and the other-worldly typography make a package that’s transportive, alluding to a musical quality that’s gentle and surreal.

Lucas Donaud has produced some stunning sleeves for a selection of bands whose music I adore, but I confess I’ve never listened to Strange Hands before. In this case it’s the combination of intoxicatingly surreal collage and coloured vinyl that appears to have been marked by felt-tips that won me over – plus I’m confident that Lucas only ever makes work for bands with great tunes, so this must be a hit.

And finally, any round-up of the year’s best record sleeves would be incomplete without a mention of Leif Podhajsky. This year he took on the creative direction for Kelis’ latest release, Food, ditching his usual kaleidoscopic vernacular for a bold typographic treatment. There’s still a nod to his love of all things patterned on the vinyl itself, but the sleeve is a much more sober affair than we’re used to. Overlaying the album name on the artist’s face might not seem like that bold a move, but the result is one of the most striking we’ve seen in record stores recently, and demonstrates a real confidence to move away from Leif’s usual tried-and-tested style.

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About the Author

James Cartwright

James started out as an intern in 2011 and came back in summer of 2012 to work online and latterly as Print Editor, before leaving in May 2015.

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