December is upon us once again, with its cavalcade of lists - after all, it's very important to know what's on the best-of list, so you can add it to your Christmas list. Yes indeed, Christmastime is listing time, and as part of The 405's contribution to the end of year festivities, I've looked at literally every single album released by anyone in 2014* and made some snap aesthetic decisions to come up with this, the definitive guide to the best artwork of the year.

Thankfully we're not all just ripping artwork-free album torrents from the internet, and artwork is still very much a factor in forming our impressions of - and attitude towards - a given artist. And for designers, the task gets harder every year, as they have to design something that not only delivers the essence of what an artist is all about, but that's also equally striking whether viewed at 5cm x 5cm on your phone at the back of the bus or as a glorious double-gatefold vinyl set that just set you back thirty quid. If the album artwork enhances your listening experience at any size and in any given place, and becomes an image you associate instantly with the artist when you think of them, it's probably done its job.

*Well, at least 300 of them.



10. Liars - Mess

All about colour, this one - reminiscent of Battles' Ice Cream in style, it's a vibrant mop of primary colours well suited to Liars' more Technicolor musical direction of late. It's also successful because the concept translates so well across formats, being used in interesting and different ways on everything from posters through to band photos and even disturbing 'I-don't-want-to-know-where-else-that's-been" promo shots. Some limited edition vinyl cuts from the album even used the multicoloured string as inserts alongside transparent vinyl. It's a simple image that's an excellent counterpart to their music, and has also been adapted imaginatively across the board.

Listen to the album on Rdio.



9. Disappears - Era

I have to confess to being a sucker for album covers boasting pleasing geometric patterns - done properly, they draw the eye in and are among the most effective when it comes to working at both small and large scale. As a JPG/piece of iTunes artwork, they retain their shape and function well, while in their full 12" glory you can get lost in their lines and shapes. Era does this superbly. Drawing? Photograph? There's order here, but there are also questions.

Listen to the album on Rdio.



8. Tinariwen - Emmaar

Someone in Team Tinariwen had to wade through hundreds of photos of horses running past the band for an hour, discarding image after image until finally settling on this, a just-so capture of a still band portrait in amongst an action shot of horses running round their paddock. Every band member's face is frozen, the horses framed perfectly in the centre. Not just a fantastic band photo, but one that expresses something about the origins, influences and freedom of Tinariwen's music too.

Listen to the album on Rdio.



7. Paddox - Aphrodisiaque

This record comes packaged in a 3kg slab of concrete. Not just that, but it also looks gorgeous, the band name etched precisely and gently vanishing into the concrete from which it's moulded (or boldly emerging from, depending on your perspective). The music itself is gossamer-thin analogue synth ambience that belies the literal weightiness of the packaging, but this is music that - like its home - is built to last. Just pick it up in a record store if you can: the postage from ordering it online is probably going to cost you, if my last online concrete order is anything to go by.

Listen to the album on this very website.



6. The Advisory Circle - From Out Here

Ghost Box Records can do little wrong, musically or where album artwork is concerned. This is another star turn for designer Julian House, who has created an entire aesthetic for the label by subverting and adapting the rickety unease and quirky pastorals of '70s and '80s children's TV and library music. Here, the everyday - ploughed fields, a rotary telephone - turns into what could be a film poster perhaps for a version of Don't Look Now set in rural Hertfordshire.

Listen to the album on Rdio.



5. Grouper - Ruins

A image that successfully ticks the boxes marked 'dark' and 'mysterious' without also ticking those labelled 'goth' or 'cliched'. Black and white, but with a solid range of tones, and outwardly simplistic, but with miniature series of lines, patterns and frames going on simultaneously. Perhaps a dirty window, maybe a ruined mirror, but very deliberately obscuring the subject's face, while the leaves and branches form a natural border. Are we watching from inside, or has the image been framed for us? Is this a restful bucolic scene, or should we feel threatened?

Listen to the album on Rdio.



4. Trash Talk - No Peace

Whether it's a skydiver, stuntman, suicide attempt or simply the singer plunging into the crowd, this striking cover speaks volumes about Trash Talk's music, and their live show. It dives headlong into action, and it's an excellent, clean design - the choice to render it in black and white makes all the difference, while the typography is understated to the point that you barely notice it the first time you look at the cover. A great piece of work.

Listen to the album on Rdio.



3. Warpaint - Warpaint

Hard to believe Warpaint came out this year, but it just squeezed through in January, and it's a really interesting take on the 'just stick a photo of the band on there' school of album artwork. The double/triple/quadruple exposure effect has been executed brilliantly, laid out to perfection. Overlaying the images entirely in the central area of the sleeve leaves space around the edges that remind you of the sparseness of Warpaint's music, while the misty, mysterious haze also sits beautifully alongside their reverby miasma.

Listen to the album on Rdio.



2. Thurston Moore - The Best Day

Lots of Photoshop work and bold colours around among this year's album artwork in general, but precious few that simply allow a really great photo to do the work for them, as if that simple method is somehow too subtle. The cover for Thurston Moore's new record is therefore refreshing in its vintage aspect, and there's something really arresting about the photo, in the expressions of the woman and her dog. There's a story behind this photo, tantalisingly out of reach and the title of the album casts the image in a particular light: if you spend a moment or two thinking of a new title for the album and apply that to the cover, the photo suddenly tells a different story. It's charming but ambiguous and totally open to interpretation.

Listen to the album on Rdio.



1. Woman's Hour - Conversations

If you ask me exactly what I like about this artwork (which by reading this I suppose you're implicitly doing), I find it hard to put my finger on it, other than that it's simply a gorgeous piece of design, and the kind of album cover I can see really passing the test of time. Slightly redolent of some of the austerity of Joy Division's Factory Records artwork, albeit combined with a bit of 1984 and a bit of, erm, maths textbook. One of the very few album covers I could attach the adjective 'iconic' to and not feel faintly embarrassed at the overuse of that word - and that's why it's at the top of the tree for me.

Listen to the album on Rdio.