Monday 16 September 2013

Bought my first brand new vinyl in 24 years... not a great experience!

I first heard First Aid Kit playing on the radio here in Sweden and quite liked what I heard from this folksy sounding Swedish duo. They consist of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg and have been a hit in Sweden since they sent a tape of their home recorded song "Tangerine" to a Swedish radio station back in 2007.

Last year one of the songs from their "The Lion's Roar" album was used in a television advert and it was a really catchy tune! I found myself singing or humming the few lines used in the ad while sitting at my computer, taking a shower or cycling down to the beach. I then looked them up on the internet and found their website here: First Aid Kit, whereupon I was delighted to see that they offered their music on vinyl! Whoohoo! Instantly I was a fan because lets face it, very few bands actually release their stuff on the black medium of musical purity any more.

I clicked on the link to buy the LP and was redirected to Ginza, an online retailer of music and video. A few clicks later and I was assured that the LP would reach me soon. They were not lying either because it was in my hands just three days later!

Now lets get to the album itself. First off, when I opened the sturdy brown cardboard package, I had in my hands the first brand new vinyl record I have purchased in something like 24 years and I was like a little kid again! The cover art fits their folksy indie rock image with a grainy slightly out of focus photograph of the sisters dancing in a golden sunset drenched field dressed in flowery attire that hails from the great age of peace and love some 40 years ago. Good start. But then came the part where I removed the actual record from the sleeve...

Years ago taking the newly purchased record out for the first time one was presented with a pristine disc of virgin black purity that was a thing of beauty to behold in it's own right. The immediate promise was one of quality of both product and sound. However, when seeing this LP for the first time I was quite shocked by how soiled it was by what looked like a fine light grey powder. I have never seen this before, and because I haven't bought an LP in so many years I am not sure if this is now "standard" fare for how a new disc looks upon arrival. Not a great start.

I tried brushing the dust off with a standard record cleaning brush. No luck there, it was simply too clingy and stubbornly refused to part company with the vinyl. Next I pulled out the big guns in the form of my magic home brew record cleaning fluid in a squirty bottle and some micro fibre cloths. After five minutes my disc was in the pristine condition I was expecting when I first laid eyes on it.

I have a rather old but quite competent hi fidelity system at the top of which stands a Rega Planar 3 turntable which is still highly regarded as being able to deliver fine quality sound to satisfy even the most fussy listeners despite it's age. I use this system daily and the sound I get from my growing vinyl collection is very well known to me, so when I listen to a new record I know what to expect from a good pressing as the good ones sound really good and the great ones respond accordingly and sound great. All this to say that my reference system with regards to vinyl is pretty much ingrained. So what did this, the newest pressing of music I own sound like, does it "hold it's own" amongst the other older and very good quality LP's on my record shelves? Sadly the answer is no.

I suppose the best way to describe it would be to say that it sounds very much like a goodish mp3 ripped at 320kbps. Very disappointing indeed. In the box that the LP was delivered in was a coupon that said I could download the mp3's from the site as well, which I did just to compare, and lo and behold the sound from the mp3's were pretty much on a par with the sound from the vinyl pressing. I played the mp3's through a Sony Walkman mp3 player connected to my system, just so you know that it was being heard through the same Rega Elicit amp and Snell speakers and not my crappy laptop speakers. I am not sure why it sounds this way, but I have to say I am very disappointed and also very reluctant to spend money on new vinyl again. I have to point out at this point that a vinyl album goes for much more than the price of albums on cd these days which is an unfortunate consequence of the time tested economic principle of supply and demand. In this case the vinyl is 59 SEK more than the cd. Laying out that sort of cash on what is essentially some very expensive mp3 quality tracks is simply not on for me!

The music itself is pretty good with the now well known and expected clear vocals and strumming guitar, mixed with soulful lyrics and some competent backup musicians providing the rest. The stand out song for me is the very good third track on side one "In the hearts of men", with the first three tracks certainly the best on the album. By the time that the aptly named track five "This old routine" comes along it all starts getting a little predictable to me, with my wife and even my 18 year old daughter starting to leave the room when side two fires up...

For fans of First Aid Kit the album is a worthwhile purchase, but not on vinyl. Save your money and buy the cd, or maybe even the cheaper mp3 version instead, because spending extra for the pricier vinyl version simply isn't worth it from a sound quality point of view.

Track List:
1. The lion's road
2. Emmylou
3. In the hearts of men
4. Blue
5. This old routine
6. To a poet
7. I found a way
8. Dance to another tune
9. New year's eve
10. King of the world

You can buy it here online: First Aid Kit - The Lions Roar from Ginza. Their service is good and they deliver in very quick time. I am not paid by or associated with Ginza in any way. Just a customer.

Has anybody else had better (or the same) results with new vinyl purchases? I would love to hear about it, so feel free to leave a comment below!

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