Vinyl Corner is a feature where we take a look at vinyl pressings of various albums and weigh them up to see just how good they sound, how well they’re pressed and what sort of packaging to expect – as well as giving a brief overview of the music itself. For the latest in the series, we’re lending our ears to the new outing from Belgian collective Compro Oro.
Give Compro Oro’s latest collection a spin without any background knowledge on the band themselves, and you’d be hard pressed to put a time or a place to the resultant sounds. Recorded with guest artists Murat and Esma Ertel, this latest set from the Belgian collective comes across as the work of likeminded sonic omnivores. Few stones are left unturned here, each of the contributing players on ‘Simurg’ bringing to the table another strand of disparate – even seemingly unrelated – sonic ingenuity. It’s a record which offers a stylistic road map as meandering as its own exploratory, psychedelic soundscapes and, in that, it offers something undeniably odd. This is a record where psychedelia’s jazzier, more fringe realms meet the electrified, adrenaline-shot ravings of the Turkish electric saz. Indeed, there’s an unmistakably Anatolian bent throughout much of ‘Simurg’ – but it’s not a record for purists or traditionalists within any style or musical lineage. Compro Oro – together with Murat and Esma Ertel – blend such an array of styles together that, although the results are undeniably trippy and likely to appeal to those with sufficiently broad tastes with which to enjoy their vision of jazzy psych, replete as it is with a good sense of groove. ‘Simurg’s murky soundscapes certainly nod towards collector-friendly rarities and obscura of the past but that blend is executed with enough of a singular bent that it isn’t really possible to assign the album any one style. As a result, it’s something of an acquired taste even within the relatively niche world of such sonic séances but, for those taken in by its singular spell, there’s no denying ‘Simurg’ to be an admirably unusual listen.
As long-term readers of Vinyl Corner will likely realise by now, choosing the right pressing plant to produce any given release can be the decision which sets a disappointing pressing apart from a great one. Of course, as with anything in life, you get what you pay for and the services of many of the best pressing plants are sufficiently expensive that many independent acts and labels are priced out of the business altogether. Of the more moderately priced pressing plants, France’s MPO have proven enduringly popular – and largely for good reason. Their factory produces LPs of almost consistent quality – although they’re not above the odd duff batch along the way – but, when they’re operating to their highest standards, they can press records which stand up to the best work of any factory you care to name. If we’ve noticed any one frequent flaw in their output, though, it’s been an abundance of records which bear surface blemishing. Although often benign in the sense that it leaves playback almost or entirely unaffected, it can be somewhat disappointing to find a brand new record marked straight out of the shrinkwrap. We’ve seen this on recent MPO pressings from labels as mainstream as Universal Records, so it’s certainly not an issue unique to smaller outfits and, although such surface marking does appear on our copy of ‘Simurg’, it fortunately has no effect over the quality of the playback. Indeed, dropping the stylus on this weighty 180 gram slab of black wax proves an impressive experience; surfaces are admirably clean – almost perfect, in fact. The noise floor is low and we didn’t pick up on any noticeable surface noise, even during the quieter stretches of what is an often dynamic album. The sonics are also impressive; although ‘Simurg’ gives more than a nod to various library, psych and jazz rarities of the ’60s and ’70s, it’s a collection which has the distinct advantage of having been recorded with all the perks of modern technology. As a result, the sound is clean and focused here and, true to that, the mastering on this vinyl is both subtle and nuanced.
The first thing you’re likely to notice in regard to the presentation of ‘Simurg’ is the superb artwork. It’s a vivid, bold image and the general layout and presentation across both the back cover and printed inner sleeve is as classy yet assertive as that distinctive imagery which adorns its front cover. The sleeve itself is a standard-width non-gatefold affair, wrought from normal cardstock. It feels reasonably sturdy in hand but it’s not in any way remarkable in terms of its construction. However, the print quality is excellent throughout; the cover image boasts rich, vibrant reds and yellows, as well as text which is sharply defined. The printed inner sleeve is a welcome inclusion; it includes the album’s full lyrics, as well as further artwork and it’s printed on a good, sturdy cardstock by the commonly-held standards of such inserts. It isn’t polylined, so it’s unlikely to have helped in regard to the surface marking on the record and, as such, we’d advise slipping the record itself into a polylined inner for further use.
‘Simurg’ is that rarest of things: an album which is like itself and itself only. Granted, much of the distinctive individuality has come from its creators’ eagerness to pick elements from a veritable treasure-trove of different styles but, nonetheless, those with an open mind and adventurous ears are likely to find much to enjoy here. The pressing itself plays well throughout and the presentation is also solid.
Enjoyed this feature? We’re always looking for further albums to highlight on Vinyl Corner – and if you have a vinyl release that you’d love to see written about here, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org – it would be great to hear from you!