The Pitchfork Review, Rough Trade Magazine, Record, and Brick; these four contemporary music titles all have one crucial thing in common, and it’s not just the theme. Each one beautifully articulates it’s musical taste visually, through the printed medium.

Rough Trade is cut and paste like a fantastic 70s punk fanzine that’s collided with a teenage girl’s bedroom. It communicates the brand’s alternative sensibility through rough and ready spreads and a total integration within the community it represents. Record is the Apartamento for vinyl lovers—simply laid out with crisp photography that melds lifestyle and fandom in a way that doesn’t feel nostalgic or nerdy. The Pitchfork Review’s art direction is an energetic explosion of colorful illustration—it asserts that the platform champions the avant-garde, yet well-conceived. Boldly art directed Brick on the other hand, uses emphatic type, starkly lit photography, and striking neon colors to represent the contemporary hip hop culture it covers.

Today we’ve asked the editors and art directors of these independent music mags to select one of their favorite album covers, and to discuss what they love so much about it. These publications have drawn their aesthetic from the music they love—so each choice in some way represents the ideology behind them.

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The Incredible String Band, ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’ (1968)

Liv Siddal, editor-in-chief at Rough Trade MagazineThe Incredible String Band, ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’ (1968)

This is the sleeve of ‘The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter’ by The Incredible String Band. It’s a collection of psychedelic folk songs erring more towards the surreal than the twee, filled with songs punctuated by wails, rattling, humming, and bells. The image on the cover was taken on Christmas day, 1967, and features the band with some borrowed friends’ kids and the bandmates’ girlfriends (one of them is called Licorice, how cool is that?)

This photo sums up my constant pangs of envy and dislocation about being born in the wrong era. There is no irony in this photo—it was pre-cool. This is just eccentric, beautiful people doing what they want, how they want, and having a very happy life doing just that. I’m not sure if you can find that kind of genuine creativity and intentional uncoolness so much nowadays. No agenda, no worries, no shoes… what a time to be alive. All I can do is sit in shitty, internetty 2016 listening to this album and looking at the sleeve, and just wishing I was in a drizzly woodland somewhere, clutching an ocarina, on my way to a sing-along in the nearby commune.

David Bowie, ‘Diamond Dogs’ (1974)
David Bowie, ‘Diamond Dogs’ (1974)

Noelle Roth, art director The Pitchfork ReviewDavid Bowie, ‘Diamond Dogs’ (1974)

One of my favorite album covers is David Bowie’s ‘Diamond Dogs’. It’s deliciously strange: glam Bowie as a man-dog, in a freakshow, with(out) genitals! The airbrushed painting, by Guy Peellaert, isn’t the style of artwork that I’d normally be drawn to, but there’s something about the Coney Island-style typography along with Bowie’s other-worldly stare—and his pack of weirdly-rendered hybrid woman-dogs—that always have drawn me in. It’s not sonically my favorite Bowie album, but the artwork’s cohesive oddness makes it one of my favorite visually.

A consistent refrain about Bowie in a lot of reflection since his death has been how he created a space for all of the rebels, so-called freaks, and outsiders to feel less alone. That’s true if you discovered Bowie in the 70s, or if your first encounter is with him now. On this cover, Bowie is one of “The Strangest Living Curiosities”—embracing his oddity, and that of the world, as a knotty, triumphant truth.

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Cluster, ‘Grosses Wasser’ (1979)

Karl Henkell editor at RecordCluster, ‘Grosses Wasser’ (1979)

This album cover is by Dieter Moebius, who was one half of Cluster. He did the artwork for his own material and for Cluster. We did a retrospective of his album artworks in our first issue actually. I like this one because it’s simple and iconic. The title means “Big Water” in German, so the cover is quite literal, in an abstract way.

He really had an eye for design. When you take away the text from his album covers they’re artworks in their own right. It’s really nice when artists take control of their own image. It usually makes for a stronger and more genuine expression of their ideas.

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V/A, ‘American Youth Report’ (1982)

Sam Butler editor at BrickV/A, ‘American Youth Report’ (1982) 

‘American Youth Report’ is a compilation showcasing a wave of young Los Angeles hardcore bands following in the footsteps of LA pioneers like Black Flag and Circle Jerks, who had come to prominence in the preceding years.

The cover incorporates photography from Glen E. Friedman into the front page of a fictional newspaper.

Both the title and album cover serve to illustrate the point that this is not just a selection of sixteen songs. Rather, it serves as a historical document of hardcore at a time when the vision of the movement extends beyond just music into cultural and political spheres.

BRICK was born of this same desire to create a document which chronicles the importance of hip-hop as a wider culture, at a time when the cultural awareness, consciousness, and creativity in the genre has never been higher.