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. We’re looking back at Benin’s fertile but under-appreciated music scene for this latest feature, with a recent compilation from Analog Africa.
‘Africa Scream Contest 2’ compiles some 70 minutes of music recorded in Benin over the course of nearly two decades, from 1963 to 1980. Africa’s rhythm-heavy, soulful grooves – often dubbed “afrobeat” – have been pretty thoroughly overviewed by various reissue labels during the past decade or so, but it’s testament to the depth of music produced in even West Africa alone that so much more continues to be rereleased. By admission of the superb liner notes included in this compilation, Benin’s music scene is one rather less celebrated than those of certain of its relative neighbours. Even so, this compilation effortlessly proves the wealth of immediately satisfying, creative music produced there – in spite of the country’s relatively small size. Each track here comes from a different artist or group and it is all excellent, if not infrequently superb. Funk-heads will certainly rejoice at the revelations contained herein, as there’re more taut rhythm guitar, nuanced yet energetic percussion and smart bass than can be counted. As much as that, though, there’s soul and guts aplenty in the vocals on various of these pieces. Many of the groups included here released only 7″ singles and EPs – or, at most, one or two LPs – and nearly everything on this compilation is not only very scarce but also really rather pricey in original form. Analog Africa are not a label unused to cooking up such compilations, and they do so here with typical panache, presenting these pieces with clean sound and curating the tracklisting into a coherent, complete experience.
We find ourselves saying this a lot on Vinyl Corner, but today’s album has been pressed by German juggernaut Optimal Media. Long-time readers will already know of our opinion on their at times patchy output, so suffice to say that their pressing of ‘African Scream Contest 2’ is actually excellent. The set is a double LP, and we found playback to be impressively clean across all four sides. The noise floor is negligible on both discs, and our copies ring clear and true. There’s not a pop or click to be heard on either disc, and the worst thing that we can report is some very minor background noise in a few rare spots. That’s a very minor complaint at most, however, and we would unreservedly say that this is a quality pressing which is clearly the result of a thorough test-pressing process. Fidelity remains impressive throughout as well, at least relative to the somewhat lo-fi nature of the recordings. We didn’t come across any inner groove distortion or the like – unsurprising considering that sides only average a comfortable 17 minutes or so. Neither of our discs were completely flat, however this did not cause any issues with tracking and remained minor enough to not be an issue in our book. This is a really solid pressing and one that fully lives up to the deep attention to detail found throughout the release.
Packaging and presentation is seriously impressive here, to the point of it being amongst the most attractively presented archive releases that we’ve written about here on Vinyl Corner. The album is housed in a chunky, bold gatefold sleeve which impresses both aesthetically and also in terms of build quality. The art direction is strikingly stylish, and print quality is really solid throughout – as are the vivid colours. The spine is particularly slick: thick enough that it never risks becoming lost on a packed shelf, the font is pleasing chunky and remains easy to read even at a distance. While the sleeve is impressive in its own right it’s actually the 24 page, full colour booklet that really elevates this to the status of truly beautiful presentation. In addition to quality scans of rare images, it also contains in-depth and knowledgeably written liner notes which are a blessing for those attempting to really understanding the context in which the album’s music was made. It’s fascinating stuff and really does make for a great inclusion. If we were to nitpick, we would have liked the records to come in polylined inner sleeves, rather than the generic paper ones included – but these were loose fitting, making it easy to remove the records without risking damage. As such, it’s barely an issue and does not detract from this being a really beautifully presented and packaged release.
‘African Scream Contest 2’ offers an opportunity for those without bottomless pockets to really delve into the music of Benin – for that alone, it’s commendable. The quality of the pressing, sound, presentation and packaging only serve to clinch this as a genuinely great release well worthy of recommendation.
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!