Top 5 Songs to Design to

By Amelia Nash Provisional RGD, Freelance Designer & Brand Strategist


If you’re anything like me, music is a major tool you keep locked and loaded in your creative arsenal. Whether you're in the zone and listening to a mellow beat while working on your project or needing a fast, heavy electronic melody to complete that last-minute rush, music acts as that motivational sidekick, helping you get your work done as well as offering a dose of creative inspiration with the album artwork.
Below are my top 5 songs to design to, depending on what I need motivation for, along with a brief analysis of the album artwork.

Immigrant Song by Led Zeppelin

For when you need to git 'er done

For as long as I can remember, ‘Immigrant Song’ has been my go-to whenever I need to focus and crush a project. As soon as that beginning hits with the drums, I immediately get hyper-focused and am able to get a lot of work done. I don’t know if it’s the reference to Norse mythology or what, but something about this song and its rhythmic tempo always puts me in the mood to work.
Album Artwork: I honestly wasn’t a huge fan of the cover until I did a bit more research into the backstory. I didn’t understand that what I was looking at was a variety of images related to the theme of flight: zeppelin airships, UFOs, hot air balloons, fighter planes, butterflies, birds and dragonflies. According to Zacron, the designer of the cover, on "Each component became a formal abstract element, interacting with all the images to make a unified whole. The work created a surrealist environment, changing relative concepts of scale and subject matter. The square format became a visual theatre in which images could appear to move and have their own energy, some moved beyond the boundary."
While I can respect the nod to the theme of flight, I wish he'd pushed it further and created more of a collage as he did with some of his later works, with more individual pieces on the surface and a more vibrant background. To me, the cover feels incomplete to a sense. The typography of the title is a lot of fun and would add even more to the sense of ‘flight’ if the letters ballooned even more and if the rest of the letters had an airy treatment as well. Overall, I feel the cover is interesting to look at but leaves me wanting more.

Tangerine by Glass Animals

For when you need to get into the zone to start a project

A 2020 release, but one I’m finding has a good pace for working on design projects, Glass Animal’s ‘Tangerine’ gets me into the zone of a new project.
As per the artwork, I personally really enjoy it. I’m a big fan of the use of vibrant colour and I love how the type and other graphical elements provide a good hierarchy to lead the viewer through the cover. The album artwork is references nostalgic feelings and uses personal references for the band’s frontman, Dave Bayley. With 80s colours, a stylized theme for this era and a hint of the classic novel ‘I SPY’, Dreamland feels like you’re not only in a dream but in the nostalgic dream of Bayley's and the more you look, the more items you see.
Album Artwork: I feel that the cover art represents the title and theme of the album beautifully without being too ‘on the nose’ about it. The sense of a dreamscape is also noted by the wavy font and wavy lines working throughout the image. My favourite nostalgic element within the cover is the VCR cassette, who else can see it? Maybe being a 90s kid has me biased, but this cover is a big hit for me and each time I look at it is like finding a prize in the box of cereal; you never know what you’ll find hidden within.

Charleville 9200 by Snoh Aalegra

For when you need a mellow background to keep up the flow
A slower beat, Snoh’s ‘Charleville 9200’ is a good pick to have when you’re in the flow with a project and need a slow tempo in the background to keep it going.
Album Artwork: Similar to ‘Tangerine’, I love how Snoh’s cover tells a story through the use of imagery and colour. Reminiscent of a comic book adventure with a flair of 70s chic, the cover matches the tone and music of the album overall and has me feeling like I’m in an episode of Mad Men. Snoh’s album creates a classic cinematic experience through the use of lush instrumentals, evocative lyrics and well-executed compositions. Her songs, packed with emotion, make you feel like you’re a part of the love story told throughout the album and reinforced by the cover art.
The way the album art and lyrics bring you along for the ride, I’m grabbing my popcorn getting ready for the movie to unfold in front of me. The cover art does an excellent job of conveying what’s being told in the album. The only point of criticism I have is with a lot of the text disappearing into the art; particularly the red ‘a mini album’ wording at the bottom. The words disappear into the yellow and black flames at the bottom leaving them difficult to read. In this case, they could have left out the words entirely and we’d still get the gist of what the album is about, or, alternatively, they could have explored flooding that area with more yellow and ridding the black details altogether in that space to make the ‘a mini album’ subtitle stand out more. The title of the album ‘Don’t Explain’ seems to stand out the best with Aalegra of ‘Snoh Aalegra’ at the top disappearing a touch into the artwork as well. The text feels a bit arbitrarily placed onto the imagery; I'm not sure how much consideration there was for the text when coming up with the album artwork; which, is contradictory to traditional 70s movie posters where the type was considered as part of promoting the film.

Oh Devil by Electric Guest

For when you need an extra boost of energy as you near project completion

Electric Guest’s ‘Oh Devil’ provides a more upbeat and energetic sound, perfect to listen to when you’re on the last leg of your project and need a pick-me-up beat to bring it home.
Album Artwork: The album cover, titled Plural, has a minimal design. I like that the interpretation can be left to the viewer’s imagination and ties into how ‘Plural’ explores themes of duality: light and dark, love and hate, relationships. For a simple illustration, it conveys the theme of the album in its simplicity well. I especially appreciate how this album cover can easily be reproduced on merch for the band; it would make an excellent t-shirt. I’m curious to know if there’s any symbolism in the red and yellow or if those colours were chosen because they stand out from the background. 

Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine

For when you need to celebrate the end of a project

You did it! You’ve finished that project or are near completion and are feeling the optimism that is often felt when getting to this point in a creative endeavour. What better way to celebrate than with ‘Dog Days Are Over’ by Florence + The Machine!? The upbeat and energetic song feels like you’re lifting a weight off your shoulders and talks about suddenly finding happiness and disbelieving that it’s actually there; reminiscent of finally wrapping up that long-term design project. 
Album Artwork: Tabitha Denholm, Art Director, said to Q magazine of the album cover: "This is a modern art reference. The idea of the 'inside' of the body being exposed 'outside' is very early 20th century. Dada and surrealism spring to mind." And regarding Florence's pose on the cover "This clearly resonates with John Millais' Ophelia painting conjuring then-contemporary notions of fey beauty. Florence often taps into very 19th-century Victorian ideas about womanhood. The primacy is on femininity rather than overt sexuality. I think what we experience as a result is a magical, otherworldly persona." A lot of Florence’s music focuses on celebrating the theatrical with nods to Renaissance art and to me this cover is no exception. The album artwork conveys this relationship of classical art and theatrics woven into the songs and through Florence’s use of interesting vocals.
And there you have it! My top songs to get me into the creative zone, no matter what level of motivation I’m needing.
You can access my top 5 songs along with the full playlist here

Amelia, an Edmonton-based Brand Strategist and Graphic Designer, specializes in all things brand. Whether it is branding, marketing or graphic design; Amelia works with individuals and businesses of all scopes and sizes across Canada to get them clear on their messaging, their vision and provides all the visual elements to communicate effectively with their audience. She loves working with passionate people who need a branding sidekick to help them achieve their vision. Amelia graduated from the University of Alberta with a BDes specializing in business and marketing. 



Check out Top 5 Music Focused Projects Made by 5 Music Focused Designers By Dominic Ayre RGD


Check out Top 5 Album Covers by Ashley McCarthy RGD


Check out all our past 'Top 5' articles


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