Photo Credit Julia Holter Bandcamp

Vinyl Corner : Julia Holter ‘Ekstasis’

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 a brief overview of the music itself. Under the spotlight this time is Julia Holter’s fantastic 2012 sophomore long player, ‘Ekstasis’.

The Music:

Although Julia Holter ‘s breakout success came with 2015’s wonderful ‘Have You In My Wilderness’, she was crafting intricate, multilayered albums long before that. ‘2012’s excellent and very under-rated ‘Ekstasis’ marked a step in a different direction from her 2011 debut ‘Tragedy’ – one where Holter focused more on concise experimental pop gems rather than lengthy, ambient passages and found-sound noise collages. It’s not to say that ‘Ekstasis’ ditched those entirely, as Holter‘s avant-garde inclinations are definitely at the basis of the album but the immaculate hook of ‘In The Same Room’ and the stunning clarity of ‘Goddess Eyes II’ certainly demonstrated Holter‘s knack for immediate melodies. A wonderfully deep album with unlimited replay value, ‘Ekstasis’ is something of a modern classic that hasn’t quite managed to find the same wide appreciation as her more polished recent work but is every bit the equal of it.

The Pressing:

Bear in mind, we’re looking at the US original pressing on RVNG records here. The album was picked up about 9 months after initial release by Domino records who did their own pressing of the record, so playback and sonics may differ between the two. Initial signs are somewhat inauspicious for this pressing, with the two records both feeling fairly lightweight in hand and also having a couple of light marks from factory handling. Regardless, this is actually a really nice sounding album – the wise decision was made to cut the album at 45rpm for superior sound quality but despite this, the sides are not unusually short (about 12 – 15 minutes each) and choice pays off well, as the soundscape is rich and immersive. Although home-recorded, ‘Ekstasis’ is a well engineered and recorded album with excellent dynamics and great instrument separation. This pressing represents this well, with a glowing ambience to be found throughout – especially on the low-end signals, which sound all-encompassing and weighty in the best possible way.

It’s not a flawless pressing as there are some patches of light surface noise in places, but it is a very good one; there are no errant pops or clicks and our discs both sit nice and flat on the table. Another seemingly small plus that actually adds a lot to overall satisfaction is the fact that the discs are very well shaped, the edges being nice and flat and leading the discs feeling good to handle. It may seem a small touch, but far too many albums have roughly cut edges that feel unpleasant in-hand.

The Packaging:

Packaging is attractive if understated on this release. Presented in a gatefold sleeve with a nice, chunky spine, the album aesthetics are consistently appealing and minimalist. There’re no inserts and the inner sleeves included are generic, low quality white sleeves (which should definitely be replaced) so from that perspective there’s nothing particularly special here but the sleeve is nice and the classy cover art well represented. The album’s colour scheme is muted by nature, so this isn’t a spine that particularly catches the eye on the shelf, but that’s understandable given the album’s atmosphere of pensive tranquillity. One big plus is that the barcode is a sticker on the shrink wrap, which means the sleeve’s stylishly minimal aesthetics aren’t broken up by an ugly barcode on the sleeve – the bane of many an otherwise attractive cover. The card used to make the gatefold isn’t especially heavy but neither is it unusually lightweight and it certainly feels substantial enough. Labels continue the sleeve’s motif of quiet elegance, with each disc having one label given over to tracklisting and the other to art. It’s certainly visually pleasing but it can be a challenge to know which side to put on at a glance, as there’s no overt indication of which side each label correlates to. All not especially intricate, the packaging is overall very attractive, especially given the release’s low price-point.

Final Thoughts:

‘Ekstasis’ is a gorgeous record and a modern essential; this RVNG pressing does a great job of representing the album’s intricate, rich soundscapes and frequent ambient passages with a nice sounding release that although not flawless still sounds great nonetheless and definitely stands as an excellent way to hear the album. Packaging certainly is minimal here but that’s not entirely out of character for the album and, although the inclusion of an insert of some sorts would have only sweetened the deal, the attractive gatefold definitely leaves a good impression.