Sumac’s Love In Shadow is a tremendous album. I won’t drone on about specifics, we’ve covered it thoroughly enough, and that’s not my angle. Still, rare is the pedigree of the lineup, the execution of the vision, and the expectation-breaking nature of the group’s latest – it’s a no-brainer that it’ll end up on a billion year-end lists. The physical package of this masterpiece is nearly as rare. It not only sounds absolutely phenomenal, but it also looks gorgeous at every layer. Believe it or not, I’m not here to kiss ass about how cool this thing is (I mean, it is…), but instead simply offer some insight to what it’s like to actually listen to it. After all, many of us enjoy the vinyl format for “the experience, mannn.”
I received this copy a few days prior to the release date via Thrill Jockey Records, which was super awesome. Being a pre-order through Bandcamp, I was expecting to get this the week following the release date. When so many labels ship on release date or WAY later (I get it, shit happens, it’s a bitch to plan for vinyl nowadays, etc.), it was a true fucking treat to get it early. I don’t know who to thank for making this possible, but this person has a beer coming from me. Cheers. [+5 experience points.]
Upon opening the cardboard mailer, I immediately noticed there was no poly jacket. No big deal, I have a roll of ‘em for this exact scenario – who doesn’t? Unfortunately, Love In Shadow is a thicc boi, and is juuust too thick for my favorite snug-fit jackets. Double unfortunately (and frustratingly…), it’s like five fucking micrometers too thick. It’s a cruel joke. I honestly tried for about 10 minutes thinking I’d make it fit and the jacket would eventually stretch or I’d get it in and simply never listen to this record. [-3 experience points.] Fortunately, I keep a few extra “big” poly bags in my stash (perfect for when you inevitably stumble your way into some expanded gatefold Yes records). Thanks to some fortunate prep, grubby fingers will never mar the beauty of this package. Double fortunately, the vinyl comes in some nice anti-static poly inner sleeves – hell yeah! [+5 experience points.]
While we’re talking wax, the marbled pink with black streaks variant is stunning. It feels like an interpretation of the album art with wiry opaque streaks of black and pink weaving through translucent pink. The B- and D-sides are especially nice with thematic labels. Each track has its own side, and this works out nicely (I don’t believe it could work out any other way, anyway). It makes the record feel a little quicker, and the sudden closures of each track become even more stark and poignant – the silence adds a welcome contrast. [+20 experience points.] In comparison, the digital version almost feels rushed, like I’m no longer given the time I need to digest and reflect upon what just razed my ears. Though, there’s a download card included, which is wonderful for cheapskates like me who can hand these to a friend as a birthday present. [+3 experience points.]
The glossy slipcase/O-card featuring the album art is beautiful, and it wraps an uncoated cardboard jacket with alternative artwork. It’s a cool feature, and it makes room for the tracklisting (and runtimes) on the top of the wide spine, and the message “OUR WORLD IS STRICKEN. TO LOVE MAY WE RETURN.” on the bottom (unpictured). I’m a sucker for tucked-away elements like these, the attention to detail is as thoughtful on the packaging as it is on record. [+10 experience points.]
Here though, is where the aesthetic gets in the way of practicality. The slipcase is flimsy, and fits a loosely on the cardboard jacket. It makes it too easy for the inner jacket to slide out, which is annoying for people like me who want to bust this sucker out and spin. Just about every damn time I drop it in or pull it out, it slides out of this slipcase, dropping clumsily into the bag. These incidents have inspired many of my nightmares over the last few weeks. [-20 experience points.]
The relative fragility of this slipcase also sucks because I’ve had to invent a very specific layering method to prevent smushing it into a pathetic piece of cardboard destined for my local recycling center. Here’s my secret: place the O-card on TOP of everything else (whoa!). The only time I’ve set something on it is for these photos. (I expect the Heavy Blog archives will have a replacement for me when this one eventually dissolves. The sacrifice I’ve made here is real.) [-5 experience points.]
The listening experience is less than practical, less than ideal. Yeah, I’m being nitpicky (probably annoyingly so), but it’s only because I have to deal with this so frequently (if only this album sucked!) and they seem to have solidified it as a physical design aesthetic. I have to pretend I’m a goddamn art curator each time I pull this thing out and put it away – is that the experience they had in mind? I mean, the packaging warrants it, but it’s at the expense of me totally binging out on this thing, chucking cardboard around my living room with wanton disregard. (Plus, my cat is BEGGING to sit on this stuff.) [-500 experience points.] How are you going to fix this for your next release, SUMAC? HOW?
I should probably just get some new jackets and quit being so petty about it. Go ahead, grab a copy and get thrilled, pissed, and terrified before they’re all gone!