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 feature, we’re taking a trip to Trinidad and Tobago for a shot of Soca and electro-calypso from 1979 to 1998.
Soundway are a label well renowned for their ability to curate compilations of music unlikely to be familiar to Western listeners. Their latest effort – one in a long series of such titles – offers an extensive overview of a genre many readers would be forgiven for never having heard of before: Soca. Initially developed in Trinidad and Tobago as a modernisation of Calypso, the style incorporates heavy funk and soul influences to create a distinct sound. ‘Body Beat’ is nothing if not ambitious in its assessment of the movement, covering a broad period of time from 1979 to 1998. That latter date is rather later than the remit of most compilations from labels such as Soundway, but its significance shouldn’t go unnoticed. There’s a strong electronic presence on most of these tracks – thick synth basses rubbing shoulders with the more organic sounds of steel drums to create a texturally fascinating combination. This is music that simply couldn’t have been made many decades ago being too heavily reliant upon post ’70s technology to exist before then. This is no bad thing, of course, and the more modernistic soundscape helps to differentiate Soca from many tangentially related subgenres. There’s a raw, soulful quality to many of the lead vocal takes included on ‘Body Beat’ and the rhythms are strong – again, often augmenting acoustic instruments with drum machines to bolster the heft of the sound. The result is a far beefier sound than many of the older recordings that these songs take inspiration from. While it’s likely than many Western listeners will be unfamiliar with Soca in general, even those with a working knowledge of style should find plenty here of interest. With a tracklist comprised mainly of B-sides, dubs, instrumentals and edits, there’s much here to whet the appetites of even long-term aficionados of the genre.
This is an expansive collection and Soundway have wisely opted to spread it over three discs. As with so many funk and dance influenced styles, strong and intense bass is vital to the power of this music. The longer the side of an LP, the more reduced the bass frequencies become; as such, most of the six sides clock in at around fifteen minutes. Therefore, each side remains short enough that bass is in plentiful supply and, indeed, fidelity and sonics impress in general. The mastering is balanced, offering a forthright presence in the vocals and a bright, rich tone in the brass. The drums and rhythm guitars rollick along with a clear definition that never becomes shrill or unpleasant, while the bass offers a width and depth which fills out the low-end of the sound stage without muddying the sonics at large. Much of the music included here is somewhat lo-fi by nature but good efforts have been made to bring a sonic consistency to the entire selection of songs. The records themselves have been pressed by Germany’s ever-popular Optimal Media. We have commented in past Vinyl Corner articles that their output can be inconsistent in quality, however all three LPs are beyond criticism with this release. The discs sit flat and centred on the platter during playback and appear clean from a visual perspective as well. Playback quality is no less impressive with a low noise floor and tidy surfaces free of crackle and pop.
Packaging and presentation is arresting. The art direction is eye-catching, sporting a vivid and evocative portrait as its main focal point. Many triple LP sets are released either in box sets or tri-gatefold sleeves – however the presentation here is rather more minimal as Soundway have instead opted for a traditional gatefold sleeve usually found with a double LP release. While this isn’t ideal (as it means two of the discs must be stored in the same pocket), the price-point on this release is very reasonable for such a high quality triple LP offering, so it’s understandable why the label have opted for this more spartan form of packaging. Having said all that, presentation is appealing on this release. The inner gatefold spread has been put to excellent use, with a new and exclusive essay on Soca music included alongside rare photos and full credits. Such background information really embellishes the music itself, enriching the listening experience through a wider understanding of the musical and social context. The cover boasts an attractive glossy finish and print quality is excellent, with sharp text and images. The records are included in generic non-polylined black inner sleeves. Unlike certain inner sleeves of that type, they’re not overly tight and the records can be removed without risk if handled correctly, however we would still recommend swapping these out for polylined inner sleeves.
‘Body Beat’ offers fresh insight into a lively and vital style of music. It achieves this in fine form with its vinyl release, which offers these songs in great sounding (and DJ-friendly) form.
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!