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. We’re heading into the deep and frigid underworld of Scandinavia’s oceans for a fairly unusual new title from We Jazz records. Despite the label’s name, today’s featured album is not a jazz record at all but rather a moody new ambient effort from Teppo Mäkynen.
Those who follow Vinyl Corner closely will be familiar with Finnish label We Jazz records. We’ve written about many of their releases in the past and one of the few consistent themes of their varied output is that every title is jazz in one way or another – hardly a surprise considering their name. With ‘Abyss (A Prelude To Lake), they broaden their horizons away from that genre towards an expansive vision of ambient music. Despite being credited to Finnish jazzers 3TM, this is actually a solo effort from bandleader Teppo Mäkynen. As suggested by the lengthy title, ‘Abyss’ serves as a primer to the group’s upcoming release ‘Lake’. Just how much the two albums will share in common remains to be seen but taken purely on its own terms, ‘Abyss’ is a textural and atmospheric work. Murky, distant tones echo around the soundstage in a convincing replication of deep-sea echo-location clicks and deep synth washes evoke the ebb and flow of underwater currents.
Every other title we’ve reviewed from We Jazz has provided a classic black vinyl option alongside a more limited colour edition, however ‘Abyss’ is available exclusively in milky clear form. From an aesthetic perspective, this is nothing but good news but the real question, of course, is how good it sounds. While we’ve seen little reason to argue that colour vinyl sounds any worse than traditional black, many continue to perpetuate this notion, so the idea of a clear-only release may raise some hackles. Fortunately, this is a great sounding record – especially considering the highly revealing, low-volume nature of the ambient music contained within the grooves. Finding a satisfactory vinyl release of any ambient album can be an experience rather more gruelling than pleasurable, with many titles in the style – even from big-budget major labels – falling far short of the deathly-quiet surfaces needed to enjoy this subtle, delicate music. Very impressively, We Jazz have managed to produce a pressing easily quiet enough to make ‘Abyss’ an enjoyable listen. All records have some small degree of surface noise – that’s a simple limitation of the medium. While we did hear a few crackles now and then, the flaws we did pick up on were minor and infrequent enough not to distract from ‘Abyss’s beguiling ambience.
We Jazz have a fairly consistent approach to the aesthetic presentation of their releases. They often sport minimalistic yet striking artwork that accurately reflects the mood of the music inside. ‘Abyss’s art certainly evokes a sense of lonely and expansive pelagic gloom, even if the image is not amongst the most striking of the label’s catalogue. The sleeve itself is a single-pocket affair fashioned from fairly lightweight card. While it isn’t the heftiest of covers, it does benefit from a pleasing textural finish and the barcode has also been placed upon a hype sticker rather than printed directly onto the cover. The record is found in a generic non-polylined inner sleeve, which is fairly tight and may well cause abrasion marks if the record is removed carelessly. As we always say in these cases, it would have been great to see the label include a polylined inner here.
‘Abyss’ finds We Jazz records moving away from their typical remit towards new musical horizons. It’s an intriguing glimpse of what may be to come and, even if it is merely a one-off for the label, the highly admirable pressing quality makes this release a highly worthwhile venture.
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