The Top 10 Album Sleeves in Shoegaze
Shoegaze was and is still seen as a stylistic movement that transcended alternative and grunge music. Here are our top ten picks for the best album sleeves in Shoegaze.
10. A Storm in Heaven - The Verve
Designed by: Brian Cannon
When graphic designer Brian Cannon met an 18 year old Richard Ashcroft at a house party in Wigan in 1989, little did he know the Verve frontman would help define his career for years to come. Cannon has an impressive canon of clients, including Johnny Marr, Sex Pistols, Suede, Oasis and Groove Armada - to name just a handful. His company Microdot Creative also helped imagine the most iconic record during the brit-pop era: Definitely Maybe (1994).
His design for The Verve's debut studio album is, he admits, his "favourite all Microdot sleeve". Sidestepping the use of any digital effects, Cannon sought the help of a steel fabricator in Lancashire to create the lettering, before it was soaked in paraffin and set alight to create the desired effect. The end result is quite stunning.
9. Siamese Dream - Smashing Pumpkins
Designed by: Steve Gerdes
The cover for Smashing Pumpkins has quite the story attached to it. What appears to be a candid shot of two conjoined twins from a collection of old photographs, eventually surfaced as false information. And, in fact, turned out to be a staged shot taken specifically for the cover of the record. What's more, the girls aren't even conjoined, despite their closeness in the shot and what the title of the record is alluding to.
In 2007, frontman Billy Corgan sent out a tweet asking for any information on the identity of the two girls, commenting that they were not conjoined anymore, as far as he knew. These rumours were quickly quashed after the identity of the girl on the right was revealed to be that of Ali Laenger, who has no attached siblings. Then, in 2011, Corgan tweeted: "Just found out the weirdest news: our bass player Nicole [Fiorentino] just admitted she is one of the girls on the cover of Siamese Dream. She said she didn’t want us to know because she thought maybe we wouldn’t let her in the band". If true, that would have made for one of the most unlikely coincidences ever. It was, however, found out to be too good to be true after it was discovered that Fiorentino would have been 14 years old at the time of the shoot - she looks over half that.
The identity of the girl on the left remains a mystery, but this only heightens the levels of intrigue around this cover shot.
8. Cuckoo - Curve
Designed by: Vaughan Matthews
Curve's third studio album Cuckoo (1993) wasn't received as well as their debut effort Doppelganger (1992), being cited as more musically varied but significantly darker than the predecessor. But it certainly aligned with their ethic of thought-provoking artwork.
Doppelganger amassed the body parts of dolls, while Cuckoo decorated itself in strange-look purple fruit-cross-egg-cross-bath-bomb. While it might not be the provocative design during the heydays of shoegaze, but it certainly is one of the most striking. Purple is often associated with creativity, wisdom, magic, mystery and ambition. Fittingly, Curve had all of these in abundance.
7. Tired of Tomorrow - Nothing
Designed by: Daniel Feiphery
For Nothing's second studio album, frontman Domenic Palermo began looking for inspiration in New York galleries and museums before hitting a brick wall. By chance, Palermo saw his vision for the record cover whilst looking at satellite images of his bandmates' houses. "Brandon [Setta], our guitarist, lives in Brooklyn, and I went over his address and saw that his roof already had graffiti all over it, and I zoomed out, and it seemed like this massive grid. Block by block, it looked the same. The houses in Bushwick are four stories high and full of people. And I thought, Oh, my God, this is the most depressing thing ever. That's what the record was about". And so began the idea to paint the title of the record on Setta's roof.
Palermo soon garnered the approval of his manager and his bandmates before heading to Home Depot and purchasing fifteen gallons of pink paint, some rollers and some tubes. Twelves hours later, Palermo and the rest of the band began painting 25ft by 25 ft letters on Setta's roof. To get the intended shot, they hired a drone photographer to fly up and capture the letters on the roof, but ran into a bit of trouble along the way. The building maintenance worker, who was carrying tar up on the roof to lay down, arrived at the same time as the drone photographer.
"As the drone's coming down, the maintenance guy yells down at us, 'You guys fucked up the roof! We can't even lay tar down!' I told the drone guy to load up all his shit in his car and drive off right now. We didn't even know if we got the shot". With a lot of dedication, albeit a little bit of mischief, they got the right result.
6. Loveless - My Bloody Valentine
Designed by: Angus Cameron
Probably one of, if not THE, most recognisable record covers of the 1990's, let alone in shoegaze, My Bloody Valentine opted for distorted visuals on their second studio album. Angus Cameron's iconic blurry cover shot perfectly manifests the distorted, feedback-heavy musical sentiment inside.
It's a heavy composition of hazy, mid-strum guitar action and romantic pink ecstasy that encapsulates what the band are all about. Shoegaze music was a breeding ground for all sorts of soppy, dream-pop enthusiasts, and Loveless (1991) laid the blueprints for this sort of movement. NME reviewer Dele Fadele perfectly summed up the record by saying: "Loveless' fires a silver-coated bullet into the future, daring all-comers to try and recreate its mixture of moods, feelings, emotion, styles and, yes, innovations".
Artistically, it's one of the most important records of its decade, and set the tone for many more imitators and followers to continue its legacy.
5. Just for a Day - Slowdive
Designed by: Califram
Their debut release, Slowdive led their shoegaze charge with distorted visuals and stickers on the record's early copies that read: "like a mind altering substance, without the risk". Inside as well as out, Just For a Day (1991) floats like a narcotic fog on a moonlit night.
Streams of flanged guitar tones and whirring vocals helped cement the band's place in amongst the upper echelons of shoegaze music, and they had a visual accompaniment that would help them settle in perfectly.
4. Going Blank Again - Ride
Designed by: Christopher Gunson
Christopher Gunson's design for Ride's sophomore release Going Blank Again (1992) is reminiscent of a portrait of 'The Green Man' Raymond Robinson; a figure of urban legend who's severely disfigured face left him unable to go out in public during the day. Similarly, it's also been compared to the Young Persons Railcard adverts that featured Gary Glitter applying cucumbers to give himself a more youthful appearance.
For a band like Ride, who were one of the pioneers of the shoegaze genre, we like to think they looked for inspiration in modern folklore as opposed to washed out 80's pop-stars.
3. Lazer Guided Melodies - Spiritualized
Designed by: Nicholas Brooker
Much unlike the band's traditional English foundations, Spiritualized's debut album assigned them status as ones-to-watch in the 1990's revival of space rock. The music itself is built with serious intent to reflect sounds of space, nature and motorik.
Nicholas "Natty" Brooker, the designer for the record, used to wake up every morning and start his day by taking mushrooms, which helped him to creative mindset to compose a lot of his artwork. Brooker sketched the artwork and the record label had his drawings made into this alien-like three-dimensional image.
2. Split - Lush
Designed by: Vaughan Oliver
Contextually, this album is a dreary insight into the mechanics of love and relationships - a staple element of many shoegaze bands, but particularly so on Lush's third studio album, Split. Lyrics from the records opening two tracks line the right side of the sleeve with themes of romance and lust, while the left side implicates the bitterness of life suggested through the symbolic use of lemons saturated in warm tones.
Lush became known as one of the most prominent shoegaze bands during the era, and their artistic statements - both musically and visually - never felt stale.
1. Chrome - Catherine Wheel
Designed by: Storm Thorgerson
The best of the bunch, Catherine Wheel's second studio album Chrome (1993) donned the creative touch of graphic designer and long-time Pink Floyd collaborator, Storm Thorgerson. Storm, owner of London-based design company Hipgnosis, shot the cover for the record at an indoor swimming pool and today stands as one of his most powerful pieces.
Like dreaming underwater, Chrome communicates a lot of negative thoughts and emotions, and being consumed by them. While there is a lot of beauty in this record, through poetic lyrics, instrumentation, and human form on the cover, it has a haunting quality to it that arrives merely as baggage to their newly accustomed heavier sound at the time.