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 we’re rating the latest album from the ever-excellent Parquet Courts.
Parquet Courts have long been set apart as one of the smartest rock bands of recent years but latest effort ‘Wide Awake!’ is lyrically impressive even by their own standards. It’s a biting collection of commentaries on the state of society, politics and individuality in the modern world and one delivered to a backing as no-holds-barred as the words themselves. Produced by Danger Mouse, the album treads the thin line between experimentalism and focus, with a sonically varied group of songs that sound crisp and dry when needed and wet and echo-laden when not. Compared with previous efforts such as ‘Human Performance’ or ‘Content Nausea’, it’s actually a relatively straight-ahead rock album with comparatively little sonic experimentation but the band can’t quite resist the urge to throw a few off-kilter moments into the mix. While there’re no outright missteps on the album, there are one or two moments where the album’s sense of adventure doesn’t quite land entirely feet first – but such moments are brief and, by and large, ‘Wide Awake!’ finds Parquet Courts firing on all cylinders.
There’re two vinyl releases of ‘Wide Awake!’ – a deluxe edition in a gatefold sleeve and a standard edition in a single sleeve. We’re reviewing the standard version here so bear that in mind as you read on; we’re not sure if there’re any differences between the records themselves or if the divergences are just limited to the packaging. The pressing is as near to faultless with this release as could really be expected; Rough Trade always put out good quality vinyl releases from our experience but, even so, this pressing is particularly impressive. It weighs in at around 140 to 150 gram vinyl by our guess and sits almost completely flat on the patter during playback. Quality control is obviously high on this pressing as sound is exceptional for a normal-priced release that is not explicitly targeted at the audiophile market. There’re no visual defects to be seen anywhere on the record and both surfaces have a beautiful sheen to them that all too many modern releases lack, even from new. Playback is very impressive with sound free of any surface noise, even on the run-in and deadwax. We have precisely zero complaints with this one – it’s very much a job well done.
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Boasting an excellent front and back cover adorned with frontman Andrew Savage’s idiosyncratic and excellent artwork, ‘Wide Awake!’ is an appealingly presented album regardless of which version you opt for. The standard version that we’re looking out comes in a single pocket sleeve but still looks great as print quality is nice and sharp throughout and the vibrant colour scheme is well represented with a nice bright colour palette used in the printing process. The spine looks good with a white background against orange text that makes the admittedly small font easy to pick out on the shelf. Upon opening the album you’re presented with the record of course, but also a fold-out poster insert and a download code redeemable in MP3. The record itself is housed in a generic white paper inner sleeve with no polylining, which is a shame – we were able to remove it from the sleeve without causing any surface marks however, so as long as it’s swapped out for a polylined inner within good time, there’ll be no harm done by it. The poster insert looks fantastic, boasting lyrics to the whole album on one side (a huge boon seeing as how fantastic much of the album’s lyrical content is) and another one of Savages’ striking artworks on the other. Although this version is marketed simply as the ‘standard’ version of the album, the inclusion of a poster shows a degree of consideration to the aesthetic value of the release that few would even think of, let alone act upon. Keep in mind that those in need of even more luxuriant packaging can shell out for the pricier deluxe edition, but we would say that considering the typical price point on this standard pressing, the packaging is still very impressive and the poster is a welcome and surprising inclusion.
‘Wide Awake!’ has proven itself to be one of the essential rock records of 2018 so far, and this vinyl release does justice to that with a superb pressing and excellent packaging, all put together for an agreeable price considering the effort and quality control on display.