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 instalment, we’re looking back at one of the most significant experimental rock albums of the previous decade – Om’s ‘Advaitic Songs’.
Precious few artists who emerged from the sonic fury of the early ’90s sludge metal scene have managed to survive the subsequent decades intact. Some fell by the wayside early on, swallowed by the blackened haze of drink and drugs; others lasted longer, only to eventually outstay their welcome and fade into irrelevancy. The fact that neither of these things happened to Om’s Al Cisneros is impressive in itself – but it’s his maturation and evolution as an artist that sets him apart as one his generation’s most pivotal creative minds. Though criminally underrated for far too long, the 2010s saw his status rise significantly, both in Om and also his most famous group – the stoner metal legends Sleep. Considering the latter’s triumphant 2018 return with ‘The Sciences’ (which we reviewed back upon its original release here) and their continued success in the live field, now seems to be as good a time as any to look back at 2012’s Triumphant ‘Advaitic Songs’. Om were born from the ashes of a disbanded Sleep; originally comprised of Cisneros – bassist, vocalist and de facto leader – and stick-wielder Chris Hakius. Their early records were at once both immediately crushing in their heaviness yet significantly more meditative than anything Sleep had crafted. That sense of sanguine equilibrium was further explored on 2009’s ‘God Is Good’ – released by an expanded three-piece configuration of the group – but it wasn’t until 2012’s exceptional ‘Advaitic Songs’ that Cisneros’ vision of spirituality meshed with deep, pensive stoner rock was finally perfected. Those familiar with Cisneros’ previous – and primarily metal – excursions could be forgiven for receiving the stunning album opener ‘Addis’ with some surprise. It’s a devotional piece – or at least it has the feel of one – replete with gorgeous female vocals and subtle, lilting percussion. It isn’t until ‘State Of Non-Return’ kicks in that the group deliver a taste of their signature heaviness – but, even then, it’s toned down and accented with flourishes of strings which speak of an artistic vision unable to be kept with the confines of any one style. ‘Advaitic Songs’ confounded expectations in 2012 and it continues to amaze the best of a decade later. Although Om’s earlier work may continue to offer much of worth, it’s still this fantastic album that remains their definitive release.
Evidently realising they had something special on their hands, the ever-excellent Drag City released ‘Advaitic Songs’ as a double LP cut at 45 rpm for superior sound quality. This was certainly a wise decision as this remains one of the richest, most sonically impressive titles in the label’s considerable catalogue. At only 43 minutes in length, this could have been cut at 33 rpm on a single LP but much of the dubby, ground shaking weight of the bass would have been lost had they taken that course. As it is, the vinyl version of ‘Advaitic Songs’ is a treat; Cisneros’ mellifluent, lyrical bass work throbs and hums beneath the rich arrangements. The drums, meanwhile, chime and snap with all the precision and realism you’d expect and the strings positively pop from the mix. This was a well-recorded album to begin with, but the vinyl mastering – handled by industry stalwart John Golden – more than does justice to this intricately crafted album. The choice to spread the album across two LPs no doubt helps in this regard; although mostly commonly found amongst electronica releases where heavy, pounding bass is an essential, it’s a well known tenet amongst collectors that shorter sides equate to fuller bass. Not only that, but we’ve often found that the mid-range frequencies of well mastered double LPs are fuller and more impressive than those found on otherwise similar 33 rpm cuts. This certainly seems to ring true in case of ‘Advaitic Songs’; people often speak of vinyl as sounding “warm” and while that’s a vague description at best, the sound on this release is nothing if not warm. The pressing, too, is highly impressive. Pressed at America’s excellent Record Technology Incorporated – arguably the US’ best pressing plant – these discs boast clean playback throughout, benefitting from low noise floors and tidy surfaces bearing only a few very minor imperfections here and there. Precious few pressings sounds this good; a combination of a quality pressing and excellent mastering lead to the vinyl version of ‘Advaitic Songs’ impressing on multiple levels.
The quality of the audio certainly sets a high bar for the packaging and presentation to reach, but it’s one that is mostly met. The striking, beautiful artwork is presented in excellent quality – good enough to frame, for those so inclined. The image quality is sharp throughout and the layout is both classy and distinctive. The only concession towards budget here is the sleeve itself, which is a wide-spine single pocket, non-gatefold design. We’ve never been a big fan of this kind of sleeve for double LPs and it’s true that the card stock used here is a tad on the light side – but that doesn’t matter too much, as the presentation is excellent in all other regards. A lyric insert is included – which is a welcome bonus in itself but becomes all the more impressive when considering the beautiful spot-glossed artwork found on the flip-side of the sheet. Viewed in sunlight, it’s quite something to behold. The inner sleeves are generic but highly impressive; they’re made from high quality black polylined paper that will ensure the records remain in superb condition for their whole lives – so long as they’re handled with due care by the owner, of course. Far too few modern releases are presented in such high quality inner sleeves, so that is more than enough to placate any concerns over the non-gatefold jacket. The cover is also free of a barcode, which is another sign of the unusual care put into this release, and it is instead found as a sticker attached to the shrinkwrap.
This is an exceptional release of an exceptional album. Still readily available the best part of a decade on from its original release, the vinyl version of ‘Advaitic Songs’ comes enthusiastically recommended for all – whether you’re a long-term fan rediscovering the album after a time away or one yet to envelop yourself in the its richness and warmth.
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