This year, vinyl outsold digital downloads in the UK. Whilst this news should be taken with a pinch of salt - vinyl costs significantly more and downloads are being superseded by streaming services - the very fact that physical media still sells should provide some explanation as to why album artwork still matters.

Sure, a lot of album art these days is nothing more than a glorified portrait photo, but there are still a lot of artists, designers and photographers putting out fantastic, fascinating covers at a time when most listeners simply see a thumbnail image pass by as they skip from one track to the next.

We've decided to round up our favourite albums covers from this year, ranging from dangerous photoshoots, to detailed illustrations, to minimalist designs.

99c by Santigold

Design: Haruhiko Kawaguchi

Sometimes it's difficult to really determine what's real and what's fake in an image. Airbrushing and photo-realism are blurring the lines between photography and renderings. So it wouldn't be a surprise if you assumed that the cover to 99c by Santigold was faked. It's not - in fact, shrink wrapping people is what photographer Haruhiko Kawaguchi is known for. Here, it's a comment on the commodification of pop music and the artists that create it with Santigold, her possessions and inspirations vacuum packed and ready for purchase.

A Sailor's Guide To Earth by Sturgill Simpson

Design: Kilian Eng

A solitary boat, trapped in a vicious storm of waves and dark clouds, where the endless of expanse of sea is indistinguishable from the sky. The gorgeous illustration that forms the cover of country singer Sturgill Simpson's latest record is the kind of artwork you can lose yourself in for hours. It recalls the illustrative covers of old seafaring tales like Moby Dick or Robinson Crusoe - stories in which characters deal with isolation and the fight to survive. A Sailor's Guide To Earth continues this theme, from the title that suggests an alien understanding of the planet, to the broad concept of the album being a lonely sailor's letter home to his wife and new-born son.

Adore Life by Savages

Photography: TIM / Design: Craig Ward

A striking monochromatic image that manages to say more in a passing glance than almost any other sleeve. A clenched fist is both a symbol of violence and protest. The rings that adorn the fingers both beautiful and destructive. The feminine hand contrasting with the more masculine gesture. Savages' second record sees the band in a more defiant, muscular mode and this cover prepares us for the onslaught.

Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown

Design: Timothy Saccenti

With a title which references both Joy Division and JG Ballard, Danny Brown needed an album cover that held weight against such dark influences. Fortunately, photographer and designer Timothy Saccenti delivers - with a sleeve that recalls video-nasty era horrors. Brown's face, degraded and warped, acts as a mirror to the twisted, introspective tracks that make up Atrocity Exhibition. It also set a strong aesthetic template that would filter into videos like 'When It Rain' that managed to create a sense of horror in the everyday.

Blackstar by David Bowie

Design: Jonathan Barnbrook

The cover of David Bowie's final studio record, Blackstar, has taken on new meaning in the wake of the singer's death. However, we should not let that deter us from recognising what a powerful and iconic cover this record had before the news broke. Jonathan Barnbrook - a regular Bowie collaborator - takes his theme of destroying and obscuring Bowie's image to its logical conclusion with a minimalist design that even abstracts the singer's name. Where Heathen defaced Bowie's image, and The Next Day slapped a blank square over one of his most famous covers, Blackstar removes the artist entirely leaving only an empty void in his place.

Cistern by Jherek Bischoff

Photography: Alex Stoddard

Of all the covers on this list, none, apart from this one, manages to so perfectly and succinctly summarise the experience of listening to the associated work. Jherek Bischoff's Cistern is a contemplative and claustrophobic record inspired by huge water tanks and isolation. The cover, depicting a golden-suited Bischoff coming up for air, lets us know this is to be a euphoric, if sometimes suffocating listen, and conjures up tales and scenes that will be shaped by the music within.

Good Luck and Do Your Best by Gold Panda

Photography: Laura Lewis / Design: Dan Tombs

Good Luck and Do Your Best was heavily inspired by Gold Panda's trips around Japan with photographer Laura Lewis. The duo journeyed around the country capturing the sights and sounds they experienced by way of a camera and field recordings. For the artist, the intention was to capture the atmosphere and beauty of suburban life through music. The album's cover, a photograph of a policeman picking up trash against a backdrop of green plants reflects this. It's suggestive of the care and dedication that people put into their everyday, as well as the effort put into creating the album. The remaining photos from the the duo's trip has since been collected into a linen-bound hardback book, which Gold Panda describes as a companion piece to the record.

Jeffery by Young Thug

Photography: Garfield Larmond / Clothing: Alessandro Trincone

There's a beautiful simplicity to the cover of Jeffery by Young Thug which is perhaps due to the circumstances in which the artwork came to be. The garment, designed by Alessandro Trincone, was never meant to be worn by Young Thug, instead he spotted it during a meeting with photographer Garfield Larmond for another project. Within days the piece had been delivered to Atlanta and a hasty photoshoot was arranged. The clothing takes centre stage here, with Young Thug's pose given a cool mystique as he lowers the garment's hat to obscure his face and the folds of fabric billowing down from his waist, distorting the rapper's form.

Let Them Eat Chaos by Kate Tempest

Design: Peter Kennard

Let Them Eat Chaos is a socio-political record that takes in Brexit, climate change, gentrification and terrorism. So it's fitting that the cover, by Peter Kennard, is a photomontage that focuses on our planet's fragility. The image of the earth (which is combined with the devastation of an oil spill) was taken by Apollo 8, the crew of which were the first people to see the Earth as a whole planet, who remarked that it "makes you realise just what you have." As a complete piece, the cover is a suitably apocalyptic image for a year in which it seems like the world is turning further towards a horrifying, dystopian future. Let's hope it simply remains a vision and nothing more.

Sirens by Nicolas Jaar

Photography: Alfredo Jaar / Design: David Rudnick

A digital image doesn't really do the latest Nicolas Jaar release justice. Taken at face value it's a rather generic photograph of a city scape, but seen as physical artefact, it's much more interesting. Vinyl copies of Sirens came covered with a scratch-off foil panel that obscured the album's artwork, demanding purchasers to reveal the artwork themselves and, in a sense, damage the mint condition of the sleeve. The remaining foil then gives the artwork a distressed look, unique to each listener, like the inevitable wear and tear that will develop on the sleeve over the coming years.