Wednesday, April 21, 2010

MUSINGS: The Significance of the Album and Vinyl Record

In the past few years, vinyl records have made a comeback. I’m certain this is just a reiteration of what most of you already know. Vinyl is back and continues selling better and better each year. Then again, vinyl records never really went away.

Last night while listening to Titus Andronicus’ new LP, The Monitor, I began to think about how no one really makes albums anymore. It’s not a new thought by any means, but The Monitor really made it apparent that it is so uncommon these days for bands to look at the big picture – that is the album as a whole as opposed to a collection of songs in a particular vein. The Monitor is sprawling and entirely ambitious both sonically and in terms of its content (apparently a loose concept on the Civil War). Songs flow distinctly but evenly into one another and help to create a body of work rather than a collection of material.

This seems to be less and less of an occurrence as we now live in an age where the majority of the public is more concerned with singles and paying out for one or more tracks off of an album. In a way, music has become more of a convenience and quiet soundtrack for our days rather than something that is worthy of our attention. How often is it that people take albums and carefully listen to them? How often do people actually sit down with the intention of listening to an album intently? I’m not saying that society is completely devoid of such people, but it is, undoubtedly, a small percentage of the population.

Now, vinyl records require you to flip them, subsequently breaking up your listening experience. However, not only do records offer a truer presentation of music, they also require attention. You can’t walk around with a record player while you’re on the subway; can’t walk around with a record player while you’re grocery shopping; can’t jog with a record player attached to your arm; can’t take a record player on a cruise in a convertible. I’m not trying to say that music should cause a temporary paralysis that requires attentive listening, but it is arguably something that has become more of a passing fancy.

Over the past decade, we’ve taken the blood, sweat, time, and sleepless nights put into making albums and condensed, minimized, them into data that we never even really see. We’ve taken this art and pushed it from a small cabin in the woods to the other side of the world, playing it in a cafe thousands of miles away from where it was born. It really is incredible when you think about it. The digital age has spawned a boom in both musical production as well as musical consumption. Sure, MP3s (and all of the other music file types like FLAC and WAV) have allowed music to have a wider and larger audience and reach areas of the world that it might never have reached before, but convenience doesn’t always necessarily lend itself to authenticity.

I’d like to think that the renewed interest in vinyl is sort of strengthening our society’s ties to the past. Digital technology is most certainly going to grow and become an ever-present element of our daily lives – more so than it is now – and while we’ll claim that we’re evolving to a more advanced way of life, I’m not sure it’ll be entirely true. The vinyl record, for me, embodies a facet of humanity that it slowly fading with our inevitable and gradual migration into the digital realm. Vinyl records, spinning under the weight of the stylus to reveal their hidden musical peaks and valleys, are preservations of human nature. As one vinyl enthusiast and writer once said, vinyl records come with stories and have their own character. Their crackles and pops are distinct and make them unique. When was the last time that MP3 you downloaded came with a story?

Records are one of the few things in life that have stood the test of time and helped document years of not only our country’s but also our world’s evolution – specifically through the songs that thousands of artists have recorded over the years (e.g. “What’s Going On?,” “White Riot,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” etc.). Whatever happens in the next few decades, let's hope that as the world spins on its axis, so to will the vinyl record on the player's platter.


zoraj1121 said...

Quinn, you should talk about how physically it is impossible for a computer to recreate the sound of a vinyl record. It will lend more credence to your argument.

Quinn S. said...

Touche, Zoraj1121, touche. There certainly is a much better sound quality on record when compared to CD/MP3. I was mainly trying to focus on the significance of a vinyl record outside of the superior sound quality, which is why I neglected to cover that particular aspect.

Thanks for reading!

theneedledrop said...

"I’m not trying to say that music should cause a temporary paralysis that requires attentive listening, but it is arguably something that has become more of a passing fancy."

Liked that. Good point. :-)

Quinn S. said...

Thanks, man! I appreciate it.

Willa said...

That's what I love. Thanks.