Given Wet Hot American Summer is in my TFOAT (Top Five Of All Time 1) I had some, admittedly, oversized expectations for the reissue of the soundtrack by Ted Shapiro and guest of the MV Pod Craig Wedren. It didn’t meet my superfan needs, but for the casual fan, I’d assume it’s the average soundtrack release.
Let’s start on the audio end, where I encountered some issues. From surface noise leading into Side B, and additional noise between tracks, it wasn’t the cleanest pressing I’ve put on the turntable of late. (This was after a cleaning). The tonal balance of the pressing was a little off, as well, with the low end too heavy in “Mousse You Up,” while continuing into “Bags Are Packed.” In the soundtrack’s most famed segment, “Higher and Higher,” the drums are a little buried, while vocals can’t quite break through like they should. In “Flagpole” and “Backwards From Three,” there’s percussion issues once again; they simply sound flat at times. Side note, this was a small film and we’re probably looking at a significantly smaller slice of the budget when it came to music. In other words, I’d don’t want to simply lay the blame at the feet of the label or The Ranch Mastering; it might have just arrived in this imperfect form. This is cut at 33 RPM.
The positives. The keyboard sound on “American Summer” and “Higher and Higher” is the standout, very rich in both instances. And the synth in “10 AM,” breaking through a crowd, is another great moment. The packaging is another highlight, matching those end credits in spirit and corkboard-style execution. The gatefold is especially fun, the archive photos from the cast a highlight, as is the front cover illustration by artist Andy Ristaino. I received a Mondo exclusive of “Campfire colored vinyl,” which is a translucent orange with minimal red smoke (I assume the mock-up had more of the red). Also the center labels nail that “Camp Firewood” typography and bonus points for writing “Camp Firewood” in the run-out groove.
The Black Friday vinyl edition of my AOTY 2016 (gotta keep the acronyms going) is a delight, although it’s not exactly worth the $40 value they charged. You’re looking at a standard gatefold, jumping from full color on the digital version to black and white here. The album’s mysteries are somewhat solved within the gatefold credits, with names like Jon Brion, James Blake and Kanye West popping up in production notes. While at it, though, they probably should of sprung for some lyric space by expanding the gatefold (again, we did drop $40 on this).
Despite some slight surface noise and minor miscues, this is an excellent sounding pressing. The bass is always well balanced, well presented, never overpowering that all-important vocal work. “Solo” is a huge vocal highlight, as there’s real depth presented in his voice. It’s cliche to reference a “being in the room quality” to great production, but it really does ring true here. Simply put, you’re listening to some of the best vocal production, on wax or not, encountered this year. The low end on “Skyline” is another high mark, that incoming rumble on digital given real variation here. And it all leads into that beautiful moog solo by Christophe Chassol.
That surface noise does pop up from time to time, though. There’s some pesky occurrences on my copy’s “Solo,” along with on “Nike.” One mix issue I found was in “Pink + White,” the acoustic guitar, when it enters, rests a little too far back. This is cut at 33 RPM. It’s a 60-minute long record, split over 4 sides, so nothing is crammed.
SMLXL gives this holiday compilation its first ever vinyl pressing, and it’s one you could play for friends, all the while waxing poetic the benefits of, well, spinning wax. The vocal work here is full bodied; you’re able to pick up intricacies probably not audible through your computer speakers. Look at “White Christmas” as a prime example. Also, note the “hear every strike” percussion in that track, picking up in full about halfway through. The horns hit some pretty audacious highs in these tracks, and while they get close to distorted in the vinyl presentation, they stay under control. You’ll encounter some very light pops and cracks in “Jingle Bells,” the last song on Side A, but it’s very light, and you’ll encounter no surface noise in between songs. A very clean pressing. In “Jingle Bells” you can also catch some minor issues in the low end — very little distinction of what’s actually going on — but those are fleeting moments. This is a “play for your friends” kind of record.
The packaging is simple, yet mostly effective. My main issue comes with the front cover image, which is not high resolution, and which looks like it was expanded from CD art. Everything else is crisp, and the translucent red vinyl is a nice selection. SMLXL simply gets points for not overcomplicating a Christmas record with some kind of holiday splatter. Pick a color….pick one that doesn’t include tons of surface noise. I’d also like more complete credits for something like this, a compilation that clearly indicates Armstrong is being joined by many.