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. This time around we’re checking out the
latest work from contemporary classical composer Sebastian Plano, entitled ‘Verve’.
The 2010s have been a fine time for fans of modern composition; the style has boomed and there’s plenty of fresh talent in the genre over the past few years. Indeed, we’ve actually covered a few such releases in previous Vinyl Corner features (see, for example: albums by Poppy Akroyd and label-mate Luke Howard). Plano is another artist dealing in the subtleties of piano-based modern classical. He’s not the only one, sure, but ‘Verve’ marks him out as a unique voice in the style. Although the album is comprised of nine separate tracks, much of the record blends into what feels like two side-long suites – no bad thing at all, especially considering how quietly commanding much of the music is. There’s interesting influences on show here; the delicate melody of Aphex Twin’s more finessed compositions – ‘Avril 14th’ and the like – are a definite reference point, but so too are the more ambient sonic experiments of late-era, post-Waters Pink Floyd. There’s an almost siren-song quality to the album; it is both ambiguous and lulling, demanding (or at least worthy) of attention whilst remaining subtle enough to drift in and out of focus. Fans of the aforementioned artists and figures such as Max Richter should certainly take the time to give ‘Verve’ a concentrated listen.
Manufactured by Germany’s perennially in-demand Optimal Media, the vinyl pressing of ‘Verve’ appears as a sturdy slab of black wax. Surfaces are clean upon inspection; they’re free of finger prints, surface marks and other undesirable artefacts from the assembly line – something that unfortunately cannot be said of all modern releases. What of playback quality? Well, it’s generally very solid, especially considering the very subdued, nuanced nature of the music. It’s a basic tenet of vinyl manufacturing that the quieter the music, the harder it is to press a completely clean slab of wax. True to this, the vinyl version of ‘Verve’ isn’t perfect, but it is still impressive considering and remains enjoyable. There are some distant background noises here and there and we did pick up on a few desperate crackles, but a loud album would have masked these and even considering the fragile ambience of the album, we were unperturbed by the slight surface noise. The noise floor is thankfully low, so much so that it is essentially inaudible throughout – a definite plus considering the music being discussed here. Optimal Media’s output is sporadic at times, and we’ve heard louder albums with more obvious imperfections in the past, so such a relatively clean pressing on such a quiet album is something of an achievement in itself.
Packaging and presentation is really nice on this release, boasting an attractive and well made gatefold sleeve and a classy art direction which feels very befitting of the album’s singular mood. The sleeve is nicely constructed, with a pleasingly chunky spine that presents the album title and artist name in bold, visible form. The cardstock used is good quality; it’s not the heaviest we’ve ever felt, but it’s still solid enough that the sleeve does not feel flimsy in the slightest. A pleasing texturing effect has also been employed here, which adds an extra sensory dimension to the presentation. Print quality is sharp across the sleeve, with text in particular appearing clear and immediate. The colour palette is purposefully muted, but the various hues are well presented nonetheless. The record itself comes in a generic non-polylined black inner sleeve; this is not ideal but fortunately it is loose fitting, which makes removal of the record easy without fear of damage. Even so, we’d still recommend changing it out for a polylined inner sleeve of your own. A download code is also included, which is a nice addition in 2019, as we’ve noticed a definite downturn in the amount of vinyl releases that include such codes over the past year or two.
All in all, then, this is a really nice release from Sebastian Plano and Mercury KX Records. The Optimal Media vinyl pressing is clean and remains enjoyable throughout; the presentation is really classy and the music is likely to be of much interest to fans of modern alt-classical.
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!