Vinyl Review Explosion: The Strokes, Kid Cudi, M.I.A., & Darkside

(Review Explosion is a recurring AnalogPlanet feature covering recent releases for which we either don't have sufficient time to fully explore, or that are not worthy of it. Curated by AnalogPlanet contributing editor Malachi Lui, Review Explosion focuses on the previous few months' new releases. This particular Review Explosion discusses Vinyl Me, Please’s Essentials releases from February-May 2021.)

The Strokes - Room On Fire

RCA/VMP Essentials 19439741411 “Meet Me In The Bathroom Tile” colored vinyl 180g LP

Produced by: Gordon Raphael
Engineered by: Toshikazu Yoshioka and William Kelly at TMF Studios
Mixed by: Uncredited (Gordon Raphael?)
Mastered by: Greg Calbi and Steve Fallone (digital), Ryan Smith (vinyl) at Sterling Sound

Music: 7
Sound: 7

Two years after their era-defining debut Is This It, the Strokes’ 2003 sophomore effort Room On Fire dropped to high anticipation; whether it lived up to its hype remains debated. Between releases, the NYC rock quintet extensively toured, only allotting three months to record the record. Further, they completely scrapped early sessions with Nigel Godrich and returned to producer Gordon Raphael as rock n’ roll excess kicked in. The Strokes’ musical strengths remained intact, albeit diminished; there are some great guitar lines (“Reptilia,” “Under Control”), and lead singer Julian Casablancas’ vivid, personal, and conversational lyrics remained as sharp as ever (“12:51,” “Meet Me In The Bathroom”), with hints at that era’s post-9/11 anxiety (“The End Has No End”). Still, Room On Fire lacks the melodic immediacy of its predecessor, with more filler and weaker highlights.

This VMP reissue, cut by Ryan Smith at Sterling Sound, plated at QRP, and pressed at GZ, is likely the best the album will sound. The mix is bright and compressed as is, with Casablancas’ vocals barely audible; there isn’t much detail to bring out for a revelatory listen. The 180g colored vinyl (split into quarters of red, blue, and tan) is generally quiet, and the special VMP jacket (a laminated tip-on with extensive foil-stamping) feels luxurious (despite the lame drink “recipe” of “1 cheap beer [and] 1 shot of Irish whiskey”). If you’re a diehard Strokes fan or one who needs the best pressing of every album, this pressing is worth the cash, though a standard EU pressing might serve others just fine.

Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon: The End Of Day

Republic Records/VMP Essentials B0028578-01 “The End of Day/A New Beginning” galaxy colored vinyl 2LP

Produced by: Various
Engineered by: Andrew Dawson, Emile Haynie, Anthony Kilhoffer, Dot Da Genius, et al
Mixed by: Manny Marroquin
Mastered by: Vlado Meller (original digital master), Barry Grint (vinyl remaster)

Music: 8
Sound: 8

Upon his debut mixtape A Kid Named Cudi’s 2008 release, rapper Kid Cudi (Scott Mescudi)’s emotionally focused, melodic work attracted Kanye West’s attention, leading to the artists’ collaboration on West’s game-changing 808s & Heartbreak. The following year, Cudi released his proper solo debut, Man On The Moon: The End Of Day, overseen by Kanye. The first in a series (the others being 2010’s rock-inspired Man On The Moon II: The Legend Of Mr. Rager and 2020’s space trap victory lap Man On The Moon III: The Chosen), MOTM 1 is Cudi’s vulnerable, psychedelic coming-of-age story. Divided into five acts over an hour, the album details his struggles with depression (“Day ‘N’ Nite”), isolation (“Solo Dolo”), and drug use (“Pursuit Of Happiness”), with catchy pop hooks and dreamy soundscapes. While Cudi’s lyrics (some of which haven’t aged well) may seem shallow and his “me against the world” presence off-putting to some, there’s no arguing his monumental influence on pop rap; any well-rounded record archive requires this album.

Once again, VMP continues to establish itself as the best reissue label currently. MOTM was an “iTunes era” casualty, from a time when even the best engineers mixed records to sound less compromised as a 256kbps AAC. While not the worst case of this, Kid Cudi’s early albums still sound dry and clinical. Barry Grint’s vinyl remaster doesn’t completely fix this, but provides a smooth, extended top end that adds necessary presence and space. Mysteriously, though, LP1 has punchy bass clarity, yet LP2’s bass lacks that tightness and subtly muddies up the lower midrange. The tip-on gatefold jacket renders Bill Sienkiewicz’ illustrations in stunning detail, and the vinyl (LP1 is “The End Of Day” purple/black galaxy vinyl, LP2 is “A New Beginning” orange/black galaxy vinyl) has only mild noise. While twice as expensive, the VMP reissue of Man On The Moon probably obliterates the current standard United pressing.

M.I.A. - Kala

XL Recordings/VMP Essentials XL231LPE neon purple/green colored vinyl half-speed mastered 45rpm 2LP

Produced by: M.I.A., Switch, Morganics, Blaqstarr, Diplo, and Timbaland
Engineered by: See above
Mixed by: Mark “Spike” Stent, Switch, and Demacio “Demo” Castellon
Mastered by: Barry Grint and Cicely Balston at Alchemy Mastering at AIR

Music: 7
Sound: 7

Beyond its iconic single “Paper Planes,” M.I.A. (Maya Arulpragasam)’s breakthrough second album Kala is a singularly experimental blend of hip-hop and club music, heavily influenced by travels to Sri Lanka, India, Trinidad, Jamaica, Angola, Liberia, and indigenous Australian territories. Densely layered with hypercompressed percussion, chants, and creative sample choices, Kala is political and confrontational like few other records. Topics of war, immigration, and cultural identity run through the album; born in London, Arulpragasam spent a decade of her childhood living in impoverished, war-torn Sri Lanka, before moving back to London as a refugee. (During Kala’s recording, she faced US visa issues supposedly over her family’s association with Tamil fighters in Sri Lanka, cancelling her plans to extensively work with Timbaland.) She expresses concern over violence in Liberia (“20 Dollar”), Western stereotypes of immigrants (the intentionally ambiguous “Paper Planes,” which brilliantly samples the Clash’s similarly-themed “Straight To Hell”), and the financial desperation of the systemically oppressed (“Hussel”). It’s equally as important as it is difficult to digest; M.I.A.’s unique vocal performances (frequently described as “childlike”) is often obscured by the bombastic, chaotic instrumentals. As much as it’s an acquired taste, Kala is a record of historical importance, one that will always remain relevant because of how directly it presents its subjects.

For the company’s 100th Essentials release, VMP took particular care with this Kala reissue. Half-speed mastered at 45rpm by Barry Grint and Cicely Balston at Alchemy Mastering (now part of AIR Studios), it’s pressed on neon purple (LP1) and green (LP2) vinyl at GZ. It sounds as good as it’ll possibly sound, considering the intentionally messy and blown-out mix (I’m sure it bests the standard 33rpm United pressing). The widespine holographic foil jacket illuminates the colorful cover art, the liner notes booklet provides useful context, and printed inner sleeves round up the kaleidoscopic package. It’s worth it for those willing to spend the $47, though stream the album first to avoid intense shock.

Darkside - Psychic

Matador/Other People/VMP Essentials OLE-1035-1/OP003 “crystal ball” colored vinyl 45rpm 2LP

Produced by: Darkside
Engineered by: Darkside, Jérémie Delvallée, Laurent Aurion
Mixed by: Nicolas Jaar at Other People
Mastered by: Brian Gardner at Bernie Grundman Mastering (digital), Barry Grint at Alchemy Mastering at AIR (vinyl)

Music: 7
Sound: 7

While touring 2011’s acclaimed Space Is Only Noise, electronic artist Nicolas Jaar and his touring guitarist Dave Harrington formed Darkside, building their sound over two years and countless recording sessions. Classified by Jaar as “rock and roll,” Darkside combines his dubstep-inspired electronics with Harrington’s live instrumentation, often using samples of the latter’s guitar to create spellbinding, layered compositions. The 11-minute opener “Golden Arrow” starts with Jaar’s glitchy synths and disembodied vocals, transitioning into winding, looped guitars and slithering synth-bass. “Heart” and “Paper Trails” make use of Harrington’s bluesy guitar riffs, while “The Only Shrine I’ve Seen” builds upon hypnotic claps. Psychic isn’t the best nor most immediately gripping of Jaar’s diverse catalogue (spanning 10 years and several monikers), though is one of his most technically sophisticated works.

Pressed at GZ on “crystal ball” (light blue/white galaxy) colored vinyl, Barry Grint at Alchemy Mastering cut this new Psychic VMP reissue at 45rpm. The mastering is the best it’ll likely sound, but like most opaque “galaxy” colored vinyl LPs, there’s an abundance of surface noise. The standard pressing is cut and pressed at Optimal also at 45rpm; that edition is probably on quieter vinyl, even if the mastering is inferior. While VMP’s pressing is exquisitely packaged (with a liner notes booklet, a new poster by cover photographer Jed DeMoss, and a mirrorboard widespine jacket), for most listeners it won’t be worth the $20 premium.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music lover, and avid record collector. After an arduous 40 minute wait, he scored Ecco2k’s limited edition E vinyl. Follow Malachi on Twitter: @MalachiLui and Instagram: @malachi__lui)

COMMENTS
Ortofan's picture

... half a century, there is continuing demand for reissues of music from The Beatles.

pthomas92's picture

we've heard it all before, no music made past 1979 is worth one's salt, Modern Music SUCKS! BLAH BLAH BLAH. There's tons of new music being made that is great including IMHO the Strokes and Darkside releases mentioned above. Please reassess before posting reductive and myopic views

Ortofan's picture

... the YouTube videos, that all four releases would qualify for inclusion on my R2DF - records to die from - list.

Glotz's picture

NT

Blaspheme's picture

Please Please Me was the first LP I ever bought. I never want to listen to anything else. Oh wait, I do. These four are an excellent selection. Not unfamiliar though. I'd love these re-issues, thanks for the review.

rich d's picture

...to make a recommendation. The best new music I've heard this year is, er, old music. CAN 'Live in Stuttgart 1975' is an absolutely stunning performance spread over six sides of bright orange vinyl. I liked the LP so much I went out and bought the CD to play in the car. My wife even asked me to keep playing it, which simply never happens. If you don't know who CAN were (how?) then buy Tago Mago first. Otherwise, snap this one up and you can thank me by buying me a beer if we ever meet up. If you need a taster first (the music, not the beer) samples are available online.

MalachiLui's picture

thanks for the recommendation! i'll look into that record... i just got a book about CAN that i still haven't read a page of (it's busy around here!)...

avanti1960's picture

Unfortunately I cannot get into any of the above mentioned records. I tried to like that MIA record when it was first released but no staying power or love for Bollywood influences.
However I do like middle eastern artists, especially Nitin Sawhney. He mixes traditional middle eastern themes with international including Spanish. Italian and Western rock.
Check out the 2005 release "Philtre" which has been in moderate rotation in my system lately. An excellent eclectic release with quality pop/rock songs. Peace.

Tony

Noble Rotter's picture

is a minor genius, but in no sense is he a 'middle eastern artist'!! He's British, of Indian heritage. His eclectic music draws on the widest range of influences and elements, but again, hardly Middle Eastern. Describing music is hard and often subjective, but who someone is and where they come from is a little less bewildering. Agree with your recommendation though - he's been producing good music for decades.

Jazz listener's picture

If, as you state, “ Review Explosion is a recurring AnalogPlanet feature covering recent releases for which we either don't have sufficient time to fully explore, or that are not worthy of it” then reason dictates these selections aren’t worth reviewing at all, and this column is not worth writing. What kind of editor misses getting their red pen out for such a silly column intro?

Glotz's picture

You are.

Jazz listener's picture

that column description still makes no sense. I know it, you know it, and your momma knows it. by the way - she says hi.

Michael Fremer's picture
Something worthwhile but not worthy of a full review
Michael Fremer's picture
Something worthwhile but not worthy of a full review
Anton D's picture

:-D

MalachiLui's picture

well if it indeed makes no sense, then why did it take two years for you to point that out?

xtcfan80's picture

From the Trouser Press site... "Is it VU? Is it TV? Is it Superband? Nope, it’s just the Strokes, for whom outsized — and musically misinformed — hype made media darlings of five rich kids arrogantly posing as bored young rock stars"

Michael Fremer's picture
That’s their opinion. My opinion is that TP is TP
MalachiLui's picture

that's their opinion, which they are entitled to. i think 'is this it' is one of the greatest rock albums ever made, but to each their own.

Glotz's picture

I will be checking out each of these via stream, but the Darkside seems most attractive to me.

Your music selection and earnest reviews are very refreshing. Thanks brother.

Anton D's picture

I vote with you.

Rashers's picture

colored vinyl is kind of annoying. It seems that they go to the trouble of getting world class mastering engineers, the best laquers, often the best pressing plants - and then press the records up in colored goop. I much prefer their black or clear vinyl releases (which tend to be back catalog Essentials or Classics - the Bethlehem records jazz reissues on colored vinyl were horrendous). I understand that the colored versions may be collectable and hence the price premium over the same record bought from Amazon (for the new releases), but would rather pay the premium for curated content and a limited edition 7" single.
(Welcome back Malachi.....by the way)

MalachiLui's picture

some colours are fine, it's just swirl/"galaxy" variants and especially green and gold colours that can cause excessive unnecessary surface noise. not usually an issue for me unless it's intrusive as the 'psychic' coloured vinyl was. i think reissue companies like VMP would be better off choosing vinyl colours more discerningly rather than abandoning it all together, because black vinyl is coloured vinyl too!

Razorball's picture

Man I cannot disagree more, 7/7???!!!! To me it's more 10/10!!! Must say I agree with pthomas92 comment, even if it might be an unpleasant one to you.

avanti1960's picture

a very personal thing. It is impossible to fault a review that you disagree with.....

ChrisM's picture

Thank you for the informative reviews. Personally the music in this selection that I feel most connected to is Psychic, and frankly I have a hard time getting excited about this album. It's not bad, but it's not worth much, and there are much more exciting things out there.

xtcfan80's picture

yes indeed... the hipsters love them some colored vinyl...

Anton D's picture

Hipsters have moved on to cassettes!

;-)

Duke86fan's picture

hipsters are still trying to figure out which specific format to move to now that vinyl is getting overpriced and boujee (I still love it even though I'm a hipster). some are going all in on cassettes, specifically big in the hip hop and vaporwave scenes (like there are 70 different labels on Bandcamp selling old muzak on cassettes.. its actually some pretty good stuff). some are predicting a CD revival (I know you all hate CDs but if its a well mastered CD on a decent system they can sound good) so making CD versions has been fairly notable in the electronic scene and alt rock scenes

Anton D's picture

If we want to attract the hipsters to CD, we need better ways to display their collections and CD players that require a certain amount of ritual to load and play.

dconsmack's picture

I’m a VMP subscriber so I have all these releases. I think the review is pretty spot on. I’m not young but not quite old yet (45) and I like the VMP subscription service because in general their releases are high quality and interesting. I don’t love any of these albums though. They’re ok. But because of VMP I discovered John Lee Hooker’s Serve You Right To Suffer. That has instantly become one of my favorite albums ever. I don’t even particularly like blues pre-British rip-off artists like Zeppelin, but that album made me finally connect with the blues. I appreciate what VMP is trying to do, and although I like some 21st century music, I think music from the 1950’s -1970’s is hard to beat. It was just a magical time for recorded music of seemingly any genre.

JJCalvillo's picture

Actually a bit of good music in the 80s & 90s as well, though getting toward the skinny end of the stick.
Want to discover great new sound, just seems tougher to find.

xtcfan80's picture

Now in theaters and on hulu...Questlove directed this musical/cultural view of a free music festival that took place in a Harlem park a few weeks before Woodstock...The hype you may have heard is 100% legit for any music lover......The Staples...19year old Stevie Wonder...Sly Stone...Mongo Santamaria...the editing is fantastic, the cultural background info is informative and the music mesmerizing ....

Anton D's picture

Questlove is the Eno of hip hop.

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