There has been some iconic record album art throughout Filipino music history.
There’s the burning guitar on the cover of Maria Cafra’s one and only album. There’s the brooding black and white photo of the Juan dela Cruz Band’s second album, Himig Natin. There’s the glittering neon of the bars and nightlife of Subic Bay in Gapo. Vol.1.
And there’s the sensuous cover of Eva Eugenio’s Tukso that had many a male feeling hot under the collar.
Of course, there’s more but we are sure you get the drift.
The resurgence of vinyl as a medium for putting music in physical form in these past 10 years has once more underscored the importance of the album art. Along with the warm and fuzzy feel of analogue music, the album art, liner notes, pictures, and inserts complete the vinyl experience especially for a new generation of fans.
Here in our opinion, are 10 of the best album art of new local releases in these past five years.
Ame by Victor MKII
(Demohauz Records 2019)
All of this Naga-based lo-fi beatmaker’s releases make use of manga-inspired art. They are a huge part of the confectionery that is Victor MKII’s releases. We never see the face of the girl who adorns all the album covers. While all the other releases have this slice of life feel, Ame on the other hand depicts wonder. The faceless schoolgirl taking to the air with an umbrella a la Mary Poppins. It suggests that the listener open their mind to the music and let it take flight.
“MY album art usually starts with me thinking of the concept and the theme that I relay to Zom Kashwak who will interpret it in his style without any restrictions,” said Victor. “We’ve been friends for years and have collaborated on all my album covers.”
“The Ame cover is a collaboration between juan9ann who is a visual artist from Japan, Zom, and me.”
Waiting for the End to Start by Itchyworms
(Backspacer Records 2022)
An album recorded during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The cover art by Aidon Panlaqui depicts illustrated Filipinos in various states of worry and concern in a window-like grid.
The original layout was a picture of people all staring outside as if waiting for a comet to hit the Earth.
It was drummer Jazz Nicholas who suggested a change in layout this time making use of windows or a grid. Something very Zoom-like that was prevalent during the lockdown.
The re-layout worked and the forlorn art makes it a striking image that is one of the best – aside from the Itchyworms’ music – to capture the isolation and desolation of the pandemic.
Golden Age by Olympia Mara
(Zippo Records 2020)
Not only is this the best album of Olympia Maru, but it also features some of the best album cover art in a while.
The cover shows a woman staring at the Budir Black Church in Iceland and was snapped in 2019 by Olympia Maru’s multi-instrumentalist Derek “Siopao” Chua who was on a vacation in that country with his wife (who is the subject of the cover shoot).
“I stumbled upon that shot by accident as I was waiting for all the other tourists to enter the church so my wife would be alone outside,” related Chua.
“At that moment, I was reminded of a Wes Anderson film or the setting of a Quentin Tarantino Mexican stand-off ala Kill Bill. Or even something out of the Coen’s brothers’ “Fargo.”
“I just found it kooky to have this strikingly simple geometric black sculpture in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by barren but beautiful landscapes. It was a man-made juxtaposition against the pureness of nature. I converted the original full color photo to black and white to match the fuzzy shoegaze sound of the album.”
Locked Down Since 2002 by Various Artists
(Backspacer Records 2022)
A compilation of Locked Down Entertainment’s roster of artists who range from hip-hop to electronic dance music to reggae and to indie pop rock.
The wraparound cover art by Raizel Go was her own interpretations of the different songs on the album as well as various “locked down objects.” It is rendered comic book style with panels and broken ones delving into horror. And no, it won’t scare you away. In fact, you’ll surely reach for it and when that moment the stylus hits the grooves, you’ll find out its got some monster tracks.
Superstrung! by Insektlife Cycle
(Fruits de Mer Records 2021)
The album art by the neo-psychedelic band has always been a part of their music ever since their debut album, Vivid Dreams Parade. And if you ask me, that is still their best album art.
So why is Superstrung! included?
Well, Vivid Dreams Parade came out on compact disc. When it was finally pressed on vinyl, it was minus some songs and had different art.
And that leads us to their second ever extended play release, Superstrung! The band’s drummer and principal songwriter Ronaldo Vivo Jr. is also responsible for the band’s art. The EP features some of his more intricate art and it’s trippy, weird, and well, powerful. Just like the band’s music.
Released on eight-inch vinyl.
Will You Catch Me? by Cinema Lumiere
(Boring Productions 2020)
The covert art doesn’t have any particular meaning except for the fact that indie pop band Cinema Lumiere wanted their debut extended play single to have the feel and vibe of that late, lamented English label, Sarah Records.
The art, rendered by the band’s drummer, Manny Gallo, shows a female model with the art a bit faded, with faux ring wear, and an air of mystery.
The image that featured model Dylan Kudla was provided by the band’s former member Xavier Emas.
Plagues by Taken by Cars
(Party Bear Records 2017)
The third album by this retro New Wave band saw them delve into shoegaze territory so much so they even changed the album art from their usual band photos to something more…
The cover shows the son of TBC’s vocalist Sarah Marco’s pre-teenage son, Nikos, dressed in an oversized white Oxford polo holding a neon “Plagues” sign on the sand.
According to Derek “Siopao” Chua who is also a member of this band, “Conceptually, it was a reflection and acknowledgement of our life and perspective at that time, realizing that our children will be inheriting the world and will be affected by its plagues or problems.”
Chasing the Sun by Toyozumi, Countryman & Tan
(Chap Chap Records 2019)
The first jazz record released in the Philippines since the late 1980s had an international feel with Japanese legend Sabu Toyozumi on drums, American expatriate Rick Countryman on alto saxophone, and our very own, Simon Tan on stand-up bass. Furthermore, it was recorded at the Tago Jazz Bar in Cubao.
The cover to Chasing the Sun finds a fuzzy blue-ish photo of Toyozumi playing the erhu. Taken by photographer Dansk Santos who shot the live show with intentional graininess. Sabu didn't agree with the huge Japanese characters because that is normally reserved for pop artists.
Nevertheless, as imperfect as the photo is, it is striking and has this under the radar feel because new jazz releases in the country are so few and far in between.
The Bones We Used to Share by Brickcity
(Desperate Infant Records 2021)
Flowers normally are held in a vase or in one’s hands. But a while bouquet? In the mouth? That’s the jarring image on the cover of post-hardcore band Brickcity’s The Bones We Used to Share.
When Brickcity vocalist Jacques Concepcion was a youngster, he thought that the album art of his father’s records was fascinating. Some of them didn’t even have titles on them that lent an air of mystery.
“It made me want to listen to the records,” he said. “When I am inside a store and I look at the records and cds, I want the discovery to translate to the visuals to translate to the music that it will make you want to listen to the album.”
As for the cover to The Bones We Used to Share, the flowers represent nature and something organic. And yet, they eventually get destroyed, wither away, or even misused. Maybe not intentional at the start but they eventually wither at the hands on man. Or woman. The female model is just representation of some everyman or everywoman.
Bloodstained Existence by Barred
(Still Ill Records 2020)
“Bloodstained Existence is a message and an eye opener for everyone,” said vocalist Regin Tenorio of this San Pablo City hardcore band. “We want everyone to feel what life is like on the other side. There are terrors seen and unseen and there’s injustice, sorrow, famine, disease, death, abuse, pain, and suffering.”
Although Barred’s barbed and pointed social commentary continues for the entire album, the band does leave room for hope, “It’s never too late. We need to fight as one (against the social injustices). It’s a force that guides.”
The album cover is inspired by 19th century French painters, Gustave Dore, Eugene Delacroix, and Theodore Gericault and the contrapposto style utilized by Baroque and Mannerist artists, and depicts the war in Heaven. The powerful imagery was also used by many of the band’s mid-1990s metalcore influences such as Arkangel, Congress, Liar, Sentence, Integrity, and All Out War.
Watch for Part 2.