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 today’s instalment, we’re taking a look at an intriguing, experimental solo release from alt-rock stalwart Alison Mosshart.
Although best known as the frontwoman of Anglo-American alt-rock duo The Kills, Alison Mosshart is nothing if not an artist prone to juggling multiple projects at once, having helmed records with a couple of other bands – including, notably, The Dead Weather; a group co-formed with musicians including Jack White. It’s he who releases Mosshart’s latest offering, the decisively singular ‘Car Ma: Sound Wheel’. This is a bold, bizarre and occasionally caustic album; a collection of spoken-word musings, reveries and proclamations which sit somewhere between performance poetry and candid confessionals. Marketed as the auditory companion to her debut book – a collection of images, poems and short stories – ‘Car Ma: Sound Wheel’ is a collection of compositions infatuated with all things vehicular. It takes the romance of classic American motoring and warps the mythology and culture surrounding those machines to reflect Mosshart’s own personal world and outlook. It’s a deeply personal set of musings, yet also an inescapably experimental one; recitations are given in both high and low fidelity, the fuzzy drone of cheap tape being employed as an atmospheric tool rather than being begrudged as a hampering by-product of outdated technology. On other pieces, Mosshart’s voice is mutated with the aid of more modern-day technological wizardry, the resultant record is one which ultimately comes across as far more than a straight collection of spoken-word poetry.
One of the basic tenets of record cutting is that longer sides equate to lower fidelity; it’s a simple premise and one which the majority of labels and hired sound engineers only infrequently overlook at this point – yet, nevertheless, it bears repeating. Under normal circumstances, ‘Car Ma: Sound Wheel’s fifty two minutes would be too much to squeeze onto one LP – perhaps not by much, admittedly, but conventional wisdom would have it that the sound quality would suffer for its length. That idea overlooks one simple fact, however: this is not an album in the convention sense. There is precious little music here and the few snatches of non-verbal sound heard across the album’s runtime are fleeting; in the context of a record such as this, the length of the sides exerts little influence over the resultant sound quality. Indeed, the only real concern with this Third Man Records vinyl release – reviewed here on black wax, although a coloured edition is available from some outlets – would be the quality of the pressing itself. As with The Stooges release we recently reviewed from the same label, ‘Car Ma: Sound Wheel’ constitutes a single mid-weight slab of wax – one which bears some light surface marking from the factory’s assembly process but that nevertheless boasts excellent playback throughout. The noise floor is low on our copy and surface noise is at a minimum, with only a few errant crackles audible here and there. The quietude of its playback is especially impressive considering that the audio itself is quiet by nature, meaning that any potential imperfections would be difficult to ignore.
In our recent examination of Third Man Records’ Stooges archival release, we noted the exceptional quality of that release’s tip-on cover. Despite being released around the same time by the same label, the cardstock from which ‘Car Ma: Sound Wheel’s cover has been manufactured is noticeably lighter, although it certainly remains solid. Presented in an unassuming yet stout standard-width non-gatefold sleeve, the album’s art direction is simplistic but effective, its saturated reds appearing particularly attractive when spread across as full 12″ cover. As with the aforementioned Stooges release, ‘Car Ma: Sound Wheel’ includes a full-colour four page fold-out insert which – although minimalistic in its layout – does add a pleasing element to the release’s presentation. That the record itself comes in a generic paper inner sleeve absent of polylining is something of a shame but that slight shortcoming is more than counteracted by the fact that the label were wise enough to relegate the barcode to a hype sticker on the shrinkwrap, rather than allowing it to sully the cover itself.
‘Car Ma: Sound Wheel’ is a very unusual release from a distinctive artist and, in its vinyl release, those sufficiently enthused by its intimate ruminations and abstracted soundscapes will find a tidy listening experience.
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 email@example.com – it would be great to hear from you!