Music

Vinyl Spin Cycle

Each time I sheepishly purchase another CD, I’m digging myself further into the technological hole, and falling farther behind the cool vinyl-playing crowd.

Here's a question that'll make you really examine your love for music: Which would you rather have, a brand-new, 32-inch flat-screen TV, or a slightly used record player with a decent set of speakers? For my friend Brian, the call was easy. A month or so ago, he sold his television – one his few luxury items– so that he could afford to listen to the dozen records he owns in relative style.

This was at least Brian's third record player of his life, so he knew what he was getting into. Though I've long thought of making a similar purchase, I've never been able to make the commitment – and I'm not certain I'd ever trade the luxury of On Demand in order to alter my listening experience slightly.

See, as the years have gone by, it's become harder and harder to convince myself that buying a record player would be worth it, given the amount of money and time I've invested in building my large collection of CDs and MP3s. Sure, those platforms may not have the same romantic – or sonic, depending on who you ask – qualities as vinyl, but they've always gotten the job done for me.

It seems silly to go and buy the same music again, only in a different form. How would I choose what's worth duplicating on this other platform? Or would my record collection be completely different from the music I already own, based more around what might sound good on vinyl? Either way, it seems like a hassle.

This is not to say I don't understand the allure of the record player. During the summer following my freshman year of college, I spent a good amount of time in my parents' basement, playing pool and listening to my dad's barely used turntable. There were plenty of records to choose from (Big Brother and the Holding Company, Led Zeppelin, Boz Scaggs, The Moody Blues, The Beatles, a whole lot of Simon & Garfunkel), but I eventually went out to a local used record store and added two more to the collection: The Band's first two LPs, Music from Big Pink and the self-titled follow-up (aka The Brown Album).

I have to admit that there was something that just felt right about hearing those albums on vinyl, cuing up the needle and listening to the first crackle of "Tears of Rage" come pouring through the speakers that were older than I was. It brought me a little closer to the music and the way I felt it was meant to be experienced.

But when I began school in the fall, I left those records behind and continued to buy CDs. With all the music sharing I was now doing – trading MP3s, burning copies of my friends' collections – and all the moving around I did, a record player seemed, well, impractical. That doesn't mean it lost its appeal.

As I began to get more heavily into music, and spent more and more time in record shops, I began to feel a little like a philistine. Records were in some ways a status symbol for "true" music-heads in a variety of genres, and I wasn't part of the club. Not only that, but I could forget about my occasional, delusional fantasies of becoming a DJ if I didn’t own a turntable. Though CD-turntables could be had, using one would be akin to using a pencil on a crossword puzzle (and the soon-to-be-popular computer DJing would be like doing on online puzzle with hint mode "on").

In some of the more serious stores, the CD rack was relegated to one small corner, while the stacks of records held the real gems. I'd enjoy browsing through those crates, marveling at the artwork and just loving the package as a whole, but in the end, I'd sheepishly purchase another CD or four, thus digging myself further into the technological hole. It was like I was in a relationship that I didn't know how to leave – and I couldn't help occasionally flirting with what I couldn't have.

Of course, you can only flirt for so long. A few years ago, upon moving into a new apartment, I went to a nearby shop and picked out a number of records – including The Talking Heads' More Songs About Buildings and Food, Roland Kirk's Kirk's Works, Thelonious Monk's Misterioso, Bob Dylan's Planet Waves and Sugarhill Gang and The Furious Five's "Showdown". I made sure to choose only albums from artists that I actually liked, not just ones whose covers were attractive – though visual appeal was definitely a factor, as I wasn't buying these records for their sound (which made the obligatory inspection of each feel a little silly), but rather so that I could nail their covers to my basement wall.

The resulting display got a lot of compliments – my only interior decorating touch to do so – but it also inspired a lot of questions about what I did with the records. The answer? Nothing. I wasn't going to toss them out, of course, but I also had no real use for them. So as much as this decoration announced my love for music and for these specific artists, it also seemed to expose me as a fraud.

Recently, I've witnessed a few more friends take the record-player plunge, and happily enjoyed the fruits of their purchases. One of the best things about record players, I think, is their ability to make music-listening into an event again. With so much music readily available at the click of a button, it's become rarer for people to gather around and pay attention to a particular recording. Even among a group of music-obsessed people, it's as much about finding the next song as it is about focusing on what's playing.

Record players also allow you to appreciate music in a whole new way. As much as I'm not totally convinced that everything sounds better on a record player, I definitely think that there are albums and artists that do – I can't imagine I'd sit down and listen to a Bill Monroe CD, but hearing him recently on Brian's record player was revelatory.

If there was ever a time for me to go ahead and buy a record player, it's now – I'm no longer buying CDs with the frequency I used to, if at all, and between my girlfriend and I we could build up a substantial, diverse collection of LPs. But now I have a new excuse – instead of spending my time and money, I can just go over to Brian's and listen to records when I get the urge. Even better, I hear he's thinking about buying a film projector to compensate for the loss of his nice TV. I just hope he doesn't have to sell his couch, too.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Music

Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.