Friday, August 27, 2010

Once You Go Vinyl...

I have recently discovered the beauty of vinyl. Listening to music the way our fathers listened to music, (or your fathers rather, since my fathers milked cows and plowed fields). But all the same, while I may have been a little late to the game I understand its beauty, its importance. When a friend asked me about this recent "infatuation" he said, "But why?--it doesn't have the crystal clear quality of dolby digital surround."

Firstly, I'd like to debunk the myth that spinning vinyl will produce a quiet, paper-thin sound. My system gets plenty loud enough and it's sound is anything but thin. At any rate, its all about the experience. It becomes a labor of love: taking care of the records, going through each beloved, necessary step in the process of the listening experience - and it is an experience. Its just not the same, putting on a cd, looking at a little 4" by 4" fold-out sheet of lyrics. And it certainly is something that could never be captured with the click of an mp3. (I do realize these others methods are adequate and can even be great in other situations such as the car or a dance party). However, there is nothing like having a double LP, opening up the gatefold to take in the massive artspread. Then, delicately pulling out the sleeve, placing the record on the turntable, flipping the switch and watching the stylus connect with the vinyl to produce an intoxicating sound full of texture and landscape. Lost in a rush of music you can watch the record spin, the stylus gliding gently over the vinyl like smooth waters. Visual soundwaves.

Another thing I like so much about vinyl is it really forces the listener to approach the album as an album, as a whole work of art, not just random songs to be mixed, fast-forwarded, skipped, etc. And with many albums you find, as a result, that song order and even the flow from Side A to Side B were not an accident, and they even give the album a fuller meaning and a much deeper context for both each individual song and the album as a whole.

Its so much fun making all the connections throughout an album. From the obvious mantlepieces of each song to the subtle nuances hidden in the tracks that the artists must have been so excited about during the recording process. From my own experiences in the studio I know the joy in these; the subtle mistakes that you end up keeping, you guard them like carefully placed gems. And the quiet layers that lie beneath surface. All of these and more seem to come alive when listening to a record.

I can listen to a record the way I would sit down to watch a movie. You know how it is, you go to see a movie with your friends and afterwards you talk about it for awhile. You break it down, discuss the things that stood out to you and, (depending on the film), even analyze things like imagery, allusions, and symbolism. Listening to vinyl with your friends is like that, only the discussion takes place in the middle of the action, wrapped in the album's aura like a cloud over the room. The space just opens to discussion and ultimately, a deeper appreciation for the music you so love. Discussions sweep the room in cycles and then you are, of course, overtaken by long moments of silence where you just let the music fill the room and envelope your mind. Sometimes after its over, you can look over and see that glazed look in your friend's eyes, as they can in yours. You could almost put it like this: if the movie experience and concert experience had a love-child, it would be vinyl.

Records are great listened to with friends or even all alone. I remember the day I recieved The Radio Dept.'s Clinging to a Scheme I seriously listened to the album in its entirety three times. One of the most vivid vinyl experiences I've ever had was alone with Ryan Adams' 29, the album of his that has probably garnered the least amount of praise (as well as the most amount of flak) and I'll be honest, for years I gave it little thought or listen as well because it was so inaccessible on the front-end. Then one day quite randomly, the songs started turning over and over in my head. I bought the vinyl and spent the quiet, still part of a summer evening listening to that record.

There, on my bed I sat, 12" by 12" insert in hand, studying the lyrics in typewriter-print with the drawings and pictures. From the stark, yet beautiful folky acoustic/ukulele combo of Strawberry Wine, the lush, ethereal landscapes of Blue Sky Blues, the infinite melancholy of Starlite Diner, to the chaotic, opera-like emotions of The Sadness, and finally, the gut-wrenchingly haunting resolve of Voices. I was swept. Mesmerized. Enchanted. In one crucial listen, my least favorite Ryan Adams album became an immensely enjoyable and incredibly important piece to me. Sure, I have little doubt I could have made that discovery without the use of a turntable, but at the very least, it was the vinyl experience that helped usher in that deeper knowlege and understanding of the album.

I assure you this is no passing infatuation. I am convinced that vinyl can actually help you love and appreciate music even more than you already do. People often associate vinyl with a certain sound or style of music but that just isn't necessary. Vinyl isn't prejudiced or biased toward the music. Its all so great, from the folk/alt-country madness of my boy Ryan Adams to the blissful, indie-pop/shoegaze goodness of The Radio Dept., its all just a little bit sweeter on the turntable.


  1. I remember reaching into the record jacket and taking out the paper sleeve--sliding my hand inside, careful not to touch the vinyl. Cleaning the disc in order to take the static off the surface, pushing the needle arm into place and dropping the needle. Then, with the big thick jack plugged into the amp I sat back with my Princess Leia-sized headphones and soaked in the sound.

    All before you were born

  2. Well, I definitely have '29' in my Amazon cart now.