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. Following on from our other recent articles covering releases from US indie institution Drag City, we’re looking this time at one of their classic titles: Jim O’Rourke’s ‘Eureka’
Sonic experimentalist Jim O’Rourke has had his fingers in countless different pies for decades. He continues to produce searching, mellifluent work even now but it was with 1999’s ‘Eureka’ that he produced an unexpectedly accessible, melodious – and yes, even beautiful – collection of songs. It was still an experimental album, but his signature stylistic eclecticism was focused through a prism that approximated a vision of pop from a world where the mainstream had far, far more refined tastes. The near nine minute album opener ‘Women Of The World’ – an Ivor Cutler cover, believe it or not – sets the pace for the album to come. It’s a mantra more than anything; God is in the details, as they say, and that’s an ethos that O’Rourke certainly seems to subscribe to. The song’s beauty comes from the ever-ascending arrangement, wherein layer upon layer of subtle sonic detailing gradually builds onto what started life as a sparse reverie until it becomes an all-encompassing swell of sound. It’s a beautiful effect and one that characterises this dreamlike, engrossing album.
A detailed soundscape can only be achieved through sensitive, smart decisions during the mastering stage and, in the case of an album as subtle as ‘Eureka’, such sonic nuance is an essential aspect of what makes the music itself so enjoyable. It’s fortunate, then – although hardly surprising – that Drag City’s vinyl release of the album fits the bill exactly. This is a dynamically mastered release, one that flitters between the grandiose and the muted with the same fluidity and ease as O’Rourke himself does. It’s a sonic treat and that’s all the more impressive considering that this is an in-print repress of the exact same vinyl release that hit the shelves around the album’s original 1999 release. When so many labels make a meal of rereleasing the same albums over and over for every conceivable anniversary, it’s refreshing to see a label stick to their guns by releasing the definitive edition of the album right from the get go and then simply keeping that version in print for as long as there’s demand – which, in the case of an album this good, is likely to be for a long while yet. The pressing quality is also superb, more than living up to the high bar set by the mastering. The record was pressed by the US’ great Record Technology Incorporated and is a heavyweight black slab of wax that sits flat on the platter during playback. There are a few non-sounding, light surface marks present from new but this is a minor issue with many RTI pressings, so it’s certainly not a unique point to ‘Eureka’. The playback itself is fantastic; the noise floor is low and surfaces are clean throughout the album. We picked up on a few very light, infrequent crackles on our copy – which is particularly impressive considering how quiet lengthy portions of ‘Eureka’ are.
The first thing you’ll notice about the ‘Eureka’s packaging and presentation is the cover art. It’s certainly arresting and it’s likely to evoke a strong reaction one way or another; we think it’s hilarious but the discrepancy between the subdued delicacy of the music and the brash imagery of the art direction is certainly palpable. The cover itself is a standard-width non-gatefold design manufactured from mid-weight cardstock; it’s reasonably well made but it but it isn’t unusually high quality. The humorous art direction is continued across two entertaining inserts; one is a printed inner sleeve and the other is a fold-out poster. The inner sleeve boasts another painting by Mimiyo Tomozawa, the artist who also produced the album cover, as well as credits for the entire album. It’s made from a heavy stock of paper which looks great but doesn’t offer much protection for the record so, as always with such inserts, we’d advise storing the LP in a polylined inner sleeve for safekeeping. The fold-out poster is also a delightfully absurd addition; although the work of a different artist, the bizarre imagery fits the aesthetic of the cover and inner sleeve. Indeed, those with a particular commitment to the surreal might well find a place for it on their walls.
Jim O’Rourke’s ‘Eureka’ has executed a subtle yet significant influence upon a considerable amount of exploratory, searching alternative music to be released in the years since its 1999 appearance and the Drag City vinyl release boasts the kind of exemplary pressing quality and detailed mastering that allows the listener to absorb this complexly layered album in optimum 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!