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 looking at an ambitious new project from indie-folkster turned composer Keaton Henson.
Keaton Henson will be a familiar name to those with an eye on British indie folk over the past decade. With albums such as 2010’s ‘Dear’ and 2016’s ‘Kindly Now’, Henson has carved out a niche for himself through vulnerable, heart-on-sleeve songcraft. His latest venture, ‘Six Lethargies’, marks a radical departure from earlier efforts and finds him offering his own take on the ever-busier world of modern composition. It’s a style of music we’ve covered many times here on Vinyl Corner but, even so, Henson’s ambitious new offering stands out from the crowd by way of a degree of ambition that is surprisingly rare in the genre’s current state of affairs. Not content to simply evoke a handful of pretty if insubstantial ‘Avril 14th’ tribute pieces as so many others in the style are, Henson crafts a rich, complex tapestry of sound. At over an hour in length, ‘Six Lethargies’ offers an immersive experience; one in which lengthy, ten-minute-plus excursions are par for the course. Fans of his earlier song-based work will be unsurprised to learn that the tonal palette here is resolutely minor-key. As evoked by the seething reds of the album cover, ‘Six Lethargies’ is often a tumultuous, dark listen and also one admirably ill-at-ease with the idea of insubstantial pleasantries. Those willing to give their time over to ‘Six Lethargies’ will find one of the most worthwhile albums to hit the modern composition scene in years.
A cursory glance at the runout grooves of either disc in this double LP set tells us two important things; one – that the records have been pressed by Germany’s industrious Optimal Media and two – that mastering has been handled by Abbey Road Studio’s Miles Showell. The latter is certainly better news than the former. Through his highly successful series of classic album half-speed remasters Showell has proven himself to be one of the best mastering engineers currently working in Britain, so it’s of little surprise that ‘Six Lethargies’ enjoys a soundscape as nuanced as the music itself. It’s perhaps harder to take it for granted that Optimal Media’s involvement is good news. Though certainly not incapable of producing a great sounding record, the factory’s ever-high workload is enough to ensure that their quality control standards are not as high as those of rival plants Pallas or Record Industry. As with any modern composition album, ‘Six Lethargies’ requires a scrupulously clean pressing – far more so than any rock or pop album. The often quiet nature of these pieces is such that the unique ambience is rudely interrupted by surface noise. Fortunately, Optimal have managed a pressing that mostly hits the mark. The noise floor is low enough as to be unobtrusive and playback is generally very tidy, with many long stretches passing free of surface noise. There are other portions where we found some minor surface noise – the kind that would be inconsequential on a louder album – but the quiet nature of the album does render such flaws audible at times. Truth-be-told, however, the state of the modern vinyl industry is such that we’ve heard precious few recent albums this quiet which play better – or even as well. Though not perfect, this pressing is tidy enough to remain enjoyable.
As is befitting of (but unfortunately not always synonymous with) a double LP release, ‘Six Lethargies’ is presented in an attractive, sturdy gatefold sleeve with a pleasingly chunky spine. Image quality is excellent throughout, with crisp, sharp text and realistic colour reproduction. The cardstock used is not unusually heavyweight, but it is solid enough to ensure that the cover feels sturdy when handled. Both records come in printed inner sleeves that depict arranger’s notes for the compositions. Though not polylined – and therefore not necessarily conducive to long life for the records inside – it’s always nice to see care taken with the presentation to such a degree that printed inner sleeves are included at all. The inclusion of a download code would have been welcome but, despite the lack of one, this is an admirably presented release.
Those enchanted by the fertile ground of modern composition are likely to find much to enjoy in ‘Six Lethargies’. Presentation is tidy and the pressing, though not perfect, is solid enough to facilitate an enjoyable listening experience.
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!