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. Today we’re checking out the vinyl release of Bill MacKay’s and Ryley Walker’s superb ‘SpiderBeetleBee’.
Chicago guitarists Bill MacKay and Ryley Walker first collaborated on 2015’s vastly under-heard ‘Land Of Plenty’; an album which set a precedent for gently meandering, trance-inducing guitar improvisations in which the duo’s guitars deftly interweave, creating complex and engaging patterns. The recently released ‘SpiderBeetleBee’ is that album’s follow-up (although both of its creators have released solo work in the intervening time) and in many ways it’s the ideal sequel. It has enough in common with the carefree lilt of ‘Land Of Plenty’ to feel grounded in the duo’s previous work, but different enough to be very much its own album. Running at just over half an hour, it’s a pithy listen with by-and-large fairly short songs which feel more premeditated and tightly arranged than the frequently lengthy, free-flowing improvisations which made up the duo’s previous album. ‘SpiderBeetleBee’ contains some of the most nuanced and engaging finger-style guitar work to have emerged from the reliably high quality scene in a long time. It’s so good, in fact, that when I wrote my top 10 albums of 2017 list, I placed it at #2.
Drag City has a great pedigree when it comes to alt folk, and their pressings are also generally excellent. It makes sense, then, that ‘SpiderBeetleBee’ should call such a label its home. This is a great pressing with nice, clean playback which allows the intricacies of the music to really flourish. Vinyl weight is a tad on the light side but this doesn’t affect sound quality, and from new the record has an attractive sheen which is free of factory handling marks. Playback is fittingly clean, with the soundscape being free of unexpected surface noise such as crackles or pops. There is a lightly audible noise floor during the run-in grooves and between the songs but this is immediately inaudible when the music starts and never risks encroaching on enjoyment of the album. Given the album’s short length, sides run around 15 minutes so there’s no any risk of the sort of inner groove distortion or general lessening of fidelity associated with cramming too much music on one side of a record. The album is sonically rich – both MacKay and Walker’s guitars shimmering with detail and clarity – and the pressing represents this vibrancy well, making the listening experience highly enjoyable.
Packaging is fairly standard on this release but certainly meets expectations given the album’s typical, non-inflated price point – the sleeve is a non-gatefold one printed on midweight card but it feels solid in hand and is certainly well made. The beautiful artwork is presented with high print quality, the back cover’s shot of the duo likewise printed with sharp definition. Layout and general art direction is classy and efficient and, although we will say that the spine font could have been a tad larger, overall presentation is really attractive here and the album’s visual aesthetic compliments the album’s warm musical moods with style.
‘SpiderBeetleBee’ is one of the finest albums of the year and a definite benchmark in recent fingerstyle guitar music. The Drag City vinyl pressing looks and sounds great, with a clean soundscape and playback and attractive presentation. A highly recommended release.
For more on Walker & MacKay check out the articles below…