A lot more information is communicated in an album cover than just the band’s name and the LP title. Here is an opportunity for musicians to establish their aesthetic, further it, or signify a shift toward something different. Some images, such as the Velvet Underground’s banana or the Rolling Stones’ bulging pants close-up can even become iconic. Of course, as with any other type of artwork, there’s a thin line between brilliant and what on Earth were you thinking?
Even though the idea of having a physical component in purchasing music is, with some innovative exceptions, becoming a thing of the past, that’s no excuse to phone it in on the album art. Even if it’s just a little thumbnail on the corner of people’s Zunes, when an image is striking enough, people will forever associate it with the album it’s attached to—for better or worse. As they do each year, the tastemakers at Pitchfork have put together a list of the best and worst album art of the year. Look through some of our favorites in the slide show above and see many more in Pitchfork’s Best and Worst rundowns.