Vinyl Corner : Jonah Parzen-Johnson ‘Imagine Giving Up’

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 recent look at 3TM’s ‘Lake’, we’re checking out another typically unique title recently released by Finland’s We Jazz records.

The Music:

Long-time Vinyl Corner readers will be closely familiar with We Jazz records, as they’ve been featured here more than possibly any other label. Their output tends to stick more or less exclusively to music from Scandinavia – and primarily Finland – but, with their latest title, they’ve expanded their roster to include an American artist. Hailing from Chicago but now based in Brooklyn, Jonah Parzen-Johnson is an artist whose work so far has proven steadfastly singular. Having released a number of albums over the past decade, his latest effort ‘Imagine Giving Up’ is the first to be released by We Jazz. Though, as his new label’s name would suggest, his work is ostensibly jazz, this is music that’s harder to place is any one style or lineage. Avant-garde in approach but relatively melodic in execution, ‘Imagine Giving Up’ is a record that manages to stand as highly unusual whilst also offering something immediately tangible and just as easily likable. Heady layers of electronics mix with emotive saxophone to produce something that is layered, progressive and engaging despite being an entirely solo endeavour. Those with a taste for resolutely unusual music would do well to seek out ‘Imagine Giving Up’.

The Pressing:

This is one of the best pressings we’ve reviewed on Vinyl Corner for quite some time. Well pressed as ever by We Jazz records, we’re reviewing the black vinyl edition here but there is also a violet wax edition out there for those so inclined. Playback is damn-near faultless throughout our copy; the noise floor is low and surfaces are very clean on both sides with no noise to speak of and clear, defined mastering that serves these vivid compositions well. The record sits flat and warp-free on the platter and appears clean under visual inspection, with glossy surfaces free of the fingerprints and imperfections that all-too-often appear on new pressings. The record is roughly mid-weight; it’s heavy enough in hand to feel substantial but it’s certainly not a full 180 grams. All this really proves, however, is that the modern obsession with such heavyweight pressings is more down to major-label marketing hype than any substantial improvement in quality. As with every other We Jazz release we’ve reviewed here at Vinyl Corner, this makes for an impressive, enjoyable listening experience.

The Packaging:

The first thing you’ll notice when studying the vinyl version of ‘Imagine Giving Up’ is the artwork. That might be true of any album to an extent but especially so here. It’s an intensely vivid cluster of text where letters trip and stumble over each other in a cornucopia of visual noise. It’s an undeniably arresting cover, even if – in some regards – it clashes with the comparatively sanguine, meditative music it represents. Either way, it stands as a break from tradition for We Jazz records, who usually tend to adorn their releases with minimalist, understated washes of colour and geometry. That aesthetic of garishly intense typographic frenzy is continued throughout the release, appearing on both the back cover and labels. In the case of the latter, it’s actually slightly problematic as no indication is given as to which side is which; leaving those who wish to hear the album in the correct order to scrutinize the matrices for an “A” or “B”. As with 3TM’s ‘Lake’ – another We Jazz release that we recently wrote – ‘Imagine Giving Up’ has no text on the spine. It’s something of a strange decision as it does mean that it’ll be harder to pick the album out on a crowded shelf due to that omission. A printed paper inner sleeve houses the record; it bears a portrait of the artist on one side and a tracklisting and credits on the other. While we’re always pleased to see labels go the extra mile with presentation, it’s also always worth nothing that such sleeves can cause abrasion marks on the record if removed without due care. 

Final Thoughts:

Jonah Parzen-Johnson has created a genuinely unusual, distinctive album with ‘Imagine Giving Up’. Its rejection of genre-convention is admirable and the results are often arresting. We Jazz have produced an excellent vinyl pressing here – one of their best sounding, without doubt.

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 martin.leitch@gigsoupmusic.com – it would be great to hear from you!