Vinyl Corner : STR4TA ‘Aspects’

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 lending our ears to the debut full-length offering from one of contemporary disco’s most exciting new projects: STR4TA.

The Music:

Although STR4TA’s name is likely to be new to many – even those who closely follow the happenings of contemporary disco and funk – the two musical minds that the project brings together are sure to be firm favourites of those intrigued by such tunes. Gilles Peterson is best known to many as one of BBC radio’s longest-serving dispensers of groove and sonic glamour but he’s also a musician himself and, as one half of the recently-formed STR4TA, he ably demonstrates himself to be the equal of any of the sonic wizards who’ve long populated his radio playlists. Jean-Paul ‘Bluey’ Manick is STR4TA’s other half and his long-standing credentials as a purveyor of high-grade grooves are enough to ensure that the pair’s debut LP – ‘Aspects’ – delivers on all the hopes of those who’ve been in anticipation of the album since its authors’ first single appeared last year. True to that, ‘Aspects’ is nothing if not a rock-solid slab of utterly infectious good-time party music; slap this on the turntable at the next (post-COVID) happening shindig and it’s a foregone conclusion that it’s bound to elicit good cheer in even the most morose of punters. More than that, though, it’s a beautifully crafted homage to the music that its authors have loved for so long. Take a healthy dash of US vintage disco, add a snifter of jazz subtlety, round the whole thing off with a touch of the art-house sensibility so innate to the collector-fetishised library music of the ’70s and you’re left with a good approximation of STR4TA’s sound. Rather than feeling anachronistic or hollowly nostalgic, though, ‘Aspects’ simply charms; it’s a refreshingly energised amalgam of resolutely old-school styles that seems sure to impress all those with a taste for such music, by virtue of little more than the sheer verve with which the whole thing has been executed.

The Pressing:

Released by UK funk institution Brownswood Recordings, this vinyl release of ‘Aspects’ speaks of the label’s plentiful experience in producing high-quality vinyl LPs. Although this weighty, substantial slab of black wax does bear a few superficial abrasion marks in the case of our copy, playback itself proves essentially flawless. The album has been beautifully mastered; although cut loud, never once does the resulting soundscape feel incoherent or as though it were lacking in dynamism; indeed, it’s a well-recorded album whose vinyl pressing does full justice to its high-fidelity intentions. The pressing itself is likewise admirable; its noise floor is low and we heard not so much as a single crackle anywhere across either side on our copy. Not only that but the record sits flat on the platter during playback, free of the warping which all-too-often appears on new releases pressed by overloaded factories who haven’t the time to allow their produce to cool-off to a sufficient degree before being sleeved. There’s none of that here, though – only a quality product from a label who clearly have a real reverence for vinyl as a format and a keen awareness of its value in the DJ-centric culture of modern dance and funk music.

The Packaging:

Issued in a modest yet stout standard-width non-gatefold cover, the vinyl release of ‘Aspects’ may not seek to wow the viewer with extravagant presentation but what it does do, it does well. The cardstock from which the cover is produced feels sufficiently substantial in hand to be of suitable quality and the image definition is likewise impressive. The album’s DIY collage art direction certainly errs on the side of minimalism but with that comes a certain aesthetic charm. While we would have preferred it had the release’s barcode been attached to the shrinkwrap via a sticker – rather having been printed on the back cover, as is the case here – that’s nothing more than a minor complaint. Similarly, it would have been preferable for us if the label had opted to sleeve the LP in a polylined inner rather than a generic paper sleeve found here but, again, that’s certainly not an issue which should deter those in the mood for one of the best collections of soulful, jazzy funk numbers to have hit the scene in years.

Final Thoughts:

If you have a taste for bass-centric, enthusiastically-delivered funk music enlivened with a healthy dose of jazz abandon, you’ll likely find it very difficult indeed to argue with the auditory brew that STR4TA have cooked up with ‘Aspects’. It’s a great album given a commendable vinyl release by Brownswood Recordings and that, in and of itself, should be enough to convince interested parties to look into this release post-haste.

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!