Reviews

Cloak and Cipher

Author: Michael Katzif
12/14/2010 | NPR.org | www.npr.org | Feature
I'd struggle to find too many friends these days who think much about album covers, let alone actually name a favorite. For most, music comes to us in digital form rather than a physical one, and rarely do we see our collections as anything more than a list of songs on a screen. I used to walk the narrow aisles of music stores, scanning over the rows and rows of CDs, and if some image jumped out, that could be just enough to entice me to find out what was inside.
best music of 2010

The size of the CD has already marginalized the power of record covers, at least compared to the LP. So now that so much music lives in digital formats, and now that album art is so often relegated to tiny thumbnails on our phones and blogs, what role do album covers serve in 2010?

Still, though I'm hardly what you'd call an expert when it comes to design, covers remain crucial in terms of how I select a piece of music. I still regularly scroll through iTunes to see what I'm in the mood to listen to. But more importantly, the best art sets a tone for how we visually imagine the music in our minds. Sometimes the album art is a perfect fit; other times it's really not. It can try to make a provocative statement, or just be an evocative image that invites you in. Or it can just be an excellent example of photo composition and design.

Here are 10 of my favorite album covers of 2010, in no particular order.

Land Of Talk, Cloak And Cipher
Between the anonymity of the figure or the lettering that appears to fade away into the background, Land of Talk's cover establishes a feeling of being lost and directionless, a theme touched upon in Elizabeth Powell's songs. It's a painting that invites questions about who we are and what makes us different from everyone else, but it's also just a beautiful and distinct image that grabs our eye.