HMV have got nice wooden browsing units, independent record shops are coordinating their own versions of big indie releases and even several of the big supermarkets are still attempting to pretend to care about the joy of vinyl.
It occupies a relatively small position in terms of music industry revenue but those who like it, love it. And yet, most of the reviews you’ll see of releases on this most delicate of formats make little or no mention of the actual physical item.
That, dear reader, is where Clash can now step in. Every couple of months, this column will reflect upon a selection of titles to have hit the racks in recent weeks and lift the dustcover on whether they’re deserving of a chunk of your hard earned.
Naturally, we can’t cover everything but if it’s worthy of your attention you’ll read about it here. That’s enough pre-amp-ble, ahem, so let’s rack a few up for our first gathering, shall we?
The Rails’ third album, ‘Cancel The Sun’, delivers some glorious folk-rock that will appeal to fans of the Pernice Brothers and Gerry’s share of the Teenage Fanclub songwriting with a vinyl release that is a straightforward but high quality pressing.
The vocals hover charmingly above the guitar on more acoustic numbers and the propulsion of tracks like opener ‘Call Me When It All Goes Wrong’ is compelling.
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Pete Yorn’s latest, ‘Caretakers’, often evokes Beck’s last outing, ‘Colours’, and is another no frills but robust pressing, presenting some of his strongest songwriting to date with sympathetic mastering.
The largely excellent Sleater-Kinney album ‘The Center Won’t Hold’ isn’t served especially well in its vinyl incarnation. A little surface noise intrudes on proceedings while the deluxe edition offers a few stickers and a 7” single containing two songs already on the album. Best stick with the standard edition for this one.
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A very reasonably priced and refreshingly straightforward Spoon best of, ‘Everything Hits At Once’, serves up an exceptionally modest thirteen belters from an underappreciated band who have yet to release a bad album.
‘You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb’ explodes from the speakers, vinyl offering the perfect medium for their ‘everything up to 11’, Sixties soul and garage indie jangle. Expect to pay no more than £15 which, these days, is quite the novelty.
Going Round Again
The vinyl reissue market continues to be awash with a staggering array of essential and not-so essential titles, often pressed in a variety of novelty versions. ‘Jollification’, the 1994 album by The Lightning Seeds, is back in the racks and keen purchasers can acquire a strawberry red edition in a scented sleeve.
This, perhaps thankfully, has no effect on the sound which offers up a subtle, involving remaster from the original tapes but on vinyl which will require a good clean before you put it anywhere near your table. The tell-tale signs of Czech pressing plant GZ – an array of white detritus on parts of the disc – are present, but a thorough brush should see you right.
Following Needle Mythology’s superlative reissue of Ian Broudie’s solo album ‘Tales Told’, this is a welcome next step in re-examining his legacy.
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Thoroughly dependable label Music On Vinyl specialise in picking up titles that are in demand but not currently in print from their original labels. Licensing a very diverse range of albums, they then offer high quality pressings through Record Industry in the Netherlands.
Recent highlights include the first of a series of Moloko catalogue reissues, ‘Do You Like My Tight Sweater?’, a beautifully balanced and open edition of the legendary Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway collaboration and a turquoise coloured trip down memory lane with ‘Wake Up’ by The Boo Radleys.
A comparison with a Creation original highlights a different, more forensic sound to this new version. It sounds pretty good to these ears, although the more cohesive if a little muddy blend of the 1995 release just edges it. Still, well worth a listen.
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The Paul McCartney archive collection series has spanned this decade and most recently proffered a selection of live recordings. One highlight from this batch is 1993’s ‘Paul Is Live’, which sounds far less bloated than one might imagine for a document of that era. McCartney is in fine voice and, unnecessarily tinkered cover art aside, it makes for a carefree four sides.
However, the true gem is the full release of an in-store performance at Amoeba Music in Hollywood from 2007. An EP previously offered a taster of what is a very well recorded and playful performance in front of a tiny crowd.
An emotional take on ‘The Long And Winding Road’ is soon followed by ‘Here Today’, about Lennon, the impact of which actually takes McCartney himself by surprise. From the deliberately lo-fi art to the delicately mastered vinyl, this is one to treasure.
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Also worth mentioning is this summer’s slew of Janet Jackson reissues. Available as standard, and perfectly splendid, black vinyl and a range of different special editions, Jackson’s catalogue returns to wax for the first time in an age.
While picture disc fripperies of ‘All For You’ seem aimed at those who have no intention of actually playing them, the deep red edition of 1997’s ‘The Velvet Rope’ is utterly enthralling. The soundstage is broad and the rhythm section beguiling, prompting plenty of repeat listens. It might look nice, but it sounds incredible.
While ‘Rhythm Nation 1814’ and ‘Janet’ are no slouches either, this is the standout title in the series.
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Snap, Crackle and Pop
While it has been a refreshingly light couple of months for dubious vinyl, the copy of ‘Late Night Feelings’ by Mark Ronson that Clash received had more than a few intrusive pops detracting from a mixed bag that peaks with Miley Cyrus’ contributions to ‘Nothing Breaks Like A Heart’ and Angel Olsen’s appearance on ‘True Blue’. One to stream, perhaps.
Along with ‘heavyweight vinyl’, ‘deluxe’ is one of the most gratuitously and insincerely over-used phrases when it comes to modern pressings. And yet, every so often some truly special releases make it onto the shelves.
‘∑(No,12k,Lg,17Mif) New Order + Liam Gillick: So It Goes..’ emerged in an aesthetically pleasing and aurally charming box set which captures a 2017 live show reinterpreting highlights from their catalogue with the assistance of a dozen additional synth players. Sure to sell out and their vinyl tends to rise in value, so act now if interested.
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However, for this first column, the finest title to grace the platter was the genuinely deluxe edition of Thom Yorke’s ‘Anima’.
While the price tag of £60 still feels a little steep, the hardback book featuring drawings from Stanley Donwood and Dr Tchock is printed on fancy Italian paper and held together with a fetching orange cloth spine. It uses the format and size of vinyl to render a record as something truly special. The vinyl mastering is loud but compelling, unlocking the quite boxed in sound of the digital release that preceded this edition.
It’s an indulgent and arguably inessential item, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with it once they’ve held it in their hands or witnessed it in full flow on their own turntable. Highly recommended.
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This column marks the start of a new endeavour and we will look to keep a close eye on what lies ahead for this most fetishised of formats.
It seems fitting to conclude by reminding everyone that your local independent shop isn’t just for Record Store Day, but for the whole year round. I’m sure they would be delighted to supply you with any or all of the titles mentioned above, as well as recommending plenty more we didn’t have space for here.
Until November, happy listening!
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Words: Gareth James (For more vinyl reviews and turntable shots, follow @JustPlayed on Twitter and Instagram)
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