Your humble missionaries don’t just love SF and Fantasy…we love music too. And we especially love it when these two worlds collide. We’ve run articles before about our favorite SF album cover art and turned up many of the usual suspects: Iron Maiden, Yes, Hawkwind, Molly Hatchet. But these albums all came out years…nay, decades…ago. People still make music-related art with an SF theme, don’t they?
To find out, we asked a deceptively tricky question: What is your favorite SF/Fantasy album cover of the last decade?
We asked San Antonio’s SF illuminati to wrack their brains and let us know what grabbed them in the oughts. We got some excellent feedback from the likes of John Picacio, Sanford Allen, Jeff from Hyperbubble, Mistah Pete, Paul Vaughn, René Guzman, Scott A. Cupp and Erik Bosse. While we’re showing ours, email us your favorites and if we get enough we’ll run a post in the weeks ahead with your favorites too.
John Picacio – Illustrator
Album Title: On Letting Go
Band: Circa Survive
Cover Artist: Esao Andrews
Album covers were such a fertile market for imaginative cover art when vinyl was in vogue. Once the CD package shrunk the image area, lush illustrated music packaging became an increasing rarity as band photos and designer cliches became the norm. It’s even more difficult to find illustrated music packaging this decade as mp3s dominate — even harder to find music art that captivates.
This one does it though. The art is by Esao Andrews for Circa Survive’s album, On Letting Go. The image made me stop in my tracks when I saw it. Beautiful, iconic, poignant and wow. Andrews has done more art for this band’s music packaging including their 2010 release Blue Sky Noise, which is another knockout image. I’ve been familiar with some of Andrews’ work for a couple of years, but I think these bits of music art are amongst his best works to date.
Paul Vaughn – Techno Geek
Album Title: To Be or Not
Band: Die Alten Maschinen with Gerald V. Casale of DEVO
Cover Artist: Adolf Lachman
How could I not pick up this album…well, download it really. Gerald Casale from DEVO (yes, my favorite band ever) teamed up with a Czech techno duo and garnished with a sweet robotic album cover by Czech comics artist Adolf Lachman. The pathos of the robot image matches the theme of the song To Be or Not – mechanical alienation in an organic world. Can a robot love? Are our creations simply collections of plastic bones with servo motor souls or are they more than these parts. This song is a beautiful modern twist on classic DEVO. While Mark Mothersbaugh is normally though of as the vocalist from DEVO, Casale’s voice is pure de-evolution. Listen to this track once or twice and you will be singing it for days…complete with a Czech accent. Lachman’s portrayal of the robot on the cover is sensitive without being maudlin. And the energy dome employed as a flower pot is a brilliant touch.
Jeff from Hyperbubble – Musician
Album Title: Pink + Green
Band: Venetian Snares
Cover Artist: Arnold Steiner - AS1 Projects, “Eferia” pony designed by Anna Sjöberg
The heavens burst open like a piñata filled with metallic orbs, rainbows and party balloons. My Little Clonies fly though the purple icing skies in Buck Rogers rocketships, surrounded by candy colored foliage, while spikey haired horsies sporting bad ass rock tattoos, legwarmers and cubist eyeballs frolic below, littering the electric green grass of fantasy land with syringes and cigarette butts.
Pretty much describes the music within.
Mistah Pete – Left Foot Red Video
Album Title: Metropolis – The Chase Suite
Band: Janelle Monáe
Cover Artist: ???
I recently read an article about all the things that the Age of the Internet has taken from us, and one of them was the concept of the album in general, and the concept album in particular. No one told Janelle Monáe about this. Her Metropolis – The Chase Suite is a sci-fi concept album that might’ve been made by Styx or the Alan Parsons Project, but for it being the most modern of hip-hop (produced by Big Boi of Outkast fame, and released on the once-and-future Puff Daddy’s label, Bad Boy Records). The Metropolis Suite is the story of Android #57821 (also known as Cindi Mayweather) who has fallen in love with a human and so is now scheduled for “immediate disassembly” (or so goes the creepily cheery-voiced intro to the album). The rest of the album is about her flight from bounty hunters and “droid control marshals” armed with “chainsaws and electro-daggers!” Yeah, pretty much as geeky as it sounds, but it’s incredibly fun, and Monáe’s voice ranges from Cyndi Lauper hiccups to the deep Gospel-growl of Sharon Jones.
It should also be mentioned that Monáe’s new album, The ArchAndroid continues the story, and also has a pretty cool cover, also pretty clearly inspired by a certain Fritz Lang classic silent film classic.
Scott A. Cupp – Author
Album Title: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
Band: The Flaming Lips
Artist: Wayne Coyne
This was an interesting challenge. I am officially an old fart and tend to listen more to the music of the 50‘s and 60’s than the current stuff. Not a total Phillistine, I do get some new music. One album which fits the topic at hand (ignoring the SF related soundtracks I got) was The Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, a “semi-concept” album from the oddest band to exit Oklahoma City in many years. I had heard the song “Do You Realize” in commercials with the big bunnies and weird stuff before I found me way to the album. I like much of it and don’t like other pieces. It’s a little to self-consciously arty in a spot or two, kind of like Yes on electronic drugs. The opening quartet of songs appears to be related giving YBTPR the semi-concept status. The album design and layout is credited to George Salisbury. I’m not sure that includes the cover art, which is wonderfully eerie featuring a young female warrior approaching a bizarre robot. I understand that this was to be the basis for a musical but that appears never to have happened. All in all a mixture of psychedelia, electronic, angst, and Oklahoma weirdness. Try it, you might like it.
Erik Bosse – Eyewash Pictures
Album Title: 25,000 Feet Per Second
Cover Artist: ???
There have been times when I’ll buy music because of the cover art. However, it’s a dodgy pursuit, as the music only rarely lives up to the overblown art work. If I see album art depicting, let’s say, flying purple chimps kidnapping a curvaceous she-astronaut under a three moon sky, I’m not going to be happy if the music turns out to be standard delta blues or some New Age pan flute ensemble. But the reverse also happens. When I pick up an album of classic space rock (Pressurehed, Farflung, Chrome, Faust, Hawkwind, Amon Düül, et al.), I demand art work showing, in high detail, something like, well, a planet exploding; a generously craniumed Homo futurien emerging from a UFO parked in present day Hyde Park; or, a gargantuan scorpion perched atop a Mayan pyramid holding a curvaceous she-astronaut in its pincers…under a three moon sky. And so I’m going to cheat here and nominate a wonderful piece of album art which appeared 15 years ago. The band is Farflung. They’re a bastion of traditional neo-space rock who are still making music. But their first album, 25,000 Feet Per Second, has this stellar (if I may) cover art which is so wonderfully retro it could have been cribbed from a pulp mag circa 1945. The best thing is, the music lives up to this wonderful illustration.
Sanford Allen – Author & Musician
Album Title: The Power to Believe
Band: King Crimson
Cover Artist: P.J. Crook
British surrealist painter P.J. CROOK’S cover to KING CRIMSON’S 2003 album shows a dystopian world that could be the near future, a dark steampunk fantasy or even (gasp!) the present day. Thronging masses wander the streets of a smoke-choked megacity while gas-masked soldiers with guard dogs ominously keep things in line. In the middle of the painting, a gas-masked nurse in Florence Nightingale garb delivers a naked child into the world. A messiah? An innocent not yet sullied by the place’s ugliness? Hell, the kid may even be stillborn. It’s all unclear. But the ambiguity and sense of mystery only add to the power of the image. Certainly, it’s a great match for this dark, heavy — yet occasionally uplifting — disk that is arguably the venerable experimental rock band’s best studio album since the early ‘80s. Bully for Crook and Crimson that it’s also one of the best SF-inspired album covers of recent years. Added San Antonio coolness: Crimson’s lineup on this disk includes Alamo City native Trey Gunn.
René A. Guzman - Geek Speak
Album Title: A Rush of Blood to the Head
Artist: Sølve Sundsbø
Say what you will about Coldplay, the whiny alt-soft rockers cranked out one very popular album in ’02 with one very unnerving image of a ghostlike figure cracking through a vector field or some such technological snapshot gone awry. Which, turns out, it is. Back in the late 1990s, Norwegian fashion photographer Sølve Sundsbø scanned a model wearing all-white makeup with a 3D scanning machine for the fashion mag Dazed and Confused. The model also had on a cape with a colored twill, which the computer couldn’t read so it spit the colors out as spikes. As for her chopped head, blame the machine again for only scanning in 30 centimeter segments. None of which mattered since Dazed & Confused ran the image anyway. Later, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin saw the image and asked Sundsbø if the band could use it for their second album. Sundsbø not only agreed but even suggested scanning the band’s heads to use as art for the singles.